The Draft: Day One “Review”

Hey, here’s the thing: Nobody really knows nothin’ about these kids.

I don’t mean that literally, of course. There are really, really smart people at places like Baseball Prospectus, Baseball America, ESPN, and MLB (et. cetera) who know a ton about these guys—they know home-to-first times and statistics and what the scouts are saying and how many pets each player has had. What they don’t know—and, really, what they can’t know—is how these players are going to develop. Are they going to stay healthy? Are they going to find that third pitch or that perfect swing? Are they going to be the low-ceiling pitcher who turns into Jake Arrieta or the fringy bat who becomes Paul Goldschmidt? Are they going to get sidetracked with fame and money?

Go back to the 2009 draft (or any draft). The Nationals took Stephen Strasburg first overall that year, which was, at the time, a super-obvious pick. And what a pick it was! Strasburg’s been worth 17 WAR, he’s currently one of the best pitchers in the game, and he recently signed a relatively team-friendly contract extension. Whew . . . great pick!

Except it was a terrible pick, because a player named Mike Trout was available. In fact, Trout was available when the Padres took Donavan Tate third overall and when the Orioles took Matt Hobgood fifth overall and when the A’s took Grant Green 13th overall and when the Diamondbacks took Bobby Borchering 16th overall and . . . [insert any team and any pick before No. 25 here]. That year Baseball America’s scouting report compared Trout to Aaron Rowand while mentioning that his bat was “not a sure thing, but he has a chance to be a solid-average hitter with average or better power.” Mike Trout was once just another guy.

Cal Quantrill is just another guy, too, taken eighth overall this year by the Padres, considered a mild-to-severe reach because of his 2015 Tommy John surgery and subsequent lack of innings. Quantrill’s 21 and he hasn’t pitched a full college season since his Freshman year at Stanford, where he posted a 2.88 strikeout-to-walk ratio and a 2.68 ERA. When pitching, Quantrill apparently works in the low-to-mid 90s with a good change and so-so breaking stuff. He’s a baseball pitcher, and the Padres like him more than others. He could be anything.

Here are other guys, all taken by the Padres last night:

SS Hudson Sanchez (24) – Another potential reach, ranked 108th by BA; likely signs a below-slot deal; doesn’t turn 18 until October.

LHP Eric Lauer (25) – “Safe” college left-hander, as described by Chris Crawford; 1.87 career ERA at Kent State; struck out 125 and walked 28 in 104 innings this season; owned three pet toads as a teenager.

OF Buddy Reed (48) – Speedy, glove-first center fielder with questionable bat; slashed just .273/.351/.385 at Florida; can turn the lights off and be in bed before the room gets dark (he uses clap on lights).

RHP Reggie Lawson (71) – Projectable high school righty; touches mid-90s; probably owns ridiculous high school stats.

The concern is that the Padres went too safe here, or too risky, or too something. Quantrill’s not all that exciting at No. 8, nobody was really thinking Sanchez in the first round, the other guys are kinda meh, at least relative to their draft slots. Fair enough. There’s a lack of smack-you-right-upside-the-head upside here, and everyone loves upside. Donavan Tate had upside (so did Mike Trout).

But we’ve got to be careful to criticize the Padres because they didn’t take the players who looked obvious according to Baseball America’s top 500. If drafting were that easy, the Padres could save money on an entire team of scouts and analysts and simply rely on third-party resources to make all of their selections. Ultimately we have to put some faith into the Padres front office, hoping that the team A.J. Preller has assembled—the Mark Conners, the Don Welkes, the Sam Geaneys, all the scouts, etc.—are better than the consensus at finding and developing prospects.

This isn’t a defense of the Padres first five picks. It’s just hard to formulate a scorching hot take on the draft, where everyone—even those super-smart draft-obsessed experts—ends up looking silly much of the time. Let’s wait and see where that extra money goes. Let’s wait and see who gets signed and who goes to college. Let’s wait and see how these guys adjust to their first look at pro ball. Let’s not crucify this regime—the baseball ops side, anyway—for sins of the past.

Let’s just wait and see.

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  • Tom Waits

    1. Agree on the general need to avoid sweeping pronouncements and that we should have some faith that the front office is not tossing darts at a list of names. On the flip side, the Alderson-era draft team supposedly followed a rigorous process, and they drafted Matt Antonelli, Nick Schmidt, and Allan Dykstra with our first picks in three consecutive years. Some skepticism is warranted.

    2. The draft “felt” like an Alderson-era exercise until the Lawson and Thompson picks. That’s where you’re spending the money saved earlier. Under the previous regime those picks would have usually gone to college players without strong tools.

    3. Some people, many of them smart, believe Quantrill will be brought along slowly. I suspect otherwise — that the Padres drafted him hoping to get 5-6 years of productivity before the actuarial table in his elbow explodes. NWL this year, High A or even AA to start 2018, looking for a big league job sometime in 2019.

    4. Like others, Eric Lauer gives me some Wade LeBlanc / Nick Schmidt “pitchability” vibes. But his stuff is better than LeBlanc and he’s a better athlete than either.

    • ballybunion

      Wow, I wouldn’t have even thought of LeBlanc as a comp for Lauer. Physically they’re similar, but LeBlanc wasn’t that much of a strikeout pitcher in the majors. Lauer might not be either, but that’s the chance the Padres are taking. I hope that’s just your gut feeling, and you’re not using a crystal ball.

      • Tom Waits

        It’s not a strong comp, but they both owe a good part of their college success to guile rather than pure stuff.

        LeBlanc struck out 9.26 per 9 in his college career (SEC). It dropped severely as soon as he started facing pros.

        Lauer struck out 9.73 (MAC). He’s better than that, really, his low K numbers as a freshman drag his average down.

        Lauer’s the best prospect of the three, but by degrees, not exponentially.

      • ballybunion

        Okay, the reports have Lauer as pretty much a finesse pitcher, and as you said he put up better strikeout rates later – 10.8 in his last two years. He seems the consensus most likely to stick in a rotation, but I’m hoping there’s something more than finesse driving those K rates. Better stuff? I hope he has a better fate than LeBlanc, who suffered abnormally low run support while a Padre, in addition to Bud Black’s seeming impatience with relatively soft tossing lefties.

        I remember Black yanking LeBlanc with 2 outs in the fifth in a game the Padres were leading and won, costing Wade a win, and also pulling him with 2 outs in the seventh after giving up a bloop hit when he’d thrown only 88 pitches. Apparently you got one chance to work your way out of a jam with Black, and if you didn’t come through you were suspect and likely to be pulled at the first sign of trouble.

      • You know, those were actually probably really good moves by Black.

      • ballybunion

        You might be right, from a team in-game perspective, but at some point any player, and not just a pitcher, has to think the manager has faith in him to do the job. Otherwise, he’s on the wrong team, or the team may need a new manager, who is supposed to put his players in the best position to succeed.

        I just thought LeBlanc was misused by Black, who as a former lefty starter with a better fastball, may have had his own idea of what a lefty (or any starting pitcher) should be (establish the fastball!) and wanted every pitcher to fit the mold.

      • Certainly agree that, overall, Black had his issues, particularly with developing young players.

        And you might be right about LeBlanc, specifically, but I just always viewed him as a guy a manager *should* be taking out as early as possible, avoiding the times-through-order penalty and handing the game off to the ‘pen. There’s developing young players and then there’s realizing what you got, and it never really looked like LeBlanc was going to turn into anything more than a back-end guy.

    • Good points, Tom. They’ll probably take it slow with Quantrill to start, at least, given the TJ and lack of recent innings. But I could certainly see 2019 as an ETA, if not even earlier.

  • Pat

    Sure, I’ll put some faith in them once they’ve demonstrated they can be trusted. But wasting the 8 pick on a guy who didn’t even pitch this year, and following it with the huge over draft of Sanchez leaves me highly sceptical for now.

    • I understand, but I don’t think you can call it “wasting” the eighth pick. It’s risky, sure, but all these picks come with high risk, for varying reasons. The Braves took a HS pitcher third overall, for instance, and that’s risky because HS pitchers are inherently risky. Maybe the Padres got a sleeper because they were the team willing to bet on Quantrill’s underlying talent over the TJ/lack of experience.

      • Pat

        Sure you’re right, but I’m bitter, so I’m going to go ahead and call it wasting for now, and until Quantrill throws at least one season of at least enough innings to qualify for the ERA title. 🙂