Drafting with the 25th overall pick, the Padres selected Illinois high school center fielder Dillon Head to lead their 2023 draft class Sunday evening.
A compact lefthander, Head offers a pairing of elite speed and advanced feel to make contact that has been a popular profile for the current Padres front office. While he’s a cold-weather product, he has often been seen on a national stage in recent years and impressed hitting with wood bats last summer.
“Scouting the summer circuit last summer, he stood out immediately with the athleticism, toughness, the consistency of the at-bats,” said Padres scouting director Chris Kemp.
While the Chicago-area product is not considered likely to develop more than average power, his explosive athleticism has made him a popular pick to add more pop as he matures.
“I feel I’m a five-tool player,” said Head. “I’m a great defender in the outfield, great arm. I can hit, run, hit for power, so I feel like my game all-around contributes to the team.”
The 18-year-old had an opportunity to see first-hand what the team he’s joining is all about last summer, when he participated in the Area Code Games hosted at the University of San Diego.
“San Diego was beautiful, I loved it there,” said Head. “And I went to a Padres game while I was down there, when they played the Giants. It was a real intense series… I loved the atmosphere, the game, the fans, all that type of stuff. They’ve definitely got some of the hottest players in the game right now so it was a cool experience.”
He was originally scouted and recommended by Troy Hoerner, who has been been productive scouting the Great Lakes region for the Padres throughout A.J. Preller’s tenure as General Manager.
Head had been tied to the club early this spring, but had generally moved off the radar a bit in recent months. Several of the other players most frequently linked to the team in recent mock drafts had already gone off the board before the Padres’ spot came up.
Under Preller, the Padres have been aggressive with similar-profiled up-the-middle high school players early in the draft, selecting Xavier Edwards, C.J. Edwards, Robert Hassell, Robert Merrill and James Wood.
While Preller fell back on scouts’ refrain that each draft is different, he acknowledged a trend that Head fits.
“Having guys who can play up the middle, having guys that really impact the game. I think for us with Dillon Head, he does all those things,” said the Padres’ GM. “We see a guy who, from an offensive standpoint, has extra-base ability. One of the fastest, if not maybe the fastest, player in the draft. It’s a real explosive, athletic burst that can impact the game with his legs defensively.”
Kemp and his group won’t be back on the clock until late Monday morning, when they’ll make the 96th overall pick. San Diego surrendered its second and fifth-round picks to sign free agent Xander Bogaerts last winter. The club will also not have a competitive balance pick for the first time since they were introduced.
As a result of the lost picks, the Padres are working with the third-smallest bonus pool in the league. They’ll have up to $5,686,800 to spend on their class without incurring penalties.
“It gives you more time to strategize and come up with plans B and C,” said Kemp.
“We’ve done our homework both on the players and on the draft strategy,” said Preller. “There’s good players out there and we challenge our group all the time to go find them.”
Once the draft wraps up on Tuesday, the first group of signees are expected to report to Peoria as soon as next weekend. If all goes to plan, Head will likely open his career in the Arizona Complex League quickly.
“We’ll go right into our meetings with Player Development. Making sure they have all the information, all the background, … where they’re at currently in their process and how we see the players,” said Preller. “Kind of, what we think the challenges are from a development standpoint, and then letting our coaches start putting those plans in place.”
The Padres were especially conservative with the arms they drafted last year and are likely to be again this year. Beyond the five pitchers who were rehabbing from injuries, just two of the six fully healthy pitchers saw their first game action over the summer.
We’ll have continuing draft coverage for you throughout the next two days.