The Padres selected 21 players in July’s draft and ultimately signed 20 of them, adding much-needed talent to an organization that has traded so many players over the last three years.
To gain some additional perspective, we talked to Carlos Collazo of Baseball America. Collazo has covered the draft since joining the publication in 2017. He is now the lead draft writer for BA and writes the top-500 draft watch list each year. The North Carolina alumnus spends his time talking to scouts, going to showcases and games all over the country to compile information for their subscribers. Carlos was nice enough to give us his perspective on what the Padres did in this year’s draft.
MadFriars: First, I wanted to talk about your process. It’s always impressive the sheer amount of research and observation done. You write a top-500 draft prospect list for Baseball America and you are able to just talk about any of these players on a dime. What is your process for assessing and compiling all of this information:
Carlos Collazo: The process has kind of been handed down at Baseball America and I have just followed the process that most of the people before me have done. We are very much reporting-based here. I know there are some publications who are trying to give you their own personal opinions and their own evaluations on players. We strive to report as much as we can and basically give the scouting opinion and the industry’s opinion on the players to our readers. It’s the best way to give readers value.
For my perspective, the draft cycle begins immediately after the draft, so I have already gone to Perfect Game Nationals for the 2023 high school class. Throughout the summer, I’ll be at a lot of high school events and showcases, travel ball tournaments and throughout the fall there are a few as well.
Going to these events, watching these players, trying to get a feel for the players myself but also trying to talk with scouts as much as possible about these players. That continues in the spring as the college season gets rolling, I’ll go out to a few college series, trying to see the bigger targets throughout the season and I would say as we get closer to the draft, my own personal travel tails off and I try to do as much reporting and writing as possible.
So really, the bulk of the information and the scouting reports – if not all of the information – is coming from my conversations with scouts, trying to basically get the consensus of the industry on all these players and line them up; we get a ton of feedback on our rankings from the industry, try to capture the consensus as much as we possibly can and for as much as the consensus actually exists for any given draft class. That’s generally my process.
There are other people at Baseball America who may not cover the draft year-round like I do, but they definitely step in and help out, make calls, write reports in the spring as we get closer.
For me, as someone who is looking as an outsider, Kumar Rocker going third overall was the biggest surprise of the draft. In your last mock for Baseball America, you had him going #24. How shocking was his selection?
Carlos Collazo: Yeah, I would definitely say that was the most surprising pick of day one and maybe because it’s the most surprising pick of day one it is the most surprising pick of the draft. At the time when the pick was announced, I remember being shocked. Jim [Callis] and Jonathan [Mayo from MLB Pipeline] who I was with were both shocked.
Maybe in hindsight we should been less shocked. I know all of us were talking about Kumar being the biggest wild card potentially in the first round. It’s tough for us to think of a pick that high because there was next to no chatter in the weeks leading up to the draft. It’s definitely shocking but given how the Rangers played their next few picks and how they maneuvered the draft it makes a lot of sense and it allowed them to get a lot of talent that they otherwise wouldn’t have had access to given their picks. It’s a unique strategy. I kind of like it but certainly it was the most surprising pick of the draft for me.
Is there any player that went on day one or early day two that you thought was the biggest steal of the draft?
Carlos Collazo: Given how the MLB Draft works, with guys sliding and getting over-slot deals, certainly, the Rangers getting [right-handed pitcher] Brock Porter in the fourth round is a massive win. I really liked the Jonathan Cannon pick; the White Sox taking him at 101 in the third round. In the comp round, I liked the [Padres] Robby Snelling pick at #39. Jackson Barrett to the Cubs with their second round pick, I liked that one a bit. And another huge one was Jacob Melton to the Astros at #64. All of those guys could have gone quite a bit higher but the fact that the teams were able to get the pool money or correctly assess signability for the players and get them with those selections, I think is pretty good value, especially with how we saw the talent entering the draft.
For me, looking at right-handed pitcher Dylan Lesko is an interesting case. For me, it seems like five to ten years ago, there would have been some reluctance to take a player coming off a major surgery.
Are teams more willing to draft a player coming off of Tommy John now then say 3-5 years ago?
Carlos Collazo: I’m curious on what the actual timeline would be. I think three to five years ago might be a conservative estimate.
I think you could go a little further back and dig into it to be sure but I think it’s definitely safe to say that teams are more confident in the recovery rate from Tommy John surgeries than they used to be. There have been some studies done that we have cited in recent years. I think Jaden Hill when he got injured previously, we cited a study that basically showed that the track record of pitchers who had Tommy John surgery prior to being drafted is not at all different from pitchers who haven’t had Tommy John surgery.
In terms of the success rate of that demographic, there’s some pretty good research that shows there’s really no difference. And for most pitchers, it’s not really ”have you gotten hurt’ but more of ‘when are you going to get hurt.’ All of these guys carry attrition risk and even if they are healthy in the draft, there’s a good risk of them getting injured at the next level. Pitching takes such a toll on the arm. I think the elbow injuries are a little easier to take on than shoulder injuries. Given the procedure and given the track record and the guys that have come back and been their normal selves. It seems the industry feels okay taking these guys.
When I look at the scouting report you wrote for Lesko, the first thing that came to mind was former Padres pitcher Chris Paddack due the mention of the fastball/changeup combo he has.
Do you see his curveball developing into at least an average pitch that will allow him to develop as a starter?
Carlos Collazo: Absolutely. I mean me personally, I think Dylan Lesko’s curveball is a plus-pitch. I’ve seen it as a plus-pitch, I’ve talked to scouts who say it more flashes plus. I think if anything, Lesko’s curveball gets nit-picked because he is so good at everything else and he’s been the top pitching prospect in this class for the entire draft cycle. If he was healthy and never got hurt, he would almost undoubtedly been the consensus top pitcher in the class across most publications. For us, he was tracking towards a top-five overall prospect, if he’s healthy.
And for me, there is nothing about that breaking ball that you wouldn’t get excited about, in terms of power, in terms of feel for him to land the pitch, in terms of spin rate, in terms of shape. He used to pitch only three times at the NSHI [National High School Invitational] and got swinging strikes with all three of the pitches. I think it could be a case of – not necessarily prospect fatigue – but the top players in the class getting nit-picked and the fact that his changeup is so good. He is a changeup-dominant secondary pitcher in high school which is very rare for a high school pitcher.
Typically, that changeup is the pitch that you’re projecting most on because most high school pitchers are just overpowering their competition with fastballs and snapping off breaking balls. Lesko is unique in that his changeup is one of the better changeups that scouts have seen from an amateur in a long, long time. Personally, I believe he has a chance to have three plus or better pitches across the board.
You mentioned that teams and scouts kind of nit-pick some of the top players and find a hole in their games because there really is no such thing as a perfect prospect. What’s the process behind that?
Carlos Collazo: I think it’s a natural result of the process and a natural bias that we have. Whenever you go into a game or whenever you are scouting a player who you’ve heard about being the top player in the class, your bar for that player is naturally a lot higher than if you walked into a game with no expectations.
So I just think that the expectations that people have on prospects naturally leads to the top guys getting nit-picked. And I think you do need to do some nit-picking with the top players. If you are picking high in the draft, you’re putting a lot of money towards these picks, you have to get very specific and very detailed in your criticisms and maybe a byproduct of that can be being a bit more negative of the areas of a player’s game that are weaker compared to all the other great strengths and I think a lot of times for these top prospects, the strengths are so good that their weaknesses for other players would still be solid tools but don’t stand out as well for some of these top players.
I think it’s a natural part of the process and something to be aware of so you don’t get too negative.
You mentioned Robby Snelling as a pick that you liked. As a multi-sport athlete which included being a quarterback and linebacker, he seems to be fairly maxed out physically. Is he someone that projects as a mid-rotation starter?
Carlos Collazo: Mid-rotation starter seems fair. I think in any draft class, you only have a handful of guys that you project to be top-of-the-rotation starters; it’s just really rare. For all these guys, especially the high school guys, their upside is quite high and you never really know what the player development path is going to be like and certainly for players who have that two-way sport going for them – like Snelling – as you get further and further away from focusing on two sports and you focus on one, you get into a pro player development system, you can take really massive leaps.
I do think his foundation of athleticism, strength, and power was apparent this spring. That’s why he took the step that he took. I think the one thing that is exciting about Snelling is his feel for the breaking ball.
For a guy who’s a multi-sport athlete, I think you’d generally think that those players would be a bit more raw. The breaking ball was not only a plus-pitch with excellent spin but he showed pretty tremendous feel to land that pitch, manipulate the spin, manipulate the pitch for different counts and different situations. And that feel for spin is something that scouts say is innate or harder to teach; you either have the ability to spin the ball or you don’t.
So the fact that he has that from the left side, with the velocity that he showed this spring and his foundation of athleticism, in addition to the ludicrous performance he put together, as well as his strike-throwing ability, it’s a lot of really impressive elements. When you have all of that from the left side, there’s a reason the Padres signed him for $3 million at pick #39. It’s a lot of really appealing traits.
Looking at Adam Mazur, the Padres’ second-round pick out of Iowa, to me he looks like the safe pick of the early portion of the draft. Is he someone that could reach the big leagues quickly and would you consider it a safe pick?
Carlos Collazo: I would say that really the top five picks for the Padres are in more of the risky demographic that you’d typically shoot for or most teams would shoot for. But I honestly appreciate that about the Padres. I really think that they are one of the teams that simply takes the best talent that they can at every pick and it certainly looks like they did that this year. I think with Mazur, although he comes from the college demographic, I don’t know if I would say that he’s super safe. I think he still has some projection left, so like some of these other high school players, you can get excited about the future strength gains that he could possibly have.
He did show off a pretty polished four-pitch mix, showed an ability to use secondaries in any count – showed good feel for those secondaries. I would be curious to see what the control is going to be right away in pro ball and how he is physically developing and how quickly he moves.
But I don’t know if there is one locked in, super-safe, ‘this is a big leaguer’ but maybe the upside is a little more limited. I look at this Padres draft as a big upside draft. To me, that seems like what they do most years but obviously for them, pitching was certainly a priority with maybe a system that is pretty top-heavy on the hitters on some of the graduations they had.
Getting Lesko and Snelling was always going to be a win but then you add on a guy like Mazur who I think has more left in the tank, and a guy like Henry Williams, who I think could have easily been a top-two round player if he was healthy. I think it’s a really strong package of four arms that you can get excited about right there.
Williams, the Padres’ third-round pick threw 37.2 innings in his entire college career. Was he a bit of a surprise to go that high?
Carlos Collazo: I don’t think it’s surprising. We had him ranked in a pretty decent spot, considering he didn’t pitch. I think entering the year – prior to his Tommy John or perhaps it was even before it – he was a player that scouts in the Carolina’s were really excited about as another really projectable college pitcher with a big frame and you could see some more size coming with him in the future. He flashed really good stuff at his best; people really liked his strike-throwing ability and entering the spring he thought he could be a potential second or third round pick but we acknowledged that obviously with the injury and him not pitching at all, the consensus on where he was going to go was all over the place on how risk-adverse the organization was. I think on talent, this is certainly a fine spot for him.
When I look at the Padres draft on day two, one of the things that stood out to me is that they drafted a couple of pure first basemen. Since I have been covering the system, the Padres have only drafted three true first base prospects and none above the 15th round.
They took Nathan Martorella in the fifth round out of Cal. Looking at his background, the concern with him would be that he had a ground ball rate around 50%. Do scouts think that he will be able to lift the ball more as he gets into pro ball?
Carlos Collazo: He was always a guy that had always had really strong plate discipline, OBP skills, and he showed plus raw power but, like you mentioned with the ground ball rate, he never really hit for as much power as you would like to see.
He had a really strong season this year; he did tap into 11 home runs, 15 doubles, his slash-line was a career-best for him, he walked more frequently than he struck out. There are a lot of elements here for a really good pure hitter. If you think you are an organization that knows how to tap into more raw power or you know a way to get that swing-path a little bit more lofted and get more balls into the air, and to hit more for what his strengths would be to profile at first base, I think it’s a really interesting pick.
I think there are always questions when you talk about swing changes and working with guys who aren’t putting the ball in the air as frequently as you’d like, that can certainly be risky. But you are talking about a player on day two, and all of these players are inherently carrying some type of risk.
I do like the foundations of his hitting ability so I am curious to see if they make any physical changes with his setup; I know he had been really crouched at times. Are they going to get him a little more upright to use those legs a little bit more in the swing and how do those changes, if they do come into play, how does that affect his approach? It will be really interesting to see what kind of hitter he evolves in to pro ball. They signed him for $325,000, so it’s not like this is some kind of money-saving pick; he’s a legitimate prospect. It was a fascinating pick for sure.
For Lamar King Jr., his dad playing in the NFL is a cool story in terms of athletic bloodlines. Is his power ultimately going to be what carries him to developing into a top prospect?
Carlos Collazo: Yeah, I think so. I think teams think he can be a pretty good catcher as well. Lamar is definitely a power-over-bat guy. I think whomever took Lamar – and it just happened to be the Padres – was probably going to be higher than the industry on his pure hitting abilities. It’s a swing that can certainly get stiff at times and get steep at times. Maybe there is more swing-and-miss but clearly the Padres are one of the higher teams on his pure-hitting ability; they’re the team that drafted him out of his commitment to Georgia Tech, which is a catcher-factory.
He’s another intriguing one because there was so much split opinion. I talked to people who really didn’t love Lamar as a top-ten [round] prospect because of the price tag that it was going to be to get him out of Georgia Tech and others who were really excited about his power potential and defensive ability behind the plate. I feel like I have said this a lot but the bar for catching is low to be an offensive producer at the major league level, so even if he is not an average big league hitter, if he’s a below-average or fringy hitter with that kind of power and he has solid defensive skills, that’s a pretty valuable player.