When it comes to covering the major league draft, few have the expertise and longevity of Jim Callis. Callis has been covering the draft for more than 20 years. 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. Recently Jim named the Padres’ draft as the fifth-best class.
With the draft finally over, are you able to get some time off?
Callis: Even with COVID, a lot of the past month leading up to the draft had been fairly normal. Things have slowed down considerably since the draft. It is nice to be able to relax, but I also cannot wait to go and see a baseball game.
Are you planning on doing the normal midseason prospect update?
Callis: Possibly. The midseason prospect list normally doesn’t come out until after the signing deadline, so we still have some time, but the question becomes what changes do we make? In a normal year by this time the minor league season is halfway over, so we have prospects that have done well, slumped, or went down injured. More importantly, you would have 10 or so prospects graduating with another handful expecting to lose eligibility by the end of July. This year, even if there is a major league season, if it doesn’t start until July, how many of the top 100 would lose eligibility in that first month? Maybe, Gavin Lux [ the Dodgers prospect who had 75 at-bats in 23 games in 2019].
So with that in mind, what are we going to say at the midseason update? Can we really completely change the order of the top 100? Not really, there’s nothing new to write on them so we will probably just leave the top 100 where they are, and slot the new draft picks in wherever we decide they go. We cut off the bottom few and put in the new draftees. There was a clear cut top eight in the draft and they will make the list, after that I am not so sure.
Was Robert Hassell part of that top eight?
Callis: He was just outside of the top eight, but we really liked him and obviously so did the Padres. It becomes, do I like Hassell better than let’s say Deivi Garcia (#92), yeah I probably do. Would I rank him ahead of Brett Honeywell or Shane Baz (#90 and 91), I am not as confident. I think he makes the top 100, but without prospects graduating, you will not see nearly as many draftees make the top 100 initially.
Would either Hassell or Cole Wilcox make the Padres top 10 list?
Callis: I don’t do the Padres list, so I cannot speak for sure, but just from a quick look I would say Hassell definitely makes it. He would probably slot in around Campusano (#4) or Trammell (#5). That is not to say I don’t like Hassell, it would just be really hard to crack that top 3 with [MacKenzie] Gore, [CJ] Abrams, and [Luis] Patiño.
I do the Dodgers list, and I will probably leave everyone the same, and just slot in the new draftees, bumping the ones at the bottom. In a way it is nice, because I do not have to do a complete rewrite on the players, but I think we all miss baseball.
As far as Wilcox, he probably makes the back half of the top 10 maybe somewhere around Baez or Weathers. That is just a guess, but unlike the Top 100 where it is really difficult to drop prospects for draftees, it is not as hard to drop [Lake] Bachar, [David] Bednar, [Anderson] Espinoza and [Jorge] Ona (the last four on MLBPipelines top 30) for Hassell, [Justin] Lange, [Owen] Caissie, and [Cole] Wilcox.
So the Padres’ first four picks would all make your top 30?
Callis: Definitely. While some teams did things differently with the shortened draft, this was a very Padres’ draft.
In what way?
Callis: All of the players the Padres took were high upside, very raw players. Take Justin Lange for example. When we saw him last year at the Area Code games he didn’t stand out. In the nearly year since he has transformed into arguably the best body of any player in the draft. He is now 6-foot-4, 220 lb and absolutely ripped, he had to have added at least 20 pounds of muscle. As such he added a good five mph on his fastball, but his command and secondary are behind his fastball. He has a tremendous ceiling but has a long way to go.
You mentioned Robert Hassell wasn’t in your top eight, but I presume that Zac Veen was. Why did you have Veen ranked higher, and what does it mean to be the best “pure hitter” among the prep class?
Callis: Zac Veen did make the cut. If you want to make the case for Hassell, you would say he is more likely (than Veen) to stay in center, and will probably hit for a higher average. Between the two, Hassell probably has the higher floor, but he doesn’t have that one tool like Veen’s power.
Veen on the other hand, will probably end up as a corner outfielder, but when people compare him to Cody Bellinger, you see a lot of similarities in the body, the swing, and the way they play. No one would be surprised if Veen ended up hitting 30+ home runs in the majors, particularly playing in Denver. While his hit tool is not as good as Hassell’s, it isn’t too far behind.
If you are the Padres, you are counting on that plus hitting tool, the ability to stay in center, and think he will generate enough power to be a 20 home run guy a year.
Speaking of Veen, in your recent article you called Owen Caissie the Canadien Veen. What does that mean, considering he was ranked 70 spots lower than Veen.
Callis: They are both 6-foot-4, 190-pound lefties, who profile as a corner outfielder. In fact, if you watch their swings they are extremely similar. They both have plus raw power, Veen has faced higher competition and has the better hit tool.
People did not get a good look at Caissie this year. The Canadian team comes down during Spring Training to play some games, which gives scouts a good look at the players, but this year the trip was cut short after one game. Caissie fits the profile of many Padre prospects, extremely raw with a really high ceiling. If he hits his ceiling he could be every bit the prospect of Veen, but has a long way to go.
You already mentioned that Cole Wilcox, out of your alma matter Georgia, probably cracks the top 10 despite being drafted in the third round. How did someone with a first-round talent fall all the way to the third round?
Callis: It was his price tag. On day one (Round 1) we heard his price tag was extremely high as he has a lot of leverage as a draft-eligible sophomore. We did hear that his price tag fell some on the second day, but I would imagine it is a lot higher than the 800k slot value that the Padres’ took him at. The Padres’ are no stranger to taking an expensive player in the third round, as they signed Hudson Head last year.
Only two players didn’t sign last year, and while the Padres would get the pick back, I don’t think they make it if they weren’t confident they could sign him.
To help sign him, the Padres’ went outside your Top 200 for their final two selections. While fourth-rounder Levi Thomas has some history, there is not much information out there on LHP Jagger Haynes, who wasn’t on any public watch list. Have you been able to find out more about him?
Callis: Yeah, he was an interesting pick. After the Wilcox pick, we assumed the Padres would go after either underslot and/or senior signs. The Levi Thomas pick fit that mold, as he signed for 80k, but Haynes was a head-scratcher. He is committed to North Carolina, so it is not like he was an unheard of draft pick. He is 6-foot-3, 170 lb, typically sat in the mid-80s with a report that he’s hit 93 mph. He has projectability, and could turn into a solid pickup, but has a considerable amount of leverage, being a high schooler with a college scholarship, so if he signs for underslot, I do not expect it to be by much.
[NOTE: After our interview, Callis reported that Haynes signed for $300,000, against a slot value of $398,000.]
Final question, going into the draft you spoke about how this draft was loaded particularly with college pitching. With the draft being only five rounds, and not a ton of undrafted free agent signing, do you expect next year’s draft to be equally bloated?
Callis: To be honest, I haven’t really looked at next year’s draft. However, when we speak of drafts having depth like this one, we are really only talking about the first five rounds worth of talent. Even with the extra year of eligibility, it is an age game. If you are a college junior this year, even with the extra year that would give you more leverage come next year, you are still looking at a 22- or 23-year-old, which loses almost all of the leverage as the draft is an age game. If you are a senior this year, even with another year of eligibility, how much would you expect to improve your stock next year being another year older? You might see an increase in a few years as we did see far fewer high schoolers taken than in normal years, but that remains to be seen.
One big issue with next year’s draft, is when will, in particular the high schoolers, be seen? Most of the high profile high schoolers really break out on summer showcases, but most of those have been cancelled. Most teams have their 2021 board built in some way by the end of the year (2020), but with no spring season for either high school or college, and few summer showcases, scouts have their work cut out for them. That is not to say we don’t know about any of the players, but you often see a big jump, like with Lange, between junior and senior year, and if we haven’t seen them since sophomore year, we could see some huge fluxuations in our rankings next year.