The Coronavirus pandemic has thrown professional sports into a state of chaos, with baseball in a particularly uncertain position given that its regular season hasn’t even started. But while much of the focus has been on when the season will start, that’s far from the only issue with which the league and players’ union are wrestling. The June draft, for instance, represents an extremely difficult challenge. High school and college seasons have both been halted, leaving clubs without any opportunities to scout this year’s crop of players.
To that end, Ronald Blum of the Associated Press reports that the league and the union have discussed canceling the draft entirely. Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich of The Athletic also report that possibility is under consideration, adding that a combined 2020-21 draft class has been discussed.
Of course, the myriad logistical problems associated with that scenario are rather apparent. College seniors, in particular, would be left out to dry. College juniors could simply stay for their senior year, but returning for a fourth season would be a double-edged sword; currently projected top picks would face the risk of tanking their stock with an injury or poor showing, while mid- and lower-round picks could have a chance to substantially elevate their stock.
Similarly, high school seniors would be left in a state of limbo. The league and union could alter the draft eligibility guidelines that currently don’t allow college freshmen to be selected, but that creates complications for and pushback from the NCAA. As Baseball America’s Carlos Colazzo points out, the level of competition for playing time among freshmen would skyrocket if the year’s entire prep class were to advance to collegiate ball. That, too, could complicate matters from a scouting perspective.
Collazo spoke with multiple scouting directors throughout the league, with one AL director opining that keeping the draft in place as presently constructed is the best solution. The director noted that “you’re going to have to worry about scouting the PDP League and the 2021 (class). Those are hugely important events while you’re also simultaneously preparing for the draft. Your scouts are going to be pulled in different directions.”
Clubs have been scouting both this year’s high school and college players for years already. And while the lack of a spring season doesn’t give those teams the most recent looks to evaluate the class, it avoids many of the logistical difficulties that come with postponing or canceling the 2020 draft. Certainly, evaluating high school students would be of particular difficulty, given that they’re earlier on in their development (both from a baseball and purely physical standpoint).
Collazo rightly notes that leaving the draft in place only impacts the current draft, whereas pushing back to a combined 2020-21 setting throws a wrench into multiple draft classes. A delay may well happen, though, with one agent telling Collazo it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the draft “moved back a little bit, or moved back as appropriate and they do try and get the college kids back to their campuses in May or June. Kind of ramp back up under those facilities. You do some regional type workouts at the big universities, all the area guys come in.” However, the agent admitted that’s far from a perfect scenario, wondering: “Who pays for it? When is it? What does the NCAA allow? You have all these things kind of stacking up.”
Holding the draft on schedule would seem to be the ideal outcome for baseball. Unfortunately, though, no one knows whether that will prove to be realistic with COVID-19 wreaking havoc across the globe.