How new MLB draft rules would have hurt Giants like Steven Duggar


They are images that have been synonymous with draft coverage for decades. During the NBA draft, there always is one player sitting at his table much longer than expected, awkwardly looking away from cameras as the first-round picks go by. The later rounds of the NFL draft are filled with shots of 21-year-olds nervously sitting on their couches and eyeing their cell phones, trying to figure out how they have dropped so far. 

The MLB draft isn't anywhere near the TV spectacle of those other two, but that doesn't mean there's any less nervousness for prospects. They sit and they wait, often for rounds at a time, and this year there will be quite a bit more urgency. 

The draft has been cut from 40 rounds to five, meaning hundreds of players won't see their dreams come true this week. It will have a huge impact on the minors and on the Giants, who once upon a time drafted Sergio Romo in the 28th round, Brian Wilson in the 24th and Matt Duffy in the 18th. Those are the types of prospects who won't have much to think about during Thursday's later rounds, but the 2020 version of Steven Duggar will be in for a tense night. 

Five years ago, Duggar was one of the most athletic prospects available, a Clemson outfielder who had put up solid numbers in three years and popped during a summer in the Cape Cod League. Some scouts thought Duggar might go as high as the second round, and he had similar hopes, but he lasted until pick No. 186, with the Giants scooping him up late in the sixth round. 

"As I started to fall, you start to question it a little. 'Do you want to go back (to school) and play another year?' I was kind of in that boat," Duggar said this week. "I was like, I really want to go play (professionally) and hopefully somebody gives you that opportunity. The rest is history.

"But I was in that position where if I had kept falling, I probably would have gone back to school."

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Duggar is grateful with how it all worked out. He was thrilled to land with the Giants and has developed into a big leaguer. Even in the sixth round he got a signing bonus of $248,000, which is more than 10 times what a similar prospect might be faced with this season. 

In an effort -- one that looks remarkably short-sighted -- to save a little money, the owners shortened the draft and changed the rules for 2020. Undrafted players will be able to sign with any team for up to $20,000, a pittance compared to past years. The player who would have been taken in Duggar's slot will miss being drafted by 26 picks, and he'll be faced with a brutal decision if he's a similar type of prospect, a junior with just one year of eligibility remaining. 

Do you take the $20,000 and start your career by making a couple hundred thousand less than you expected, or do you go back to school and hope for better luck in 2021, when you're part of an overstuffed draft class?

"It's tough," Duggar said. "When I first saw that they went from 40 to five -- obviously there's COVID and everything and we're in unprecedented times -- but it's definitely a tough question. Guys might second-guess whether to stay or go depending on their situation. It definitely puts guys in a position they probably didn't see themselves being in.

"I can't speak for all those guys. Personally speaking, if it was five rounds I would probably have a general idea of where I should go and have a stopping point depending on certain circumstances and situations. The draft itself is always unpredictable and now it being five rounds, it definitely puts kind of a finality on it for guys earlier than they were expecting."

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This year will present an unprecedented decision for young players, and it's hard to say how they'll react. Asked about the $20,000 rule, a couple of agents who represent mostly minor leaguers said they don't see many players finding it appealing, noting it really only makes sense for college juniors if they were going to be drafted in the teens or later rounds anyway and don't anticipate doing any better next year. 

Hopefully this all changes back to normal in a year, but in 2020, perhaps some players will find that the opportunity becomes more than they expected. Duggar went lower than he hoped, but five years later, he's happy with the way that experience played out. 

"I thought I was going to go earlier and I didn't, but it worked out and it worked out for the best," he said. "I ended up in an organization that I wanted to be in. The guys that I've been able to meet and play with from the front office down, they're just incredible people.

"My situation worked out perfectly."

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