Since Major League Baseball first instituted the draft in 1966 with the (then-Kansas City) A’s taking Rick Monday with the first-ever pick, what’s come next, a week or 10 days afterward, is seeing the draftees fan out to minor league teams all over the map.
That ends this year. With baseball at all levels in lockdown during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, there are no minor league teams to join. More than that, some of the minor league teams are just shut down; others may never come back again as Major League owners are trying to figure out a way to eliminate as many as 40 minor league franchises.
So, what happens with the draftees and the as-yet-to-be signed non-draftees, all of whom are free agents? Clubs can officially begin signing them on Monday. Once the draftees and the signees are under contact, they belong to an organization, but there’s no baseball to be played in a time of pandemic. These are high school and collegiate players who have not been playing during the lockdown, and clubs have to balance getting them together for baseball while practicing social distancing.
While there hasn’t been any official position on teams positioning the newest members of their organizations, A’s director of scouting Eric Kubota suggested the minor league facilities – all of which were shut down along with the rest of baseball on March 12 – might soon be opening up.
Kubota didn’t commit the A’s to that, admitting “now, it’s kind of a fluid situation.”
“The plan is, hopefully, to get the kids into Arizona based on their comfort levels of travel in the pandemic,” Kubota said. “We’ll see what the next step is after that.”
In this case, “hopefully” is the key word.
The open question is just how much organizations will be able to utilize facilities in Arizona and Florida going forward. Will the newcomers be the only ones allow in? There are, after all, hundreds of minor leaguers per franchise aching to get back to playing baseball. There isn’t going to be a minor league season, that much is clear, but are the needs of the newcomers more important that those who came into the organization in the years leading up to 2019?
There had been suggestions that the 20-man taxi squad currently under discussion as owners and players negotiate opening the MLB season would be housed at the various spring training sites. However, according to Baseball America, clubs are being told to find places with 100 miles of the Major League Stadium to host their taxi squads.
The idea is that MLB wants members of the taxi squads, who will not travel with the big-league team, to be a relatively short drive away, limiting the need for commercial travel. In the A’s case, the likely landing spot would be Stockton, where Oakland’s Class-A California League team, the Ports, is housed, 71 miles due east of Oakland. A representative of the Ports said Saturday that he had no information on such a move.
With the taxi squads not being housed at spring training sites, that would open up those facilities for draftees and signees. If they were to be allowed to work out, as Kubota said based on each player’s “comfort levels of travel” during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s not clear they would be alone or if other minor leaguers in the organization would be allowed to report as well.
Follow Athletics insider John Hickey on Twitter: @JHickey3
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