The MLB Draft is not as flashy as any of the other three major sports drafts, and most of that has to do with the fact that the majority of the players who get drafted won’t even sniff the major leagues for years to come. However, Major League Baseball is finding new ways to get more eyes on more players leading up to the three-day event over future All-Star breaks to come.
The MLB Draft League was started in 2021 by Major League Baseball and Prep Baseball Report (PBR) as a new way to showcase draft-eligible prospects who are attempting to improve their draft stock. The league is made up of a group of six teams that were abandoned during MLB’s most recent reorganization, and all six are directly in the Philadelphia Phillies’ backyard.
How the MLB Draft League Works
The six squads are located in an area of nearly 41,000 square miles, which is roughly the same size as the state of Pennsylvania. Two teams are inside Pennsylvania’s borders while the other four are a combined less than 60 miles from them.
The league’s season is broken into two 40-game halves. The first half is most important because it leads directly into the MLB Draft. After about a week of time away, the season “resets” along with almost the entire roster of every team. Players who get drafted and signed are no longer obligated to stay in the league, as they become the property of the organization that selected them.
Each roster is refilled with new players looking to improve their draft stock for next season. For example, the Trenton Thunder had just six of their 29 players return for the second half, none of which were the nine that were drafted from the first half roster. The team that finishes atop the standings in the first half plays the top team of the second half in a championship series for the league crown.
The MLB Draft League offers exciting opportunities to young ballplayers who think they have what it takes to get to the majors. The league uses wood bats, making it a step above the collegiate level in terms of difficulty, and players are generally aged between 19 and 23 with some outliers here and there. After a season and a half, the highest drafted player from the league is Alex Ulloa who was taken in the 4th round last year as a high schooler, with most of the selections coming on Day 3.
So, other than geographical location, why else should the Phillies and their fans care about this new league? Look no further than the four MLB Draft League players they selected last weekend.
Why the Phillies should care
Sosa encapsulates the very idea of the Draft League. Drafted in the 19th round by the Toronto Blue Jays as a high schooler in 2019, Sosa declined to sign a contract to begin his trek through the minors so he could go to Rutgers University and play in the Big Ten. But after appearing in just eight contests for the Scarlet Knights, Sosa found himself on the West Coast playing at South Mountain Community College in Phoenix, AZ.
He dominated the JuCo level and received an invitation to play for the Trenton Thunder, the Draft League’s reigning champion and former AA affiliate of the New York Yankees, for the summer of 2022. He continued his strong year by hitting .339 with 3 HR and 12 RBI in the Draft League first half, solidifying plenty of hype to get drafted the second time around.
The Phillies took Sosa at pick No. 302 in the 10th round. Right away, it’s hard not to notice and appreciate that Sosa was able to double his draft value over the past couple of years. It is exactly what the league wants for its players, and Sosa is a prime example that has fans showing up each night in groves to root for these guys to get their big break.
After all, because of its centralized location, MLB scouts seldom exclude themselves from checking out the new level of competition and getting to witness kids that are all so easy to root for.
Simply put: there is some serious talent in this league, and because this new league has the MLB and PBR brands on it, organizations are becoming more willing to take a chance on these players. This go-around, 46 names from Draft League rosters were called during the draft, which was a slight uptick from 2021’s 39 players.
The Phillies are one of the teams that have adopted this new league as a feeder program for their farm system. In 2022, Philadelphia selected Sosa and three others from the Draft League, including Josh Bortka, Daniel Harper, and Drew Garrett, all right-handed pitchers from the State College Spikes. Their National League East competitors also made several picks from the league, and the division accounted for over 27% of the Draft League’s draftees in 2022.
The second half of the season is underway for the MLB Draft League. The players on the new rosters will be playing for extra reps and look over the summer before returning to college in the fall. These players will have to wait until next July to hear whether their name gets called at the podium or not. For the 46 that got phone calls this year, it’s time to wish them the best of luck whether they get going with their professional organization now, or choose to go back to school.
And for Gustavo Sosa, it’s time to get excited to see just how high his ceiling is with the Phillies, who are somewhat thin at the catcher position in the minors. His long journey to the bigs has hit its next chapter.
Photo Credit: AP Photo/Jae C. Hong