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COVID-19 will have drastic effects on scouting and MLB Draft

It’s unclear how the 2020 season will play out. (Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire)

The COVID-19 virus outbreak has shut down American sports for the foreseeable future. The NBA, MLS and NHL have all suspended their seasons and there’s some suggestion that the 2020 MLB season may not begin until June or even July.

The college ranks are also feeling the effects of the virus, the NCAA has cancelled all winter championships and spring athletics, including the Men’s Basketball Tournament and the College World Series.

The 2020 MLB Draft looks to be the next event that could be cancelled by the virus. Ronald Blum of The Associated Press reported on Thursday that the MLB is considering skipping the draft. The reason being it would save money for the teams, as they are losing revenue without games being played. Blum also reported that the summer international signing period could also be cancelled or delayed in order to save money.

It may be in the best interests of all parties if the draft was to be cancelled and here’s why.

With the 2020 college baseball season cancelled, teams are going into the draft practically blind. Their scouts were forced off the road as a precautionary measure and they now have limited or no updated film and information on draft prospects.

The Phillies will be one of the teams hurt the most by this, with the organization’s tendency to select college talent early in the draft under general manager Matt Klentak. They also have a new scouting director in Brian Barber.

The Phillies last three first-round picks have all been college players, Adam Haseley in 2017; Alec Bohm in 2018; and Bryson Stott in 2019. Spencer Howard, the organization’s top pitching prospect, also came from the college ranks as a second-round pick in 2017.

Rhys Hoskins, Aaron Nola and Scott Kingery were all drafted out of college as well by the Phillies.

It’s unclear how the virus will affect high school teams. With the ban of gatherings of 10 or more people, games are cancelled for the foreseeable future. For the small number of high schools that may be lucky enough to play at least some of their games, major league teams will have to rely on video as a means of scouting with scouts not being able to be present at the games for the time being.

Looking back as far as the 2016 MLB Draft – when the Phillies had the No. 1 overall pick – we see that the organization did not make up their mind on who to selection until right before the draft.

The months of April and May are critical for MLB scouting departments in terms of assessing talent. The teams will be using the small amount of scouting reports and film that they received from the early weeks of the college season to make selections this year, if there is a draft. The Cape Cod League could be every scout’s best friend in the coming months. Organizations use the summer league to get a grasp on the talent they will be picking from in the following year’s draft. Alec Bohm first came onto the radar of teams when he performed well in the league following his sophomore year. He was drafted No. 3 overall by the Phillies the following summer.

As far as high school prospects are concerned, teams would have to look at how the players performed in travel ball leagues and tournaments during the fall and winter. Summer showcase events from 2019, like the Under Armor All-American Game, would be another key tool in assessing high school talent. More high schoolers than usual may be headed to college if teams don’t feel comfortable drafting them with no senior year to show for. If there isn’t a draft at all, the college ranks will be filled with more talent than we’ve seen in a while, making the draft three years from now an intriguing one.

If there is a silver lining to this situation, it’s that the Phillies are drafting the lowest they have drafted since 2013. With the No. 15 pick, there’s a little less pressure to get the pick right compared to when the team was consistently drafting in the top 10, trying to build up a farm system. The Phillies already have a solid core of players in the big leagues with Bryce Harper, Zack Wheeler, J.T. Realmuto, Andrew McCutchen, Didi Gregorius, and the aforementioned Hoskins, Kingery, and Nola. The team also has Bohm, Howard and Stott in the system, so although it may lack some depth, there is talent already there. The team is also in a win-now mode, so there is less emphasis and pressure on the minor league system and thus cancelling the draft all together wouldn’t hurt the team as much as it would have three or four years ago.

The NCAA has granted an extra year of eligibility to all spring athletes, including baseball players. This makes the decision to cancel the draft a little easier for the MLB. College seniors are no longer in a tough situation as this season would have been their last chance to prove themselves to scouts. Of course, age becomes a factor and these seniors will be 23-24 years old next year, making them less attractive to MLB teams.

In the case that the draft does go on, it may be a good idea for the MLB to hold a combine like they do in football and basketball where college players can showcase their skills to teams. Obviously, the pandemic would have to clear up significantly for something like this to take place in time before the draft, which is scheduled to begin on June 10.

The first round of the draft was supposed to be held at the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska, that will no longer be case even if there is the draft.

Seniors in both high school and college are in a tough situation here. If there isn’t a draft, the high schoolers will have to go to college for three seasons and hope to avoid injury or poor performance. College seniors are in a lose-lose situation as their chances of getting drafted are hurt if there is a draft and if there isn’t one. College juniors would also have to come back for another year, and like the high schoolers, hope to avoid injury or a bad season, especially those who were projected as first rounders this year.


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