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Shortened MLB amateur draft to remain at New Jersey studio

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NEW YORK — Major League Baseball’s shortened amateur draft will remain at the MLB Network studios in Secaucus, New Jersey, for the first round on June 10.

MLB shortened the selections to five rounds and 160 picks in response to the new coronavirus pandemic, by far the fewest since the draft started in 1965. Before the pandemic, the draft had been scheduled to take place at Omaha, Nebraska, ahead of the now-canceled College World Series.

Clubs were able to reduce the draft as part of their March 26 agreement with the players’ association. The combined value of their signing bonus pools is $235,906,800 and the amount of signing bonus pool money eliminated is $29,578,100.

The first 37 picks will take place on the opening day and the remainder on June 11. The deadline for selected players to sign was pushed back from July 10 to Aug. 1.

Detroit picks first, followed by Baltimore, Miami and Kansas City.

Houston was stripped of its first- and second-round selections as part of MLB penalties for using a video camera to steal catcher’s signs. Boston lost its second-round selection for improper use of video.

Baseball’s draft was long held by conference call at the commissioner’s office in New York. The draft was moved to Lake Buena Vista, Florida, for 2007 and 2008.

Residents of the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico are subject to the draft.

As part of the agreement with the union, slot values to determine signing bonus pools will remain at 2019 levels and players passed over in the draft are limited to signing bonuses of $20,000 or less. That might cause more high school players to go to college. And because of the NCAA’s limit of 11.7 baseball scholarships, the change may lead to more prospects attending junior college.

All but six of last year’s sixth-round picks signed for $200,000 or more. Chicago Cubs catcher/first baseman Ethan Hearn had the highest bonus of the round at $950,000, deciding to sign rather than attend Mississippi State. San Francisco signed right-hander John McDonald, selected 326th on the 11th round, for $797,500, and Arizona gave left-hander Avery Short, picked 362nd on the 12th round, $922,500.

Among 1,082 players who were in a big league game last year after coming through the draft, 180 were first-round picks and 589 were selected during the first five rounds, according to the commissioner’s office. There were 204 from rounds six to 10, 102 from rounds 11-15 and 63 from rounds 16-20. Just 74 were from rounds 21-30 and only 50 from rounds 31-50.

Once unlimited, the draft was cut to 50 rounds in 1998 and to 40 rounds in 2012.

Signing bonus pools started in 2012 and limit the amount of money teams can spend. Each slot in the first 10 rounds is a signed a value — the range last year was $8,415,300 down to $142,200 — and each team’s values are added to a form a pool. Signing bonuses in the first 10 rounds count against the pool along with the amounts above $125,000 of players selected after the 10th round or who were bypassed in the draft and then signed.

A team that exceeds its pool is taxed, and a club more than 5% above loses a first-round draft pick the next year — a threshold never reached.

The union turned down a proposal that would have kept rounds 6-10 in exchange for cutting their slot values in half.

Teams drafted 1,217 players over 40 rounds last June.

As part of the deal with the union, teams have the right to cut the 2021 draft to as few as 20 rounds. That fits in MLB’s proposal to cut their minimum minor league affiliations from 160 to 120 in 2021, allowing each organization to drop one farm team.

For both 2020 and ’21, only up to $100,000 of each signing bonus is due within 30 days of approval and 50% of the remainder on July 1 in both 2020 and ’21.

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Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger ready for ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ season

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LOS ANGELES — Cody Bellinger is healthy, his mind is right and he’s ready for whatever baseball’s shortened 60-game season brings.

Bellinger is looking to pick up where he left off after a stellar performance for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2019. The reigning National League MVP batted .305 with 47 homers and 115 RBIs for the NL West champions last year.

“Everything is going to be so weird this year. It’s going to be fun,” he said Thursday on a video conference call. “It could be a once-in-a-lifetime thing, so I’m just taking advantage of what we got.”

What the Dodgers have in addition to Bellinger’s offensive power is Mookie Betts, the 2018 American League MVP with Boston. He joins a team that led the NL with 279 homers last year, but lost to Washington in the division series.

Bellinger, who turns 25 on Monday, isn’t putting pressure on himself to repeat last season’s statistics.

“I just want to focus on what I’ve got to do in order to be good. I’m understanding that a little more,” he said. “Just go out and be as consistent as I can, fine-tune the things that make me really good.”

Bellinger was the NL Rookie of the Year in 2017, and then struggled the following year before rebounding in 2019.

“It was tough sledding for Cody for quite some time coming off that rookie campaign, and you start wondering, ‘Was it real?’ You question the confidence, the mechanical piece,” manager Dave Roberts said. “Everything he does now is with conviction and intent. There’s a talent component, but also there’s a process and preparation component that sometimes you have to struggle to understand the value of it.”

Bellinger spent the last few months working out in his home state of Arizona after spring training came to a halt in March because of the coronavirus pandemic. He focused on fine-tuning his swing.

“I just got to work on it in a stress-free environment,” he said. “Just minor things I think about throughout the year. Figuring out why I was so good and remembering the feeling and not getting too caught up on last year. You’re always evolving. I feel really good with where I’m at this year. It could be a blessing in the long run.”

Bellinger and Roberts said hitters’ concerns about the new batter’s eye in the renovated outfield pavilions at Dodger Stadium are being addressed. First baseman Max Muncy hurt his left ring finger after he said he couldn’t see a pitch that hit him earlier in the week.

“It was a little low,” Bellinger said, “and the seats weren’t blocked off, so if there were fans there, the pitcher’s arm would potentially come out of the stands.”

Roberts said the batter’s eye “is still a work in progress” that may involve changing the paint scheme to matte from gloss, among other things.

During the first week of summer camp, Bellinger has gotten used to drinking out of his own cooler, not having teammates on either side of his locker and having everyone hear what the players say on the field in an empty stadium. Coming from Arizona, where masks in public were not always mandatory, he’s had to don one in California, where they are required.

“I don’t think it’s a hassle to wear a mask,” he said. “If your breath stinks, it sucks. But it just means you brush your teeth a little more.”

Game notes
RHP Tony Gonsolin showed up at camp for the first time Wednesday, appearing on the field in uniform for an evening intrasquad scrimmage. He was one of seven players absent from camp earlier in the day. Roberts said Thursday he could not discuss the reason for Gonsolin missing the first week of camp and the reliever has not yet been made available to media. With LHP David Price choosing not to play this season, Gonsolin might have a shot at the rotation.

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2020 MLB season at a glance — Opening Day schedule, previews, picks and more

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The 2020 MLB season is nearly here — four months later than originally planned.

While this season will be reduced to 60 games, and there will be no fans in attendance at least initially, because of the shutdown forced by the coronavirus pandemic, teams are in camp preparing for Opening Day on July 23 and 24.

Here’s a look at the Opening Day schedule for every team, plus previews, predictions and more as the long-awaited ballgames approach.

Opening Day schedule

All times ET

July 23

Yankees at Nationals, 7 (ESPN)
Giants at Dodgers, 10 (ESPN)

July 24

Braves at Mets, 4 (ESPN)
Tigers at Reds, 6:10
Blue Jays at Rays, 6:40
Brewers at Cubs, 7 (ESPN)
Marlins at Phillies, 7:05
Royals at Indians, 7:10
Orioles at Red Sox, 7:30
Rockies at Rangers, 8:05
Twins at White Sox, 8:10
Pirates at Cardinals, 8:15
Mariners at Astros, 9:10
Diamondbacks at Padres, 9:10
Giants at Dodgers, 9:40
Angels at A’s, 10 (ESPN)

Schedule reaction:

Doolittle: Schedule winners and losers

• Schoenfield: Series we can’t wait to see

• Complete sortable MLB schedule

Previews, predictions

Doolittle: Can 60 games determine MLB’s best team?

60-game predictions: Who will thrive, struggle?

What 60-game MVPs of past tell us about 2020

A .400 hitter? What 60-game stats could look like

Buster Olney’s top 10 at every position

Universal DH Power Rankings

MLB fantasy season FAQ | ESPN Fantasy baseball page

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Phillies All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto ‘not too worried’ about next contract

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PHILADELPHIA — J.T. Realmuto isn’t worried about his contract situation.

The All-Star catcher and the Philadelphia Phillies had preliminary discussions about a long-term deal before the coronavirus pandemic, but talks between the two sides haven’t progressed since baseball returned last week.

Realmuto is eligible for free agency after the season unless the Phillies sign him before he can test the market. He’s expected to seek at least $20 million per season.

Last week, Phillies general manager Matt Klentak said the pandemic has changed the landscape of baseball. Lost revenue could affect salaries around the league going forward.

“It definitely concerns me, not necessarily for myself, but for the free-agency class as a whole,” Realmuto said Thursday. “The top guys usually find a way to get their dollars. Teams are going to want them. Maybe it’s not 20 teams in on you — maybe five or 10. A lot of teams will be able to look at this as a time to take advantage and actually go for it instead of backing off, because half the league will try to cut revenue and save money and the others will look at it as an advantage to press forward. It could affect free agency as a whole, but for myself, I’m not too worried.”

Realmuto hit .275 with 25 homers and 83 RBIs and led the league with 43 runners thrown out in his first season in Philadelphia in 2019, earning his second straight All-Star selection. He was acquired from Miami shortly before spring training last year in a deal that sent Philadelphia’s top pitching prospect, Sixto Sanchez, to the Marlins.

Realmuto quickly has become Bryce Harper‘s favorite teammate in Philly. Harper was on base when Realmuto hit a homer in a scrimmage Wednesday. He crossed the plate, looked up in an empty stadium and screamed: “Sign him!”

“I hope he owns the team one day,” Realmuto joked. “I might be able to catch until I’m 60 if he owns the team.”

Realmuto lost his arbitration case in February and received a raise from $6.05 million to $10 million instead of his $12.4 million request. He said he doesn’t harbor any resentment over losing.

“I love this organization,” he said. “They’ve been great to me and my family since I showed up. From top to bottom, they’re good people and they care about baseball. That’s important to me.”

Phillies manager Joe Girardi called Realmuto a “happy-go-lucky” guy who “loves to be on the field,” and he doesn’t expect the contract situation to be a distraction.

“He’s the same person every day, happy to be here, wants to play and help the team win,” Girardi said. “When he came back from his arbitration case, his personality hadn’t changed and he had a smile on his face.”

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