The Tampa Bay Rays made two selections on the first day of the 2020 Major League Baseball Amateur Draft, picking 17-year-old high school pitcher Nick Bitsko in the first round (24th pick overall), and shortstop Alika Williams in the second round (37th pick overall). Meanwhile, the Major League Baseball Players Association submitted another counter-proposal for a shortened 2020 campaign on Tuesday.
In Bitsko, the Rays added a flame-throwing right-hander to baseball’s best farm system. At 17, he is one of the youngest players in the draft and the number 14 prospect in this year’s draft class according to MLB.com.
Although Bitsko didn’t pitch in any games this Spring — thanks a lot, COVID-19 — Rays Senior Director of Amateur Scouting Rob Metzler said the hard-throwing right-hander had plenty of attributes that made him attractive.
Arm action, delivery, size, athleticism, arm strength, ability to spin the ball, ability to deaden the ball,” said Metzler, whose staff identified Bitsko this summer and then became more interested for 2020 when he reclassified. “We thought all those attributes fit for someone who could develop as a young starting pitching prospect with the competitiveness to compete his way through the system.— Rob Metzler
According to MLB.com, the 6’4″, 225-pound hurler grades out at a 60 for both his fastball and curveball, a 50 for his changeup, and a 55 for his control.
Bitsko told Neil Solondz (Rays Radio) that he has a great deal of excitement to be drafted by an organization with Tampa Bay’s reputation as the top farm system in the game.
I know from a developmental standpoint they’re one of the best in the big leagues. Pitching wise or hitting wise they always have top pitching prospects, top hitting prospects. I think it’s a great organization to go to especially for me as a young pitcher. They’d give me time to develop and stuff like that and having the right people around me to guide me and keep me on the right path to develop and get to the best pitcher I can be eventually.— Nick Bitsko
After drafting a pitcher in the first round of the draft, the Rays picked Williams, a talented shortstop out of Arizona State, who was ranked as the number 40 prospect in this year’s draft class according to MLB.com.
The 6’2″ 180-pound middle infielder was originally selected by the Yankees out of Rancho Bernando High School in California, the same school that produced Cole Hamels. Instead, though, he chose to attend college.
Metzler was thrilled that Williams was still available at 37. He is a known quantity to Tampa Bay, as he played for the Rays’ scout team in California while in high school, and worked out with Daniel Robertson at a private facility this spring. Tampa Bay’s Senior Director of Amateur Scouting spoke about being able to watch grow as a player over the last several years.
We see him as a well-rounded prospect. We very much appreciate his defensive skills. We think he’s a true shortstop prospect. We also think he has a chance to be an impact offensive player. The game is geared around contact but we think the profile is a good offensive profile and a good defensive profile.— Rob Metzler
Williams is viewed as a plus defender who, according to MLB.com, is able “to control the strike zone (which) also played a big role in his success at Arizona State. In 549 plate appearances with the Sun Devils, Williams struck out just 49 times.”
2020 MLB Draft Day Two
The Rays will have four more choices — picks number 57, 96, 125, and 155 — today, the final day of the shortened 2020 MLB Draft.
MLBPA Submits Another Counter-Proposal
After receiving the league’s latest proposal for an abbreviated 2020 season — a 76-game campaign with expanded postseason play — the MLBPA countered once more, this time submitting a plan for an 89-game season that would run from July 10 to October 11. Likewise, with previous counter-proposals, the player’s union stuck to its demand for full prorated salaries.
As Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich (The Athletic, paid link) posited,
The question now is whether MLB would make another counter offer, technically a third official offer, or whether it would move to implement a schedule of its choosing, likely for 54 or so games. The union, based on its stance thus far, considers any offer that includes an additional per-game pay cut from the prorated salaries the players accepted in March to be a non-starter.— Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich
The union’s plan also includes two years of expanded postseason play of up to eight teams per league, although the playoff format would be subject to further discussion. However, the playoffs likely would extend into November, something owners would prefer to avoid for fear of a second wave of COVID-19 in the fall.
According to Rosenthal and Drellich, the players association did concede ground on a few points:
— The 89-game proposal represented a reduction of 25 games and savings of nearly $630 million in player compensation compared to its initial 114-game offer.
— The players association offered to accept a flat fee of $50 million if the postseason were canceled or halted.
— Players who are not considered high-risk for COVID-19 would receive no pay or service time if they opted out of playing in 2020.
In response to the union’s counter-proposal, the league is preparing yet another counter-offer.
MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a Wednesday appearance on the MLB Network that while he hopes players would “get off the 100% salary demand,” in his view “We’re going to play baseball in 2020 — 100 percent.”
The league’s response will be telling. Manfred allowed that it will be in the “players’ direction” while also intimating he hopes the union will back down from its insistence on prorated pay which has been at the heart of the players’ entire argument to this point.
A negotiated settlement remains the preferred solution between the league and union, although Manfred has the ability to implement a shorter season under the standing March agreement. Bob Nightengale (USA Today Sports) noted that Manfred will put into play a scant 50-game season if an agreement isn’t in place by next week. Yet, as Steve Adams (MLB Trade Rumors) opined, both sides have negotiated through the media with “a series of strategically leaked bluffs and half-truths,” so it remains uncertain whether a dramatically shorter schedule will be enacted, or if this is yet another leverage play.
Remember, after all, that the league sent a counter-proposal to the MLBPA on Monday — just days after putting out the message that no counter was coming.— Steve Adams