Even in shutdown, Rizzo says scouting department ready for draft

The Major League Baseball season has been put on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic shutdown. So has the First-Year Player Draft, which has been pushed back from early June to at least sometime in July. It has been reported the event also will be cut to anywhere between five and 10 rounds, with the possibility of deferring signing bonuses into the 2022 season.

But that doesn't mean the Nationals have stopped scouting, analyzing players or preparing for the draft. In his weekly conference call with reporters, general manager Mike Rizzo said the club's scouting department continues to work on the draft board so it will be prepared if and when the season resumes.

Rizzo said scouts have had a much more difficult time evaluating college players because they managed only a handful of games to begin their season before having everything canceled.

"The challenges have been they stopped playing baseball sometimes through about six weeks into the spring season," Rizzo said. "That's been the biggest hurdle that we've had to face. Fortunately, we dive into this draft thing very, very seriously. We got a lot done early on, especially the higher-round type of premiere prospects. We have a really good feel of what is out there in the country. That's taken up a big part of our calendar."

Rizzo said scouts continue to do their work putting together files on prospects they like through interviews and player reviews.

Rizzo-Batting-Cage-Sidebar.jpg"Our daily assignments are based on a lot of draft work," Rizzo said. "We are in the process of our scouts doing their due diligence, doing their makeup work, talking to people. Talking to players, talking to prospects, talking to the families via telephone or via Zoom or video conferencing."

"We have had several conference calls with our amateur draft leadership and begun kind of putting the board together in anticipation of the draft in July, although we don't know exactly when it is going to take place. But we want to be prepared. We are going over our usual protocol of meetings and interviews, albeit by video call now instead of in person.

"(We are) putting the draft board together, seeing video and film on the players that we have interest in, going over the medicals with our doctors and trainers. We will be prepared whenever the bell rings and we proceed with this draft we will be ready to roll."

The scouting season ground to halt because college games were canceled. The high school season was even more difficult to review, because many teams did not even play a spring game. But Rizzo said his scouting department will not shy away from drafting quality high school players just because they do not have their 2020 games to study.

"We have seen many, many high school players that we like and they will be in consideration at this draft and we will put them on the board as we see how they rank," he said. "We are certainly not going to segregate (out high school players)."

Rizzo spent more than 12 years as an area scout in the upper Midwest, an area used to having games postponed because of bad weather. That taught Rizzo to value the moments he did get to see prospects, because in those areas of the country, they usually had less games to scout due to the influence of Mother Nature.

"We often have limited looks at these players, but you better have history on them," Rizzo said. "History means several years before going up to it. You have to really weigh heavily on your area scouts, who are the backbone of any scouting department because they know the players the best and they've known them the longest. We have to trust their evaluations and we will put them on the board accordingly."

It will be interesting to watch in the shortened 2020 draft and the number of undrafted players that will be available after five or 10 rounds. That would be 75 percent more available players to sign after the draft concludes. Area scouts become even more valuable in this scenario, based on the relationships they have cultivated with players in their jurisdiction. Baseball is considering capping signing bonuses at around $10,000 for undrafted players in this abbreviated draft, which might make those players consider staying in school longer before turning pro.

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