A total of 24 hours and 35 rounds shorter than usual, this year’s MLB Draft is now officially in the books.
The Washington Nationals made six picks over the last two days, including first-rounder Cade Cavalli, and Sammy Infante with the compensation pick they received for Anthony Rendon.
But now that the draft is all said and done, it’s time to shift focus to undrafted free agents.
Usually, with 40 rounds having just taken place, the undrafted talent pool is pretty slim, so won’t get too much attention.
This year, however, with only 5 rounds, there are going to be plenty of talented players who will potentially have the choice of teams to sign for.
Nobody can quite predict just how many players will actually sign when the signing period opens at 9am Eastern Time on Sunday. It’s just another unpredictable element to this draft.
Because of the wealth of talent this year in particular, the Nationals are planning to attack the undrafted market this weekend...
“After the shutdown period we’re going to be extremely aggressive and get the guys under contract that we really like,” Nationals GM Mike Rizzo said after the first round.
“We’re going to sign as many players as we like that we can sign. There’s no limit to the amount of players that you can sign to a contract. But we’re going to sign players that we like.”
While the Nationals can try to sign as many undrafted free agents as they like, they are restricted to offering a maximum $20,000 signing bonus to those players.
That means, like most years, undrafted signees are predominantly going to be made up of college seniors, albeit with a lot more volume this time around.
Usually, seniors are signed for something like $1,000-$5,000 as they lack any leverage in negotiations with teams that draft them given that they are usually out of eligibility at college.
There is a slight difference this year in that all levels of college baseball have granted students an extra year of eligibility.
That gives them a little more leverage, but the Nationals are still anticipating plenty of talent to be available come Sunday.
“I think it’s still going to be a really good playing field for us,” Nationals’ Director of Scouting Operations, Eddie Longosz, told reporters after Day 2 of the Draft.
“I mean, it’s going to be tricky, and it’s going to be really competitive come Sunday. But we’re really prepared too, I mean, all our area scouts have done a phenomenal job over the last couple weeks getting to know these players.
“They’ve done Zoom meetings, FaceTimes, we’ve taken advantage of everything we have technology-wise, so we have a confidence-level with a lot of these players even at the bigger schools too.”
The Nats’ job now will be to compare those players, that they no doubt scouted anticipating a full 40-round draft, to what they already have in their minor league system.
“We’ve got plenty of minor league players in our system that we already like,” Rizzo said.
“So we’re not going to release those players to sign new players if we don’t like the players in the 2020 draft season as much or [more] than the ones that we already have.
“We have the freedom to sign all the players we want that we like and we’re going to be very aggressive in doing it.”
Unlike the draft though, teams could be competing against each other for the signatures of the top undrafted players; something that will be very different for the major league front offices this time around given the unprecedented level of undrafted talent willing to sign...
“I don’t think there’s any way to predict that,” Nationals VP of Scouting Operations, Kris Kline, explained. “I mean, there may be 30 teams on one guy and one team on one guy.
“I guess it comes down to comfort-level, how many looks you had, what the reports say in the system.
“It will be an interesting process either way.”
With the capped signing bonus, if there are multiple teams in for a player, there are going to be a lot of other factors at play that will decide where these players choose to sign.
“I think the teams where the area scout and maybe crosschecker have a good relationship with the player would certainly bode well for the team that was going to select him,” Kline explained. “I think that gives the kid more of a comfort-level to have that relationship and trust.”
As another example, there has been some speculation that a team like the Kansas City Royals, who have committed to not cutting any minor leaguers and paying them their full salaries, could be in prime position for some of the better undrafted players left standing.
Now remember, the Nationals’ planned to cut minor leaguers’ pay by 25% before eventually reversing course following their major leaguers’ decision to offer to put up the difference.
That sort of thing could end up being something that the players perhaps note in their con column when weighing who to sign with this summer.
A lot of what will happen once the signing window opens on Sunday morning is educated guessing at this point. The Nationals’ front office are about as ready as they can hope to be to really take advantage of what could be another chance to strengthen their farm system...