The San Diego Padres began day two of the abbreviated 2020 draft the way they finished day one; betting on tools that will need refinement in the system. By the end of the day, the most notable story was landing Cole Wilcox, who was widely seen as a first-round talent, with the 80th overall pick.
In the second round, the Padres selected Canadian outfielder Owen Caissie. The 17-year-old, who committed to the University of Michigan last year, is among the younger high school position players in the class. A left-handed outfielder, he’s something of a mirror to last year’s second-rounder Joshua Mears. Power reigns as the carrying tool for the Ontario native, but there are some concerns about his hit tool as he faces more high-quality pitching.
While listed at 190 pounds by MLB’s Scouting Bureau, the Padres already have him at 215, and expect the broad-shouldered left-handed hitter to add more size.
“Our area scout, Chris Kemlo, who’s new to the organization, did a tremendous job with him,” said scouting director Mark Conner. “The swing works – it’s loose, it’s fluid, it’s got leverage. It’s a power-over-hit package. Then you get around him and see how he works. He’s a top-of-the-scale worker. The combination of a good swing with power from the left side with elite make-up, that’s super-exciting for us as an organization.”
After going for a player many public sources had rated well below his 45th overall draft selection, the Padres elicited praise for landing University of Georgia right-hander Cole Wilcox in the third round.
The big hurler was on the radar out of high school in 2018, but ultimately bonus demands and concerns about his delivery at the time caused him to slide to the Nationals out of signability range.
Wilcox, who worked to add significant strength in his two years in Athens, came out of the gate hot in 2020. The Georgia native posted an impressive 32:2 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 23 innings in the Bulldogs’ abbreviated season. Originally in the conversation as a first-rounder this year, the 6-foot-5, 230-plus pound hurler was a prime value pick for the Padres.
While there is still some concern about consistent strike-throwing when Wilcox is matched up with elite hitters, the Padres liked the advances he’s made in that regard.
“He was able to make some delivery adjustments that helped him stay in control of his body, create a little line and timing to the plate. He’s a kid who really challenged himself going into the year. Cole was driven to get better.”
Wilcox’s stuff gives him a margin for error even when he’s not fine with command. He features an upper-90s fastball as a starter and the makings of an above-average slider.
While it will likely take some creativity to get Wilcox signed, all the variables of next year’s draft make it improbable that the team and player will fail to reach an agreement.
“We were in this situation last year with Hudson Head,” said Conner. “I’m confident in the process that we ran. At the end of the day, I’m pretty confident that we’ll get something done.”
The flexibility the Padres will need contributed to the approach they took with their final two selections. The club selected Troy University right-handed pitcher Levi Thomas in the fourth round. They finished out their class, as they have often in Mark Conner-led drafts, going back to the small high school ranks for under-the-radar Jagger Haynes in the fifth round.
Though Thomas is old for a true junior – he will turn 22 next month – he earned second-team All-America honors from Collegiate Baseball in this year’s bizarre campaign. Recommended by area scout Stephen Baker, the Alabama native fits the short-but-not-small profile with which the Padres have had some success in player development, Thomas used a four-seem fastball with life to strike out 42 hitters and allow just a 0.65 WHIP in 23 spring innings.
“He wants the ball at all times, he’s a warrior on the mound,” said Conner.
The club selected Haynes, a 17-year-old lefty, out of tiny Cerro Gordo, North Carolina with the 138th overall pick. A lanky hurler who will need to fill out in the organization, Haynes had limited exposure on the showcase circuit. The club, though, felt good about looks they got at the projectable and athletic young hurler from new area scout Jake Koenig.
“Jake was able to get around him and see him throw numerous bullpen sessions prior to the season,” said Conner. “Jagger only threw in one game this year, but we had some history with him.”
With the draft wrapped up, the next few weeks look very different than they have in past years.
“The first thing is going to be getting everybody under contract,” said General Manager A.J. Preller. “Getting the physical process taken care of. Understanding the travel component right now. What kind of access everyone’s going to have to come in and see our doctors.
“In terms of their development and what the next step of the process is, we’re not really sure. That will be something we start to dig into once guys are signed.”
With a draft class of only six players, navigating undrafted free agents – who can only sign for a maximum of $20,000 – is another wrinkle for the organization.
“MLB has a dead period for the next 48 hours,” said Preller. “Once that’s lifted, we’ll use the next couple of days just to get everyone’s thoughts together, put together a hit list and target list, and start the process of contacting the guys and seeing who wants to start their career and who wants to sign up and be a Padre.”
Because the organization already has extreme depth at the bottom of the system, finding players who fit the system’s upside profile who are willing to settle for a small payday to potentially get squeezed for playing time and exposure could be a challenge.
“I think it’s all going to be really individualized,” said Conner.
“How many guys are out that fit what we’re looking at and what we want to do, that’s the question. There’s no number in mind, it’s about finding the right fit with these players as we go through the process.