2019 first-round selection CJ Abrams in action during this year’s Spring Training. Photo Credit: Mark Collier, (FriarLounge.com)

Last month we wrote about potential changes coming to the 2020 MLB Draft. Over the past few weeks, reports have confirmed what the changes will be.  For those of you that were too engrossed in Tiger King, here are a few key takeaways.

  • The draft will only be five rounds this year as opposed to 40 in past years;
  • Undrafted players can sign as free agents for up to a $20,000 signing bonus
  • Teams are allowed to suspend signing bonuses to a minimum of $100,000 paid 30 days after the draft, with succeeding payments in 2021 and 2022.

From the Padres’ perspective, this has a chance to be a very good draft.  The organization will have six selections, five rounds plus a first-round supplemental pick at number #34.  Over the past four years, they have spent 80% of their draft budget on its six highest-paid players and for this year’s draft will have three of the first 45 overall selections.

At 6-foot-5, 200 lbs., Veen has a lot of power to dream on. Photo Credit: FishStripes.com

Predicting teams’ picks is always difficult, and the shut-down of college and high school seasons this spring makes it even more so this year. Yet The Athletic, ESPN and Baseball America all have the Padres taking a left-handed hitting high school outfielder Robert Hassell, a pick that Jim Callis of MLB Pipeline can see as well, even though he has San Diego selecting a college pitcher.

“It’s hard to say because where the Padres are at number eight it gets really jumbled.  I think it’s safe to say they will have their choice from all the demographics.  I think [Zac] Veen [widely considered the top high school position player in the draft] will be gone before he gets to the Padres, but I think you could see [Robert] Hassell and [Austin] Hendricks [other top-rated high school outfielders] there along with pitcher Max Meyer who could be as well.

“Really, nothing would surprise me.”

Many draft experts think Hassell might be the best pure prep bat in the draft. Photo Credit: BleedCubbieBlue.com

Since Preller assumed control the Padres have one of the bigger scouting departments in baseball and may feel more comfortable drafting high school players this year without a last look because they already have so much information already in their database. In a way, with the current depth of the Padres’ system, they may not have needed another 30 players.

“I guess that would be a glass half full theory,” laughed Callis.  “No front office is crazy about the five-round draft because if you have faith in your scouts – which I’m sure the Padres do – you believe you that the more picks that you have, the greater the advantage.  One thing, as you said, that does help San Diego is that they have a pretty strong system going in, so they don’t have to rebuild.”

“This isn’t as much a disadvantage as many people think,” said Callis. “The most important things for evaluation are usually the high school showcases when the players are going up against other talented players, as well as the college summer circuits – like the Cape Cod League.

“If those go away, it will really affect next year’s draft.”

[Editor’s note: After we spoke with Jim Callis, the Cape Cod League cancelled it’s 2020 season because of COVID-19.]

***

The main reason for a truncated draft is, of course, COVID-19, and the near-certainty there will be no minor league baseball this season. But broader changes loom on the horizon as the agreement between MLB and MiLB expires at the end of this year and MLB’s collective bargaining agreement with the players ends after the 2021 season. However those negotiations play out, the structure of minor league baseball will definitely look different.

MLB desires more control over operations of the minor leagues and the facilities where they send their prospects and seeks to streamline player development.

Behind big league teams’ 26-man rosters, each organization has four levels of full-season minor league affiliates.  While MLB proposes to eliminate specific teams and consolidate leagues geographically, they seek to maintain the same general framework. All of the 30 major league clubs will continue to have only one affiliate at each of the full-season levels.

Major changes await below the Low-A level, where there are no limits on how many short-season or complex teams a major league club can run. Additionally, rosters in short-season and complex leagues are 35 players. MLB continues to drive toward eliminating the four short-season leagues and each organization keeping just one domestic summer league team based out of its spring training complex.

The Padres’ short-season club is one of the teams that could be contracted in 2021.

That would eliminate 35 roster spots for every organization, and another 30 for teams like the Padres, which currently run multiple complex league affiliates.

“Absolutely, it’s about trying to become more efficient,” said Baseball America’s Kyle Glaser, about what would be the most significant changes to minor league operations since 1963. “Major League Baseball has done the research about how few players drafted after the 25th round ever make the major leagues.

“Essentially, they are trying to get rid of what is known as the ‘organization guy’ and have the minor leagues made up mostly of players who have a realistic shot of reaching the major leagues.”

If the changes take place, most newly-drafted players would land in the complex leagues, with some advanced amateurs going to Low-A.  Last year, three of the Padres’ top five selections spent most of the year in the AZL. CJ Abrams and Matt Brash briefly played in Low-A Fort Wayne, and only Logan Driscoll spent significant time with Tri-City.

Logan Driscoll was the top prospect for Tri-City-City in 2019. Photo: Mike Wilson.

“Mostly the Complex Leagues is where they send the high school kids and college kids at short-season,” said Glaser.  “Some organizations like the Complex Leagues because of the facilities and the control aspect – where the players live, what they eat and how they organize their days.  Others want the complete opposite, get them going into professional baseball games in front of crowds, living on their own, the bus trips, and the other things that come with going out to the minor leagues.

“There really isn’t a huge difference on the field between the complex leagues and the Rookie-level leagues like the Pioneer and Appalachian leagues. The main difference is the elements outside the ballpark.”

Since the Professional Baseball Agreement between the minor leagues and MLB was last negotiated in 1990, there has been a revolution in player evaluation and development.

“Part of the negotiations also is how many players an organization could have domestically,” said Glaser.  “The most recent number discussed was 150 players in total.  So if each team had 25 players at the four full-season levels, that leaves room for about one complex league club when you take into account the number of players who would be inactive or on disabled lists.

“Now, some clubs want 175, maybe even 200, and that would change things.  The numbers are still being discussed.”

Whatever the final number, it will be a drastic reduction for the Padres, who carried over 220 players on their domestic minor league roster at the end of last season.

A less discussed, but perhaps more significant action would eliminate each minor league office and put MLB in charge of minor league teams. This would end the every-two-years musical chairs Player Development Contract process teams currently go through and ensure long-term stability in team affiliations.

“In the end, a lot of this is about centralization, and yes, even control.  We have an idea of what might be coming, but in the end, we will have to wait like everyone else for the negotiations to conclude.”

One of the few things that will not be affected by COVID-19 will be our major league draft coverage.  We plan on discussing San Diego’s draft with the Padres, have draft night analysis, and interviews with various media pundits.

 

 

Posted by John Conniff

John grew up in Poway and has written for MadFriars since 2004. He has written articles for Baseball America, FoxSports San Diego, the El Paso Times, San Antonio Express-News, Amarillo Globe-News, Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette and Pacific Daily News in addition to appearing on numerous radio programs and podcasts. He can also break down the best places to eat for all five of the affiliates. There is no best place to eat in Peoria, Arizona.

5 Comments

  1. NorCal Padre Fan May 27, 2020 at 8:56 am

    Terrific article! We miss baseball so much. What a horrible year for teams, players, coaches and fans. Love reading about the next potential Padres. Very good information on the goals for minor league teams and affiliation with the clubs. Thank you for the great writing! Looking forward to your evaluation of the draft and our new baby Padres. Stay safe and let’s play ball!

    Reply

    1. Thank you so much. It’s always nice to know someone out there is reading! john

      Reply

  2. Any insight on Nick Bitsko, the mystery pitching prospect who’s created some noteworthy pre-draft buzz?

    Reply

    1. That is a good question. Unfortunately, the only information that I have on the players is coming from either Law, Longenhagen, Callis or BA. From what I’ve read he seems to be more of a wild card that could go later in the first round. If the Padres did take him with the eighth pick my guess – and I repeat it’s only a guess – they would have some below-slot deal with him so they could be more aggressive later in the draft. Thanks, for reading Tim. john

      Reply

  3. […] despite the shortened format, the 2020 draft will only make an already strong system stronger. As we wrote in an earlier article, the four main publications that follow the baseball draft – ESPN, The Athletic, MLB Pipeline and […]

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