The Nationals’ draft think tank spent much of the last week on multi-hour Zoom calls. Their mechanism to converse about Wednesday’s MLB Draft has changed. Not much else has.
The coronavirus pandemic stalled baseball at all levels. The major-league season never made it out of spring training. The college season was shut down. Many high school games were never played.
But, last year’s work is the core of what will happen in this year’s draft. That remains standard, especially with the draft cut to five rounds. All of the evidence from a player’s college career remains. Some prep work -- the Nationals say they were out and about weeks before the college season was set to begin -- backs the previous work. Yes, high school players carry more risk than normal years. But, otherwise, the information deficit is limited, even with an abnormal spring.
“We were forced to look at video [only] on certain players, but not very many,” Nationals assistant general manager Kris Kline said in a phone interview. “A lot of it was video on players we’ve seen already this year. When it comes to comfort level as far as taking most of the kids in this draft, we’ve seen them.”
The Nationals pick 22nd overall in the first round Wednesday night (draft starts at 7 on MLB Network). Odds are they will select a college pitcher. The five-round draft continues Thursday at 5 p.m.
Washington’s minor-league depth is limited, which is often a cyclical result for contending teams. They draft and develop players for direct impact on the major-league club (Stephen Strasburg, Anthony Rendon, Ryan Zimmerman, Bryce Harper, etc.). Or use past draft pieces (Lucas Giolito, etc.) to bring in a ready-to-go player via trade when chasing postseason spots. The Nationals’ aggressiveness in bringing top-tier young players to the big leagues (Juan Soto and Victor Robles) further drives down the organization’s minor-league ranking. Obviously, a World Series title carries much more value than a fictional minor-league ranking.
But, the Nationals do need a hit, and this limited draft provides a reduction in opportunities to find one. Their last eight first- or supplemental-round picks have done little, which is notable even in a sport where it takes years before the selections typically have an impact. Rendon was the last jackpot. He was drafted in 2011.
One challenge presented by the spring’s cancellations is understanding a player’s awareness. Video can provide evidence of a swing, pitching mechanics or fielding arm strength. It doesn’t reveal in-game nuance, which so much of baseball is predicated on.
“There’s absolutely nothing that replaces being at the ballpark,” Kline said. “Nothing. You can’t see the internal clock of a middle infielder. Is he positioning other guys? Is he in the right spot at the right time? All these little things. Then the count of the baseball game dictates everything that happens in the course of the game. You can’t see that. You can’t see the game unfold. You can’t sink yourself into everything happening by looking at a video. It’s impossible.”
Otherwise, the Nationals feel prepared. Scouting work from last year has tempered the preparation gap forced by the pandemic this year. Reducing the draft further mitigates any would-be lack of information. Kline said the Nationals are prepared to draft 100 rounds. They will just go through five this week.
“Nothing has really changed as far as the day-to-day,” Kline said. “It’s just been in a different way. A different approach to it.”
Stay connected to the Capitals and Wizards with the MyTeams app. Click here to download for comprehensive coverage of your teams.
MORE MLB NEWS: