Thoughts on the Padres Draft

If there’s anything disconcerting about the San Diego Padres early selections from last week’s amateur draft – namely first-round shortstop Trea Turner and second-round outfielder Michael Gettys – it isn’t their talent.

The Padres took Turner 13th overall and he’s ranked 9th on Baseball America’s top 500. He’s a slick fielding shortstop with out-of-this-world speed and a solid offensive track-record at North Carolina State. Gettys, taken 51st overall and ranked 40th on BA’s big board, has a skill-set you can dream on. The Georgia prep outfielder has a big arm and, according to Baseball America’s scouting report, “plus raw power and 70 speed in the 60-yard dash.”

If everything works out – a common phrase when talking about untested draft picks – both Turner and Gettys, like many early-round selections, have a chance to be stars. Everything doesn’t often work out, however, and if there’s one negative both players have in common, it’s the big question mark surrounding their respective hit-tool.

For a glove-first, speed-filled shortstop Turner owns an excellent career .342/.435/.507 line at NC State. He didn’t build on his breakout sophomore campaign (that had some draft pundits pegging him as a top-5 pick) in 2014, and scouts aren’t enamored with his long swing and tendency to get pull/home run happy. Gettys, according to BA’s scouting report, “faces serious questions about his bat, both in contact frequency and quality of contact” and “has tremendous bat speed but lacks balance and hitter’s instincts.”

For a team like the St. Louis Cardinals or Boston Red Sox with with a history of drafting and developing hitters, a questionable hit-tool on draft day may not spell future doom. The Padres, however, have had an uninspiring history in this realm. Sure, there are bright spots like Chase Headley, Will Venable, and, more recently Jedd Gyorko, but the success stories are generally scarce*. Further, both Headley are Gyorko were touted mainly for their balanced offensive approaches and plus hit-tools coming out of college.

*And in Gyorko’s case, not yet fully realized.

The following table shows the number of offensive players the Padres have drafted in the first 10 rounds from 2004-2010, the number that have reached the majors, and those players’ cumulative rWAR:

Year Hitters Drafted Reached Majors Total Career rWAR Highlights
2004 5 1 0
2005 7 4 35.8 Headley, Venable, Hundley
2006 8 4 6.2 David Freese
2007 10 2 2.4
2008 10 6 13.1
2009 4 1 0
2010 5 1 .7 Gyorko

*Update: Kipnis never actually signed with San Diego and probably shouldn’t have been included in this table. Taking his 11.8 rWAR out of the mix makes things look even more bleak, though you can give the Padres some credit for identifying the talent there.

There’s 2005, which produced Headley, Venable, and Nick Hundley, and there’s little else. Just in the first two rounds, from 2004 through 2010, the Padres have misfired on Matt Bush, Matt Antonelli, Kyler Burke, Chad Huffman, Kellen Kulbacki, Drew Cumberland, Mitch Canham, Danny Payne, Eric Sogard (sort of), Brad Chalk, Allan Dykstra, Jaff Decker, Logan Forsythe, James Darnell, Donavan Tate (probably), and Everett Williams.

Okay, okay, we can’t put past failures at the doorstep of the current regime. Josh Byrnes has only been at the helm since the 2012 draft and scouting director Billy Gasparino didn’t take over for Jaron Madison until 2013. That said, the recent crop of amateur hitters haven’t lit the world on fire either.

In 2011, Jed Hoyer’s final draft as Padres GM, San Diego took Cory Spangenberg with the 10th overall pick (compensation for failing to sign Karsten Whitson in 2010 – more on him later). While concussion problems have derailed Spangenberg’s professional career as much as anything (as Nate noted last week), he’s posted a lukewarm .290/.355/.390 minor league line so far. The jury’s still out. The same can be said for defensive wunderkind Austin Hedges, who was taken in the second round in 2010. In the minors, Hedges offensive numbers have been in gradual decline as he’s climbed the ladder, and while there’s still time for him to turn into something more than Brad Ausmus, it’s not yet clear if the bat will come around. Jace Peterson was also taken in 2010, progressing nicely through the system before getting the call-up this year.

In 2012 the Padres went with pitching early, taking Max Fried and Zach Eflin with their first two picks, but none of the hitters drafted after that pair have made a significant impact on prospect lists.  Travis Jankowski has two home runs in 896 minor league plate appearances, Jeremy Baltz is  currently struggling in a repeat of High-A ball as a 23-year-old, and catcher Dane Phillips has hit .259/.328/.406 and has yet to reach Double-A (he’s also 23). Last year’s draft looks better from an offensive perspective, as both Hunter Renfroe and Dustin Peterson have been solid in their early professional careers.

Turner and Gettys aren’t bad picks. At least, it’s impossible to determine that from an outsider’s perspective. The Padres, like just about every team devote a ridiculous amount of man hours and resources into the draft, making them far more familiar with the players and their likelihood for major league success than internet commenters.

Both Turner and Gettys have broad skill-sets that don’t require an all-world bat to provide major league value. Turner’s likely to stick at short and has a chance to be a plus defender there, and his speed could put him into a rare class of elite base runners. Gettys has big-time raw power and plus defensive skills.

Still, there’s something to be said for the importance of the bat – it’s probably the most significant tool in the shed, while also being the hardest to judge. There have been plenty of toolsy, projectable players drafted in the past that had red flags on their hit tool, and many of them turned into career minor leaguers or fringe big leaguers because they couldn’t figure out how to hit professional pitching. The Padres specifically have struggled developing hitters over the years and, even more specifically, they’ve struggled to develop hitters like Donavan Tate who carried significant hit-tool baggage. While Turner and Gettys could certainly develop into impact offensive forces, at this point, it’s kind of hard to see them doing it in the Padres organization.

Here are some tidbits on a few other draft storylines.

Pitcher Workloads

College coaching staffs are often much less judicious with pitch counts than their big league counterparts. Just this past college baseball season, according to Boyd’s World’s pitch count tracker, at least six pitchers cracked the 150-pitch mark, and another 25 threw at least 140 pitches in an outing.

The Padres draftees that made the list (which requires at least 120 actual pitches or 130 estimated for inclusion):

Player School Round/Pick Opponent Date Innings Pitches
Taylor Aikenhead CSU Bakersfield 32/957 Texas-Pan American 4/17 8.2 132
Chris Huffman James Madison 14/417 Northeastern 5/09 7 130
Chris Huffman James Madison 14/417 William and Mary 4/12 7.1 130
Chris Huffman James Madison 14/417 NC-Wilmington 3/29 7 129
Taylor Aikenhead CSU Bakersfield 32/957 North Dakota 3/21 8 127
Chris Huffman James Madison 14/417 Seton Hall 3/09 9 126
Taylor Aikenhead CSU Bakersfield 32/957 Grand Canyon 3/14 9 122

Only lefthander Taylor Aikenhead, taken in the 32nd-round out of Cal State Bakersfield and righty Chris Huffman, a 14th-round selection out of James Madison, made the list. Even their high pitch count starts were relatively tame, topping out with Aikenhead’s 132-pitch near complete came in April. I also checked the 2013 Pitcher Abuse Points data (2014 isn’t available yet) on Boyd’s World*, and according to that data, only one Padres draftee: eighth-rounder Mitch Watrous threw at least 121 pitches in a start last year.

*The data does not appear to be complete, especially for some of the pitchers from smaller schools.

Maybe the Padres, stricken with pitcher injuries over the last few years, went out specifically searching for healthier, less abused arms in the draft. Then again, maybe they didn’t. Third-rounder Zech Lemond is primarily a reliever who throws really hard, and big velocity seems like a potential Tommy John indicator. Not to mention he experienced arm soreness after making a start in April. Seventh-round pick Ryan Butler has already had one Tommy John surgery back in junior college.

I wrote an article for Baseball Prospectus last year that looked into the relationship between pitch counts in college and injuries at the pro level. Perhaps surprising, I didn’t find much of a relationship at all. One of the potential reasons, I surmised:

On a similar note, and probably more important, pitchers who were worked hard in college were probably healthy, while pitchers who were used conservatively were more likely to be dealing with injury issues. The Andrew Brackman case mentioned in the article is a perfect example. College coaches need to be given some credit for working guys who can handle it while being more cautious with pitchers who come with arm trouble or durability concerns.

While the results of my mini-study were far from a conclusion, it’s entirely possible that college pitch counts alone don’t tell us all that much about how likely a pitcher is to experience future injuries.

The Unsignables

In 2012, the new Collective Bargaining Agreement made sweeping changes to the draft, turning MLB’s long-ignored “slot recommendations” into hard spending limits that penalized teams for spending more money on signing bonuses than they were allotted. Since 2012, no team has overspent their limit by enough (5-plus percent) to incur the loss of future draft picks.

No longer were teams like the Pirates, Red Sox, or even the Padres (like they did in 2009) able to bust “slot recommendations” and significantly outspend their competition in the draft. Since the change, organizations have had to carefully plan out their draft budget, saving money where they can, and making sure they don’t go too far over their budget.

The Padres draft spending allotment is just shy of $6.1 million this year and ~$2.7 million of that is expected to go to first-round pick Trea Turner. Second-rounder Michael Gettys has a strong commitment to Georgia, and he’ll likely take more than the $1.08 million that is assigned to pick No. 51. Unless the Padres are able to save a significant amount of money on their remaining early picks, they’ll be left with little wiggle room for late-round selections*.

*After the 10th-round, teams can spend up to $100K on a player without it counting against their spending allotment, while anything over that amount counts against it. Unlike picks in the first 10 rounds, if a team doesn’t sign a player from from 11th to the 40th-round, it doesn’t lose anything out of its draft budget, making the late rounds a perfect time to gamble on hard-to-sign players.

Below are a number of players the Padres took that fell significantly below their Baseball America top 500 rank, likely due to signability concerns:

Player Round/Pick BA Top 500 Rank Level Commitment
Peter Soloman, RHP 21/627 261 HS Notre Dame
Logan Sowers, OF 31/927 312 HS Indiana
Brendan McKay, LHP 34/1,017 166 HS Louisville
Cobi Johnson, RHP 35/1,047 92 HS Florida State
Bryce Carter, C 40/1,197 323 HS Stanford

Soloman is actually considered reasonably signable, according to BA, but Carter is a near-lock to attend Stanford. The others are mixed but likely won’t come cheap. McKay’s working on a 65 inning scoreless streak in high school, which shot him up to 166th on BA’s top 500. He hits low-90s with the fastball, has a potential plus curve, and gets 77-plus percent of his outs via the strikeout. Johnson has dealt with elbow issues this spring, but like McKay, he offers high-80s/low-90s heat and a plus breaking pitch.

It’ll be interesting to see if the Padres get any of these guys signed. Even if the Padres are willing to go well over the $100K mark to get the job done, they might not be able to because of the newly instituted spending limits. And it seems unlikely, especially with McKay, Johnson, and Carter, that anything near $100K will get them to bypass college.

Johnny … Baseball? (Sorry)

The Padres drafted former Texas A&M star quarterback and current Cleveland Brown Johnny Manziel in the 28th-round on Saturday, which briefly had the Padres atop the headlines at places like ESPN, Fox Sports, and anywhere else that likes to discuss Manziel (which is everywhere). As Geoff Young has noted, a 28th-round pick wasted on Manziel is unlikely to be missed, as only 6.7 percent of them turn into major leaguers (and even less become valuable major leaguers).

My only issue with this gimmick is that the Padres used post-Manziel picks on some legitimate talent, like the aforementioned Sowers, McKay, Johnson, and Carter. While it’s unclear whether the Padres plan on signing any of those players, it would have been a shame if they missed out on one because of the Manziel pick. Taking Manziel in the 39th or 40th-round probably would have garnered a similar backlash amongst the hardcore Padres fan that patrol blogs, forums, and Twitter, but at least it would have looked less desperate. Were the Padres really worried someone was going to nab Manziel before them? Or were they simply worried about Manziel’s feelings, seeing as he already slipped further than expected in last month’s NFL draft?

Catching Up With Karsten

Back in 2010, the Padres drafted righty Karsten Whitson out of high school with the ninth overall pick, and they were expected to sign him relatively easily. You know the story.

Whitson turned down the Padres $2.1 million offer and was off to Florida. Here are Whitson’s college numbers, via The Baseball Cube:

Year G GS Innings HR BB-Ks ERA
2011 19 19 97.3 2 28-92 2.40
2012 14 10 33.3 1 18-20 3.51
2013
2014 14 9 37.3 2 23-21 3.86

As you can see, Whitson’s college career got off to a great start in 2011, but he battled arm soreness as a sophomore and had his would-be junior campaign completely wiped out by shoulder surgery. He came back this year and sat in the mid-90s late in the season, according to BA. But the numbers, specifically the strikeout-to-walk ratio and the innings per start, are causes for concern.

Whitson was drafted last year by the Nationals in the 37th-round, but he didn’t sign. The Red Sox drafted him this year in the 11th-round. Whitson is ranked 290th on BA’s big board. Thanks to the redshirt junior year, he still has a year of eligibility left at Florida, so it’s not certain that he’ll ink a deal with Boston. Whatever happens, it is clear that Whitson won’t earn anywhere close to the $2-plus million he could have gotten back in 2010 from the Padres.

For what it’s worth, I also wrote an article at BP about early-round draft picks that didn’t sign when initially drafted. The returns on non-signers were a mixed bag, with slightly more prospects falling in draft position than rising when re-drafted. High school pitchers were the most volatile group, with successes like Gerrit Cole and Matt Harvey and utter failures like Matt Harrington. Overall, out of the 21 high school pitchers in the sample, 62 percent declined in draft position when re-drafted. Whitson certainly took a big risk by spurning the Padres and, so far, it hasn’t worked out.

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  • DaveP

    First off, great article. I struggle with whether the Padres can’t develop hitters, don’t select the right hitters or both. They haven’t traded for any minor league hitting talent lately so it is difficult to judge talent selection vs development (unlike Tampa, Toronto and Miami who have all acquired raw hitting prospects).

    • Dustin

      Thanks, and great point. You would think it’d have to be some combination of both, with some bad luck mixed in. Really tough to gauge just how much is bad picks vs. bad development, though.

  • Geoff Young

    Great work, Dustin. I have nothing to add, just needed to say that.

    • Dustin

      Thanks, Geoff – much appreciated!

  • Tom Waits

    I feel as grim as if I’d just re-read 1984 or Brave New World.

    The Padres have failed for so long, across so many different ownership / management groups, while applying a variety of draft philosophies. It’s not as if they were ignoring the draft or giving up picks to sign free agents. For 15 years the front office, regardless of the actual people involved, have preached Build The Farm. Just pure blind luck should have been better than this. They pick college kids with low ceilings and they fail to reach those ceilings. They pick college kids with good tools and they stall in the minors or get hurt. They pick uber-athletes and they never learn how to hit pro pitching.

    I’d like to do a comparative analysis of all MLB teams, but I’m not smart enough and I’m afraid of the effect on my psyche.

    • Dustin

      Yeah, it’s really crazy. As you mention, the change in regimes makes it really tough to pinpoint any specific reason for the struggles.

      And, heck, if you look at international signings, things only get worse.

      • Tom Waits

        The drafts that bother me the most are from the Alderson/Fuson/Depodesta years. Not only for the picks. They had their share of duds and the back-to-back selections of Nick Schmidt and Dykstra were a double dose of dumb, but even the harshest critic would admit they picked some good talent too.

        The organizational defensiveness of those years, though, that overbearing sense that “our system is guaranteed to work and you fans have no reason to doubt us and if we decide not to go higher on Kipnis then shut up,” that’s a sour taste that doesn’t go away. Looking at the # of picks from that period and what they’ve contributed to the Padres, it’s heartbreaking.

      • Dustin

        You know, I meant to make a note in the article that Kipnis didn’t sign, and I actually didn’t even mean to include him in the table I made. Taking him and his 11.8 rWAR out of the fold makes it look that much worse.

        To your larger point, though, yeah — the 2007 draft , for example, was really ugly. The Padres had 17 picks in the first 10 rounds that year (with all of the supplemental picks they had acquired) and all of them, outside of Cory Luebke, were basically flops. (Cumberland, of course, was more of an unforeseen bad break than a flop and Eric Sogard might be on the Geoff Blum career path.) Definitely some disheartening drafts in there.

      • Tom Waits

        Kipnis is Greek for salt in the wound. They make the good gamble on the draft-eligible soph, can’t sign him, and four years later he’s a 133 OPS+ stick at second base. That was the first year of Orlando Hudson for us in real life.

        8 of the first 87 picks in 2007. Wasted #1 on Nick Schmidt, ran off four solid picks in a row, and then spent a million plus on two potential fifth outfielders and a utility IF.

      • Geoff Young

        Man, that’s depressing. You may recall that I disliked the Schmidt pick at the time, although I believe I’d wanted Michael Main, who hasn’t done anything either.

        Cumberland and Luebke should have been contributors by now, but serious injuries derailed both. Payne and Chalk were wasted picks, and we knew it.

        The best was fourth rounder Corey Kluber, given away in the Ryan Ludwick trade. That’s probably a microcosm of something even more depressing.

      • Tom Waits

        Oh, let’s not think about picks WE would have made or not made. I recall being skeptical about Springer — not that I liked using a pick on Spangenberg, but wondering if Springer would hit. I can console myself with the idea that Dustin’s research suggests we can’t teach guys to hit anyway, so he’d possibly be stalled in AA right now.

        We seem to have an organizational tendency to fudge our first pick and then make up for it later that endures regardless of GM and scouting director.