On Sunday, as the final game before baseball’s All-Star break finishes, representatives for all 30 MLB teams, a pool of top prospects, and dozens of interested onlookers will gather in Seattle as the commissioner’s office continues its effort to make the First Year Player Draft a signature event.
By Tuesday evening, the 20th and final round will be complete, and over 600 players will have heard their names called and have three weeks to agree to contracts.
For the first time in eight years, the Padres will have few advantages as they attempt to deepen their minor league system.
Changes in the 2023 MLB Draft
Under last year’s Collective Bargaining Agreement, MLB implemented a lottery to award the first six picks in the draft to disincentivize tanking. While teams’ odds are tied to last year’s final standings – starting at 16.5% for the three teams with the worst records and decreasing to 0.2% for the Brewers, who just missed the playoffs – the worst record no longer ensures the top pick.
The lottery balls gave the Pirates the top overall pick, moved the Guardians up to the seventh overall slot, and, in a nice victory for karma, dropped the Oakland A’s, who finished with the game’s second-worst record, to sixth.
In the name of limiting tear-down/rebuild cycles, the CBA keeps teams from remaining in the top six for over two straight years and prevents teams that pay revenue-sharing from getting a lottery pick in consecutive drafts.
To further incentivize competition and stop teams from manipulating service time for top prospects, MLB also added the Prospect Promotion Incentive, which earned the Seattle Mariners an extra pick for this year when Julio Rodriguez was named Rookie of the Year.
Beginning last year, players taken after the tenth round can receive signing bonuses up to $150,000 without counting against a team’s bonus pool, up from $125,000 previously.
This CBA also reintroduced the ‘draft and follow’ process, where a team can retain the rights of a player selected after the 10th round who attends junior college, then sign him up until the following draft. No players went this route in the first year, but some Padres fans will recall this is how they landed Mat Latos way back in 2007.
In response to the Mets’ fiasco with Kumar Rocker in 2021, there is now a voluntary scouting and medical combine, which guarantees any player who participates will get at least 75% of their draft bonus slot.
Changes for San Diego
A minor rules change had a major impact on the Padres. Rather than overall winning percentage, picks for playoff teams are now assigned in descending order of playoff finish. San Diego, which reached the NLCS despite having the 10th-best regular season winning percentage, will draft 25th instead of 20th, shaving over $700,000 from their draft pool to $3,165,400.
By becoming CBT payers, the Padres will not have a competitive balance selection for the first time since 2016. The club also forfeited their second and fifth-round selections for signing Xander Bogaerts in the offseason. This move also cost them a million dollars from their 2024 international bonus pool.
That leaves the club in the unfamiliar position of having just two choices in the first 100 selections. After selecting Sunday night, they won’t pick again until the 96th overall spot at the end of the third round. They also have just $5,416,000 in their bonus pool, slightly more than half what they they spent last year and the lowest figure since A.J. Preller’s first draft in 2015.
Five Questions with MLB Pipeline’s Jim Callis
What makes a good draft?
Jim Callis: The success rate is similar to in the NFL or the NBA in baseball. The difference in our sport is that the guys who don’t pan out never even make it to the major leagues.
When I have looked at this in the past, about every draft has six to eight that are superstars or pretty close, about a dozen good regular players, and then a bunch of guys that will go up and down. So only some teams are going to get two or three guys.
A good draft is if you get a regular position player, a rotation starter, or a good bullpen guy. An average team might get four or five guys that make the big leagues – for how long is another question. Also, I focus on the quality of the player, not just if they can make the major leagues.
What was your opinion of the Padres’ past two drafts?
Jim Callis: It’s a little early, but right now, the 2021 draft looks good on paper, especially within the industry with Jackson Merrill and James Wood, both of whom are in the Top 15 prospects in all of baseball. The 2022 draft with Robby Snelling with Dylan Lesko also yielded two Top 100 prospects – so that’s also an excellent draft.
Because many of the draft-eligible players from four-year colleges had their senior years of high school truncated by the pandemic and were missed in a five-round draft, is this college class more talented than in years past?
Jim Callis: That’s a great question, and yes, that is exactly what happened. The 2020 draft was only five rounds, so the bonus pools were much smaller without the usual flexibility. High school seasons were cut short, so many guys who could have been rising in the draft didn’t get that opportunity – or the needed bonuses – so they went to college.
That has been a big subject among scouts watching college games; how many more guys there [are] playing that, in the past, would have been in the pros? The answer is quite a few.
The Padres pick at 25 this year. It sounds like most of the talent in that range tends to be high school guys.
Jim Callis: I think that there will be four college pitchers taken in the first round; the draft is deep in college and high school position players – so there will be some interesting guys there.
In my latest mock draft, I have the Padres taking a guy from Vanderbilt, outfielder Enrique Bradfield. There are many other guys, and when you pick that low, so much depends on what people are doing in front of you. It’s hard to know who will be there, but a high school guy would fit their profile, and it’s likely that many of the best guys on the board at that point would be high schoolers.
Could San Diego have the same strategy they did in this year’s international signing period with Ethan Salas because of the reduced amount they have to spend? Offer a first-round pick a much higher bonus than the slot.
Jim Callis: They could blow it out, but it would be tough with the free agent signing of Xander Bogaerts, which cost them their second and fifth-round selections, which, as you know, affects their overall bonus amounts.
Generally, there are two ideal situations when you are picking where San Diego is. One, a player you didn’t think would get to you and does, and second, a player that your scouts like more than the rest of the industry is available, and you have more money to pay later. In 2021, San Diego liked Jackson Merrill more than the rest of the industry and was able to save money and get James Wood.
After the draft, we will interview Jim Callis, Carlos Collazo of Baseball America, and Keith Law of The Athletic. Below are their various mock draft predictions, including ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel, of who the Padres will select – which we will update up to the day of the draft.
MLB Pipeline: Jonathan Mayo and Jim Callis
The Athletic: Keith Law
ESPN : Kiley McDaniel
3.0 Bryce Eldridge
Eldrige is the one player that has popped up in more than a few mock drafts with the Padres. The 6-foot-8 star from Vienna, Virginia, in the DC Metro area, is a true two-way player, but most scouts and analysts, including Callis, see his future in the field either at first base or on the outfield corners. While it’s true in most of the analysis that A.J. Preller’s regime loves upside, they also tend to stay up the middle rather than looking to draft position players of Elridge’s size – remember James Wood played center field in the San Diego organization.
He has supposedly told teams that he wants to try to pitch and play the field and is committed to the University of Alabama. Still, it’s hard to see him not going in the first round and forgoing it.