Keith Law has written for ESPN since 2006, with a primary focus on scouting and the draft. A graduate of Harvard with an MBA from Carnegie Mellon University, Law had previously written for Baseball Prospectus and was employed by the Toronto Blue Jays where he worked for four years in various capacities as a scout and in player contract negotiations.
After this year’s major league draft, Keith released some brief capsule remarks on all the 30 major league clubs actions during the draft. He was kind enough to take a few minutes to expand on his thought about the San Diego Padres performance in this years’ draft, among other topics.
The Padres, and every other major league club, always talk about taking the best player available. How do you think the Padres define that term?
Keith Law: In general I think they look for controlled upside, which is not the way that [Padres’ General Manager] A.J. Preller operated in the international market when he was with the Rangers, where he would shoot for anyone with huge tools.
When you look at the drafts that he has done with the Padres since he took over in 2015, particularly last year with MacKenzie Gore, who I think is a good example of this, you are getting guys with high ceilings but at the same time have relatively high floors.
This year the first round was a little more conservative, but the Padres kind of kept the same focus in their picks of Ryan Weathers and Xavier Edwards – players with upside but also a lot of polish.
There has been a lot of talk that Ryan Weathers might be a below-slot signee and Xavier Edward might be significantly above. Have you heard anything on that?
Keith Law: Almost everyone signs below slot in the first round; you should never offer more. Outside of the Padres, I think the highest anyone had Weathers going was around 11. That doesn’t make him a bad pick at all, it’s not like the Padres picked him over Casey Mize. I liked the pick, he’s a solid pitcher who got better as the season went on.
As for Edwards, he was drafted pretty much around where most people believe he would be picked, so I don’t see a reason why he would be significantly over-slot.
In 2016 the Padres picked Cal Quantrill with their first pick and went $300,000 over slot. Any reason why?
Keith Law: He was never going to be an easy sign. There was a real possibility he was going to go back to school and there was a chance he could have been the first overall pick. My guess is they had a deal worked out before the draft and the Padres honored it.
Really, it’s the only way this system works in which the “advisers” or agents let teams know what the player’s salary demands are before the draft.
Did you see anything on Day 2 or Day 3 by the Padres that caught your eye?
Keith Law: I think they took some nice players on Day 2, but all were college players with the exception of [Alexuan] Vega, the high school pitcher they took out of Puerto Rico.
On Day 3 Sean Guilbe, the infielder out of Pennsylvania is an interesting pick but with some makeup questions. He’s been through three different high schools in four years and multiple area scouts gave him a thumbs down. Talent-wise, he belonged in the first five rounds. In a way, he’s similar to Juwuan Harris, who they took in the eighth round from Rutgers. Both have tremendous upside, but there are makeup issues.
I’m sure the Padres believe that by getting them both into pro ball and their system, they will be able their talent out of them. If not, it’s a relatively low-level gamble.
I also thought Dwanya Williams-Sutton was an interesting pick too. He has a good swing, athletic player, but a wrist injury held him back, which is a really tough injury for a baseball player.
[Dylan] Coleman throws hard, but command is an issue. I also though Grant Little, who they picked in the Comp BB round could be a bit of an under slot pick. He put up some good numbers on a Texas Tech team that wasn’t very good, but he may be limited to left field.
The J2 signings in 2016 were huge for San Diego with the acquisition of players like Adrian Morejon, Michel Baez, Tirso Ornelas and others. Off the top of your head, how many top draft picks – players that would go in the first two rounds – do you think San Diego got out of that haul?
Keith Law: Morejon, Baez, Luis Almanzar, Jorge Ona all would have been first round picks at the time. I’ve always loved the swing of Tirso Ornelas. There are a few others that I am probably missing without the full list in front of me, but probably at a minimum, they got at least five guys out of the J2 signings they were first-round talents.
Look at all the shortstops they have in that group, and this year’s draft was not good for shortstops.
In San Diego people frequently, discuss the “tank” as mainly about not winning games to get a better draft pick. However, as you have discussed related to the Orioles, you can’t just build a top farm system without also signing internationally and trading away major league assets for prospects. Do you agree?
Keith Law: I do and think very few teams are willing to go all-in to the extent of the Padres. As you said in the question, the Orioles talk about rebuilding but won’t invest in the international market. The Giants are trying to win and rebuild at the same time, which is very difficult. Their pick of Joey Bart with the second pick was made in a way to help Buster Posey and Madison Baumgarner on the current team, which again, I think is really difficult.
Other than the ill-conceived decision to sign Eric Hosmer, which I have talked and written about, the decision not to trade Brad Hand last year I disagreed with. I understand that the Padres had a different vision of what his worth was, that’s not really the point. You don’t have to make the perfect trade, but you need to make a good trade.
Essentially Hand and Tyson Ross were found money. There is going to be a market for them and Freddy Galvis and you need to take the best offer to get the best players that will help you in the future.
Last but not least, you’ve taken a lot of grief from Padres’ Twitter for your opinion on Trevor Hoffman going to the Hall of Fame. So, did you spot any shortstops the Padres drafted after round 10 who you can see converting to relief, going on to post over 600 saves and who you can refuse to vote for in a generation?
Keith Law: [laughs] Unfortunately I don’t think they took any college shortstops after the tenth round or I would be all in on that one. Great question.
Editor’s note: Since this interview was not taped there were some initial errors in transcription of Keith’s quotes which were my fault. They have since been corrected.