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The MLB draft lottery, explained

The MLB is changing up how they order teams for the draft. Here’s what to expect.

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Washington Nationals Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The 2023 MLB draft is not taking place until July, but tonight is going to be a potentially franchise-changing night for at least one of the teams looking ahead to that event.

The first-ever MLB draft lottery.

As part of the most recent Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), MLB is instituting a draft lottery. In the past, the draft order was determined by each team’s record, but now, the league has moved towards the lottery model.

While the MLB lottery will be similar to the systems utilized by both the NBA and the NHL, baseball has taken additional steps to try and prevent tanking during the regular season.

So, let us dive into the inaugural MLB draft lottery, with a look at the teams in contention for the first-overall pick, how the league is trying to avoid tanking, and just a few of the players these teams might be eying come July.

What does the lottery determine?

The MLB draft lottery will determine just the first six spots of the draft, and every team that did not qualify for the playoffs is eligible for the MLB Draft Lottery.

This means that the MLB draft lottery places the highest number of teams in the first round than the other leagues that use a lottery system. In the NBA, the lottery determines the first four picks of the first round, and then the teams are slotted in order based on their record from the prior season. This means that the team with the worst record could theoretically pick fifth in the first round.

The NHL draft lottery only places the top two teams. Back in May, the Montreal Canadiens entered with the greatest odds of winning the first-overall selection, and they won the lottery. However, despite having the fourth-best odds of picking second, the New Jersey Devils ended up winning the lottery for the other spot. That pushed teams with worse records down the board.

MLB, however, is placing six teams at the top of the first round via a lottery. That means that theoretically, teams with the best odds of securing the first-overall selection — more on those teams in a second — could end up not picking until seventh overall.

What teams are eligible for the lottery?

As noted above, every team that missed out on this fall’s playoffs is eligible for the lottery. So that means 18 teams are vying for those top six spots in the first round.

What are the odds for those 18 teams?

  1. Nationals (55-107), 16.5%
  2. A’s (60-102), 16.5%
  3. Pirates (62-100), 16.5%
  4. Reds (62-100), 13.2%
  5. Royals (65-97), 10.0%
  6. Tigers (66-96), 7.5%
  7. Rangers (68-94), 5.5%
  8. Rockies (68-94), 3.9%
  9. Marlins (69-93), 2.7%
  10. Angels (73-89), 1.8%
  11. D-backs (74-88), 1.4%
  12. Cubs (74-88), 1.1%
  13. Twins (78-84), 0.9%
  14. Red Sox (78-84), 0.8%
  15. White Sox (81-81), 0.6%
  16. Giants (81-81), 0.5%
  17. Orioles (83-79), 0.4%
  18. Brewers (86-76), 0.2%

As you can see, teams that nearly qualified for the playoffs, such as the Baltimore Orioles and the Milwaukee Brewers, have the smallest odds of winning the lottery. The worse your record, the better your odds.

Now, you probably noticed something atop that list.

Why do the Nationals, A’s, and Pirates have the same odds?

As part of an effort to discourage tanking, MLB is following a path set by the NBA, and giving the three teams with the worst records in the prior season the same odds of winning the lottery. In the NBA’s lottery, prior to 2019 the team with the worst record had a 25% chance at winning the lottery, followed by the second seed having a 19.9% chance. Now, however, the NBA has equalized things at the top, with the three worst teams each having a 14% chance at winning the lottery.

The MLB is doing the same, meaning the three worst teams in the prior season all have a 16.5% chance at winning the lottery. This removes a potential incentive at the end of a year for a team to lose games in an effort to improve their odds at receiving the first-overall selection.

So the Nationals, with last year’s worst record, could still pick seventh?

Yes.

This is another aspect of the MLB lottery aimed at eliminating tanking. The Nationals could, theoretically, end up picking seventh overall as a result of this lottery. The league is trying to reduce — or eliminate — any incentives for teams to lose games down the stretch to improve their odds of getting an earlier pick. One method is through the three worst teams having the same odds, and the other is through placing six teams in the lottery.

In the NHL, for example, if you finish with the worst record you are guaranteed to pick at least third. In the NBA, you are guaranteed to pick at least fifth.

In the MLB lottery, you could finish with the worst record and still end up picking seventh.

How is the rest of the draft order determined?

As noted, the first six picks are slotted due to the draft results. From there, the non-playoff teams are slotted in according to their winning percentage. So, for example, if the Boston Red Sox do not “defy the odds” and win the lottery for one of the top six spots, they will draft 14th. If, hypothetically, one of the teams with smaller odds than Boston wins the lottery and jumps ahead of them, Boston would slide back one spot to 15th.

Starting in the second round and continuing through the rest of the draft, the non-playoff teams are slotted in reverse order of winning percentage.

As for the playoff teams, they are placed as follows: “In reverse order of their postseason finish (so, the Wild Card Series losers go first, followed by Division Series losers, followed by Championship Series losers, followed by the NL champion Phillies and, lastly, the World Series champion Astros).”

Further, there is this caveat: “Within each of those postseason groups, teams are sorted by revenue-sharing status and then reverse order of winning percentage.”

Wait. That almost sounds like there are some more things we need to discuss.

You are right.

Are there any other restrictions?

Believe it or not, there are.

In a further attempt to level the playing field, MLB is restricting how often certain teams can be participants in the lottery. Under the terms of the CBA, “large market” teams cannot participate in the lottery in consecutive years. So larger teams like the New York Yankees, the Red Sox, and the Los Angeles Dodgers cannot be in the lottery in back-to-back seasons.

“Small market” teams, such as the Oakland A’s, cannot be in the lottery in three-straight seasons.

Teams that are prohibited from being in the lottery because of these restrictions will be allowed to pick tenth overall, at the earliest.

Enough about the rules. Who might the winner draft in July?

While the first-overall selection in July could depend on the needs of the team that wins the lottery, here are a few prospects to know as we start thinking about the MLB draft. This is by no means anything close to an exhaustive list, but here are a few prospects that could see their names called to open the 2023 MLB draft.

LSU outfielder Dylan Crews is atop the list in the minds of many, as he brings to the table the ability to hit for power, and the athleticism to perhaps stick in center field. Crews put up a slash line of .349/.463/.691 as a sophomore last season, and as you can see in these two home runs from the Super Regional against Tennessee, he has lightning-quick hands through the zone:

Two more SEC outfielders could be off the board early. First is Florida’s Wyatt Langford, who exploded last season after posting just four at-bats as a freshman. Langford led the SEC with 26 home runs last season, which tied the school record. Langford’s slash line of .355/.447/.719 was impressive as well, and he also had a pair of outfield assists while starting every game in left field.

He can also flash some leather, as he shows here as he robs a home run:

While both Crews and Langford deliver with power, Enrique Bradfield Jr. comes through for Vanderbilt with speed. And tons of it. He stole 47 bases as a freshman during the 2020-2021 season — while getting caught six times — but was a perfect 46-for-46 on his stolen base attempts a year ago.

I mean, he stole home with two outs in the bottom of the ninth to tie a game back in May:

While his power numbers are not on par with Crews or Langford, Bradfield did hit eight homers a season ago. While posting a slash line of .317./415/.498.

Two shortstops are also atop many boards, starting with Jacob Gonzalez from Mississippi. He put up a slash line of .355/.443/.561 as a freshman during the 2020-2021 campaign, along with an OPS of 1.005. Those numbers dipped a bit last year, but on his two-year career at Mississippi he has 88 walks, compared to just 66 strikeouts, over his 610 plate appearances. He also hit 18 home runs last season, including this in the decisive game against Oklahoma at the College World Series to break a scoreless tie in the sixth:

The other shortstop in the mix for an early pick is Jacob Wilson from Grand Canyon University. Wilson’s father Jack was a 12-year MLB veteran, and made the 2004 All-Star Game as a shortstop. He won the Silver Slugger award that year as he finished the season with 11 HRs and 12 triples, which tied him for the NL lead. Jacob posted a slash line of .358/.418/.585 last season for GCU. Wilson also appeared in six games for the U.S. Collegiate National Team, posting a .364/.462/.455 slash line in those six contests.

We can close it out with a look at a pair of pitchers who could be in the mix for the first overall selection. First up is Tennessee’s Chase Dollander, largely considered the top pitcher in the class. Dollander transferred to Tennessee from Georgia Southern, and went 10-0 last season with an ERA of 2.39. He works four different pitches with good command, as he allowed just 13 walks last season:

Then there is Wake Forest right-hander Rhett Lowder. Lowder rebounded from a shaky freshman season to go 11-3 last year, with an ERA of 3.08. He also pitched 6.1 innings for the U.S. Collegiate National Team this season, allowing an ERA of just 1.11 and striking out 5. He made his first start against Japan and pitched three scoreless innings, striking out four.

Here is a good look at him on the bump:

How to watch the MLB Draft lottery

Date: December 6

Time: 8:30 p.m. ET

TV: MLB Network