In just his 15th major league start, 28-year-old Alec Mills no-hit the Milwaukee Brewers. Just last week, Brady Singer came 1 1⁄3 innings short of tossing a no-hitter in his ninth big league start, so this kind of milestone isn’t unheard of for a player just beginning his career.
The big difference between Singer and Mills is that Singer was a highly-regarded prospect. The Royals were counting on him having starts like the one he turned in on Thursday when they took him in the first round of the 2018 draft.
Mills wasn’t highly-touted. When the Royals took him in the 22nd round of the 2012 draft, they likely would have been happy if he reached the majors. Kansas City was probably happy to get Donnie Dewees for him when they traded Mills to the Cubs in 2017.
That Mills was even drafted is remarkable in its own right. Mills had to talk his way onto the team at the University of Tennessee at Martin.
Baseball is incredible. Alec Mills wasn’t recruited to the University of Tennessee at Martin. He walked by practice one day and told the coach he was good enough to pitch on the team. A tryout followed. 22nd round pick. Today, he threw a no-hitter for the @Cubs. @MLBNetwork @MLB— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) September 13, 2020
Those first three words of Morosi’s tweet are true. Baseball is incredible. At least it is when it allows for the unlikely to happen, for the underdog to prevail. Baseball is incredible when there’s a chance that all those countless bus rides and tough losses to be unequivocally worth it.
Alec Mills came out of nowhere, but in the near future, other players from nowhere might not get that same chance.
MLB is hell bent on severing the major league affiliation of 40+ minor league teams, and it’s already preparing for the cuts to happen. The draft this year was shortened from 40 rounds down to just five which meant that hundreds of players who would have been drafted lost out. This caused a bottleneck of talent that carried all the way down to the high school level. High school seniors who were promised spots on college teams had those promises rescinded because colleges had far more juniors stay on for their senior year.
The decision to shortened the draft was made under the pretense of COVID-19 but before the minor league season was officially canceled. It makes business sense to shorten the draft when there’s nowhere for the newly drafted players to play, but reading between the lines, it’s obvious this was an opportunistic ploy to justify and prepare for the culling.
Next year, the draft will again be shortened when (hopefully) there will be a widely available vaccine and sports can be played safely at all levels. The 2021 draft will likely be between 20 and 30 rounds. If it’s on the low end, the next Alec Mills will be out of luck.
After 2021, the CBA expires, and it wouldn’t be surprising if the draft was shortened permanently. This is a poorly disguised trial balloon for MLB’s next cost-cutting measure at the expense of the game.
Contracted minor leagues mean fewer opportunities and fewer opportunities mean fewer players like Alec Mills can claw their way through the cracks and into history books. There will always be underdogs, but if MLB gets its way, the path that Mills walked is about to get a lot harder.
Kenny Kelly is the managing editor for Beyond the Box Score. He would appreciate it if you could donate to wildfire relief funds in Oregon and California.