How the NFL helped Cubs prepare for 2020 MLB Draft
Unprecedented times call for unprecedented measures.
I know we are all sick of the word “unprecedented” and want to get back to “precedented” ways, but it’s true.
Professional sports leagues around the world are facing issues they’ve never dealt with before, and that includes how to conduct each league’s draft.
The NFL had a successful virtual draft in April and now Major League Baseball looks to follow suit this week.
So as the Cubs have been preparing for the 2020 Draft, they asked their counterparts in the NFL for advice.
This is already a time of change in the Cubs front office as they hired a new vice president of scouting, Dan Kantrovitz, in November and this will be his first year running the draft for this organization. So he and the rest of Theo Epstein’s front office got creative.
Like the rest of the country, collegiate and high school baseball experienced shutdowns in mid-March, effectively canceling the respective seasons. That meant a much smaller sample size of recent action for the Cubs and other MLB teams to evaluate players on. That’s especially true in the northern states, where programs may have only played a few games prior to the shutdown due to weather.
Immediately following the shutdown, the Cubs faced a lot of uncertainty about how to evaluate players, but they took a few weeks to brainstorm how they were going to approach the draft without the benefit of a spring season.
At that point, nobody knew if the MLB Draft was going to continue as planned or in what format. It is now a 5-round structure instead of the standard 40 rounds, which greatly alters the equation for each team in the league.
“Once we got the green light from major league baseball to actually start to reach out to players, we realized that it was going to be very different,” Kantrovitz said. “One of the things we tried to do to really plot our strategy going forward was — at the behest of Jed [Hoyer] and Theo [Epstein] — we reached out to some football teams, some coaches and GMs in the NFL to try to understand how they were doing their research on players. Their draft was before ours, but they also had a little bit more experience in terms of interviewing players through Zoom. That was more of a normal part of their repertoire than it was ours.
“And I was a little skeptical, frankly, between how much overlap there would be between our drafts, and it really ended up being pretty invaluable channels of communication between us and some of the NFL teams. I think one of the nuggets that we took out of it was you’re gonna have some pretty generic conversations with players if you just ask basic questions. They’re going to be getting the same questions from all 29 teams and you have to be a little different.”
So the Cubs decided to utilize video in their calls, showing players a certain at-bat throughout their career and asking him to analyze his thought process, his mechanics, what adjustments he was making at the time. The same held true for the pitchers.
Because college and high school players weren’t actually in the midst of a season, the Cubs and other teams actually had unprecedented (there’s that word again) access to these guys during the spring. That led to a different level of insight into the players’ psyche and approach than they maybe would’ve been able to garner under normal circumstances.
“No doubt, it’s more challenging this year than it’s ever been, but we’ve always been faced with trying to compare players with varying amounts of data,” Kantrovitz said. “And this year, it’s just a little more strange.”
The Cubs select 16th overall in the draft Wednesday night.