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Major Changes: Anonymous Industry Sources Dish On Minor League, MLB Draft Restructuring



To get a better understanding of the potential effects of Major League Baseball’s proposed plan to cut the minor leagues to 120 full-season clubs and to reduce the draft to 20 or 25 rounds while moving the draft date back from early June, we asked MLB front office officials for their reactions to the proposals.

Everyone we asked was someone who is directly involved in scouting or player development, and thus will be directly affected by the potential changes. To ensure we were getting a wide variety of opinions, we talked to officials of small-market and low-revenue teams, mid-range teams and large-market, high-revenue clubs. All officials were granted anonymity to ensure candor because this is seen as a sensitive subject where many have not been given permission to speak publicly.

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We simply asked executives for their thoughts on MLB’s proposed plan and about the ramifications. Here’s what they had to say.

On scaling back the draft


A special assistant to the GM who has been a scouting director:

“I don’t have a problem cutting (the draft) back to 25 to 30 rounds. You’re still drafting enough players to fill out those (short-season) rosters. That creates a much bigger pool of free agent possibilities. Quite honestly, it gets to be nauseating in the 35th round to find a player who is worth a selection. You’re not excited about any of those players. The draft board has been obliterated. It gets worse every year because teams get better and better at the draft. Most teams are increasing staff. Teams are getting better at it. More data is available. There are more looks at kids. Once you get to the 36th round, it’s not good. You’re better off doing a workout a week after the draft where your scouts invite the undrafted players”

A pro scouting director:

“I’d rather have 20 or 30 rounds of draft, fewer teams, more funds allocated to those players and to those facilities and better competition against each other. When you’re playing against a bunch of non-prospects, you should dominate. When you’re playing a more competitive field, I think it just helps the overall quality of the game.”

A longtime scout:

“As far as shrinking (the draft) to, let’s say 25 (rounds), I don’t think it would have that big of an impact. Listen, we’re not taking guys who we’re killing ourselves to sign in rounds 26 to 40.”

A longtime scout:

“As far as moving the draft back, I think it’s worth exploring. We’re the only sport that doesn’t have a combine, doesn’t have something prior to this event where you can go in and get your medical, your ortho, you can get all the MRIs, you can get a lot of stuff there, in a week. Run them all through there. We’re literally making picks and commitments before you get any of that sh-- done. That’s insane.”

A special assistant to the general manager:

“What’s going to happen is we’re going to push the draft back even further, we’re going to have a combine—a medical combine, a physical combine, a tools combine—and we’re going to wait a month until the College World Series is over and then we’re going to send them to a (Rookie) complex league, if we even do that. It’s going to cut scouts, because why do we need 20 area scouts when all the upper-level dudes are going to be eyeballing these dudes at a combine in Omaha? Area scouts are going to lose jobs. 100 percent.”

On cutting from 160 to 120 minor league teams


A special assistant to the GM who has been a scouting director:

“I don’t like cutting back the teams and leagues. I don’t see what’s not working. I don’t think the facilities are, for the most part, that bad ... “Whether short-season ball or the complexes, both (settings) are good places to get acclimated by competition.”

A director of baseball operations:

“There are a ton of players with each team who have no chance to make the big leagues. They are fillers. Houston figured out that in terms of development, why waste resources on guys with no shot of being major leaguers? You only have so many pitching coaches, and only so many analysts. You’re not going to deny the 29-year-old throwing 87 (mph) in Double-A resources. He still wants to get better. So you commit resources to him when you have prospects shagging balls in the outfield.”

A pro scouting director:

“From a competitive lens, I think there’s far too many org players going around and I think that shrinking the draft and contracting minor league teams would help with the development of players. You go to a (Rookie-level) Pioneer League game and you’re in a sh-- park and there’s one dude to focus on instead of 10 dudes. It’s just not a good environment to watch baseball. It’s not a good environment to scout baseball. It’s not a good developmental context. So I do think that there is some benefit to contraction.

“(The other side of it is) the growth of baseball. Taking baseball away from fans when fans are already walking away from baseball for a variety of reasons. I think you remove some of the baseball from these small towns, you’re removing an economic plug.

“I want to see baseball as big as possible. I want to see expansion at the major league level. I want to see more kids playing baseball. I want to see more athletes getting into baseball. I think if you take baseball away, if you’re too extreme about it, I think you run the risk of alienating people from baseball, and I don’t think the sport should do that.

“That said, I don’t know if there is a correct answer here. I scouted every level of minor league baseball and I’m telling you, the Pioneer League serves no purpose. You can’t scout there. The environments are awful. Maybe it’s up to the owners to just pay the players more and have better facilities, better everything, and you can make the case that contracting pushes us closer to that.

“I want to see that needle threaded in the way that we contract to help the quality of minor league baseball, but we put funds into some of these substandard minor league facilities that are contracted and try to keep them afloat in some way, whether it’s through indy ball or some other developmental league and giving them the option to get back into the minor league context.”

A pro scouting director:

“Definitely the realignment is more of what I kind of gravitate to, that I’m really in favor of. The understanding of Major League Baseball taking more advantage of their own development of their players and where and how is probably the next step that I fully have belief in.

“When you reduce the number of players, everybody is always, ‘Well, it’s less jobs for guys to have—it’s less opportunities.’ There is something to be said for that, no doubt. But I often think that the cream will rise to the top with a smaller, condensed player pool.”

A special assistant to the general manager:

“Me, personally, I don’t love it. I understand we’re trying to get more efficient, but I like the current setup, personally. I think there are benefits to it. You’re talking about a lot of jobs. We had a lot of guys who were supposed to be nothing turn into something. People who say, ‘Oh, these teams have no prospects’—it’s a bunch of bullsh--. I get why they’re doing it. It’s money.”

A farm director:

“We’ve been fortunate with the way (our owner) has operated things that we’ve had more teams and thus more players. It’s allowed (us) to sign more players, and there’s been some guys who may have been casualties otherwise—if we had to trim down a lot—who we wouldn’t have been able to hang onto (and) who have turned into productive players. I’ve read about other teams that feel like less is more and we can focus more on individuals if we have less players, but I think we can still get that focus while having more staff, but I recognize that that costs more money. So, I like that we’ve been able to have more people and more players, and I hope that we can continue to do that. I think it sucks for some of the people who have grinded it out.”

A farm director:

“It just really smells like a complete money situation. Teams not wanting to spend and not wanting to invest in player development. And you look around . . . and there are some teams that are, not going through the motions, (but) treating development the same way that it always has been, which is a little bit more of ‘the cream will rise to the top.’ And then there are some teams that are really investing in staff and some of the tech stuff and saying, ‘Let’s see what we can do to get guys better.’ And I know which side of the fence (our owner) lies on, and it’s been awesome to be able to go out to compete to keep staff members, to hunt down what I think are really good staff members and to bring guys on board and kind of change the way we’ve done things.”

Field Lights Mikejanesfourseam

Upgrades Required: MLB Proposes Stricter Minor League Facility Standards

While many of these new standards were expected, the cost to bring existing facilities up to MLB’s desired standards will be quite high.

On potential effects of minor league contraction


A farm director:

“I could see a scenario where we end up keeping more coaches per player than we have currently, but I think at the end of the day, when you look across Major League Baseball, there’s going to be a lot of staff members without jobs from this. I think people generally think—one less manager, one less pitching coach, one less hitting coach—but there’s clubhouse managers and video guys and analysts and. Not to mention all the people who work at the actual parks. And I know that MLB is basically saying you can take (a team’s) park and have an independent ball team, so those guys aren’t going to all lose their jobs, but at the end of the day, a front office for (our team) is going to have more staff members than a front office for the Atlantic League.”

A scout who has worked on the amateur and pro sides:

“It’s going to impact the Latin player, in my opinion. It’s going to impact the young high school guy who needs to play. You can look back at the Sammy Sosas of the world and many, many examples of guys who needed a chance to play. They needed an opportunity to fail, figure sh-- out. And if you start taking away 40 opportunities, that’s going to shuffle the deck below it and maybe above it, and it’s going to impact, in my opinion, that demographic of player because there will be fewer opportunities for guys to go out there and compete and fail, figure it out and then get a little better and a little better.

“If this scenario was around when (Fred McGriff) came out, there’s a chance that (the thought would have been), ‘Can we take a risk on this guy?’ He figured it out, obviously, and is arguably a Hall of Famer-to-be. That’s a domestic example.

“We say we want to grow the game and we say we want to get more minorities involved and we want to do this and we want to do that. I think it’s all bullsh--, if you want the truth. They’re just talking. This doesn’t reflect that type of effort in my opinion.

“This is going to impact college baseball in a positive way . . . and to some degree, that doesn’t bother me. We’re probably not letting enough guys go to school, but it’s the wrong reason to do it, in my opinion.”

A scout who has worked on the amateur and pro sides:

“It’s going to shrink (scouting) staffs, no doubt. We’re not in the discussion with the commissioner’s office and ownership, so you don’t know exactly who’s driving the train and if he is truly representing ownership’s wishes here. I don’t believe that for a second (my team’s owner) gives a sh-- about this stuff. (He) wants to do it the right way and (he) wants to win. That’s what he’s talking about. I can’t believe that this is what he wants.”

A special assistant to the general manager:

“I like the current structure. When you bring a young international kid to the States, and they’re not ready to play in a full-season league, do you know how good of an experience it was for some of our guys to go to short-season and go play 70 to 80 games up there? If he’s gotta stay in the complex for a third year, I think you’re going to lose guys.

“I just think it’s a huge thing for a Venezuelan kid to get out on his own and figure out how to get to the field and make lunch for himself and do certain things. If you’re going from the La Quinta to the complex across the street, you’re going to get kids doing some dumb sh--. That cultural adjustment they get from getting out is huge. Huge.

“It’s about control, keeping them in complex leagues. We know what we’re feeding them. We know what they’re doing. Their day is structured to the hour. I don’t know if that’s healthy or not. I don’t know if that’s going to grow better players.”

A farm director:

“You’re probably going to keep the higher-ceiling guys and hope for the best. And you’re still going to need that reserve, extra people to help the big league team. But that second layer of Triple-A player who’s not really a prospect anymore—and really never was—but maybe is still a quality player and might be a quick jump away. A lot of those guys are floating around in indy ball, and I think a lot more of them would be floating around in indy ball (if the minors were to contract). and I think a team would hold on to the younger guys with less certainty (but more perceived upside).”

A farm director:

“For one (having more short-season teams means) more lottery tickets. Two, we’ve kind of used it as, more of the college guys go to (one place) and a lot more of the Latin players end up (another place). We’ve tried to tailor those staffs to be a lot more friendly to Latin players and give some guys some good role models of guys who’ve made the transition from the Dominican and Venezuela to the U.S. And those times where we’ve had a (two players at the same level and position) situation, both can go to a short-season club and get out of the complex league and still get full-time reps at a primary position. There’s a number of advantages to it.”

A farm director:

“That was the first thing that came to mind when the story broke. It was like, ‘Wait a second, we’re going to have to cut down a lot of players.’ Those are tough conversations. There are a certain number of guys who are more organizational types who, I think if we’re dipping into that type of range, we’re letting go of some guys who we think are going to play in the big leagues.”

A longtime amateur scout/national crosschecker:

“Where are your Latin players going to learn how to play? If you just throw them in A ball, you will bury half of them. I do not see the benefit. What we are losing sight of is player development . . . Not every guy can jump from the Gulf Coast League to the Midwest League. This isn’t about development. This is about money, because we have to pay minor leaguers a little more money. Are you kidding me? I don’t see the benefit of messing with the structures of minor league baseball.”

On facilities


A pro scouting director:

“I would say our facilities are OK. It’s the no covered hitting tunnels, or the development of indoor mounds, the development of some of your strength and conditioning needs, your high-performance needs that are there.

“When you go and talk to a minor league owner about that, that’s not on his radar. He’s talking about skyboxes. There’s just a different preference of where they would rather spend their resources. You bet we spent money and bought ownership in one of our affiliates to try and address those first things.

“So you run into some of those issues that are very real. The ones we don’t have part ownership in, we scuffle with. Just where you have no commitment from minor league ownership to put anything in place to help the development of your players. And that’s been for years.”

On how they would adjust the minors


A farm director:

“First and foremost, I would make sure that we’re holding the affiliates to a standard that is acceptable by both parties. The minor leagues staffs have grown a lot, and the minor league affiliates still only pay for a certain number of hotel rooms and bus accommodations and things like that, where it doesn’t really fit with the number of players and the number of coaches compared to in the past. So I think there’s some concessions that probably need to be made on both sides to continue to foster the relationship.

“If it takes removing a few places where the standards aren’t met, where it’s unsanitary or unsafe to play, then I think it’s fair game to go that route. I work for one of the most willing-to-spend teams, so this probably is going to come off as jaded, but I think that teams should run their business the way they want to, and if that means spending the money on having more players or more affiliates or more coaches, then you should be allowed to do that.”

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