TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Major League Baseball will hold its 2020 First-Year Player Draft next week in an abbreviated version because of the coronavirus.
Instead of the normal 40 rounds, it will only be five rounds with 160 total selections over the course of two days. Needless to say, this presents some challenges. But Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Erik Neander said it shouldn’t change their drafting strategy.
“I really think for Rob (Metzler) and the staff, the behaviors should be pretty similar,” Neander said. “You’re not making as many picks but you’re still making a first-round pick, a [Competitive Balance Round A] pick, a second-round pick and so-on, much like you would any other year. You don’t have the opportunities, the sheer number and volume of opportunities that we’ve had historically. But the access to talent at the top of the draft is pretty similar, so I’m trying not to think about it much differently. At the end of the day, you’re trying to select players that you believe are most likely to positively impact your major league team somewhere down the road.”
As far as where this draft ranks in difficulty gathering information on players and navigating new hurdles, Rays Senior Director of Amateur Scouting Rob Metzler stopped-short of saying it was the toughest he’s even been a part of.
“Most difficult?” Metzler asked in response. “That’d be hard to say. It’s just different challenges. You’re forced to make more reasonable assumptions about how to process a shortened season. But looking at the totality of each player’s career – both high school and college – and trying to line the players up best based on the talents, the attributes, performance, all of those things. In some ways those are similar. I can’t really answer if it’s more difficult or less difficult. I would just say that there are just unique challenges and we take them on the best we can.”
A significant issue that Metzler, Neander and the rest of the Rays staff have encountered is getting thorough evaluations of prospects because of the pandemic, which shorted college seasons and made high school players miss their entire 2020 season.
“There’s no way around it,” Metzler said. “It’s a big challenge. In some cases, we were able to get a sense. In all cases during the calendar year – whether it be some of the northern players or indoor – if there were big strength gains, we might have some sense for those types of changes in young prospects. But how they apply to the game on the field and how they apply to competition, it’s going to be challenging for us to get the best sense for that.”
With the Rays’ drafting strategy remaining unchanged, what exactly is that strategy? How will they build this team for the future? Neander said they are focused on taking the best prospect on the board for each of their picks, without narrowing their scope to a certain position.
“For us, it’s the player we think is most likely to impact our major league team three, four, five, six years down the line – or sooner if we get a good one. The Major League Baseball Draft, and if all goes well and they impact your club, there’s much more of a delay in that than the NFL by comparison, where they’re plugged onto the active roster and you’re more focused on your specific need. We don’t get too caught up in targeting a specific need I would say, or a specific position. Really just try to focus on the best player available for our organization.”
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