The top player in a draft class frequently defines its overall success. The chances of finding a big league All-Star early in the first round are orders of magnitude greater than unearthing a diamond with the 100th overall pick.
While it will be years before they know whether C.J. Abrams reaches his lofty ceiling, the Padres feel they’ve put themselves in good position for success with their 2019 class by getting the dynamic high school shortstop with the sixth overall pick.
“I’m very excited CJ was there,” said scouting director Mark Conner. “I love the athleticism, love the player, love the speed, love the impact he brings to the game. As a group we couldn’t be happier that he was sitting there for us.”
But, while odds of future stardom drop off rapidly in the draft, the most successful organizations are able to find value later in the process.
The Padres hope to have made progress on that front Monday night, not just by betting on upside with slugging high school outfielder Josh Mears and George Mason University catcher Logan Driscoll‘s balanced package of skills, but in the financial flexibility to be aggressive early in day two of the draft.
“Sometimes you get through the first few selections and from a budgetary standpoint, you know you’re going to have to be limited and strategic in what you do in day two,” said Padres GM A.J. Preller. “I think tomorrow, there’s still a lot of really good players on the board and I think we’ve set ourselves up in a really good position to be competitive for those guys with our picks.”
Abrams fits the profile of typical Conner/Preller targets: he’s a dynamic athlete with up-the-middle skills. While some might look at the depth of middle-infielders in the organization and wonder about moving Abrams to center field, the organization’s brain trust is content to wait on any such decision.
“The nicest part of CJ this year, one of the biggest development things we saw, was the ability to play shortstop,” said Preller. “I think we came into the year maybe seeing him as a possible shortstop who could definitely go play other spots – center field, second base. I think as a scouting staff, we got through the draft and we feel like he’s going to be able to go play shortstop for us.
“He’s got the ability to play elsewhere, but he’ll start his career as a shortstop and we expect him to stay there for a while.”
Abrams is on the same page. While he did play outfield for Team USA last summer – giving up the shortstop position for number two overall pick Bobby Witt Jr. – that was a move he was willing to make for special circumstances.
“I see myself as a shortstop and staying there during my baseball career,” the 18-year-old from Georgia said via conference call with local media. “I take a lot of pride in my defense this past year. Not playing basketball for my senior year, I’ve had a lot of time to work on it. I see myself staying at the shortstop position.”
While Abrams has some similarities to Xavier Edwards, who has shined since the Padres took him with the 38th overall pick last year, he’s generally seen to have more of a ceiling.
“I think right now he has extremely good hand-eye coordination, probably some of the best – if not the best – bat-to-ball skills in the entire draft,” said Conner. “His body has a lot of projection remaining to add strength. Once he gets more physical and learns to attack the ball a little bit more in the zone and be a little more selective of what pitches he can drive, we definitely think there’s going to be more power down the road – whether it’s in doubles, triples, home runs, there’s going to be plenty of extra-base hits.”
Abrams might have to grow before to produce extra-base hits. Mears, however, requires no such patience. The Federal Way, Washington high school outfielder already shows plus raw power, with room for even more in-game as he refines his approach at the plate.
“When we went in there, our area scout Justin Baughman pounded the table right away when he saw him,” said Conner. “We loved the power, but also just the quality of handling the zone and putting the bat to ball really stood out this spring.”
The 48th overall pick where the Padres called Mears has a $1.54 million slot value. Because the right-handed slugger was widely expected to be in play further down the board, hecould require less than that to sign. Likewise for the club’s competitive balance pick, Driscoll, who offers some atypical positional flexibility.
“When he doesn’t catch, he plays center field which shows his athleticism,” said Conner. “He probably has a chance to be an average defender behind the plate with a plus arm, and he’s got a left-handed swing with strength. And with all those attributes, his makeup is still the best quality about him. He’s hard-working, competitive, has leadership ability.”
When the draft resumes on Tuesday morning at 10:00 a.m. PDT, a number of players who might have expected to hear their names called tonight will still be on the board. The club likely has the space to be aggressive in targeting at least one of them.