Washington Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo has referred to MLB’s Draft as baseball’s “Super Bowl” frequently over the years, and the General Manager and President of Baseball Operations in the nation’s capital has focused since he took over in the front office in D.C. on building up national and international scouting so that the organization is able to be self-sustaining and have the prospects to fill needs or make trades for what is needed.
It’s going to be different this year, of course. With baseball and much of the world in general shut down amidst of the COVID-19/coronavirus pandemic, the 2020 season and Draft are up in the air, and preparation for both is on hold as everyone tries to figure out what form these things will take this time around.
“We’re preparing for an upcoming draft,” Rizzo told SiriusXM MLB Network Radio host Jim Bowden and Jim Duquette in an interview which aired on Sunday morning.
“Whatever that’s going to look like and whenever that’s going to take place,” the GM said, “we’ll be prepared for it.”
The 2020 Draft could be pushed back from early June, when it’s usually held, to some point in July, at MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred’s discretion according to reports on the agreement Major League Baseball and the MLB Players’ Association reached late last month.
There could be anywhere from 5-10 rounds, and payment of bonuses could be deferred until 2022, and the 2020 International Signing Period might be pushed back as well. It’s currently unclear how all these things will shake out, but Rizzo said his staff is preparing their draft strategy while they wait to see how it will look.
One thing is clear, it’s going to be different than his front office’s preparation in previous seasons.
“The difference is there’s no player interaction and direct interaction,” Rizzo explained, “so you have to really rely on the foundations that you laid early on in the draft season, be it in the winter with your area scouts and then early on in the spring.
“We were very fortunate we attacked the Spring very, very early, which we do every year, and [Assistant GM and VP of Scouting Ops] Kris Kline and his group of guys were out and about early. We’ve got a really good feel for the upper portion of our preferential list going into the Spring. It’s those teams that are up in the colder weather states and those high schools that don’t participate and they don’t start playing until later on in the season that you’re going to really have to rely on what you’ve seen in the offseason to make any kind of assessment on their performance and their ability-levels and where you would take them and that type of thing. So it’s going to be very, very important on communication with those players and what their mindset is and that type of thing. Now they’ve got a lot on their plate obviously, also, so we’re just waiting for some direction on what the draft is going to look like and when it’s going to be, but in the meantime, we’re certainly putting our ducks in a row as far as communication with our scouting staff.”
If it is a five-round draft, which Baseball America noted, would be an 86% decrease in the number of players selected, there will be plenty of eligible players who go undrafted this year, and under the agreement, “... teams will be limited to spending no more than $20,000 to sign any undrafted player,” which, critics of the plan suggest, could lead to significant numbers of players opting to go to college instead of accepting what would be dramatically less than they would previously have received.
How will all these possibilities affect the Nationals’ preparation? How will it affect eligible players?
Rizzo, as anyone who has covered him over the years knows by now, doesn’t like to deal in hypotheticals, but he tried to answer those questions.
“We have really little idea of what this draft is going to look like, so the hypotheticals of what it’s going to mean for any group of players, be it the junior colleges, the four-year colleges, or the high schools is still to be determined in my mind,” he said, “... and I think that we’re going to have to wait to see how it shakes out, because by the time we find out what the rules are and what the ramifications are, we’ll certainly have to employ a strategy, and again, I think the organizations with the larger, more experienced scouting staffs who have been out earlier in the Spring seasons, that rely on really good, veteran area scouts to cultivate those particular areas, I think they’ll have the upper hand as far as who to approach first, and as you two guys both know, they’re the backbone of any draft, because they’re the ones that are in the families’ living rooms and their kitchens talking to the parents and have a relationship with them, and I think the teams that have those types of scoutings staffs, both in experience and in depth, will have the upper hand because they have been in the kitchens, and they’ll have already a built-in trust factor with those particular players.”