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.
Although he looks perennially young, he has been involved with the major league baseball draft, in one form or another, for nearly twenty years.
After last week’s draft, Keith released some brief capsule remarks on all the 30 major league clubs. He was kind enough to take a few minutes to expand on his thoughts about the San Diego Padres performance, along with some general draft topics.
[Editor’s Note: This Q&A was edited lightly for clarity.]
MadFriars: How do you define a good draft? Generically, five years from now what would be considered a success?
Keith Law: I couldn’t give you a universal generic answer on that one because there are so many different situations. For example, the Padres had a top ten pick this year while the Boston Red Sox didn’t pick until the second round. So the criteria which define success will be different.
In general, if you have a pick in the top ten, you should expect to get a regular position player or a starting pitcher. When I was with the Blue Jays, we used to say that if you got two regulars and five players total from a draft that made it to the majors, it was a good one. But that is different now because there are so many variations between teams.
In your recent chat, you said that C.J. Abrams has better speed than Xavier Edwards by “quite a bit.” From previous chats, I know you, like most Padres fans, like Edwards quite a bit; is Abrams really that fast and how high is his ceiling?
Keith Law: I think C.J. is faster, but Edwards has a better hit tool and right now, is a better defender. Abrams is a bit unpolished at short and could end up in center, where he could become an impact, lead-off hitter and with his speed could become a really good defender.
If we are comparing the two, I think Edwards might have a little more of a ceiling because of his potential impact with the bat.
Were you a little surprised at the next two picks, Joshua Mears and Logan Driscoll? In your write-up, you wrote that Mears was a “very Padres pick” and you seemed kind of ambivalent on Driscoll.
Keith Law: I liked Mears quite a bit, I have him in my Top 100 Prospects [Keith had him at #68] and yes, I did see him as a “Padres pick.” He has tremendous raw power, explosive hands – really, he’s explosive across the board. Also, I think many of us may have assumed he’s raw because he didn’t do the summer showcases. If he had played in California or Florida instead of Washington state, he might have been a first-round pick.
Driscoll may have been a bit of a reach and an under-slot pick. In a way, he could be somewhat similar to Austin Allen – a college catcher that could develop into a solid backup.
I love everything I’ve read about Hudson Head, but is he a case – and I am as guilty as anyone on this – that we get too excited about multiple-sport athletes who we find out down the road lack the skill repetitions that baseball require? The best example I can think of this is Bubba Starling and from a Padres’ perspective Donavan Tate.
Keith Law: In general, yes. The industry can overrate multi-sport athletes but then again, for A.J. [Preller] and Mark [Conner, Padres Director of Scouting] and the rest of their crew, they very much want athletes because they are able to repeat their actions on a more consistent basis. The big thing is you can’t let the allure of athleticism outweigh what you see in the player; pitch recognition, delivery, and other aspects of being a baseball player.
It’s interesting for me and for places like Baseball America, it is a way to provide insight to the reader or viewer about a player. If I were running a scouting room I would absolutely want to know if they played other sports because it is another piece of data, but I wouldn’t be taking a player higher just because he is a multi-sport athlete. With Head one of the interesting things is that he is going to the University of Oklahoma to play baseball, not football.
The team took seven consecutive pitchers next, does anyone particularly stand out for you?
Keith Law: In my review of the National League picks I wrote about a few, specifically Matt Brash – who I had heard of once or twice before the draft but because he was in upstate New York he was kind of tough to get to – and Chris Lincoln from the University of California at Santa Barbara who has a big arm and the potential for a good slider, but needs more consistency. Going forward, both profile as relievers.
There was an article in the Memphis Commercial Appeal about the contract demands of outfielder Maurice Hampton, the Padres’ 23rd-round pick who is going to LSU to play both baseball and football. He was asking for is $2.75 million, which is late first-round money. Is he that good? From the people that you know, is this someone who wants to play baseball more than football?
Keith Law: The answer to the first question is yes. Although I didn’t personally see him, quite a few people in the industry told me he would be a late first-round talent. On the second, yes to that as well, I do think he really wanted to play baseball but after what happened with Kyler Murray the combination of a big number and that he had a scholarship to LSU to play football and baseball was seen as too much of a risk. You can’t draft someone that high without being sure that they are going to you.
When you draft him where the Padres did, the gamble is if you will have enough money to pay him so it’s different than doing it in the first ten rounds.
What overslot candidates do you see the Padres making a run at in addition to Hampton?
Keith Law: I think [22nd-rounder Joshua] Rivera is going to the University of Florida. I saw him as a legitimate fourth or fifth round pick, but others didn’t see it. In addition to the possibility of Hampton, another guy I would look at is Bodi Rascon, a big [6-foot-5, 205 pounds] high school lefthanded pitcher from Texas. He is a legitimate guy to keep an eye on.
Finally, every year we see teams that take seniors or fourth-year juniors with little or no negotiating leverage. They sign for $5,000 or maybe $10,000 and use the slot-savings to go after higher-end talent later in the draft. Why do players agree to do this? If they don’t sign the team loses the draft slot and do they really have any other options?
Keith Law: Mainly because they aren’t going to get any more money. As a scouting director if they are good you want to take them in the fourth or fifth round if you can because you are going to get under-slot savings.
By the time it gets late in the day on Day 2, the amount of money they are going to get is about $5,000 or less. Maybe you can, and you certainly should try to negotiate for a few thousand more, but mainly it’s a chance to continue playing.