When the first round of the MLB Draft arrives Wednesday, the Padres will again have a top-10 pick. General Manager AJ Preller and his staff will hope to add to a talented farm system.
From that standpoint, things have stayed pretty similar for the Padres. But virtually everything else has changed, especially when it comes to the team’s preparations.
“Kind of gone from the concierge lounges to the Zoom chat dens, and tried to find different ways to get to know players and people,” Preller said.
Like the draft itself, teams’ have had to take a virtual approach to scouting. With travel restrictions, and without full high school or college season to evaluate players, the Padres focused on getting to know draft prospects on a personal level.
That change in approach could serve them well.
“We actually probably feel better about the makeup of the players we're getting this year,” Padres Director of Amateur Scouting Mark Conner said.
One thing they do know is that they will end up with fewer new players than in a normal year. The MLB Draft is typically 40 rounds. This year's will only consist of five, so the Padres are focusing on players at the top of their list.
It’s more time intensive on that upper tier of players that you're looking at.”
Once the five round draft is complete, clubs can sign undrafted agents – each for $20,000.
“There's a lot of really good players who have gone in baseball drafts outside of the top five rounds, and I think it’s the job of our scouts to find those guys.”
While teams are able to sign an unlimited number of undrafted players, the Padres plan on being selective.
“I think what we don't want to do is just sign guys just to sign them. We're not looking to build numbers, the system is strong. There's a lot of competition throughout the system, so I think what we've talked to our group about is, it's got to be someone who comes in and brings value.”
The entire process is different from the norm. That will continue Wednesday and Thursday when MLB holds a virtual draft, similar to what the NFL did in April. Preller said he has spoken with NFL general managers about that experience.
The Padres will pick eighth on Wednesday, and Preller’s team feels good about the work they’ve put in.
“I think our staff has adjusted well, and I think we'll be prepared for it over the next few days.”
There are major questions that will impact all draft picks and undrafted free agents in the weeks and months that follow. With a Minor League season appearing unlikely, it's up to baseball's decision makers to determine what teams are able to do with prospects.
“They understand the importance of it,” Preller said. “Hopefully as we get in the next month or so we're able to start getting more clarity on what it looks like to start developing our players.”
Of course, there's an even larger question that remains unanswered: will there be Major League Baseball in 2020?
“There's a lot of talented people there that I think are going to do everything they can to get the game back on the field,” Preller answered.
So far there's been plenty of noise, but no real progress. Preller says his team isn't getting caught up in the speculation.
“That's not been my focus,” Preller added. “Kind of leave it to the people that that's their job, and hopefully we're playing baseball soon.”