MLB Draft 2020: ESPN Continues Run of Virtual Drafts With First MLB Edition Since 2008

The broadcaster, MLB Network will produce separate telecasts but share resources

With the start of the MLB season still on hold, ESPN has worked to keep baseball-hungry fans happy with content ranging from early-morning Korean Baseball Organization (KBO) coverage to the opening round of the Collegiate Summer Baseball Invitational (CSBI). Tonight, ESPN coverage shifts back to MLB-focused programming with the network’s first live broadcast of the MLB Draft in 12 years.

“Whether it’s the amateur baseball or KBO or the Draft, we’re just happy to have baseball to cover,” says Phil Orlins, senior coordinating producer, MLB, Little League, and College Baseball, ESPN. “I think this one is going to have some weight and importance and people are going care about it quite a bit because it’s an event that plays directly to Major League Baseball fans. I think that makes it exciting for us.”

ESPN’s Karl Ravech has been calling KBO baseball from home but will be in the Bristol studio for the MLB Draft telecast tonight.(Photo by Joe Faraoni / ESPN Images)

ESPN’s 10 hours of MLB Draft coverage over the next two days marks the network’s third Draft in two months, following the NFL Draft and WNBA Draft in April — both of which garnered record viewership. However, unlike with the NFL Draft, for which ESPN and NFL Network shared talent and delivered a combined broadcast, ESPN and MLB Network will be producing their own independent broadcasts (while still sharing plenty of resources).

In Bristol and At-Home: Talent in the Studio and ‘Live From Home’
As was the case with both prior Draft productions this year, ESPN’s coverage will be based at its Bristol, CT, studios — with social distancing and health/safety measures in full effect. As was the case for the NFL and WNBA Drafts, the sprawling Bristol campus will be showcased throughout the telecast with wide shots during commercial bumpers and augmented-reality graphics overlaid on top of Bristol scenics.

Host Karl Ravech and Draft expert Kiley McDaniel will be on hand in Bristol, and commentators Chris Burke, Jessica Mendoza, Jeff Passan, Eduardo Perez, and Kyle Peterson will contribute remotely via studio setups in their respective homes. The five remote contributors will be using the same “Live From Home” remote-commentary kits deployed for KBO coverage and studio-show interviews.

ESPN MLB analyst Eduardo Perez prepares for a KBO telecast using the a remote commentary system at his home (Photo: Eduardo Perez/ESPN)

“We’ve been able to eliminate almost all of the delay and latency in the workflow we use for KBO,” says Orlins. “So I don’t think you’re going to see some of the hesitations and pauses you may have seen on other shows in terms of how our talent respond to each other remotely. On KBO, they’re talking in basically real time. I don’t think you’re going to see any awkward pauses or unnatural stepping on each other because of a delay.”

MLB Network is managing 120 remote in-home camera feeds, including 30 GM/team-leader cams and 23 prospect cams, and will be sharing these resources with ESPN.

“[MLB Network] has been doing a lot of hard work in terms of the [in-home] feeds, and we’re grateful to have those,” says Orlins. “We obviously know them well from over the years; they have been great to work with and have done a phenomenal job.”

Highlights Packages: Leveraging ESPN’s College Archives and Kiley’s Scouting Library
With 160 players to be picked across five rounds in the modified 2020 MLB Draft format, ESPN’s production team has cranked out 170 highlight packages, 49 breakdown tapes, nine “Getting To Know” vignettes (featuring one-on-one interviews with Mendoza), eight “MLB Draft Memories” segments (MLB Players talking about the day they were drafted), 30 team photo edits, 30 VFX “On the Clock” bumpers, and 30 VFX “The Pick Is In” bumpers.

ESPN analyst Eduardo Perez is providing commentary for KBO baseball from his home.

The majority of the work on these segments has been done remotely, thanks to ESPN’s at-home editing and graphics setups.

To collect content for highlights packages, ESPN drew on its extensive library of college-baseball video for college prospects. As for high school prospects, ESPN relied heavily on McDaniel, who has shot a vast amount of his slo-mo video during regular scouting trips to high schools across the country.

“We want the differentiating video — super-slo-mo video that shows how a pitcher releases the ball or a hitter’s launch angle and things like that,” says Orlins. “I’m not super concerned about generic centerfield and high-home cuts and shots like that. I want to see stuff that shows differentiating skills and things that can be broken down and analyzed. A lot of the video you see is going to be breakdown content rather than just cool highlights of a home run and double.”

A Different Mindset: How ESPN’s MLB Draft Coverage Will Differ From the NFL Draft
Although Orlins says viewers will see plenty of similarities to ESPN’s NFL Draft coverage, he notes that the pace will be much faster, with the clock for first-round picks running just four minutes (instead of 10 minutes for NFL Draft) and then reducing to two minutes on Day 2. In addition, he says, the editorial philosophy will be different as well.

ESPN commentator Karl Ravech’s remote commentary setup at his home (Photo: Karl Ravech/ESPN)

“I think our philosophy for this Draft is very different from an NFL or NBA Draft, where you’re talking about [No. 1 picks] Joe Burrow or Zion Williamson, who are already mainstream known stars,” says Orlins. “To me, the star in this Draft is information that the fans of the 30 MLB teams crave.

“While we obviously want to introduce fans to [these prospects], I think the information is what is most important,” he continues. “What’s this guy’s future impact going to be on our franchise? When can we expect to see him [in the majors]? Where does he rank among the top prospects on our team and in baseball overall? Our goal is to deliver a clear perspective on what each pick means for your franchise.”

ESPN’s coverage of the 2020 MLB Draft begins tonight with the first round at 7 p.m. ET and continues on ESPN2 on Thursday with Rounds 2-5 beginning at 5 p.m. In addition, ESPN Deportes will exclusively televise Day1 of the 2020 MLB Draft in Spanish.