Well, it’s official: The 2020 MLB Draft will be five rounds, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. It will be the smallest draft in the history of the sport, as teams are looking to adjust to the new format. With this new system comes significant implications, as teams in smaller markets will miss out on adding premier players at a low cost. Another byproduct of this decision is that once the draft is completed, the players who go undrafted will be able to sign with clubs for up to $20,000.
While the monetary savings that teams will have because of a shortened draft is significant, let us focus on the ramifications for the players and teams, as we offer our five takeaways:
1. A Boost for Small Market Teams
We at The Launch Angle are saying that there is a chance. The small-market teams who are not known for spending and are rebuilding, such as the Marlins, Pirates, and Royals, all have an opportunity to acquire prime players for pennies on the dollar once the draft ends.
Signing players for a maximum of $20,000 will allow small franchises to acquire players to bolster their farm systems, streamlining their rebuilds and becoming competitive sooner, rather than later. Some might even secure a playoff spot as a result.
2. Demand for Pitchers Will Be High
What wins in October? Pitching. Seven of the top 15 prospects, according to Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com, are pitchers. We may see them go sooner rather than later, as teams are vying for the next ace. With the game transitioning into the home run era, organizations are looking for arms that can strikeout those elite hitters. With a shortened draft, teams may feel that pitching is now a priority over hitting.
3. The Tigers Are On the Clock
Well, is it Spencer Torkelson or Emerson Hancock? With a smaller draft, the picks are more valuable, relative to a standard 40 round format. This draft may be the one that helps Detroit push their reconstruction into hyperdrive, which is why they need to do their homework on these two top prospects.
4. Trust the Analytics, Scouting, and Player Development
Recent baseball literature, such as The MVP Machine (which is a fabulous book), highlights the disconnect in organizations between scouting and analytics. To solve this problem, they must hire “conduits” to bridge that communication gap. In this context, they are more necessary than ever.
While it is documented that a barrier between these departments exists, teams will rely heavily on them to value prospects properly. This might sound cliché, but those who crunch the numbers, scout the players, and develop them must work together to maximize the success of their respective franchises in June.
5. Farm Systems Will Determine the World Series Teams
As of March 9th, Jim Callis, Jonathan Mayo, and Mike Rosenbaum of MLB.com crowned the Tampa Bay’s farm system as the best in the game, with San Diego, Los Angeles (Dodgers), Miami, and Detroit behind them. Am I saying that the Rays and Padres will make the Fall Classic? It’s a possibility, but there are still more variables to account for, such as divisional format.
For now, I am confident in saying that teams who have premier farm systems will make a deep playoff run, particularly for those who sign a significant amount of undrafted free agent players.
Nicholas Fichtner is a baseball analyst and researcher, and Founder and Editor of The Launch Angle. His previous experience includes working as a Quantitative Analyst with the Northeastern University Huskies baseball program for the 2019 season. While in this role, he worked closely with the coaching staff in developing an analytics department that assisted in impacting overall strategy and player evaluation using advanced data analysis and metrics.
Before Northeastern, Fichtner served in previous roles with the Hyannis Harbor Hawks of the Cape Cod Baseball League as an Assistant General Manager consulting on in-game strategy, roster management, and quantitative based player development, and as a Student Director of Analytics with his alma mater, Endicott College and their baseball program. His Thesis, entitled “Free Market Navigation in Major League Baseball,” details the development of a highly sophisticated model that accurately predicts free agent player salaries based on various quantitative variables. He currently resides in Beverly, Massachusetts.