The Major League Draft


This is a work in progress. Areas of uncertainty are indicated with parentheses or italics.

During the years of the independent minor leagues, the truce between the majors and minors was always an uneasy one. Beginning in 1883 with the Tri-Partite Agreement, the Major Leagues agreed to respect the contract and reserve rights of all minor leagues that were party to what became the National Agreement. However, the majors found that the minor clubs could prevent them from obtaining players that they wanted unless they were willing to pay the price demanded by the team holding their contracts. This was too much like free enterprise for the magnates, so in 1892 they introduced a system now known as the "Annual Selection of Players," the major league or Rule 5 draft. (There was an in-season draft in 1891 which required the consent of the player, and his club could appeal if it wished to retain his services.)  The official stated purpose of the draft was to permit athletes to advance in their chosen profession. Originally, the big league clubs had from October 1 until February 1 to select players at a price of $1000 from Class A leagues and $500 from Class B leagues. The draft period was gradually shortened over the years, and currently is handled in one day at the Winter Meetings. Likewise, the price was increased over time, up to the current level of $50,000 from Class AAA. (See chart below for details.)

There was no preset order of drafting in the early years of the Rule 5 draft. If more than one team claimed a player by the beginning of the draft period, the team awarded the player was chosen by lot. Also, a team could withdraw a pick before the end of the draft period. Starting in 1917, they only had 24 hours to cancel a claim.  From 1913 to 1916, the procedure was that for Class AA and Class A teams, the Major League teams would first draft for the right to take a player from the minor league squad, and if more than one selected said team, one ML team would be chosen by lot. Only then would they name the player they wished to take.

Return of Selected Players

Major League owners soon realized that they could take advantage of the low draft prices by drafting more players than they could use, then selling the excess back to minor league clubs at prices above what they had paid. By 1896, in order to prevent abuse of the draft rules, Major League clubs could not send drafted players to a lower level than he was drafted from for one year after the draft unless no other Major League team wanted them. The following year, this was amended to prevent sending drafted players to any level of minor league if another Major League team wanted them. An additional rule was added in 1903. It required the drafting team to offer the player back to the team he was taken from before selling him to another minor league team. In 1912, Class AA teams were given the chance to claim drafted players before they could be sent to a lower league, and Class A teams got this right in 1913. Although, from 1914 to 1918, a Class A team had priority over AA if the returned player was selected from it. After that, it had priority only in its own classification. The price for claiming a drafted player on waivers (for a Major League team) was the regular waiver price prior to 1912. In mid-1912, it was changed to the draft price plus $250; the extra amount was eliminated for teams in the same Major League in 1916. In 1921, the price was lowered to 75% of the draft price if the player was chosen from an AA or A team, but remained at the draft price if he was chosen from a lower league. In 1935, a series of prices was established based on the level of the team claiming the player and the level he was selected from. This was in effect until 1958, when the price was set at 50% of the draft price. Furthermore, a drafted player could not be sent to the minors (as a general rule) until he had played in a regular season game or went to spring training with the team choosing him, starting 1909.

Minor League Participation

Despite these rule changes, which offered them some protection from the draft, in 1919 the minor leagues abrogated the National Agreement and refused to allow their players to be drafted.  (Minor leagues continued to draft players from teams in lower levels.)  Two years later, a new National Agreement was signed which allowed individual leagues to opt out of the draft. Several did, including all three of the Class AA leagues. (In 1924, all but one agreed to allow players they had obtained from the Major Leagues to be drafted.  The International League held out a year longer.) This lasted until a new agreement was drawn up in 1931. 

Selection Process

As part of the 1921 Agreement, some still existing rules were introduced. The draft was conducted in reverse order of the teams' standings in the past season with the leagues alternating picks (if two teams had the same record, then their order was chosen by lot. By 1990, this had been changed so that their records in the previous year would break any such ties.) Also, draft picks would now be noncancelable. The American League won a coin flip that year to determine which league's last place team would get the first choice, and it has had first pick in all odd-numbered years since then, with the NL going first in even-numbered years. Before 1926 and after 1957, teams whose off-season roster was full could not participate in the draft.


In November of 1897, two rules were passed to help minor league clubs get some return on their investment. The first provided that players in Class A (then the top level) leagues could not be drafted until they had played two years at that level. This protection was extended to the other levels in 1900, but did not last long, as both the National and American Leagues stopped abiding by the National Agreement in 1901.  The new agreement in 1903 did not include this rule.  The second was that only two players could be drafted from any Class A team. In 1906, this was reduced to one player and was extended to the new Class A (the old Class A now being AA) in 1912. This second rule was in effect until 1958.

Beginning in 1931, minor leaguers were not eligible for the draft until they had been a professional for four seasons (consisting of at least 30 days on the Active List) if in Class AA (and later AAA), three seasons if in Class A or A-1, two seasons if in Class B, C, or D, and one season if in Class E, or if they had been sent outright (not on option) to the minors. As of 1942, minor league teams could designate players as eligible for unrestricted draft (meaning they could be chosen without regards to restrictions on the number of players that could be chosen from one team.) Also, players with 10 years experience in the Major Leagues who had been sent outright to the minors were subject to unrestricted draft at a cost of $25,000 starting in 1953. These veterans could be sent to the minors without being offered back to the team they were drafted from. The experience requirement was lowered to 8 years in 1954, to 5 in 1974, and finally to 3 in 1976.  In 1952, the Pacific Coast League became an "open classification" league. This was to be the first step towards it becoming a major league. Players in the PCL were allowed to decide if they wanted to be eligible for the draft, and if so, they were not eligible until they had played five years in professional ball. This rule was in effect until 1958.  The draft price was $15,000.

Part of the bonus rule of 1946 stated that "bonus players" in the minor leagues were subject to the draft. With the end of the second bonus rule, a new policy was instituted in December 1958 making all four year minor league veterans subject to unrestricted draft at $25,000In 1959, all first year players not on a 40-man major league roster became eligible for unrestricted draft, but draftees couldn't be optioned to the minors. The following year, the rule was amended to allow the drafted players to be optioned without offering him back to the team he was chosen from. In 1960, the draft price for first year players was reduced from $15,000 to $12,000, and in 1962 it was lowered further to $8,000. Additionally, a new limitation on optioning first year players was put in to effect. Only one such player could be sent down without waivers, and he would still be counted as part of the 25 man roster (this excluded first year players taken in the draft).  That was modified after the 1964 season so that he would not be counted on the 25-man roster.  As of 1965, all minor leaguers not on a Major League team's 40-man roster were subject to unrestricted draft, unless they had been chosen in June's amateur draft or were undrafted free agents signed subsequent to April 30.  The first year player draft was eliminated, although players in their first year of eligibility still carried the special $8,000 draft price.  Players signing their first professional contract in 1969 or later were not eligible to be drafted for three years.  This was modified in 1990 so that players who were 18 or younger on June 5 of the year when they signed their first pro contract, they are not eligible until after their fourth season.

Drafted players must remain on the 40 man roster until the season ends and must spend at least 90 days on the 25 man roster before he can be optioned to the minors without going through waivers. The team from which he was drafted can reclaim him for half of the draft price if he is placed on waivers, and such waivers cannot be requested until 25 days before the regular season opens.
  Draft Period Draft Price From Class
    AAA AA A B C D E F


1892 10/1-2/1     1000 500        
1896 10/1-12/31     500 300 200 100 75 50
1900       1000          
1903 9/1-10/15     750 500 300 200    
1906 Same except PCL 11/15-12/1     1000 750 500 300    
1908 9/1-10/15 for all
1909 9/1-9/15

1912 9/15-9/20   2,500 1,500 1,200 700 500    
1917 9/20-9/25                
1921 10/15-10/20   n/a 4,000 2,500 1,500 1000    
1923 Day before W.S- 5 days long                
1924     5,000            
1931 3 days   7,500 6,000 4,000 2,500 2,000    
1938               1,500  
1942 11/1-11/4                
1946   10,000 7,500 6,000 4,000 2,500 2,000 1,500  
1949 11/20-11/21                
1952 Commissioner sets date                 
1958   12,000 7,500 4,000 2,000 1,000      
1960   25,000 25,000 25,000 25,000 25,000 25,000 25,000  
1987   50,000 50,000 50,000          


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