Editor’s note: This is the first of two parts on the Mariners and this year’s amateur draft.
Under normal circumstances, the Mariners’ Scott Hunter would be navigating his way to a college-baseball stadium to spend his weekend scouting a series.
It’s usually like that for Hunter every weekend from February to June. Such is the life of an amateur scouting director for a Major League Baseball team. You go where the talent takes you.
Instead, Hunter will spend this weekend at his New Jersey home with his family, like he’s done every day since MLB was shut down because of the coronavirus outbreak. The highlight will be taking the dog for a walk and probably watching a “Tiger King” episode on Netflix.
“My wife kept saying, ‘Is this for real?’ ” he said of the popular show.
The same question could be asked about life during a pandemic.
“I was in Florida at the time when we took all of our guys off the road,” Hunter said. “So I had to fly home and next day go down to Virginia Tech pick up my son, turn around, bring him back. So it was it was a crazy probably 36 hours for myself and my family.”
And home is where he’s remained since that day in mid-March when sports were shut down across the country, including all those college and high-school games he and his staff were planning to scout.
He was home when he heard the announcement that MLB, in conjunction with the Major League Baseball Players Association, had negotiated to limit this year’s draft to a minimum of five rounds.
It’s less than ideal for everyone involved. But for Hunter and the Mariners, the MLB amateur draft is going to be one of their most important for the current regime led by general manager Jerry Dipoto. At least five rounds with the hope of more is better than none.
“With what we are going through right now, the crisis that we are dealing with in the world, we knew certain adjustments would have to happen, and this one seems like a reasonable adjustment,” Dipoto said. “And I still think that we’ll be prepared to do what we need to do. Frankly, I’m glad that there is a draft, because when I heard that there was a possibility that there wouldn’t be a draft, I don’t think that would have been good for anybody.”
The changes for the 2020 draft are significant.
The number of rounds is perhaps the most glaring. There will a minimum of five rounds, including the compensatory picks sandwiched between the first and second rounds, this year. MLB does have the option to expand it to 10 rounds if it chooses.
The bonus pool for signing selections and the slot value of each pick will be the same as the 2019 draft, meaning the Mariners have a total of $10,218,400 to spend on bonuses if there are five rounds and $11,255,200 if there are 10 rounds.
Non-drafted players who want to sign as free agents can receive only a maximum $20,000 signing bonus. In years past, a limit of $125,000 was set for non-drafted players or late-round picks. Teams can also use leftover dollars from the draft bonus pool to exceed that limit.
“There will be a lot of good players that wind up going back to school or are available post-draft,” Dipoto said. “ … The challenge is going to be when the draft stops, whether that is in a Round 5, a Round 10 or something in between. Once it stops, how many of those players would prefer to go back to school?”
It changes the decision-making for some college players.
“So if you’re a college kid as junior and it’s 20 grand, or do you go back and finish your degree and maybe make the same amount of money?” Hunter said. “I do think it is going to affect some things.”
Baseball traditionally has had the most expansive draft in terms of quantity of players selected. For most of the draft’s existence, there was no limit of rounds and teams could pick as long as they wanted. The Yankees drafted 100 players in 1996. In 1998, MLB limited the draft to 50 rounds and lowered it to 40 in 2012.
So if the draft is five rounds this year, a total of 161 players would be selected. If it’s 10 rounds, it would rise to 311 players drafted. There were 1,217 players selected last season.
As part of the negotiations, the 2021 draft will have a minimum of 20 rounds with the flexibility to add more by MLB.
Five or 10 rounds might seem like far too few, but there has been a push to reduce the MLB draft in the new collective-bargaining agreement. Most GMs and scouting directors believe it is coming following the 2021 season. Dipoto isn’t certain on the right number of rounds and believes the rumored reduction of minor-league teams will be a factor.
“A lot of it depends on how many minor-league teams you have playing at any given time,” he said. “It’s also going to run in conjunction with whatever happens with international baseball … if international is unlimited like it is right now. We have seven (minor-league) affiliates. And if we have seven affiliates and an unlimited pool of international talent to sign, I think it’s reasonable to say something 20-25 rounds is fine and if you’re operating with north of that, or south of that, you can adjust up and down.
“If the pool of international players is no longer unlimited, then you have to adjust there.”
Besides the reduced rounds, the date of the draft is not set. It could start on the original date of June 10 or be pushed back as late as July 20.
Because college baseball is shut down and high-school seasons are either postponed or canceled, MLB could potentially hold showcases similar to the NFL combine for teams to see players in the weeks leading up to the draft and a reason for delaying it a month.
“It’s going be interesting to see how many players are willing to just jump out and start working out,” Hunter said. “Probably the second-tier players are going to want to do workouts. I don’t know if that will be agent-driven, or if MLB is going try to put some regional workouts together or if they’re just going allow us as teams to do it, but I’d venture to guess the players that we would select in with our first or second pick probably aren’t going to play another inning of baseball until we select them.”
Dipoto wasn’t certain how much a combine would help.
“I think the only benefit for us on a later date if there was a combine of any sort would be the chance to get face to face with a player,” he said. “We have to be conscious of the fact that the players just haven’t played, so we can’t really use that as an opportunity like you would see in a traditional NFL-type combine. I think it would be nothing more than just a chance to get to meet and greet and say hello to somebody or maybe now survey a medical if that’s possible.”
MLB recently cleared scouts to use video-conferencing to contact top players for interactions, which the Mariners will employ extensively. They believe in the relationship as much as the scouting.
“As I told our area scouts, depending on what happens this year we’re on the level playing field,” Hunter said. “One thing I think our guys have done really well is creating relationships with players.”
Mariners’ 2020 picks through 10 rounds
Round Pick Slot value
1st 6 $5,742,900
2nd 43 $1,729,800
Comp. 65 $1,025,100
3rd 79 $780,400
4th 108 $538,200
5th 138 $402,000
6th 167 $304,200
7th 197 $237,000
8th 227 $187,700
9th 257 $159,700
10th 287 $148,200
- Five round pool money: $10,218,400
- 10-round pool money: $11,255,200