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Dodgers scouts relying on ‘really good base foundation’ with MLB Draft restrictions

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Not being able to see players or games for 3 months creates a challenge for scouting staff

In Front Of MLB Scouts, BC High Star Pitcher Just Misses Perfect Game Photo by Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

LOS ANGELES — Dodgers VP of amateur scouting Billy Gasparino and his staff this week began finalizing their prospect ranking for the 2020 MLB Draft, though with several limitations compared to previous years.

“It’s different,” Gasparino said. “It’s going to be a challenge.”

The 2020 draft, described by Gasparino as the deepest draft in the last five years, was shortened to just five rounds, so that list of players ranked by the Dodgers only needs to be 160 deep instead of the usual 300 or so.

In addition to the reduced draft, scouts have been limited during the coronavirus pandemic since March, unable to watch players play or even visit them in person.

“Major League Baseball has been very strict with the rules, and what we can and can’t do, so we haven’t been able to access any players live, by going to watch them play,” Gasparino said. “What they have recently opened up is if a player has thrown a bullpen or hit in a cage, under proper social distancing measures, the player can send that video to Major League Baseball, and they send it to us.”

R.J. Anderson at CBS Sports reported on the centralized draft prospect database in early April. “Although it would be reasonable to assume MLB’s desire here is to prevent a wild west environment, several sources said the league’s motivation is more altruistic,” he wrote. “The league doesn’t want draftees risking injury by having to record videos for all 30 clubs.”

MLB has also pushed back the signing deadline for draftees to August 1, to allow more time for players to coordinate physical exams.

In figuring out which players to select, not seeing them play for nearly three months is a problem. Teams have been able contact players, but can’t see them in person.

“We treat this as a 365-day-a-year process. We have seen these players for nine and a half months, roughly, and have a really good base foundation,” Gasparino said. “We’d always like more, and you can definitely argue the last two and a half months is the most important time period to evaluate these guys.

“It’s just changing our mindset a little bit, accepting a little more risk. You’re willing to go with a little more unknown, a little more risk, and be comfortable with it.”

Picks in the first three rounds are protected, such that if the player doesn’t sign the team gets a compensatory selection one pick lower in the next draft. In recent years, the Dodgers failed to sign pitchers Kyle Funkhouser in 2015 and J.T. Ginn in 2018, then selecting pitcher Jordan Sheffield and infielder Michael Busch, respectively, in the following draft.

Gasparino suggested the fourth and fifth rounds this year could be a “free for all,” with players angling to sign at perhaps below-slot values since that’s higher than the $20,000 maximum bonus set this year for undrafted free agents. In a normal draft year, there is no bonus limit on players picked after the 10th round, with any amounts over $125,000 counting against the draft pool. This year’s hard cap could limit the supply of players willing to turn pro.

“The initial feedback we’ve gotten is on the disappointing side,” Gasparino said. “Most players for that amount of money would rather go back to school, either to continue their education or take their chances in maybe a better atmosphere next year.

“I do think it’s going to push a lot of talent back to college baseball, so maybe it allows for next year’s draft to be even better.”

The Dodgers scouting staff has held regular Zoom calls the last two months, and pored over hours of videos in the extra time normally spent watching games in person. There have been advantages and drawbacks to the reallocation of time.

“We still really value the in-person evaluation,” Gasparino said. “There’s just a certain amount of details you can’t get by video that we just need to do in person.

“It’s allowed our guys to further their skills on how to evaluate the players through data, through analysis, through video. A lot of guys have learned, ‘This is another level of detail I can find about my player.’ that’s been really good for us.”