Former Marlins President David Samson On Why Five-Round Draft Could Benefit Orioles

Former Marlins president David Samson says although rebuilding clubs like the Orioles would be hit particularly hard hit by no traditional minor-league season, he believes Baltimore is one of the organizations that stands to benefit from a five-round draft in 2020.

The March agreement between Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association regarding how the league would move forward amid the coronavirus pandemic covered the 2020 MLB Draft. The draft is typically 40 rounds, but the sides agreed to shorten it to 5-10 rounds. MLB recently decided to move forward with a five-round format. The draft is scheduled to start June 10.

The Orioles hold picks 2, 30, 39, 74, 103 and 133. Baltimore has a league-high $13,894,300 to spend on its picks. The most teams will be able to offer draft-eligible players who go unselected is $20,000, but that’s where Samson, now an analyst with CBS Sports, believes teams like the Orioles have an advantage.

“You have to go out and actually scout the best players, convince them to sign with you, but you have the best chance to getting players to sign with you because you have the most opportunity at the major-league level,” Samson said on Glenn Clark Radio May 13. “The Marlins, the Orioles, teams like that where we promote players faster to get to their service time clock going sooner, that is going to be a huge differentiator with all these unsigned players out of high school and college.”

Given that college players had a shortened season and most high school players didn’t play at all, teams are more challenged than usual to properly evaluate all draft-eligible players — including those who figure to go unselected. Still, scouts last summer were able to get looks at high school players at showcases and college players in wood-bat leagues, and they got a peek at college players this spring.

The question then becomes whether undrafted players want to start their professional career for $20,000 or go back to school. College juniors — whether they’re drafted or not — will have the option to return to school and redo their junior year because of the NCAA’s decision to extend eligibility for all spring sports athletes.

High school seniors will have the option to go to a four-year school and test the draft waters again when they’re eligible again two or three or years down the road. They’ll also be able to attend a junior college and shoot for better luck in the draft process in 2021. Samson explained the decision-making process for those offered to $20,000 to sign will be different for each player.

“It depends what they’re going to college for. If they want to try to be professional baseball players, you know what? You get $20,000, you go work your tush off and you try to get yourself higher and higher in the minor leagues and up to the major leagues eventually,” Samson said. “If you’re a fringe player where you really don’t have a chance and you have a possibility to go to med school or go to a top educational institution and make a living differently, I think those players won’t play.”

But for the undrafted players who want to sign, Samson says teams like the Orioles will have an advantage in trying to sign the best ones — the ones who would’ve gone in Rounds 6-10 had there been a 10-round draft. Samson argues the Orioles can offer more opportunity and a clearer path to the big leagues than clubs that figure to contend during the next few years.

The key then becomes making the proper evaluations and getting to know the players.

“Think about it: You’re not fighting with the big-market teams where a player, a high school guy, the Orioles say, ‘Listen, we’ll give you 20,’ and the Dodgers say, ‘No, we’ll give you 200,’” Samson said. “The most you can get is 20, so now it’s about opportunity and about having relationships with your scouts.”

But Samson did say no minor-league season would be particularly troubling for rebuilding clubs like the Orioles who are counting on players developing in the farm system and eventually making major impacts at the major-league level. Baseball America reported in April that “there is a near-universal acknowledgement that there are a massive amount of hurdles that have to be overcome to make any MiLB season happen.”

Orioles director of player development Matt Blood said the club is working with minor leaguers virtually and offered extended instructional league in Florida as a potential option if the minor-league season were to be canceled. But for now, potential future fixtures like Adley Rutschman, Grayson Rodriguez and DL Hall are at home.

“My old team’s in the same situation. The Marlins are rebuilding, and losing a year of development is really a problem,” Samson said. “That’s a big setback because if you don’t have the money to spend throughout the draft or international money, you’re counting on your system in a rebuild to try to get back to some sort of contention, and those players need those at-bats at the minor-league level.”

Samson touched on some other topics as well …

On if MLB and MLBPA will hammer out a deal to play baseball in 2020 given the economic and health hurdles at play:

“I think there’s going to be a negotiation, and I think there will be a settlement. I don’t think this is going to lead to a labor war or a meltdown because the bigger issue that you have to realize is the health situation and whether or not it’s actually feasible to start baseball again. Will we have the testing available? Will there be an agreement on contact tracing and a protocol for what to do when a player tests positive? Because it is going to happen, for sure.

“So you can’t have a situation where you start a season and then one positive test ends it. You have to have an agreed-upon protocol for quarantining and contact tracing. I think those to me are the much bigger issues that are not really being focused on.”

On how MLB and the MLBA can bridge their differences about how players will be paid:

“I think that you can have an agreement without [the 50-50 revenue split owners want], but you can’t have an agreement without players realizing they’re not going to get the full prorated amount based on games played. It’s just not the same formula without fans, with such a loss of revenue. I’m trying to think of, in any business, where employees are not sharing the economic burden that the employers have. That’s just normal.

“And when you talk about players getting a prorated amount and thinking that’s what they’re going to end up with, that just means if you’re paid to do 300 shows a year and you only do 150 shows a year, then you’re only going to make half your money. That’s just math. That’s not any sort of giving in or any sort of pay cut. But on top of that, I think it’s the pay cut that I think is going to be necessary in order to make the finances work, but it doesn’t have to be in the form of a salary cap at all. It can be in the form of a different type of economic arrangement for salaries.”

On when the season would have to start by:

“I think Aug. 1 is sort of the drop-dead date where if you cannot start by then, you can’t get 81 games in and that’s playing through Halloween and then doing the playoffs in November. Because if I’m running a league or I’m a player, I don’t want to do anything that would endanger 2021. And unlike other sports, in baseball you really do need as full an offseason because it’s really hard on pitchers’ arms, players’ bodies. The season is a grind, so I don’t want to play all the way through Christmas even at neutral sites because then I would be messing with the calendar for 2021, and I think that has its own problems.”

For more from Samson, listen to the full interview here:

Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox

Luke Jackson

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