In a normal year, in the days before the Major League Baseball draft, Dick Williams and his staff would be sitting in a warm room, he said, eating unhealthy snacks and talking baseball from dawn to dusk.
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Of course, there’s nothing normal about 2020, and that’s why Williams, president of baseball operations for the Cincinnati Reds, and his staff have been communicating remotely this spring. They will continue to do so Wednesday and Thursday during the draft.
Williams misses the camaraderie he gets from seeing everyone in person, but that’s only one of the challenges this year. The big change for the draft, which starts at 7 p.m. Wednesday, is it has been shorted from 40 rounds to five because of the coronavirus pandemic.
"It definitely makes it more challenging to focus on a smaller pool of players and not getting recent looks at them," Williams said on on the Hot Stove League on 700 WLW last week. "but our guys were very aggressive at getting looks early last year and over the winter and getting to know these players well, particularly once it became apparent there might be a shutdown on scouting. We felt we were ahead of the competition in terms of getting information on our players, so we're excited to see where that takes us."
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The Reds had the No. 7 pick last season and have had a top-10 pick in four of the last six seasons. This year, they pick 12th in the first round. A MLB.com mock draft had the Reds taking Oklahoma Sooners right-handed pitcher Cade Cavalli with that selection.
Only the first round, which will be televised by the MLB Network and ESPN, takes place Wednesday. The Detroit Tigers have the first pick, and Arizona State first baseman Spencer Torkelson is projected to be the No. 1 selection.
The final four rounds start at 5 p.m. Thursday, and they will be televised by the MLB Network and ESPN2. The Reds have five picks Thursday: the 48th, 65th, 84th, 113th and 143rd picks.
In all, there will be 160 players drafted. There were 1,217 players drafted in 2019.
“Because of the way the draft has been shortened,” Williams said, “we can add players after the five rounds, but we’re going to be capped as an industry to $20,000 bonuses, so you’re going to have a lot of players after those first five rounds that might have been sixth, seventh, eighth or ninth rounders get decent bonuses that are going to have tough decisions to make. We’ve seen some decent prospects pulling their names out of the draft.”
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The changes introduce an element of recruiting to the post-draft signings. Williams said there will be a 48-hour quiet period after the draft. Then teams can pursue other targets.
“We’ll be competing head to head with the other organizations, not so much on money but the other things,” Williams said. “That’s where I think it will be important to tell our story and see how we do head to head on a level playing field with some of these other organizations. I think we’ve got a great story to tell. Our developmental philosophy on the pitching side took a huge step forward. The way we’ve built up the minor leagues, it’s a real exciting story to tell.”