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2020 MLB Draft Prep: The Red Sox lose a draft pick for cheating

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And some thoughts about what sort of strategy the Cubs will have to use in this year’s draft.

Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Commissioner Rob Manfred has gotten his ban-hammer out of hiding, and punished the Red Sox for doing what he told them not to do. The verdict is two-fold. A person you've likely never heard of (advance scout/video replay coordinator J.T. Watkins) has been suspended without pay for the current season, and can't return to his prior role for 2021. Also, the team loses a second-round selection in the 2020 draft. This means the Red Sox will receive one less draft pick, and have less money to spread among their 2020 selections.

As into the 2020 college season as I was, splicing video and reading diatribes from people on which starting pitching candidate "will" or "won't" be a starter of merit in five years isn't my idea of pleasure. Nobody can or should be entirely confident one way or another on player development, which is hard to force-feed. Players get better, or they don't. Seeing which ones are doing that in real time is a large part of what makes college or minor league ball fun, for me. (MLB isn't nearly as much about development. It's more dog-eat-dog about pure results from a wins and losses perspective. I dig the 'incremental improvement' part more.)

With the Red Sox punishment, the Cubs draft tote is as final as it can be, until we know how many rounds the draft will include. (Five? Twenty? No idea yet.) The Cubs will draft 16th and also have overall selections 51 and 88, with all the selections after the third round moving up one due to the Red Sox punishment.

With limited roster spaces available once baseball starts in 2021, drafting positionally becomes more important for any drafts MLB has from now on. I've been a bit critical of NFL teams so regularly "drafting need," but baseball will have to do the same. As implausible as it sounds, many NFL teams passed on Aaron Rodgers in his draft year. They "didn't need a quarterback". That seems absurd, but it was a mindset. An affiliated pipeline used to have roster spots aplenty in pro baseball, but less so now.

For instance, the Cubs invested heavily in two international catchers in the current international signing period. Ronnier Quintero was the primary name, but Brayan Altuve was a second valid piece. Assuming 2020 is a washout for both, Quintero had better be one of the catchers for the Cubs "one and only Short-Season team they're permitted" in 2021. Ethan Hearn, a prep chosen in the 2019 Draft, might well be the expected catcher for their A-Ball team, wherever that ends up being positioned. A highly-thought-of catcher like North Carolina State's Patrick Bailey (he's defensively close to Mike Zunino, but is considered a quality hitter with pop from both sides of the plate) would seem to gunk up the works for the other four guys that will need time. Presumably, prospect people in the future will need knowledge of the five permitted USA teams of talent, and who from the Dominican Summer League will be merging in, where and when.

I'd much prefer a situation where "this kid I was watching in a game looks like he can play. Draft him in the 32nd Round, shoot him to the compound, and find out if he can" method, but that's going away. As may "draft choices playing in games with box scores in their draft year." That's another insidious angle possible from the new "agreement" between MLB and MiLB, if it happens that way. We'll see, but if a player isn't permitted to play in any games, there's no justification to paying them for playing in games, amiright?

Either way, the Cubs’ largely counter-productive strategy of drafting a bat early, loading up on mostly pitching the next dozen rounds or so, and getting some middle infielders from obscure colleges with a low-six figure signing bonus (to buy them out of their last year of college) is being eliminated as an option. Instead, they'll need to get better at assessing which players will be ready to start moving up the food chain the next April. Both with pitchers, and hitters.

Hitters in two or three of the first five choices will almost have to become common practice. Being able to organically get players "to and through" Double-A Ball has rarely been a strength of the Cubs third through tenth round picks, and that's where ground is lost each time around the track to the Dodgers, Rays, and Indians. Also the Astros. Awareness of who ought to be playing in 10 months in A-Ball and 13 months in Short-Season becomes as important as assessing quality on the field. That's as close as I'll get to being "in line" with the decisions to ravage minor league baseball.