SAN FRANCISCO -- The baseball world may be on hold, but the work hasn’t stopped for Giants amateur scouting director Michael Holmes.
Under normal circumstances, Holmes would be spending these months traversing the country in an attempt to evaluate as much amateur talent as possible ahead of the 2020 MLB Draft. But with the coronavirus pandemic shutting down leagues at virtually every level, there are no games to scout.
Since mid-March, Holmes has been working out of his home in Atlanta, arranging Zoom calls with his scouts and crosscheckers to break down players and determine where they might fit on the Giants’ Draft board.
“We've been able to continue our preparations for the Draft extremely well,” Holmes said Wednesday in a phone interview. “We have a tremendous group of guys in the amateur scouting department. A lot of guys have a lot of experience, and they've been very willing to adapt to the new situation and current conditions. It really has not affected our Draft preparation at all. We just learned to kind of go about it in some different ways under the restrictions.”
The MLB Draft is one of the few certainties on the baseball calendar at this point, but its exact date and scope have yet to be determined. As part of Major League Baseball’s agreement with the MLB Players Association last month, the 2020 Draft can be slashed to as few as five rounds, though MLB will have the option to expand it to as many as 40. MLB also has the right to delay this year’s Draft past its currently scheduled start date of June 10, though it will be held no later than July 20.
The Giants have the 13th overall pick in the first round after going 77-85 in 2019. They hold four of the top 68 selections, including a pair of compensation picks between the second and third rounds due to the departures of left-handers Madison Bumgarner and Will Smith, who turned down qualifying offers before signing with the D-backs and Braves, respectively, this offseason.
It will be a huge opportunity for the Giants to infuse their farm system with another wave of premier talent and potentially accelerate the club’s current rebuild.
“I think we're all really excited about the 2020 Draft class,” Holmes said. “I think it provides a lot of depth in a lot of different areas. I think that there's quality players all throughout the Draft. I don't think it's a situation where it's top heavy, or there's a certain position that stands out more than another. I think there's a nice balance to this Draft class throughout, and I think there's tremendous depth. It's a class that I know that our group has been really excited about ever since the beginning of last summer.”
This year will mark the Giants’ second Draft under president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi and Holmes, though the two previously worked together in the A’s front office. They used the Giants’ 2019 first-round Draft pick on Arizona State outfielder Hunter Bishop, who is now ranked the club’s No. 4 prospect by MLB Pipeline.
Even with the bulk of spring seasons wiped out, Holmes said he feels the Giants are well positioned to make sound evaluations based on the legwork the organization’s scouts put in last year. MLB also has the right to hold a combine for amateur players if it makes sense for all parties involved.
“We've been able to continue kind of evaluating some of these players through video, but to be honest with you, we felt really prepared coming into the year based off of the work we were able to do over the summer, into the fall and even into the winter,” Holmes said. “We feel really prepared. We feel really good with where we were coming into the spring, so even though the spring was cut short, we still feel like we're in a good position. We got a tremendous amount of looks on the majority of these players, and we continue to just really do our homework on them through video, through conversation, through Zoom calls.”
Still, truncated seasons will undoubtedly pose challenges for amateur players, especially for high school prospects who may have received fewer looks and are now weighing whether to turn pro or go to college.
“That’s one thing that, unfortunately, we’re not going to have is seeing the growth in players over the course of the spring,” Zaidi told KNBR last week. “You think about high school players, I remember Noah Syndergaard, when he was in the Draft several years back, he started his season throwing 90-93 [mph]. By the end of the spring, he's throwing 97, so you just saw tremendous growth there.
“The exercise is going to be different for our scouts this year. The scouting season has become such a sprint. Guys are crisscrossing the country and submitting reports. It’s the age of information, so everything's about reports and data, and you just have floods of information about these players. In that sense, I think the Draft is going to be a little bit of a throwback. I know our scouts are having pretty regular conversations multiple times a week. They're getting on those awkward Zoom calls and really having to kind of talk through players.”
While MLB temporarily halted all scouting activity in March, the league began to ease some of those restrictions earlier this month, allowing Giants scouts to connect with prospective Draft picks, their parents and their advisors via phone and video calls.
“Our guys do a fantastic job in the offseason of spending time getting to know these players,” Holmes said. “We feel like the relationships with these guys were already there, and now it just kind of gives us an opportunity to continue to grow those relationships as we continue to prepare.”
If the Draft is reduced to five rounds, the Giants will have a revised bonus pool of $9,165,000, according to MLB Pipeline’s Jim Callis. That figure will increase to $10,156,500 if there are 10 rounds. Signing bonuses for undrafted players will be capped at $20,000, a significant drop from the $125,000 limit in previous years.
The circumstances are far from ideal, but Holmes said he feels fortunate that he and the rest of the amateur scouting department have the opportunity to continue working with purpose during these unprecedented times.
“I think it's been really good for a lot of us, including myself, just from a mental aspect,” Holmes said. “This is what this is, what we do on amateur staff for a living. This is what we enjoy doing. This is what we pour our heart and soul into, so the fact that there still is a Draft gives us something to work towards. We're super excited about this year's Draft class and the potential that we have to put players into the system. We're certainly continuing to prepare for it.”