Orchestrating those selections was Scott Barnsby, who serves as Cleveland’s director of amateur scouting. Barnsby shared his perspective on this year’s unique draft, including the players he brought on board (and one he didn’t), as well as the challenges of scouting in a pandemic.
David Laurila: How unique was this year’s draft?
Scott Barnsby: “First, we do everything we can to extend the timeline, to get to know these players as well as we possibly can. That starts as soon as the previous year’s draft is over. But the springs are really important, because we continue to develop relationships with the players and see how they’ve progressed from the fall and winter. We didn’t have that opportunity this year. It was unique in that sense.
“We obviously didn’t have a choice, because we were dealing with the pandemic and had to make adjustments, but it was pretty incredible to see how the staff came together. The one thing they kept saying was, ‘Hey, how can I help? What can I do to to get us to where we need to be in June?’ That’s the collaborative effort we always talk about. But it was still challenging. The majority of our work was done remotely, and we felt like there were gaps in the information we had, [both] on and off the field. We tried to do our best to to close those gaps.
“We held weekly meetings. There was daily work being done to prepare, but there were weekly check-ins starting a couple months prior to the draft to make sure that we were squared away on draft day. So while there were some challenges, it felt like it came together. And obviously, with five rounds we were really able to prioritize our time. Would we have liked more? We did the most with what we had.”
Laurila: How unpredictable was draft day itself? Compared to normal years, were other teams’ picks fairly in line with your own board, or were there a lot of surprises?
Barnsby: “That’s a good question. I would say that in any year there are random picks that you don’t expect. I think it was maybe a little bit more unique in terms of how teams are spreading around the money. In terms of how our board lined up, I can tell you that we were really excited with the players that were there when we made our selections. There were maybe a couple of guys we didn’t necessarily expect to be there, which was fortunate for us. So there were a few surprises, although I don’t know if any of them really stand out.”
Laurila: Generally speaking, can you put most rival organizations in draft-preference buckets?
Barnsby: “I think everybody tries to predict who is going to be there at their pick. We’ve been picking 23rd, 24th — in that range the last few years — and yes, we’ve tried to look at trends and tendencies to see whether there are any patterns. But while I’m sure there are teams with tendencies, it doesn’t always play out the way you expect it to. We rely heavily on our scouts, and how well they know the player, to help us with any information on where they anticipate a player going in the draft. That comes into the strategy phase for us.”
Laurila: Eric Longenhagen’s final mock draft had you taking Peter Crow-Armstrong, which obviously didn’t happen [the New York Mets took Crow-Armstrong 19th overall, four pick before Cleveland’s first selection]. Given that he was never an option, can you share your thoughts on him?
Barnsby: “I can tell you this: once we get to our pick, we assess the situations — here are our options, what are our alternatives — and we go from there. Certainly, the player’s desire to go out and play is a big part of that. So I’ll start by saying that we were thrilled to get Carson Tucker.
“In terms of Peter Crow-Armstrong, Carlos Muniz, our scout in California, did an awesome job of getting to know him. Just like every other team, we had an opportunity see Pete Crow develop as underclassmen as he played for Team USA and then track him throughout the summer. It was a little unique because he didn’t end up going to the PDP last year, but we had an opportunity to see him at Area Codes. We also had an opportunity to spend time with Pete and his family. He’s a really impressive person — a leader with a passion for the game. Those things really stood out, and his ability on the field speaks for itself. We were surprised that he didn’t get to us.”
Laurila: Outside of Crow-Armstrong being an outfielder, and Carson Tucker a shortstop — although I’ve seen rumors that [Tucker] could end up in center — how similar are they? Both are athletic and were drafted out of high school.
Barnsby: “One of the things that really stood out with Carson was how much he developed physically from the fall, the winter, and the spring. The fact that he didn’t end up having the full spring… but with the work that [area scout] Ryan Perry, and others, put in to get to know Carson, I felt like we were ahead of the game; we saw the advancements he’d made. We anticipate Carson playing shortstop, although another thing we talked about is versatility, and being able to move around the field if necessary. He’s certainly got the right mindset to do that.
“In terms of comparing them as players, they’re both really good athletes, they both have instincts in the box, and I think you can say that both of them have a chance to get to some power down the road. Both of them can run. I think they can certainly provide value on both sides of the ball, so there are similarities. I guess what I’m saying is that both have pretty high ceilings, so I look forward to seeing how they end up doing.”
Laurila: Did tech play a bigger than usual role this year, given that there were fewer in-person looks leading up to the draft?
Barnsby: “If you’re talking about video, that was what we had to do with our scouting throughout the spring. So yes, that played a bigger role in terms of making sure that we could have our entire scouting staff weigh in with their thoughts on a player. That was really helpful to have. But we balance all of the information that we get. Just like anybody else, any information we had up until the 27th of March, we utilized — and if we didn’t have it on somebody, obviously we weren’t going to be able to get it.”
Laurila: What roles do the analytics and player-development departments have in the draft?
Barnsby: “We talk about this all the time. As these players enter our system, they go into a foundations program, which is basically to acclimate them to our system. When Tucker, Burns, Halpin — the whole crew — came in, we talked to them about how this wasn’t just the amateur scouting department. Our amateur scouts do an incredible job getting to know the players, but we are constantly talking to player development and asking ourselves questions like, ‘What else do we need to know about this player?’ We’re sharing that information.
“We have teams that are constantly assessing, whether that’s analytics, our pitching group, our hitting group, our defensive group, our catching group… everybody is involved. A lot of that is done on video, but it’s a balance of everything. So as much as our scouting staff is involved, it is an entire group effort.”
Barnsby: “Sure. We had extended history with Tanner Burns in high school, then we watched the progression. We saw what he’s done with himself physically — I say that in terms of him being really mindful of strength, conditioning, maintaining flexibility… he’s really diligent with his routines. And then there’s how he’s embraced any new information, whether that was at Auburn, at Team USA, or wherever he’s been. All of the coaches have shared how determined he is to get better. And he’s done that. We’ve seen progression with the breaking balls, we’ve seen a tick up with the velocity; we’ve seen success on the mound.
“Logan Allen [not to be confused with his big-league namesake] is similar. We saw him in high school, then tracked him the last few years. He was even swinging the bat a little bit at FIU, so he’s pretty good athlete. Just seeing how he’s developed… he’s always been able to pitch and throw strikes, but there’s also how consistently he’s been able to miss bats. He’s another guy — we see this our Zoom calls — who has been wide open and constantly looking for ways to improve. That certainly stands out with the college guys we took.”
Laurila: What about your high school selections?
Barnsby: “Halpin and Tolentino are guys we were really excited to get where we did in the draft. Petey [Halpin] is just a gamer. There’s some versatility there, but he can play center field, he can run, and we’ve seen a really nice progression with the bat. The way he competes on the field, and in the box, really stands out with him.
“You probably know of Milan [Tolentino’s] background: his dad playing professionally and being a commentator for the Angels. He just really knows the game of baseball. Just watching how steady Milan is on the field says a lot about his internal clock and how reliable he is defensively. And he’s another guy where we’ve watched the progression with the body. He has a really good approach at the plate, and as he continues to develop, I can see some power coming as well.
“With [Mason] Hickman — he’s obviously one of the college guys — we got a Friday-night guy from an elite university who went out and got wins, missed bats, and threw a ton of strikes. He’s a big physical pitcher with more upside, so to get him in the fifth round was really exciting. We’re excited about all of the guys we took. We’ll see where it goes from here, but they’re in good hands with our player-development staff.”
Please support FanGraphs by becoming a member. We publish thousands of articles a year, host multiple podcasts, and have an ever growing database of baseball stats.
FanGraphs does not have a paywall. With your membership, we can continue to offer the content you’ve come to rely on and add to our unique baseball coverage.