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What do the changes to the 2020 MLB draft mean for the Blue Jays?

There are a lot of uncertainties surrounding the sport of baseball right now, but the nearly finalized agreement between MLB and the MLBPA is bringing clarity to a few key issues. One of the questions I was most looking forward to clarity on was “what happens with the draft?” We now have an answer!

The 2020 MLB draft will be shortened to 5 rounds (with the ability to extend to more rounds) and will take place some time in July. The expectation is that the earlier baseball can resume, the more likely MLB is to expand the draft, possibly to 10 rounds. Further, Ken Rosenthal has provided clarity on teams spending limits. “The signing bonuses will remain at 2019 levels for the next two years. The bonuses typically rise by about 3 percent, based upon increases in industry revenues.”

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 Given this, we can determine what the Blue Jays will have to spend on the draft, using slot money from 2019 and projecting it on the 2020 draft order.

Five-round Draft

Pick 5 $6,180,700

Pick 42 $1,771,100

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Pick 78 $793,000

Pick 107 $543,500

Pick 137 $306,800

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Total: $9,694,300

10-round Draft

Pick 5 $6,180,700

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Pick 42 $1,771,100

Pick 78 $793,000

Pick 107 $543,500

Pick 137 $306,800

Pick 166 $306,800

Pick 196 $239,000

Pick 226 $188,900

Pick 256 $160,300

Pick 286 $148,400

Total: $10,737,700

Here are some stray thoughts and questions I have following MLB’s agreement to a revised draft.

Over-slot deals

Could teams in the top 5-10, including the Blue Jays, look to offer over-slot deals to players in order to steal them away from teams picking above them? The uncertainty that comes with the lack of depth of information, outside of the elite players, could lead teams to be more aggressive at the top of the draft. If you pay above slot value for a player, you need to make up for it in later rounds. This is a concession the Blue Jays may be more willing to make this year than in other years where they have more spring looks at draft-eligible players. If they absolutely LOVED a player like Austin Martin or Spencer Torkelson, could they consider offering the player slot money for the ~third overall pick in hopes that it buys them away from the Royals and Marlins, who pick directly in front of the Blue Jays?

Teams Being Cheap

As the game has modernized, owners and GMs have become more and more aware of the surplus value that an impact prospect carries. Because of this, teams have wisely spent almost all of their draft allotment to give themselves the best chance at landing a player who becomes a good prospect. Given the lack of revenue that teams will realize in 2020, I could see owners giving their front office less money to play within the draft than their given allotment from MLB. I would expect this to happen in smaller markets and would hope not to see it in Toronto. Picking 5th, the Blue Jays have a special opportunity to add high upside talent to the system, and I’d be shocked if their total spend on the draft came in under MLB’s cap.

College Heavy

Scouts have had a chance to watch Division I players for up to 3+ years now, and would have a pretty solid idea of where they stand on a player despite the lack of looks in the current year. Teams will view high school players as more volatile than they already would have under normal circumstances, as they may likely have a very limited number of looks at high school talent. Many cold-weather states/provinces hadn’t even begun their 2020 seasons before this shut down occurred. I would expect these factors to lead to a higher percentage of college picks in the draft than is typical.

It’ll be interesting to see if some teams view this as an opportunity to “zag” with an upside draft of high school players. The Blue Jays fifth-overall pick seemingly lines up with an expected selection of a college player (given current draft rankings from all the major publications), but could they look to go high risk/high reward with high school picks rounds two to five? Could they feel really confident in their evaluation of a high school player to take him higher than the industry expects (like Jordan Groshans in 2018)? This is one of the more fascinating elements to follow once we get to the draft.

New Scouting Director

The Blue Jays lost their scouting director, Steve Sanders, when he left in early December for a promotion to be Assistant GM with Ben Cherington’s Pirates. December is a pretty late time in the winter to lose a critical front office voice during a regular year, nevermind one in which all amateur talent has stopped playing across the world. This would seem like a pretty significant hurdle for new scouting director Shane Ferrell, who we hope considers this to be his dream job. Thankfully, Toronto has maintained most of their scouts and cross checkers, so it’s not a department that is starting from scratch. The organization still knows these amateur players well, and Ross Atkins has expressed confidence in the Blue Jays’ readiness to attack the draft, whenever it is. Still, Shane Ferrell is a first time scouting director in highly unusual circumstances, so it’ll be very interesting to see how he approaches his first draft.

Final Thoughts

The MLB draft is one of my favourite sporting events to follow in the year, and it’s disappointing to see it limited to so few rounds. This impacts the lives of thousands of high school/college players who now have to reconsider their options moving forward. We will now see many more high school players enter college instead of entering pro ball, creating a potential logjam with more college players choosing to return to school as well. This could push some players to Junior College, allowing them to re-enter the draft a year from now. There are many trickle-down implications of MLB’s choice here, some of which haven’t been realized yet, but certainly none of which are friendly to amateur players.