We chatted with MLB Pipeline’s Jim Callis in the first of our two-part series on the Padres’ 2023 Amateur Draft. When it comes to covering the major league draft, few have the expertise and longevity of Jim, who is in his 11th 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 the MLB Network.

We spoke with Jim before the draft, and he was kind enough to return to give his thoughts on what transpired.

Dillon Head was the Padres’ top selection in 2022. (Photo: Jerry Espinoza)

MadFriars: This draft has been viewed by many as the best class since 2011. What makes 2023 so comparable? Is it the overall talent at the top with Paul Skenes and Dylan Crews? 

Jim Callis: I would say it’s the depth. Skenes, Crews, and others are all great players, but the overall depth in the draft makes it so good. A lot of it you can tie back to the pandemic year when we had a five-round draft, and the bonus pool didn’t go up. You had fewer picks and less money to move around to sign the high school guys. So there were more good high school players from the 2020 draft who went to college than in other years.

I also think you have a really good high school class, especially on the hitting side, and you had five guys at the top of the draft who could have been the top pick in many other drafts. A variety of factors made this draft so deep, but as a whole, it should be a really good draft class.

If depth is what made the draft, would it also be fair to ask whether some of the high schoolers who went in on day two or three, like Padres picks J.D. Gonzalez, Kannon Kemp, and Blake Dickerson, might have gone on day one in a typical draft?

Jim Callis: Players ranked that low in the draft, it is tough to say. I haven’t seen the bonus on J.D. Gonzalez yet [Jim did the interview before all of the Padres selections were finalized]. Still, without a second-round pick, they were obviously trying to move some money around by taking him earlier than projected. Kannon Kemp went about where we thought he would go based on talent, and Dickerson probably should have gone on Day 2.

Blake Dickerson was one of the Padres’ overslot signees. (Photo: Ocean Lakes High School/The Current)

Dickerson fell because his asking price was higher than most teams were willing to give him, and he didn’t have a great spring. He was ranked higher before his spring performance. He would have easily gone higher if he had been as successful as they thought. With all three, I think they were taken where they were because of individual circumstances with each player, more so than the overall depth of the draft. They would have all gone roughly the same area in any draft.

You reported earlier that Dickerson’s $500,000 signing bonus was the most of anyone thus far in rounds 11-20. Were you surprised by that amount?

Jim Callis: No. It is hard when you don’t know how much money every team has left for those day three picks. Part of it was we didn’t know his original asking price. When it comes to signings, all it takes is one team. Every year you see a handful of players get a bonus that makes you go, “Whoa, I can’t believe he signed for that amount.” But if there is a team out there that loves the guy and evaluates him as worth that amount, then it shouldn’t be too surprising.

Coming into the year, you would have been surprised that Blake Dickerson would get such a low amount. He pitched really well last summer and fall and was poised to break out in his senior year. His stuff looked like it fell off a bit, which caused him to fall. Ultimately, he and the Padres were comfortable with that $500,000 figure, and I think it is a great price for him.

Ultimately, most of these guys won’t necessarily make it, but if he had gone to Virginia Tech and put it all together, he could have been a first-round talent in a few years. The Padres get the first-round potential in the 12th round, and Dickerson gets that $500k certainty if things do not work out.

Speaking of first-round talents, one question we get about Ethan Salas is where, if had stayed in the United States and been eligible by pulling a Bryce Harper move to go into the draft a year early, he would have gone?

Jim Callis: I mentioned that five guys could have gone number one in most years. They were ranked as Paul Skenes, Dylan Crews, Wyatt Lankford, Walker Jenkins, and Max Clark. I think you would put Ethan Salas somewhere in that group. There are a couple of factors working against him, though.

One, most teams are more comfortable with college guys over high school guys. With the college guys, you have more data, you have seen how they produce against better competition, and they have a longer track record of success. In this case, 16-year-old Ethan Salas would have difficulty competing with the high school guys who have been on the showcase circuit and faced some of the best high school competitions in the country. Salas would still be in that group because he has that high of an upside; he is also a catcher. You could argue that since the other four hitters are all outfielders, he has more upside than any of them. Salas is also further away from that ceiling than anyone else in that group.

In the last few years, we have seen A.J. Preller, and other teams, move considerable money around to sign a significant player lower in the draft. Is this the recommended strategy, or just a product of the new CBA?

Jim Callis: We have seen teams doing this for years, even before the new CBA. You started to see bonuses start to take off in the 1990s, and then around 2000, MLB tried to reign in on spending in the draft. A lot of it was after the J.D. Drew issue. With the bonus pool era, teams must be even more aware of what each player wants to sign for.

Now with the new rules, you lose your first-round pick if you go more than 5% over your allotment, which no team has ever done, and I doubt they ever would do. As such, you want to know how much everyone will cost. Take the Pirates; I would have taken Paul Skenes with the top pick as well, also, but I want to have already an idea of what he wants to sign for, so I can know how to draft my other picks. You don’t want to take a guy and hope he signs with whatever money you have available. You want to know already how much everyone will cost before you draft them so you can accommodate every player you want to sign with your pool. A.J. has shown an ability to move money around to do this, and he drafts guys in later rounds and can give them higher bonuses because of it.

Head has made some mechanical changes since the 2022 summer showcase circuit. (Photo: Jerry Espinoza)

Dillon Head was one player who signed for under slot. Your MLB Pipeline report had his best tool as his 80-grade speed. What is included in evaluating that speed grade? Is it just home to first, or do youalso look at first to third, stolen bases, and defense?

Jim Callis: There are different ways to do it, but the traditional way is by measuring home to first. It is not the best, but there is no perfect way to do it. Part of that home to first time is the finishing position of your swing and how much effort you are putting into your swing. But simultaneously, you can’t just do 60-yard times because how often do you see a player run 60 yards in a straight line?

Statcast has all sorts of sprint speed stats that can also be used. Head was one of the fastest players in the draft, and what was encouraging for me was that while he might never be a big-time slugger, you could tell he added muscle and was hitting the ball with more authority. He is not your normal slapstick, super-speed player. I won’t say he is a 20-home run guy, but I think he can be more of a 12-15 home run guy, which bodes well for him.

Padres have had success with their late first-round picks moving quickly into the Top 100 prospects. Jackson Merrill and Dylan Lesko are both firmly there. What would Head need to do over the next year to add his name to the list?

Jim Callis: I think he needs to come into pro ball and produce. Typically, I would say, in most drafts, we have 12-15 guys from the draft that we immediately insert into our top 100. With this year being a deep draft and the top 100 a bit thin with a lot of graduations this year, you could see a few more. All first-round draft picks are on our radar. We know they are talented, so they were drafted so high. We had Head ranked 27th, so he is not quite in that range, but I think if he comes out and performs, even if it is not at the end of this season, a strong performance could get him on the list pretty quickly.

Head having 80-grade speed is a huge plus, but we’ve seen plenty of speed-first players turn into a best case of Billy Hamilton. Through the course of the draft, is there one tool that has the strongest correlation to both making it and being a successful major league player?

Jim Callis: I think it is hit. You can have all the tools in the world, but if you don’t hit, it’s not going to matter. You have seen guys drafted in the top two rounds recently where they are pretty one-dimensional players as far as hitting being their overwhelming best tool. When hit is one of their lowest tools, it often doesn’t end well. Not to pick on former Padre prospects, but the first name that came to mind was former second-round draft pick, Michael Gettys. He had some unbelievable tools and might have been the toolsiest player in the 2014 draft, but he couldn’t hit and never made it to the big leagues. While a guy like Jeff McNeil was a twelfth-round pick in 2013 and didn’t really have a lot of tools outside of hit, and turned it into being a two-time all-star. You want to have athletes, and not just a team of all first basemen, but if a player can’t hit, the rest of the tools do not matter.

Homer Bush, Jr. was one of the better athletes in the draft. (Photo: Grand Canyon University)

A player who has seen his hit tool improve over the last few years, Homer Bush, Jr., still fell to the fourth round. Is his hit tool and speed enough to make it to the majors and eclipse his dad?

Jim Callis: It’s funny because Homer Bush Sr. didn’t exactly have a wildly successful career. I knew he hit and stole a few bases but I didn’t remember much about him. He did play seven seasons in the big leagues and had a year in which he hit .320 over an entire season in 1999. Homer Bush Jr. has a lot of speed, runs the bases well, and plays good defensive center field. He does need to improve his approach, the swing gets choppy at times, and he could add some power, as he is still pretty lanky and could add muscle. He is a classic fourth-round pick. I thought he might go in the top three rounds, but I thought the Padres got him at a good spot. There is work to be done with him. For a guy that grew up in the game and played college baseball, he is not an advanced player. The skill set is there for him to be a successful major league player, but he is rawer than most college players and will need time to develop.

Carson Montgomery could have been one of the steals in the draft. (Photo: Florida State University Athletics)

A player initially expected to go in the top two rounds of the shortened 2020 draft who ultimately went to college was righthander Carson Montgomery. From all reports, he has taken a step back since going to Florida State. What caused this backstep? Is it something you think a major league organization would have a chance to fix, and he could regain the form of a first-round talent? 

Jim Callis: The stuff backed up a bit. In high school, he was up to 95 mph with the potential to add, but this past year at FSU, he was sitting at 93 mph. His secondary pitches weren’t as effective. That might have been due to his inability to throw them for a strike. I’m sure he will sign and sign for more than the $150,000  max they can offer a player without it counting against the pool, but I like the pick.

We ranked him 211, but that doesn’t factor in signability, so there were quite a few players we knew were not going to sign or get drafted, so he would probably move up to a top 200 player. That’s probably closer to a sixth or seventh-round pick, which is where he should’ve gone. All teams, including the Padres, shied away from taking him because of his stuff taking that step back and issues throwing strikes, but there’s no question the talent is still there. If the Padres’ development staff can fix him, it will look like a great pick, and if he ends up being like the player we saw at Florida State, it wasn’t a bad gamble in the 11th round.

The Padres just called up their 16th-round pick from 2021, Alek Jacob, and have had recent success in later-round selections, including David Bednar, Steven Wilson, and Ty France. Aside from the players we already discussed, is there anyone from Day 3 you think could become the next late-round major leaguer?

Tyler Morgan. (Photo: Abilene Christian University Athletics)

Jim Callis: We split up the country when it comes to draft-eligible prospects. I have the Midwest and Southeast minus Florida. It just so happens that nearly all the players that the Padres took on Day 3 were in Jonathan Mayo’s part of the country. The only one that was in my part of the country that we haven’t discussed, but I think he might fit the profile anyway, is 14th-rounder Tyler Morgan out of Abilene Christian in Texas. He’s got a very high spin rate slider and can touch 95 mph with his fastball. If you refine those two pitches and make him that fastball/slider reliever, he could ride that to the big leagues.

Posted by Ben Davey

Writer for MadFriars since 2011. San Diego raised. Grossmont alum. Die hard SD and sports fan. Currently keeping my day job as an AP Chemistry Teacher.

Leave a Reply