From the end of the 2015 season until the beginning of 2020, the San Diego Padres organization had one mandate: acquire as much young talent as possible through the amateur draft, international market and selling off any valuable pieces from the big league club.
As any Padres fan is very well aware, San Diego finished either last or next to last in the NL West for five years. The promise made in trade was that by building a strong farm system, the team could both develop its own talent and use its surplus to trade for players to fill in the gaps.
And it worked.
In a COVID-shortened 2020 season, the Padres made the playoffs for the first time in 14 years and this season is considered one of the best teams in baseball.
The organization accomplished this by acquiring as much talent as possible, regardless if they were strong or weak at any position. While Manny Machado and Eric Hosmer are notable free agent exceptions, most of the Padres’ starting eight and their rotation were developed in house or acquired by way of the unprecedented depth of San Diego’s farm system over the last several years.
While the system has been been significantly depleted, the organization has a chance to add back to that depth through the 2021 Draft, which begins this Sunday.
As former Padres’ Vice President/Assistant General Manager of Player Personnel Chad MacDonald stated on the draft, “You can’t go in looking for a certain thing or certain position, you have to take what the draft gives you. If the best player in your first three picks are all left-handed hitting catchers?
“You take all three of them.”
The Rule 4 Draft, as its officially known, covers players from the United States, its territories, and Canada, who have graduated from high school but not yet attended a four-year college, junior college players, and college players who have either completed their junior year or already turned 21. Selections are made in reverse order of the previous year’s standings, with the worst team going first and the World Champions going last.
Changes for 2021
The most obvious change is the movement of the draft from mid-June until the All-Star week festivities in July. This eliminates college players being drafted during the College World Series and created a window for some MLB-sponsored pre-draft events.
Because of COVID, the 2020 draft was reduced to five rounds, and any free agent signees were limited to a $20,000 bonus. This year, the draft will be 20 rounds; it seems unlikely to ever return to the 40 rounds it had been since 2013. The overall impact of the shortened draft is not as great as it may first appear.
Over the last decade, the Padres have generally only signed around 30 of their selections. Like most teams, they have taken flyers on some high school stars unlikely to settle for day three signing bonuses. While there will be fewer selections, the overall amount bonus pool money is relatively unchanged. Last year, San Diego spent $11.3 million in five rounds, compared to a $13 million outlay in 2019.
Where the Padres fit
The Padres have the 27th pick this year, their lowest first selection since 2015, when the Padres’ new General Manager famously signed free agent pitcher James Shields and forfeited his first-round selection. This will be their lowest first round pick since 1999, when they drafted Canadian shortstop Kevin Nicholson coming off their World Series appearance.
Nicholson played a grand total of 37 games in the major leagues, hitting .216 with the Padres in 2000, before retiring at 30, after a few years in the independent Atlantic League.
Hopefully, this year’s pick will turn out a little better.
The Padres, always guaranteed a compensation round pick after either the first or second round, will also have the 62nd and 71st overall picks.
Draft Highlights: 2015-2020
2015: Austin Smith, Jake Nix and Austin Allen
Austin Smith is still with the organization in High-A Fort Wayne; he’s been there during three different presidential administrations, a Pandemic and the move from Low A to High-A. Jake Nix had a promising start but has battled injuries and off the field issues. Austin Allen was included with Buddy Reed in the trade for Jurickson Profar with Oakland.
2016: Cal Quantrill, Eric Lauer, Hudson Potts, and Buddy Reed
All four of the first picks are no longer with the organization, part of the trading frenzy that took place before and during the 2020 season. Quantrill was a key component of the Mike Clevinger trade-in mid-season, along with outfielder/first baseman Josh Naylor, 2018 third-round pick infielder Owen Miller, 2016 international signee Gabriel Arias, left-hander Joey Cantillo, an overslot draft pick from 2017, and major league catcher Austin Hedges, who was drafted by the Padres in 2011. Hudson Potts was traded to the Boston Red Sox, along with 2016 international signee Jeisson Rosario to bring back Mitch Moreland. Along with Luis Urias, Eric Lauer was traded before the 2020 season for Trent Grisham and Zach Davies.
2017: MacKenzie Gore, Luis Campusano and Blake Hunt
Gore has had numerous well-documented setbacks but is still considered one of the top pitching prospects in baseball. Luis Campusano made his major league debut in 2020, and at 22, he is one of the younger players in Triple-A and is having a solid season. Blake Hunt was included with Luis Patino, who might end up the star of the famous 2016 J2 international class, Francisco Mejia and 2020 draftee Cole Wilcox in the trade that brought back Blake Snell.
2018: Ryan Weathers and Xavier Edwards
Ryan Weathers has been one of the Padres’ development success stories, and Xavier Edwards, along with Hunter Renfroe and 2019 Competitive Balance B pick catcher Logan Driscoll brought back Tommy Pham and Jake Cronenworth from Tampa.
2019: CJ Abrams, Hudson Head and Joshua Mears
CJ Abrams is one of the youngest players in Double-A and is considered one of the ten best prospects in baseball before he went down with a season-ending injury. Hudson Head was the key prospect in the Joe Musgrave three-way trade that also sent left-hander Omar Cruz, who the Padres signed out of Mexico in 2017, and 2016 draftee right-handed pitcher David Bednar to Pittsburgh and fellow draftmate Joey Lucchesi to the New York Mets. Joshua Mears is in Low-A Lake Elsinore.
2020: Robert Hassell III, Cole Wilcox, Justin Lange and Owen Caissie
At the end of the season, Hassell should also be considered one of the top prospects in baseball. Cole Wilcox was part of the Blake Snell deal. Justin Lange is pitching in the Arizona Complex league and should make his full-season debut in Lake Elsinore later this summer. Owen Caissie, along with International signees Reginald Preciado and Yeison Santana and right-handed pitcher Zach Davies were sent to the Chicago Cubs for Yu Darvish.
The four principal organizations that monitor the draft, Baseball America, ESPN, The Athletic and MLB Pipeline, have the Padres taking a prep player from the Northeast, mainly because AJ Preller has been scouting numerous players in that region. Some of the names that have come up are Anthony Solmometo, a prep left-hander from New Jersey (Carlos Collazo Baseball America) and Keith Law, The Athletic), Joe Mack, a catcher from upstate New York (Jonathan Mayo, MLB Pipeline), and Frank Mozzicato, another prep left-hander from the Northeast (Kiley McDaniel ESPN)
“I do think it’s purely random,” said MLB Pipeline’s Jim Callis on if AJ Preller’s presence in the Northeast meant that is where the Padres were focusing their attention.
“In my most recent mock draft, I have them taking Will Taylor from South Carolina, although that’s probably his floor.”
“As for the Padres taking a high school player, yes, I think that’s true because they aren’t scared of taking high school players as some teams are.”
In the past four drafts, the Padres have given bonuses of a million dollars or more to 12 players, 11 of them were high school selections. A change from the earlier drafts, as The Athletic’s Keith Law noted in an interview with us last year, there has been a little more emphasis on “feel”; they are toolsy but have the hit tool. They have a big fastball but show some ability with a changeup or a breaking pitch.
Additionally, San Diego has gotten very good at moving around money among the allocated bonus pool to end up with multiple players that could be considered first-round picks, as they did in the past three years with Wilcox, Head and Edwards.
And make no mistake about it, they will take the best player available