ST. PETERSBURG — One thing is very familiar as the Rays head into Wednesday’s draft.
Like any other year when they picked late in the first round, they have some thoughts — but no certainty — about who they will take with the No. 24 pick.
As for everything else …
“It’s absolutely different,’’ amateur scouting director Rob Metzler said.
The draft has been massively re-formatted, shortened from 40 rounds to five for cost-cutting purposes. It is being held remotely, which impacts the process and potentially the philosophies of decision-making.
Also substantially changed is how the Rays and the 29 other teams got to this point in terms of scouting, processing and analyzing the information vital to making decisions about which high school and college players they will invest millions in.
The biggest difference has been the reliance on technology, specifically video breakdowns of games and workouts, and video calls for conversations with prospects.
Some was video scouts and analysts had seen before but tried to return to with fresh eyes. Some was new, shot recently at individual workouts and provided by the players to a league-wide portal.
Some was ultra-specific via the Synergy database service, providing detailed breakdowns of college players in different game situations. And some was random, posted to social media by players or their advisers, including readings from radar guns and high-tech devices such as Trackman and Rapsodo.
Of course, there are concerns about what they’re seeing and how much stock to put into it.
Much game video is taken from centerfield cameras, so it focuses on the hitter-pitcher matchup without showing nuances like positioning and readiness of players in the field or the attentiveness of an on-deck batter.
Some players, especially high schoolers, may have changed physically from when scouts saw them briefly in March or — for those in northern states — last season. It’s tough to assess how those added inches or lost pounds impact how they’ll throw, hit or run.
And then there is the question of whether video or data from a private workout is legitimate, that the radar readings or sprint distances are as presented.
Metzler said the Rays tried to balance what they were watching on video with what they had seen with their own eyes, as they’ve been scouting some of these prospects for years.
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“We’re wrestling with it ” Metzler said. “I think it’s helpful when you’ve seen the player in person previously and have a sense for body type and some of that stuff. … We do our best on the film to pick up as much as we can on all the other components of the game that are super meaningful."
The Rays also were forced to use video calls in place of the in-person conversations that are critical to helping them get to know players and their families, as well as the business aspect of signability, as they want to be sure they invest their six picks and $7.5-million bonus pool wisely.
“I think we’ve been able to get a pretty accurate representation of the whole situation and been able to continue to develop relationships throughout this period,’’ Metzler said.
The final decision-making and actual drafting will be done on video calls, with Metzler and general manager Erik Neander (who will be shown on camera) planning to work from their offices at the Trop, and the rest of the scouts and analysts on a Zoom call.
That, too, will necessitate change, as there can only be one conversation on a group video call, not two or three at the same time as typically happens given the quick turnaround of the draft, with four minutes between picks in the first round and two after that. They even did a practice run-through to get comfortable.
“There’s going to be,’’ Metzler said, “a lot of differences.’’
Wednesday: First/competitive balance A rounds, 7 p.m., ESPN and MLB Network. Rays picks 24 (9:24 p.m. approximately), 37 (10:16 p.m.)
Thursday: Rounds 2-5; 5 p.m., ESPN2 and MLB Network. Rays picks 57 (6:03 p.m.), 96 (7:54 p.m.), 125 (9:18 p.m.), 155 (10:44 p.m.)
Rays bonus pool: $7,474,600; No. 24 ($2,831,300), No. 37 ($1,999,300, from Cardinals via trade), No. 57 ($1,243,600), No. 96 ($604,800), No. 125 ($455,600), No. 155 ($340,000)