An Incomplete Draft Preview

Hey, here’s a scary table:

Team 2015 Draft Budget (MLB rank)
Rockies $13,989,800 (2)
Diamondbacks $12,816,100 (3)
Dodgers $7,781,700 (7)
Giants $7,515,500 (10)
Padres $3,671,200 (29)

Source: Baseball America

Wait, that’s really scary. Not only do the Padres have to deal with a super tight budget in this year’s amateur draft, the rest of the organizations that call the NL West home all have draft pools that reside in the league’s top 10, and the Rockies and D’backs have the second and third highest spending pools in MLB, respectively.

There are a number of reasons why the Padres, ahead of only the Mets, have the second-lowest draft budget in the league:

  • They traded Chase Headley last summer, electing to take Yangervis Solarte and Rafael De Paula over the likely compensation of an additional 2015 draft pick.
  • They played well in the second half last season, going 36-31 — a good thing, for sure, but with a negative side effect. With the second half surge the Padres played themselves out of one of the 10 worst records in the game, surrendering first-round protection in this year’s draft.
  • Then they signed qualified free agent James Shields in the offseason, a surprising maneuver that triggered the surrender of their first-round (13th overall) selection in the ’15 draft, along with the near $3 million in pool money that accompanied it.
  • Then they traded the 41st overall selection (worth $1,506,400), a competitive balance round pick, to the Braves as part of the package for Craig Kimbrel.

Ignore the Headley fiasco, and those bullet points mostly represent good things — winning games, signing a marquee free agent, trading for a shutdown closer, those are positive steps for an organization that, frankly, hasn’t taken too many positive steps since the middle of the last decade. But the change in organizational philosophy also came at a price, and as we discussed frequently during the offseason, that price was the future.

Rather than focusing on the future, A.J. Preller turned that philosophy on its head, instead opting to put most of his resources into this year’s team, dealing prospects and young major leaguers for proven stars while simultaneously surrendering flexibility in the 2015 draft. It’s a blueprint that’s come with mixed results so far, as the (more watchable) Padres sit third in the NL West at 29-29, four games behind the division-leading Dodgers, while parted players like Yasmani Grandal and Trea Turner* are excelling elsewhere.

*Well, sort of elsewhere.

The good news is that Preller and the Padres, while shedding prospects and draft flexibility in the offseason, were also building an infrastructure primed to churn out prospects of its own, led by the hires of Don Welke (Rangers), Logan White (Dodgers), and Sam Geaney (A’s). And Preller himself wasn’t known as a trade artist when he took the job as Padres’ general manager; rather, he specialized in international prospects, a high-risk game of betting on the future of 16-year-old kids while building an organization from within. It’s not as if Preller came on board and decided to neglect scouting and development in favor of winning right away.

Now, after an offseason of operating like a real-life big league club, it’s time for the Padres to start to rebuild a farm system that’s been decimated not only by Preller’s wheeling and dealing, but also by injuries and poor performance over the last few years. Currently, the top of the system looks particularly weak:

  • Austin Hedges has graduated to the majors, though he’s not playing much.
  • Turner is tearing up Double-A, but he’s on the verge of officially becoming a member of the Washington Nationals.
  • Hunter Renfroe is struggling on his second tour of Double-A San Antonio.
  • Michael Gettys has six walks and 73 strikeouts in 207 plate appearances at Single-A Fort Wayne.
  • Franchy Cordero has finally moved off shortstop, after 20 errors in 23 games, and he’s hitting .218/.271/.301 at Fort Wayne.
  • Taylor Lindsey isn’t hitting at hitter-friendly El Paso.

There are bright spots, of course, but not many. Rymer Liriano, almost forgotten, is performing well enough at Triple-A. Ruddy Giron, an 18-year-old shortstop from the Dominican Republic, is OPSing 1.084 in 21 games at Fort Wayne. Some other guys are probably doing okay.

In short, the farm system doesn’t look very good, and if the Padres plan to compete going forward, they’re still going to need production from the minor league pipeline. Every offseason isn’t likely to produce as many high-profile moves as this past one, and salary demands to the likes of Matt Kemp, James Shields, Kimbrel, Melvin Upton, etc. will put further stress on the major league payroll.

So what about the draft, which starts on Monday and can be seen on MLB Network?

The Padres don’t pick until the second-round, 51st overall. In fact, here are all of San Diego’s picks in the first 10 rounds, with slot values from Baseball America:

Round Pick No. Slot Value
2 51 $1,178,400
3 86 $687,300
4 117 $484,000
5 147 $362,300
6 177 $271,300
7 207 $203,300
8 237 $172,600
9 267 $161,400
10 297 $150,600

With injuries to a number of the top arms and lackluster performance from other draft prospects, most pundits rate this year’s draft class as a particularly weak one, at least at the top end. So if there were a year to have the 29th-largest draft budget in the majors, maybe this was it. Then again, pre-draft industry speculation as to the strength of a draft class is often proven wrong in time. There’s plenty of talent out there.

Can the Padres find a way to stretch that $3,671,200 bonus pool further? Well, not really, at least not without incurring serious penalties. The fines for spending five percent or more over a team’s draft pool are so harsh — loss of future high-round picks — that no team has tried it yet. There are, however, creative ways to spend draft pool money, as teams aren’t forced to spend a certain amount on any pick.

Don’t be surprised, then, if the Padres follow a pattern similar to the Red Sox* in 2013. Boston signed its first two picks for under-slot deals and also signed three college seniors for a total of $30,000 in rounds eight through 10, saving enough money early to nab hard-to-sign high schoolers late, like outfielder Nick Longhi in the 30th-round for $440,000. A strategy like this might force the Padres to play the draft more conservatively in the early rounds, while allowing Preller and company to gamble on younger, higher upside talent later in the draft. Remember, any pick signed after the 10th-round doesn’t count against a team’s bonus pool unless the signing bonus exceeds $100,000 — then, only the portion of the bonus over $100,000 counts towards the team’s pool.

*Plenty of other teams have followed a similar strategy. 

In the end, rather than trying to predict what the Padres will do, it’s probably better to just sit back and watch — the first two rounds of the draft will be televised on MLB Network today and will continue Tuesday and Wednesday on MLB.com. A.J. Preller has pulled off surprise after surprise in his first year as GM, so there’s no telling how he — and a largely new front office — will approach the draft. No matter the approach, and despite a limited bonus pool, the next few days could go a long way toward restocking a depleted Padres’ farm system.

More draft previews/links:

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  • ballybunion

    I’ve heard this year’s draft is a weak one. Preller and his team of evaluators must surely know what’s possible with this draft, as well as what will be available next year. I’ll take your advice and just watch, trusting that the Preller team knows what it’s doing, and is playing a multi-year strategy.