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Marlins preparing for a “challenging” draft

Fewer MLB Draft rounds and live looks at prospects complicates the strategy for a rebuilding franchise with one of the league’s largest 2020 bonus pools.

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Derek Jeter News Conference Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

We are a week away from one of the few guarantees in baseball right now, the MLB Draft. While the draft will undoubtedly be happening June 10-11—nationally televised on ESPN and MLB Network—players, fans and front office members alike are not sure what to expect.

The laundry list of unique challenges a COVID-19 amended draft is something that all teams have been spending months preparing for. Each ball club may have a different strategy in approaching a draft that has been cut by almost 90%, from the usual 40 rounds to just five.

The Marlins have six selections in next week’s draft and roughly $12 million in bonus pool money, fourth-most in baseball. Teams will often say they are drafting “the best player available” at each opportunity.

“One of the themes that has come out of this is draft what you know,” Marlins director of amateur scouting DJ Svihlik said on Tuesday. “That is not to be confused with safe, but draft what you know.”

With the third overall selection in the draft, Svihlik and the Marlins will have an elite prospect fall into their lap no matter what; the subsequent rounds is where things it’ll get more interesting. Each team will have to rely mostly on whatever information they were able to get on players from the fall or last summer. Certain players may get lost in the shuffle due to the limited exposure in 2020.

“A player that becomes very difficult in this environment is (2019 third-rounder) Peyton Burdick. Here you have a college player that has some holes in his game and it took a little bit of time to develop that evaluation,” he said. “With a season that is cut short, that type of player can potentially suffer here.”

Burdick soared up Marlins top prospect lists immediately after turning pro thanks to excellent offensive production, posting a .950 OPS and 10 home runs for the Clinton LumberKings. The former Wright State outfielder is an example of a player the Marlins spent extra time scouting and as a result may have been higher on him than other teams. With barely any spring baseball being played in 2020, those kind of discrepancies between scouting departments could be more common.

The MLB Draft will loosely mirror the NFL’s virtual draft which took place in April, except with some hurdles that are unique to baseball.

“It’s hard to comprehend how difficult and challenging (the draft) may be,” Svihlik said. He highlighted challenges such as communicating with scouts in other timezones as the draft board rapidly changes and the reliance on Zoom, Microsoft Teams and internet connectivity in general.

Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

The most hectic part of the draft could be after the final selection is made. With only 160 players hearing their name called, a large number of talented players will go undrafted. After the last player is selected, a free-for-all will ensue beginning June 14 with teams working to sign the best eligible players remaining.

Every team is limited to a maximum signing bonus of $20,000 for each undrafted player. Teams will need to distinguish themselves in other ways, like trying to sell a player on their organizational infrastructure, player development and opportunity.

Svihlik explains:

“When you sit down with other organizations, everybody has a director of player development. Everybody has a hitting coach. Everybody has all these bells and whistles and technologies. The idea here is to sit and talk to players about what separates the Marlins from other organizations, and it’s the word that just keeps coming up is opportunity—it’s care level in the player. I can’t speak to every organization, but I can certainly see what happens inside our organization, and how deeply our player development staff, from the very, very top all the way down through our coordinators and our trainers, how deeply they care about our players.”

The Marlins added emphasis on player development has been tangible since Bruce Sherman and Derek Jeter hired Gary Denbo to oversee the department prior to the 2018 season. While those who have watched the shift within the organization over the last few years can see the improvement in regards to prospect development, the question will be whether the undrafted free agents will see the same thing.

Ironically, many believe that the 2020 MLB Draft is one of the deeper drafts in a long time, and Svihlik agrees. This will undoubtedly give the Marlins a crack at several impact players outside of the team’s six selections.

Svihlik’s Vanderbilt University ties could come into play once again after the team took former Commodore JJ Bleday with the fourth pick of the 2019 MLB Draft. As he stresses the Marlins’ ideology of “draft what you know,” it is worth noting that Vanderbilt boasts several draft prospects who will likely be selected within the first five rounds: Austin Martin, Jake Eder, Tyler Brown and Hugh Fischer. While Martin may be off the board before Miami has a chance to consider him, the latter three (all pitchers) should be available in the third round or later.

While teams rarely tip their hand anyway, a COVID-19 impacted draft offers even less certainty than ever. In his latest mock draft on Wednesday (subscription required), Keith Law of The Athletic said that the Marlins will take whichever one of Asa Lacy, Spencer Torkelson or Martin is still left at the No. 3 spot. One potential twist is if the Orioles, picking directly ahead of the Fish, deviate from the consensus top prospects and make an underslot deal to preserve funds for subsequent picks, as Carlos Collazo of Baseball America suggested in his own mock. “With Martin available at No. 3” in that scenario, Collazo writes, “it might make some sense for Miami to pivot to the best pure hitter in the class, but sources we’ve talked with believe the Marlins are locking in heavily on Lacy.”

The uncertainty will most definitely put teams in tough positions, but it will also give the best-prepared staffs a chance to come away with more for less.