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2020 MLB Draft: Washington Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo on the Nats’ preparations for the Draft...

Mike Rizzo talked often over the last few weeks about how the Nationals are preparing for a different kind of draft that starts tonight at 7:00 PM (MLBN/ESPN)...

New York Mets v Washington Nationals Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

With the 2020 MLB Draft set to start tonight (7:00 PM ET on MLB Network and ESPN) we are looking back at what Washington Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo has had to say about his team’s approach to this year’s five-rounds-and-a-signing free-for-all set-up, with any eligible players not selected in the first five rounds eligible to sign with any team for a maximum of $20K, which is a significantly smaller bonus than they’d likely have gotten in any other draft, but these aren’t normal times, of course. So five rounds. Starting tonight.

“The first round and then those first round comp picks on June 10th, and then Rounds 2-5 on the 11th,” as Rizzo explained to 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies when he talked to the them back on May 21st.

He acknowledged at the time that this one was going to be “different” than other drafts.

DIFFERENT, EXTREMELY DIFFERENT DRAFT:

“It’s going to be extremely different,” Rizzo said.

“It’s going to be the most unique draft obviously that I’ve ever been a part of, and I’ve been a part of a lot of them. It’s going to be different.”

While the structure of the draft, (five rounds instead of 40; limited $ for anyone signed after the first five rounds), the defending World Series champions will be handling things in much the same way as they have in years past, though they’ll be doing things virtually, most likely on Zoom or something.

If they weren’t gathered at Spring Training, Rizzo suggested then, which they won’t be we know now, “then I would probably do it from D.C. either at my home or at headquarters in my office in D.C.,” he said, when asked about actually conducting his staff through the first five rounds when they still can’t gather together in the usual “war-room” environment.

“Not sure where we’re going to do it yet, but I do know when, I do know we’re extremely prepared and I’m very, very excited about it.”

POST 5TH ROUND SIGNINGS:

The biggest issue, of course, is that due to the coronavirus, baseball at every level in the U.S. stopped in mid-March, six weeks into the Spring season, as Rizzo told reporters in a conference call in April.

“We dive into this draft thing, very, very seriously,” he said.

“We got a lot done early on, especially the higher-round type of premier prospects. We have a really good feel of what’s out there in the country.

“That’s taken up a big part of our calendar and our daily assignments are based on a lot of draft work. We’re in the process of scouts doing their due diligence, doing their make-up work, talking to players, talking to prospects, talking to their families via telephone, or via Zoom or video conferencing.”

While they were doing all that back in April, Rizzo said, they were gathering online to talk to their scouts around the country about what they saw before the baseball world shut down this year, and in previous seasons.

“We have had several conference calls with our amateur draft leadership and begun kind of putting the board together in anticipation of the draft,” he said, though he didn’t know then when the draft would be held. “But we want to be prepared.”

“We’re going over our usual protocol of meetings and interviews — albeit via video call now instead of in person, putting the draft board together, seeing video and film on players that we have interest in, going over the medicals with our doctors, trainers, and that type of thing.

“We will be prepared whenever the bell rings and we proceed with this draft, we’ll be ready to roll.”

ABOUT THOSE $20K SIGNING BONUSES:

Will college-age, eligible players, who have the option to return to school, and even have an extra year of eligibility because of the pandemic, opt to stay in college since the bonuses in this draft won’t be what they might otherwise receive in another normal draft year after the first five rounds?

Will they take their chances that 2021’s Draft will be different?

And how about high school-age players not selected in the first five rounds? Will they go to college and try again in a few years rather than settle for a $20K signing bonus?

Rizzo and Co. in the Nationals’ front office are not writing off high-school age players just because it’s going to be more difficult to convince them to forego college for $20,000 if they’re not taken in the top five rounds.

“We have seen many, many high school players that we liked,” Rizzo said, “and they will be in consideration in this draft, and we will put them on the board as we see how they rank and we’ll do all of our due diligence on high school and college players.

“We’re certainly not going to segregate a full slice of our participation pool be it high school players just because we have been shut down through the season early on.”

Not having a good look at some of these players, however, is not necessarily something new, Rizzo told reporters.

“These drafts are often when you’re talking about high school players, especially the bad weather high school areas, which I was very familiar with,” he said.

“I was an area scout in the upper Midwest for 13 years, so I get it.

“We often have limited looks at these players, but you better have history on them, and history means several years before, going up to it.

“You have to really weigh heavily on your area scouts who are the backbone of any scouting department because they know the players the best, and they’ve known them the longest, and we have to trust their evaluations, and we’ll put them on the board accordingly.”

DRAFT PREP FOR RIZZO AND CO.:

As he explained in an SiriusXM MLB Network Radio interview in mid-April, the Nationals did their work in the past to prepare for what’s coming, even if things went all pear-shaped in the end, in the weeks and months leading up to tonight.

“You have to really rely on the foundations that you laid early on in the draft season,” Rizzo told the MLBNR hosts, Jim Bowden and Jim Duquette.

“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.”

An organization like the Nationals’, Rizzo said, which focuses on the draft and emphasizes the importance of old-fashioned scouting, while integrating modern analytics, is still well-prepared for what’s going to happen once the top five rounds are completed and it’s time to start competing for the remaining eligible, undrafted players.

“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.”

Tonight, the Nationals’ top pick is at No. 22 overall.

Then it’s No. 55 overall in the 2nd Round, 71st overall in the supplemental round after the 2nd (compensation for Anthony Rendon), No. 123 (4th Round), and 153rd (5th Round).

It all starts at 7:00 PM ET on both the MLB Network and ESPN...