ST. PAUL — How do you plan for a draft when your scouting capabilities are hamstrung? Or when you don’t know how many rounds the draft will be? Or even when it might take place?
That’s what the Twins — and every other Major League Baseball team — have been grappling with over the past couple months as they try to prepare for next month’s amateur draft, which has been heavily affected by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Though there was a deal in place between the league and MLB Players Association that could have moved the draft back to July, it is expected to keep its original date of June 10. Typically 40 rounds, this year’s draft will be five, something which was only decided recently.
“It’s certainly been a moving target,” Twins scouting director Sean Johnson said. “We’ve just tried to stay as nimble as we can to be ready for whatever gets thrown at us.”
Twins amateur scouting director Sean Johnson will run his first draft this June after working with the Twins since 2002.
When Twins scouts got taken off the road on March 12, Johnson took a step back and developed a work from home routine with the team’s scouting group. He meets with the West Coast scouts on Monday, Midwest on Tuesday, Mideast on Wednesday and East Coast on Thursday.
“We’ve done that for the last six weeks now, so that’s been a way to keep our guys connected, keep them informed, check on their well being (and) make sure everyone’s doing OK,” Johnson said.
“We had plenty of time to prepare,” he added, “so we looked at, how can we be opportunistic with the time that we have? And a lot of that’s been doing a lot of background work on players, talking to college coaches who know the players better than we do.”
Teams are not allowed to view any new player-produced video but can scout video of players shot through March 27, Johnson said. They also can communicate with players by phone or video call. Johnson said the Twins have started to talk with potential draftees on Zoom and will continue to do so with half hour calls conducted over the next few weeks.
“(We’re) just trying to connect with the player, ask any pertinent questions that we have,” Johnson said. “It allows us some really good face time with the players and it’s been really helpful. I think we’ve really taken good advantage of the time we’ve had to prepare.”
The biggest challenge of all this, Johnson said, was not having a full spring to scout players, especially high school standouts. Teams have more comfort with college players because they’ve been watching them for years. As a result, the draft is expected to lean college heavy.
The effects of the coronavirus are expected to carry into future drafts, too, as prep showcases around the country this summer get cancelled. Many top high school players this year will wind up going to college rather than being drafted, strengthening the level of the college game.
But even though teams didn’t have this spring to scout in person, the scouting cycle started long before, allowing teams a good amount of time to get familiar with players.
“I would say that because of the work they did in summer and fall, they’re much further ahead in the process than I think most people would think without having a spring scouting season so now that we have a little bit more clarity around some of the specifics of what this looks like, I think our guys are ready to dig in so we intend to have some remote meetings here soon to talk a little bit more in depth about the board,” president of baseball operations Derek Falvey said.
As a result of finishing with 101 wins in 2019, the Twins will select 27th in the upcoming draft. Their second pick will be 59th overall.
“We think we’re going to get a good player that we really like at both picks,” Johnson said. “Now, not every year you walk into the draft thinking that, but the saving grace is that the college pool is the strong driver of this draft for sure and there will definitely be options for us with our first two picks.”
The Twins also have communicated with about 10 NFL teams, Johnson said, about how they prepared for their draft, which was held remotely last month, to learn about what went well and what glitches, especially technological, they may have faced.
As for the actual draft, the Twins have two plans in place. One is to spread out at Target Field. More likely, they’ll be conducting everything remotely; Johnson said monitors were being brought to his house to prepare for that possibility.
“This has obviously been a really unique experience, but I think our group has done a great job of taking on the challenges and trying to find some silver linings and some new ways to get to know players and we’ve done a good job of that,” Johnson said.
“Our staff’s done a good job of really digging in on information and finding new ways to get to the finish line in our evaluations of all these players.”