We chat with MLB Pipeline’s Jim Callis in the first of our three-part series on the Padres’ 2022 Amateur Draft. When it comes to covering the major league draft, few have the expertise and longevity of Jim, who is in his 10th year as a senior writer for MLB Pipeline after 15 years with Baseball America, where he ultimately served as executive editor. You can now catch him all over Twitter (@JimCallisMLB) on MLB.com and on the MLB Network.
We chatted with Jim before the draft and he was kind enough to return to give his thoughts on what transpired.
MadFriars: Outside of a few notable exceptions (Kumar Rocker) the top of the first round went fairly close to your mock drafts. Was this a product of good scouting, or was there just a clear delineation of talent?
Jim Callis: Rocker going third was a big surprise. So was Cade Horton going seventh to the Cubs. Then once you got into the 20s, it was all messed up. When we make our mocks, we are looking to try and get the players that go in the round right as much as we are trying to get the exact pick.
It was such a weird draft. The last six or seven picks of the first round were all guys that were not consensus first round picks. You had a lot of guys go out of the projected order. Same with the second and third round, before the draft finally started to take its normal shape after that. Again, its not so much getting the picks right, as much as its helping people know who the players that should go in that area are so they can know who their team could select.
The Padres are a team whose draft can be tough to project. This year, it seemed like every mock draft, including yours, had him drafting Dylan Lesko. Is this just finally knowing A.J. Preller and his brain trust, or was he just the logical pick for the Padres?
Jim Callis: My final, final one I switched and went with the Padres taking Justin Crawford (Carl Craford’s kid who went two picks later). We did so many mocks Lesko was one of the biggest names connected with the Padres, but we would go back and forth with a lot of teams between a couple of players.
I don’t know if AJ necessarily zeroed in on Lesko. We all have different sources and knew he was in on him, and AJ likes to gamble on high upside players. There’s no way Lesko would fall to 15 if he wasn’t hurt, so it made a lot of sense. Justin Crawford is also a toolsy high upside pick which would have made sense with the Preller profile as well.
You mentioned that Lesko would not have made it to 15 had he been healthy. I know he was the Gatorade Player of the Year his junior year, but was also called by some scouts as the best prep pitcher of the last few years. Did you see the hype and do you think he would have been drafted right there with Jackson Holliday and Druw Jones?
Jim Callis: The top of this draft was so loaded, as good as Lesko was, I am not sure if he would have cracked the top 5. But he was essentially a college pitcher throwing in high school. That is how advanced he was. He had arguably the best changeup you’ll ever see from a prep pitcher. It is a plus plus changeup. He throws mid-90s with the fastball, his breaking ball is improving and he can throw everything for strikes. He commands everything well and just has a really really interesting package. I don’t know if he would have gone in the top five because he is a prep righthander, and they tend to be the riskiest picks. At the very least, before his injury, he was the consensus first pitcher high school or college, to be drafted. Even now, knowing about his makeup and mentality, you feel fairly confident that he will comeback to be just as good as he was pre surgery.
The Padres’ definitely did not shy away from pitchers coming off of Tommy John. They selected Henry Williams in the fourth round out of Duke. Pre-surgery it looked like his stock was ballooning to the back end of the first round talent. What can you tell us about Williams?
Jim Callis: He was someone that had a lot of buzz around him late last year. He was impressive in the fall, and we all saw an uptick in his stuff that had many people thinking if he continues this improvement there is no reason why he cant go in the back end of the first round. He blew out his arm and had Tommy John surgery in December of last year, so he should be ready to go by spring training. He has three really good pitches. He was sitting 94-95 in the fall with the fastball, but his best pitch is a low-80s slider. He has a mid-80s changeup that has really improved. He is a big guy at 6’5” 200 lbs, and there was projection that he could probably add another couple miles to his fastball. He was really turning into a complete nice package of a college pitcher.
We all think of AJ as a gambler and someone who likes to gamble on talent, but you get Lesko and Williams who were essentially first round picks. Plus lefthander Robby Snelling who was definitely a first round talent. High school pitchers sometime get pushed down a bit, but ranking wise, he was definitely a first round pick. That’s not even counting Adam Mazur who really exceled this year at Iowa. There was rumors that he was having some back issues late in the spring, but he had late first- or early second-round buzz as well. That’s four really quality pitchers with your first four picks.
You mentioned that Adam Mazur really popped up this year, and in fact we saw quite a few pitchers who came on late in the year to really increase their stock, notably Horton. Was this due to the pandemic, or could this be something new we see a lot of going forward?
Jim Callis: This was a unique year for pitchers making late runs up boards. I lost track how many pitchers had Tommy John surgery this year. You had at least six college pitchers who would have gone in the first few rounds. The top prep pitcher (Lesko) had Tommy John, Cole Phillips had Tommy John who hit 100 in the spring as a Texas High Schooler. It was just crazy how many guys who could have been first round picks got hurt. On the flip side of it you had guys like Cade Horton who was coming back from Tommy John himself made a name for himself by being spectacular in the postseason. Kumar Rocker made a late push, even though that might have been a package deal with Brock Porter who went in the fourth round. Connor Prielipp didn’t pitch all year coming back from injury, and while he didn’t go in the first I suspect he will get first round money. It’s the most confusing year for trying to figure out where pitchers were going to go in the draft because of all these wild cards. So many pitchers were coming back from injury or getting injured, that there was a lot of fluctuation in the draft among pitchers.
Do you think the additional surgeries were tied to the COVID shutdown or something we should expect to see more of going forward?
Jim Callis: No, I don’t think it was necessarily COVID related. They all had Tommy John at different times, both high school and college. Most colleges were trying to be cognizant of the shutdown and not overworking guys. We mentioned Cade Horton who got hurt in fall practice coming out of high school. Lesko had his in April, Williams last December, etc… you see the dates all over the map. I think we are in an era where guys are throwing harder than ever, they are spinning the ball faster than ever, they are being treated like throw as hard and fast as you can and if you get injured we will bring in the next one. All that leads to more injuries. We are seeing just as many injuries in professional baseball and every team has an expert staff trying to keep them healthy. So no, I think this is more the era we are in now more than the COVID shutdown.
One last injured player taken in the draft. You broke news over the weekend when you mentioned the Padres final draft pick, Andrew Vail, signed for $150,000. I can safely say I don’t know much about him, but the Padres must have really liked him to give enough money to count against the bonus pool. What can you tell us about the former Maryland and Missouri pitcher?
Jim Callis: I’ll be honest, I do not know a ton about him other than he has been to three different schools in three years. I know he was working his way back from Tommy John surgery, and I guess hit 97 mph in a predraft workout. A lefty hitting 97, is a pretty interesting package to at the very least take a flyer on. New Jersey, isn’t part of the area I cover so I can’t speak about him as much as some of my colleagues. But a 20th round lefty who throws 97, can be a dominant reliever and a steal in the 20th round.
While the club went pitching heavy early in the draft, he did take a few intriguing position players. One of whom, Griffin Doersching, has tremendous raw power. Is he someone that you think has a high enough hit tool to be able to tap into that power as he proceeds through the minors?
Jim Callis: I’d like to say I know the answer, but I think we will have to wait and see. He broke a few records, hitting 62 homeruns in his career most of which came at Northern Kentucky in the Horizon League. He did transfer to Oklahoma State last year and played well against better competition hitting 15 home runs last year. He showed quite a bit of swing and miss also. You are essentially getting a one tool guy with tremendous raw power and swing and miss issues.
You didn’t have Lamar King Jr on your final big board but the Padres took him with the 120th pick. What can you tell us about the high school catcher?
Jim Callis: He is someone who had a tremendous amount of helium leading up to the draft. I don’t do Maryland, but I had scouts tell me that Lamar King is someone making a run up boards and not be surprised if he goes early. His dad played in the NFL, he is a big physical kid with power potential. They think he has a chance to stay behind the plate and a super interesting guy. He is probably the position player that intrigues me the most.
What were your overall feelings of the Padres draft? Where would you rank it in a way too early to tell draft ranking?
Jim Callis: I ranked them as having the sixth best draft in the class. You can’t look at this draft and not be impressed by the pitching. Yes, there are a lot of pitchers coming back off of injury, but the track record that they make it fully back is pretty good. You can make the argument that they got the best pitcher in the draft (Lesko), the best prep lefty in the draft (Snelling), another first rounder in Henry Williams. I really liked Adam Mazur who was a bit of unknown after transferring from South Dakota State to Iowa, but he was fantastic until some back issues marred his last few starts and kept him from going even higher. Heck Mazur was up to 99 with a great sweeping slider. His changeup was tumbling, and he was finally throwing more strikes. Now that I am talking about it, Mazur will be overshadowed by Lesko and Snelling, but Mazur has a chance to be really really good. Those first four picks were extremely impressive and should make the draft a tremendous success even if they don’t get contributions from anyone else in the draft, which they probably will. I feel like I say this every year, but I really like what Preller did.
For Part 2 of our draft series, we will chat with The Athletic’s Keith Law later this week.