I can say with a degree of confidence that MLB will have a player draft in 2020, even though the league has ordered all scouting to cease:
“Over the past few days, we have been in touch with Clubs regarding the effects of the spread of coronavirus on domestic and international scouting operation. Although we have not made any decisions regarding the 2020 First-Year Player Draft or 2020-2021 International Signing Period, we are continuing to monitor the situation and will provide guidance to the Clubs on these events as soon as possible.
Many Clubs have voiced significant concerns about the health and safety risks to Club employees and amateur players associated with continued scouting operations in this environment. As a result, effective immediately, the Commissioner’s Office hereby imposes a temporary prohibition on all Club scouting activities, both domestic and international. During this time, Clubs may not hold tryouts (public or private) or attend non-Club amateur baseball events (e.g. games, showcases, workouts). Clubs also may not conduct in-home or other in-person visits or administer any tests or assessments of amateur players that are done as part of the pre-draft or pre-signing process. In addition, Clubs may not encourage players to conduct tryouts, workouts or games that Clubs would be able to watch remotely. These prohibitions will be in effect until further notice.
We appreciate your cooperation as we work to put in place protections that are designed to preserve the integrity of the amateur talent acquisition systems. Any Club that violates these prohibitions will be subject to discipline by the Commissioner’s office.”
Even if the executives must remain safely ensconced in their corporate offices, players will be drafted and signed. In the Edgertronic era, teams have to be able to merge into traffic regarding selecting talent with fewer games available.
Baseball in the 2020s is about locating and developing cost-controlled talent. While assessing it against top-quality college competition is probably preferable to seeing Wrigley or Mesa workouts, any opportunity to display skills ought to be better than none. College bodies are tending to give (most or all) players an extra season of eligibility, not just seniors. Some players, especially those that are healthy and well-regarded, will want to get on with their pro careers.
Quite a few moving parts here, obviously. College baseball only historically allows for 11.7 scholarships. With some players staying an extra season, and incoming classes still incoming, roster sizes and scholarship amounts will be a discussion topic for years, not months. Players will need to mind avoiding situations where they are the seventh infielder on a good team. Look for a possible uptick in the quality of the Junior College squads in 2021, as players seek places to play.
Which leads to the draft. Some players will want to get about playing when Short-Season leagues begin their (potential? likely?) last seasons in existence. Asa Lacey and Spencer Torkelson have nothing left to prove. However, which college players will prefer to start playing as pros, versus returning to their schools? How many high school seniors, largely denied a senior season, will leave? Will draft pools be adjusted for player leverage? Commissioner Rob Manfred's unwillingness to compete for talent could make for an interesting landscape the next few years.
As for player selection, the players likely to want to sign likely have results on video. Pitchers won't have a full 2020 season, for better or worse. Top-8 round guys are likely going to be ones with searchable video. Senior signs won't be as plentiful. However, depending on when the draft is, some players not even planning to play might sign for a $10,000 bonus. The question "Would you sign for $125,000?" might be asked of many players, particularly at tryouts in stadiums across the country.
Sadly, Manfred might take this as a hint that the plan to trim organizations down to 125 or 150 players (beyond the players on the 40-man roster) is a good idea. Minor league teams will be pounded by the events of 2020, and the Commissioner seems quite willing to pounce on an advantage given.
The draft, minor league baseball, and the Collective Bargaining Agreement will all be different soon. I doubt Manfred cedes much to anyone. As minor players wrestle with the choice of "get better" or "get paid," I await further developments.
In the time between my finishing this and when I sent it to Al for editing, an article with a similar outlook was released by Keith Law of The Athletic. Since then, when the draft will occur has been discussed. Some think it should be postponed, others say it would be good to continue on schedule:
“I would strongly be in favor of keeping the draft date,” said one American League scouting director. “Both for this year and future years, just logistically … similar to articles you’ve published in the past about moving the draft date back, you’re going to have to worry about scouting the PDP League and the 2021 (class).
“Those are hugely important events while you’re also simultaneously preparing for the draft. Your scouts are going to be pulled in different directions.”
We shall see.