When it comes to covering the major league draft, there are few that have the expertise and longevity of Jim Callis. Callis has been covering the draft for more than 20 years and has worked for Baseball America, ESPN, and MLBPipeline. After serving as executive editor for Baseball America, Callis moved to be a senior writer for MLB Pipeline.
You can now catch him all over Twitter (@JimCallisMLB) on MLB.com and on the MLB Network. The week after the draft you will read Jim and partner Jonathan Mayo break every draft signing including 11 of the first 14 Padre picks.
— Jim Callis (@jimcallisMLB) June 8, 2019
Jim was able to take a break from breaking draft signings to speak with us on the Padres’ draft.
In regards to the current CBA, would someone like Maurice Hampton who you had ranked as a back end of the first round talent, fall all the way to the 23rd round under the old rules.
Jim Callis: I would say he would have been drafted a bit earlier, but from looking back at the years immediately before and after the new CBA, roughly the same number of high school top 200 guys signed.
But even then, we still see it happen where these guys get signed after the first few rounds and still get signed. Last year the Reds gave $2 million to a fourth-rounder, and there will be some guys who get close to a million drafted in the 11th round and on.
Since we see teams taking first or second round talent in later rounds, how do you go about evaluating a draft? Do you simply look at the number of MLB pipeline top 200 guys drafted?
Jim Callis: At this point, we would be evaluating drafts before all the players sign, so part of the evaluation process has to do with who will sign. We believe that any player taken in the first 10 rounds will sign. I think last year something like 99% signed.
Then we will usually look at the first few day-three picks as guys who a team will only draft if they know they can sign. So someone like Mason Feole, Matthew Acosta, and Brandon Komar for the Padres, it is safe to assume that they will sign. Beyond that who knows?
So you think Mason Feole, who you had on your top 200 board, signs?
Jim Callis: Nothing has been announced, but you have to imagine that if a team has an entire day to think about a pick, they are not going to select someone first (on day three) that they won’t sign. He is a good prospect, fastball-curve guy. We thought he would go in the fifth or sixth round, but I am sure the Padres already know his price tag, and signing him wouldn’t break their bank.
Back to grading drafts, would you base it off of the first 10 rounds plus maybe a few day-three picks then?
Jim Callis: This is exactly why I don’t grade a draft. It is really early, especially considering we don’t know who will sign. We already know the Padres saved money with all their deals so far, but will it be enough to sign Bodi Rascon or Andre Tarver? Maybe. Enough to sign Rivera or Hampton? Probably not. All four are good talented players so it will be great if the Padres can sign any of them.
Obviously, if you are a team like the Diamondbacks, everyone is going to fawn over your draft when you have eight selections in the first 100 picks. But as we saw with the 2011 Rays, who had 10 picks in the first 60 and only one turned out to be a productive major leaguer (Blake Snell), lots of draft picks doesn’t always equal success.
When is a good time to grade a draft? Three years? Four?
Jim Callis: Since I am not part of a particular team, we usually don’t go back and grade drafts from previous years. We will do a piece every once in a while on redrafting the first round of a particular draft. If I look at the 2015 draft, for example, I remember we had heated discussions over whether Alex Bregman or Brendan Rodgers would be the better prospect. Now it is no contest.
If I look at the Padres 2015 draft, their top selection was Austin Smith and to be honest I can’t tell you if he is still in baseball. But they still produced a number of big leaguers in Jacob Nix (3), Austin Allen (4), down to Trey Wingenter (17) who I like a lot, Phil Maton (20), and even their 34th rounder has produced in the big leagues in Ty France. While it is not a habit to go and reevaluate a draft, it is usually a good exercise to see who panned out and who didn’t, as it might impact how we rank future drafts.
In years past, AJ Preller’s draft strategy has been athletic hitters no matter the risk. Do you still believe this to be the case?
Jim Callis: To some extent. I think CJ Abrams is a pretty accomplished hitter. There is not a long track record on Hudson Head, and he might fit that mold. I’d describe Josh Mears as a slugger more than an athlete. Driscoll is a catcher. So I wouldn’t necessarily say the best athletes, but the players that have both really high ceilings and really low floors would be a more accurate statement.
Speaking of Abrams, MLB pipeline had his big strength listed as his “game-changing speed.” Would game-changing speed be similar to Billy Hamilton, and is that his main reason he was rated a consensus top six pick?
Jim Callis: Speed is his most obvious tool because he can really really run. I’ve heard more comparisons to Dee Gordon. I don’t like the Billy Hamilton comp because Hamilton can really run, but he had zero impact at the plate. CJ Abrams has good bat speed, some pop, good plate discipline, and could probably end up being a 10-15 home run guy with 50+ stolen bases. I’d see him more as a stronger version of Dee Gordon. He is an advanced hitter for a high school guy. He has done the showcase circuit, he uses the whole field, he can drive the ball. The speed jumps out, but he has plenty of other tools that get him ranked so high.
Does he stay at short?
Jim Callis: That is a question. There are mixed opinions on it. He improved this year and is athletic enough to stay at the position. However, he is not the most fluid or graceful shortstop. A lot of people think second or center field, but I’d imagine the Padres give him every opportunity to stay at short.
One of the first truly head-scratching picks that you discussed during the draft was the Padres’ selection of Logan Driscoll who you had ranked 194. Was this a clear overdraft to try and save money, or was the evaluation a little light?
Jim Callis: We split the country in half and Virginia was part of Jonathan’s area, so I didn’t have much of a chance to see Logan Driscoll. But based on where we had him rated, it was probably a bit of both. He is an offensive-minded catcher, and those are hard to come by. But obviously, the Padres liked him more than we did, which is why they took him so high.
The Padres saved more money by finishing up day two with four straight senior signs. The Mets also used the same strategy. Is this strategy something that is becoming more common in baseball?
Jim Callis: I don’t know about more common. We have seen teams do this since the first draft post CBA [Collective Bargaining Agreement] when the Blue Jays took all senior signs rounds 4-10 which helped pay for Marcus Stroman among others. You won’t see every team do it, but in the Mets’ case, they did it because they took Matthew Allan in the third round. He had a $4 million price tag attached to him, and the Mets were finding ways to pay him.
The MLB draft is completely different from all other drafts because, after the first round, a team will rarely select the best player available, as they would not have the money to pay them. So it becomes if a team wants to take the best player available, what other sacrifices can they make to be able to afford them. Some teams will select a player that is projected to go in that round, others will max out their first few rounds and then do underslot/senior signs the rest of the way.
Speaking of rounds 4-10 for the Padres. Did any pitchers stand out as pitchers we should be keeping an eye on?
Jim Callis: Rounds 4-6 they selected juniors which help. I had the scouting report for Ethan Elliott, and a lot of people really liked him. He has a fastball that many just don’t seem to catch up to and throws a lot of strikes. Connor Lehmann struck out 19 in his final college start. He is 6-foot-7 and gets a really good angle on his fastball which makes him difficult to hit, so he is an interesting guy too. Those were two of the more interesting seniors in my half of the country, that I thought whichever team takes them would be getting a good pitcher.