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OC Register: Angels prepare for draft with scouting staff ravaged by furloughs

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In a normal year, Matt Swanson would have just finished months of criss-crossing the nation to see all the best amateur baseball players, followed by several days hunkered down in a room with all of his staff to rank the players, and then a few days hashing out the final debates to select 40 of them in the draft.

This year has been anything but normal for Swanson, the Angels scouting director.

Instead, he’s spent the past couple months at his home in Texas, poring over video and having endless Zoom calls with his scouts and potential draft picks.

It’s all been in preparation for the four picks the Angels will have in the draft, which starts on Wednesday and concludes on Thursday.

After that, teams will face another unusual situation, one made more complicated for the Angels because of the organization’s financial decisions.

Hundreds of players who otherwise would have been drafted will be available to be signed as free agents, and Swanson will essentially be on his own to handle that market.

The Angels have decided to furlough virtually the entire scouting department, with most of the scouts going off the clock on June 1 and the rest next Tuesday.

As the coronavirus pandemic has ravaged businesses around the world, the Angels have made cuts to all departments. The Angels will institute furloughs and pay cuts, up to 35 percent for senior level employees.

The most immediate test of how well they can withstand these losses will be the draft, although the grades won’t come quickly. It could take years to learn how the Angels fared in the 2020 draft, and in signing non-drafted players.

Swanson, who will be leading the Angels draft process for the fourth season, said the Angels will do the best they can under circumstances that were already difficult.

Amateur baseball across the country essentially shut down in mid March because of the pandemic, leaving scouts to make their decisions based on what they had seen in the first month of the season and previous years.

“You have to approach it with an open mind and understand it’s not fair to some players who didn’t get the opportunity to play in front of some scouts,” Swanson said.

The changed method of scouting for this year hasn’t been entirely bad, Swanson said.

First, it has forced scouting departments to look at the totality of information on players, rather than being swayed by the relative small sample size of a few in-person games watched in the spring.

“In a lot of ways that can be incredibly short-sighted, to forget the work that has been done in the eight or nine months leading into that,” he said.

Swanson said he’s also been relieved of some time constraints. While much of his time is spent at games, there is normally plenty spent in the air or on the road too. Not this year.

“I am busier than ever, it’s just shifted from travel to other things,” he said.

The Angels have also held Zoom conferences with about 20 players who they could consider for their first pick, at No. 10. It is easier to have more of the organization’s decision makers, including general manager Billy Eppler, participate in those calls than it would be to arrange for everyone to meet in a player’s living room.

Normally the Angels would be working on a pool of 400 to 500 players in preparation to draft 40, about 30 of whom would end up signing. This year they have focused on 150 to 200, with the draft condensed to five rounds.

The Angels will only have four picks. They surrendered their second-round pick for signing free agent Anthony Rendon. They’ll make their first pick on Wednesday night and the next three on Thursday.

With the area scouts furloughed more than a week ago, Swanson and his nine cross-checkers have been handling the final decisions on their draft rankings and the actual selections. Starting on Sunday, teams are free to talk to any of the eligible non-drafted players, with a limit of $20,000 to sign any player.

All 30 teams will no doubt be scrambling to round up as many of the top players as possible. Unable to secure their rights by drafting them and unable to simply outbid other teams, it will be up to the teams to sell themselves to the players.

The Angels will have the advantage of being in Southern California, which is where there will be a large concentration of those undrafted players.

Of course, their big disadvantage will be the lack of manpower, or perhaps the personal connections, to sign those players.

There will be just two days of the period in which non-drafted players can sign before the Angels will furlough their cross-checkers, leaving Swanson to finish that process on his own.

“For me, it’s going to be a lot of responsibility addressing players one-on-one, which I’m very comfortable with,” he said. “A lot of it is just going to be reaching out to players and doing what we can to paint the Angels in a way that they want to be Angels and grow to be successful major leaguers.”

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