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.