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2020 MLB Draft Prep: Strategies for a 5-round draft

How can the Cubs best navigate this year’s very abbreviated draft?

Photo by Alex Trautwig/MLB via Getty Images

The June Draft rules seem settled for 2020, unless the owners decide they need more financial security, somehow. The draft will last five rounds, and undrafted free agents are capped at a $20,000 maximum. Gone, at least for this year, is the option of getting a Top 5 round guy at a lesser amount, and tossing $100,000 extra to a challenge addition that remains on the board. (Teams would often go over the soft limit of $100,000 or $125,000 to encourage a junior to sign a pro deal. That option is no longer available.) A list of the top rung of hitters was recently posted by CBS Sportsline.

If you've been following along regularly, the names at the top shouldn't be surprising. Heston Kjerstad, Pete Crow-Armstrong, and Tim Howard are in the range to come off the board at 16. There seems to be quite a bit of figurative smoke with the Cubs being interested in Kjerstad, who would potentially provide a low-cost option to succeed or replace Jason Heyward. As absurd as it might sound, ownership and their chosen executives prioritize low-cost quality. Teams should still be researching "best-available" for the different combinations and permutations.

I'm becoming more satisfied with "no trades of draft picks." With the current setup, every team gets a try at low-cost talent every season. Swapping draft picks would create uncertainty, and a general manager in a "Jim Hendry-circa 2010" position might do something extreme to gut the future in an attempt to purchase five wins in the current campaign. The draft is supposed to be about the future, not the present.

I had been in favor of trading later round picks for a minor league player. For instance, a 14th rounder in June for an arm that wasn't good enough to make an A-Ball team. That sort of exchange, I'd still be good with, but nobody else seems to think that's applicable. So, I'm for no trades of draft picks. I could be swayed, but mind the "short-sighted executive” example.

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I have the feeling I should be doing more with the draft about four weeks out, and still very important. However, there are no games. I don't have sources inside of league front offices or player agent facilities. Occasionally, someone claims to have inside information on the Cubs’ interest in Auburn pitcher Tanner Burns or Kjerstad, who still seems he could be Tyler Colvin 2.0. (Colvin shouldn't be considered a bust. He played in MLB, and a 13th Rounder that plays for six years in the league shouldn't be considered a bust.) Regardless, a draft selection or free agent, a prognosticator (regardless how effective) will have an idea how well a new addition will do. A third of the time, they guess high. A third, low. A third, about right. The better the assessor, the more likely the 40 percent is "about right."

All the players in discussion for the Cubs’ pick at 16 have upsides and downsides, with wide swings on career value. However, very players likely to go in Round 5 are unlikely to be pegged in Round 1 this cycle. Teams have expectations for players, and they're largely similar.

As much as MLB wants to limit chicanery regarding bonuses, there will be some. Would a team be better off grabbing an extra prep? The high school names are popular, as always. If a team selects a fifth-round talent in Round 2, they might be able to leverage a second or third high school name. I'm not a fan of the idea in most cases, because the preps would run into difficulty in college, anyway, as often as not. Take three or four college, and three or four bats. Develop them, and have low-cost replacements when baseball resumes.

The Mid-American Conference is jettisoning its Conference Tournament in baseball. It sucks. Not as bad as other things, but it's still unfortunate. Teams often region-shuffle with Conference tourneys. A Louisiana guy might check out the MAC tourney, with the Indiana/Illinois guy going to a tourney in a different region, as well. This way, if a late-riser catches the attention of a scout, it's a new set of eyes promoting him. Conference tournaments are an odd duck in any sport. Do you want the hot team, or the best team through the year, getting the only seed? The MAC might have a better chance with the Conference Champion advancing, anyway. But, for the kid with an OPS of .825 in the MAC? His roster spot and his MAC tourney chance may have both extinguished.