As a result of their disappointing 2021 campaign, the Padres have the 15th overall selection in the draft, which begins Sunday afternoon. Because of their market size, they receive a Competitive Balance round pick that will fall after the first round this year, giving them three picks in the first 53 selections and a $10,088,990 bonus pool to spend in the first ten rounds.
In baseball, the draft is different from the NFL and NBA in many ways, the obvious being none of the players will usually make their big league debuts for several years – if at all – and teams have to operate within the confines of a hard cap for the top picks. Teams also deal with a system where players have different options from the draft.
Top high school players have the opportunity to sign or go to either a junior college or four-year university and re-enter the draft in future years. Junior college players are eligible to be drafted after their first or second year but can continue to a four-year school if they choose. Most top college players sign after their junior years, while drafted seniors often have little leverage in the signing process.
One other change this year is the return of the draft-and-follow. Any player that is selected after the tenth round, but doesn’t sign and attends junior college, not a four-year university, will be eligible to sign with the club that drafted him for up to $225,000 without affecting a team’s bonus pool. The limit for this year’s draft to sign players after round ten without impacting a team’s bonus pool is $125,000.
While the mantra in the baseball draft is to always select the best player, it’s really about selecting the best players as a whole. Organizations must balance the bonus demands of a draft pick in the context of how it affects their ability to pay other players to accumulate the best possible class. Sometimes it’s just one guy that is the best play; in other instances, maximizing value comes from pairing several players.
In the 2020 draft, the Padres’ top pick, outfielder Robert Hassell III, signed for nearly $1 million under slot, which allowed the team to sign Cole Wilcox for $2 million over slot. As The Athletic’s Keith Law said to us afterward, San Diego, by maneuvering within the salary pool, was able to get the equivalent of multiple first-round talents.
Among the four leading publications that cover the draft – The Athletic, ESPN, Baseball America, and MLB Pipeline there is somewhat of a consensus that the Padres’ first pick could come down to a group that includes prep right-handed pitchers Dylan Lesko of Georgia or Brock Porter out of Michigan, or a trio of high school position players; Jett Williams, who is from the Dallas/Fort Worth area, Cole Young, from western Pennsylvania and Las Vegas outfielder, Justin Crawford, son of former big leaguer Carl Crawford.
To help us sort through the myriad world of draft strategies and what players could or could not be coming to San Diego starting this Sunday, we did what we usually do – put in a call to Jim Callis. Callis is the lead MLB Pipeline writer and has covered the minor leagues for nearly 30 years.
MadFriars: A common theme in the baseball draft is that you have to take the best player available because everyone is so far away. But isn’t this really about an organization getting the most total talent they can from a draft?
Jim Callis: You are always trying to get the best player, but as you said, sometimes it’s the best group of players, not necessarily the best player, that will give you the most value in the draft. The gamble is if you don’t take the best guy at a particular slot so you can save money and assume another player will be there lower – that doesn’t always work out.
To use this year as an example, the Baltimore Orioles have the top pick, and nearly everyone considers Druw Jones the best player in the draft. If he doesn’t go to Baltimore, he will almost certainly go to Arizona with the next pick. The next option is probably Termarr Johnson, who is a legitimate overall number one pick, but if Termarr doesn’t go to Baltimore, he could go as far down as seven or eight. So Drew is probably going to cost a million to a million and a half more than Termarr, and if you are the Orioles, you have to ask yourself, is it worth it to have that extra money to spend in the rest of the draft?
Baltimore has done that in the past two years, and the players they have wanted haven’t always been available. It is the best player available, but it’s about getting the best combination of players available.
Dylan Lesko and Brock Porter are the two pitchers who have been most closely linked with the Padres. In your ranking, you have Porter slightly above Lesko. How would you describe both of them?
Jim Callis: I liked Lesko, but I thought before he was hurt he was more of a top 10 than a top-five pick. Brock and Dylan are very similar, with Brock having the slight advantage because of his health and being a slightly more physical right-handed pitcher.
I don’t see Brock getting to the Padres because he is the best healthy pitcher. He is part of one of the best baseball programs in the country at Orchard Lake St. Mary’s, and he’s had a lot of success. He had the best fastball of any high school kid in the draft, an advanced changeup, and the big question on him was his slider, which improved quite a bit this season.
Lesko would have gone ahead of him if he hadn’t had Tommy John surgery. He’s super polished with a fastball around 93 to 95, and if Porter has a plus changeup, then Lesko has a plus-plus changeup. He is kind of a college-type pitcher in a high school package. It’s not like either guy is lacking in one area.
I think Porter will go in the nine to fourteen range because all the teams there would consider taking him. Lesko is just tough to project. I see the Padres as a candidate to take him, but it’s hard to predict.
You had Cole Young, a prep shortstop from western Pennsylvania, in your latest Mock Draft to San Diego. Jett Williams, a 5-foot-8 player who is projected to be a second baseman or play in center, has also been mocked to San Diego, along with Justin Crawford, a center field prospect out of the Las Vegas area who is considered an outstanding athlete. Still, there are concerns about how much power he could hit for.
However, pitching seems to be the most significant need in the Padres’ system.
Jim Callis: The thing to remember about mock drafts is there might be someone they are sleeping on too. There are not that many pitchers you can take that high because you have to take what the draft gives you, not what an organization necessarily needs.
If you told me they were interested in a bunch of different prep pitchers or Connor Prielipp of Alabama, I could see that. Right now, there are about 11 or 12 guys that we are pretty confident will go in those slots, barring any deals, and after that, it gets wide open – right around where San Diego picks.
They have worked out more than a few of the shortstop like Williams and Young, and about anyone can be in play there. Jett Williams can hit, is very fast, and can play. He’s a big favorite of scouts because of the way he plays. He’s one of those little guys who plays with a chip on his shoulder and plays very hard. He has more pop than you would think. He has a chance to stick at short but is more likely a second baseman or center fielder.
I think he will go around the area where the Padres are drafting. If he doesn’t go to them, he won’t last much longer.
How about Crawford?
Jim Callis: A very lazy comp is that he reminds me of his dad at the same stage but with a better arm. He can hit, really run, and there is a lot of projection left in his 6-foot-3 frame. I don’t see him as a slugger, but I do think he has some power. He’s an outstanding player, but I think he will be difficult for San Diego to get to because I think the Royals and Mets both like him.
Right now, he’s more like a best case scenario for him to get to San Diego.
Would it be fair to compare Young to last year’s first-round pick, Jackson Merrill, a left-handed hitting shortstop?
Jim Callis: I haven’t spoken to enough people to give you a great answer on that, but I think Merrill is a little more physical player than Young. Both are left-handed hitting middle infielders, but I think Jackson has more power potential.
Kind of an outlier, but former Vanderbilt right-hander Kumar Rocker has also been attached to San Diego. Do you see the organization taking at him with their first pick or hoping he is still available in the Competitive Balance B round?
Jim Callis: I think he will go in the back of the first round. I do believe some teams are more comfortable with his health than others, even though he’s thrown limited innings.
As for if San Diego would take him at number 15, as we just discussed, where San Diego picks is where the draft starts to break wide open, so yes, it could happen, but I don’t see him being around with their second selection.
Spencer Jones, a 6-foot-7 San Diego product from La Costa Canyon High School, is an outfielder/first baseman from Vanderbilt that has been rising in the draft.
What are your thoughts on him and any chance he gets to San Diego at pick number 39?
Jim Callis: There is a wide difference of opinion in the industry on where he could end up. I guess that he is going to be somewhere between 20-45. About six or eight college outfielders can go in that range; there isn’t any consensus on where they will go. One or two outfielders will get to the bottom of the first round; it’s hard to know which one.
If I had to guess, I think he also goes before San Diego has their second selection.
Does any other player stand out that you think could be in the mix?
Jim Callis: Every team thinks they are getting someone they ranked higher than everyone else. To sum it up, I would say that I can see them taking Crawford, Lesko, or Porter if they can get to them. They always look at many shortstops and left-handed pitching, so they have also been attached to them.
The final mock drafts of ESPN, MLB Pipeline, Baseball America, and The Athletic for the Padres.
ESPN (Kiley McDaniel)
3.0 Dylan Lesko
Dylan Lesko is a prep right-handed pitcher from the Atlanta area and was considered a top five or ten selection before he underwent Tommy John surgery this April.
MLB Pipeline (Jonathan Mayo & Jim Callis)
Cole Young (Jim Calis)
Cole Young is a left-handed hitting prep shortstop from western Pennsylvania that is expected to forgo his Duke commitment and begin his professional career.
Connor Prielipp (Jonathan Mayo)
Connor Prielipp is a junior-eligible left-handed pitcher from the University of Alabama who missed all of 2022 and most of 2021 recovering from Tommy John surgery. The Wisconsin native threw a few impressive bullpens before the draft and should have limited innings available for whoever selects him.
Final Combined MLB Pipeline Mock Drat
Justin Crawford (Both)
Justin Crawford is a prep outfielder from Las Vegas, Nevada, and has been projected by some to be a top ten draft pick. At 6-foot-3, 180-pounds, he is considered a high tools athlete with plus speed, but some questions about his hit tool.
Baseball America (Carlos Collazo)
6.0: Cole Young
The Athletic (Keith Law)
4.0: Jacob Berry
This is a bit of an out-of-the-box selection by Keith. There is general consensus that the switch-hitting former Arizona Wildcat, who transferred after one year to follow his coach to LSU, is one of the best hitters in the draft. The big question, which Keith has also asked, is where does he play defensively?
Since AJ Preller took over the San Diego Padres in 2015, six out of their eight first-round selections have been high school players, including the last five; MacKenzie Gore, Ryan Weathers, C.J. Abrams, Robert Hassell III, and Jackson Merrill.