A 15th-round pick that beats the odds and becomes a major league star makes for a good story, but Twins scouting director Sean Johnson said there’s nothing like clicking on your early-round selections. Those choices get the majority of a team’s attention and bonus money.
“The excitement always is your first couple of rounds,” Johnson said. “The first couple of rounds always kind of makes or breaks your draft. No one has looked back and said. ‘I wonder who the Twins took in the seventh round.’ No one cares about that.
“You kind of make your hay in the first few rounds and that should remain the goal.”
That theory works well this year. Because that’s all the 2020 draft is — the first few rounds.
As the coronavirus pandemic has led to economic upheaval across the globe, Major League Baseball decided to shorten the draft to five rounds from 40 last year. Johnson is among those in the game who preferred a 10-round draft, but the league has been in cost-cutting mode.
The first round is Wednesday night, with the remaining four rounds on Thursday. After that, teams can sign eligible free agents who were not among the 160 chosen.
We now pause for a history lesson. There once was a period where there were no round limitations in the MLB draft. A team could draft until their fingers had blisters from dialing the league office to submit their picks.
The 1990 draft went 99 rounds, with the Astros the only team drafting after the 75th round. Their 83rd-round pick, Danny Young, actually reached the majors. Also worth noting: Current players’ union head Tony Clark went second overall that year; Gophers catcher Dan Wilson went seventh.
It won’t take as much time to research this year’s draft, in which 160 players will be selected. The Twins have four picks — the 27th, 59th, 128th and 158th overall. They could have had as many as six picks, but they lost their third-round pick when they signed free agent Josh Donaldson, and traded their pick in the competitive balance round B to the Dodgers as part of the Kenta Maeda trade.
Coming off a 101-win season and an American League Central division title, the Twins are drafting near the bottom of each round.
“Obviously, it will be fascinating to see how it plays out,” Johnson said. “But our excitement is on pick 27.”
Mock drafts are split as to whom the Twins might select in the first round. If pitching is everything, then you might side with ESPN, which has them selecting Texas Tech’s Clayton Beeter, who has a strong arm but had Tommy John surgery in high school. Baseball America has the Twins selecting righthander Bobby Miller out of Louisville. He’s had some command issues in the past but was in top form before the virus shut down the college baseball season. And the Twins drafted him, but were unable to sign him, in 2017.
If you are a fan of tools, MLB.com has them selecting shortstop Ed Howard from Chicago Catholic League power Mount Carmel High. This is where this particular draft will be tricky, because clubs will have incomplete reports on high school players. The top prospects should still get drafted, but some believe more college players will be selected because they have been more extensively scouted.
“Each draft has different strengths and weaknesses,” Johnson said. “The college group, both the college pitching and college bats, that’s a lot deeper of a crop.”
Regardless if the player is from college or high school, there have been fewer looks at these prospects than in any other previous class. It should lead to a lack of consensus among teams on several players, making the draft potentially topsy turvy.
“We were in a similar position [in 2018] at 20 when we took Trevor Larnach,” Johnson said. “You stack your board the best you can and you’re kind of at the mercy of how the board falls. There’s always that dynamic when you pick at the back end of the first round, and we’re fine with that, that means our big league team had a great year.
“It ends up being a pretty exciting night because you just don’t know how the board is going to go. You’ve prepped for every situation, every scenario, the way the board could fall this way or another way.
“You never know until it happens, which is the thrill ride. It always is.”