The 2011 MLB first year player draft was the last of it’s kind. In 2012, Major League Baseball, feeling that signing bonuses had ballooned out of control, changed the rules, instituting hard caps with stiff penalties for teams who spent over the recommended signing bonuses. Rather than issuing guidelines for what players should earn, they started issuing hard values for each pick, and a team that spent more than 5% over the total value of their picks would lose picks in the following draft. 2011 was supposedly the inmates running the asylum, while 2012 and beyond has been 24 hour lock down.
The Padres spent over $11 million on draft picks in 2011, the most in team history, going well over the slot recommendations for several of their picks. In 2012, they spent $9.8 million, only $100k less than their $9.9 million bonus pool allotment. In 2013, they went right up to the edge of their bonus pool, but that meant spending just $6.8 million. This year’s allotment is the team’s lowest yet since the rule change at just $6.1 million. While the actual draft can still be pretty fun, from a fan’s perspective this suppression of spending on the draft is really depressing.
So let’s go back to that last great draft, take a look at the notable picks the Padres made, do a little second-guessing, and decide whether some of the more prominent second-guessing is really justified.
As I said, the Padres, in then GM Jed Hoyer’s 2nd (and final) draft with the team, spent a team record $11 million on the draft, signing 22 of their top 23 picks. They had a ton of picks. In 2010, the Padres thought they had a deal with 9th overall pick Karsten Whitson for somewhere near $2.1 million, only to be left high and dry with nothing but an unprotected compensation pick, the 10th overall pick in the 2011 draft. They also had their own first round pick, 25th overall after the unexpected near-playoff run of the 2010 season, and 3 compensation picks in between the first and second round, 48th, 54th, and 58th. Because of all the compensation picks involved in the draft, their 2nd round pick was the 82nd pick overall.
Having 6 picks in the top 100 in what turned out to be a deep draft gave the Padres a chance to add a ton of talent. And it’s hard to argue with the volume of the talent they received. Of the Padres 2014 Baseball America Top 10 Prospects, 5 of them came from this draft, including the top 2. Three players from this Padres draft class have already seen time with the big league club. A few more, including traded reliever Matt Stites (17th round) and traded starter Matt Andriese (3rd round), are knocking at the door.
Round 1, Pick 10: Cory Spangenberg, 2B, Indian River Community College (Fort Pierce, FL)
Spangenberg quickly signed a contract with a $1.86 million bonus that was the lowest of any pick in the top 15. Players drafted soon after him that have already made the majors include George Springer (11th, $2.525m), Jose Fernandez (14th, $2m), CJ Cron (17th, $1.467m), and Sonny Gray (18th, $1.54m).
This is the most second-guessed pick in the draft, due mostly to the fact that Springer and Fernandez have become such high-profile figures in the league. The best pick in that group may end up being Gray, who has become one of baseball’s best young starting pitchers, and who has yet to suffer a career-altering injury. Unlike Fernandez and Springer, he also could have made a lot of sense for the Padres, who needed a pick that would definitely sign to a slot deal.
The Padres settled on Spangenberg as a safe sign, and likely had a deal with him in place before even drafting him. After the debacle of the previous year and the troubles of 2009 3rd overall pick Donovan Tate, who they wasted $6 million on, the team surely felt that not signing their top pick again, or making a huge mistake on promise over ability again, would be a huge nightmare. While Spangenberg lacked ceiling as his bat profiled for second base, which is where he’s ultimately ended up, and while he likely would have been on the board 10-15 picks later, he was considered one of the most advanced hitters of the draft.
Was the Spangenberg pick a bad pick? I don’t think so. It was safe, but safe also means sure, and the only thing that’s held Spangenberg back from being a sure thing, in my opinion, is his continuing issue with concussions, which could but hopefully won’t end up derailing his career before he ever gets to the big leagues. He is still on the disabled list in AA San Antonio after sustaining his second serious concussion six weeks ago. That’s a bad sign. Here’s to a speedy recovery and a return to form. That said, they probably should have drafted Sonny Gray.
Round 1, Pick 25: Joe Ross, RHP, Bishop O’Dowd HS (Oakland, CA)
Ross, brother of then A’s starter and now Padres starter Tyson, signed for $2.75 million, which was top 10 pick money. He had a strong UCLA commitment, and UCLA produced 2 of the top 3 picks in that 2011 draft in Gerritt Cole and Trevor Bauer, so they were kind of a big deal at the time.
While Ross has struggled with command and missing bats, spending the full 2013 season in Low-A Fort Wayne while striking out less than 6 batters per 9 innings, he’s really starting to come into his own in High-A Lake Elsinore this year. At just 21 years old, he entered the season as Baseball America’s 10th best Padres prospect, and if he keeps it up, he could end up with a mid-season promotion to AA and a dramatic rise up the prospect rankings heading into 2015.
Round 1 (Supplemental), Pick 48: Michael Kelly, RHP, West Boca Raton HS (Boca Raton, FL)
This pick was a miss from the beginning. Kelly’s physical didn’t go so hot and he ended up signing at the deadline for an under slot price of $718,000. While Kelly has yet to see the mound in the minors this year after spending 2013 struggling through starts in both short-season Eugene and Low-A Fort Wayne, the guy picked right after him, fellow high-school RHP Kyle Crick, who signed for only $900,000 with the Giants, is now in AA and is Baseball America’s #33 ranked prospect in baseball. Think Jed Hoyer wishes he could make this pick over again? Probably not, because why should he care, he’s with the Cubs now.
Round 1 (Supplemental), Pick 54: Brett Austin, C, Providence HS (Charlotte, NC)
Austin didn’t sign. The Padres signed some other catcher named Austin and decided they no longer needed two catchers named Austin. Too confusing. Actually, I don’t have a link to this, but I believe the Padres offered Austin somewhere in the neighborhood of $1.4 million and he turned it down to attend North Carolina State. He’s draft-eligible again this year, and while his stock has declined, he’s still ranked 132nd on Baseball America’s Top 500, so he’ll only have lost about $1 million by going to college. But hey, the college experience and whatnot.
Round 1 (Supplemental), Pick 58: Jace Peterson, SS, McNeese State
Peterson, a two-sport star in college, is now a well known commodity, already having seen his first cup of coffee in the bigs, but in 2011 he was seen as a major project, much more tools than polish. He signed for $624,000, which was right around the slot recommendation, and after spending the entire 2013 season in High-A Lake Elsinore, he’s now raking in AAA and could get another shot with the Padres if they ever decide to demote struggling second baseman Jedd Gyorko.
Peterson has been able to stick at SS, but has also shown the ability to play second and third base, and if he never makes it as a regular, his floor at this point seems to be as a utility infielder. His smooth defense and his advanced approach have been a surprise, having not committed himself to baseball full-time until after being drafted.
Side Note: 4 picks later, the Mariners drafted SS Brad Miller, who they paid only $70,000. He’s now the team’s starting SS, although he’s struggling to repeat his 2013 rookie breakout campaign, with just a 42 wRC+.
Round 2, Pick 82: Austin Hedges, C, Junipero Serra Catholic HS (San Juan Capistrano, CA)
In one of the more inspired picks of the draft, while other teams were drafting guys you’ll never hear of and paying them $400,000 to play minor league ball for awhile, the Padres, having already picked a high school catcher named Austin, picked Hedges with the hope of making he and Ross a package deal, as Hedges also had a strong UCLA commitment. That plus 3 million bucks, the 3rd highest signing bonus the Padres had ever given a draft pick, will get you the best defensive catcher the draft had seen in years.
The plan, I think, was to have Ross and Hedges move through the system together, but Hedges has moved too quickly for that. Still just 21 years old, Hedges came into the season as the Padres consensus top prospect and Baseball America’s #27 prospect in baseball. He struggled at AA San Antonio to start the year but rebounded nicely in May, and is now hitting right around expectations, with a 103 wRC+, to go along with his plus-plus defense.
This pick had balls, but it was also protected and the Padres had already selected 5 other players, so unlike other teams they could risk this pick on a player with a college commit, sign the other 5 guys, and it wouldn’t be a big deal. Plus, nobody knew if Hedges could hit. It was a calculated risk, but it was a risk worth taking, and a risk the Padres could somewhat uniquely afford to take.
Round 7, Pick 233: Matt Wisler, RHP, Bryan HS (Bryan, OH)
The Padres picked slot guys in rounds 3-6, including RHP Matt Andriese in round 3, who while never being a major prospect has been a steady producer with a 4-5 starter ceiling, and was included in the Logan Forsythe trade that netted the Padres RHP Jesse Hahn and LHP Alex Torres this past off-season. Now 24 and in AAA Durham, Andriese is putting up numbers very consistent with his minor league career. He’ll get a shot at some point in the majors. Maybe he’ll be the next Cory Kluber.
In round 7, the Padres took Matt Wisler and gave him $500,000. This is the type of pick that could actually still be made in the new draft system, as long as the team saves some money elsewhere. Unheralded despite the over slot bonus, Wisler quickly made his presence felt, and after his first full year in pro ball he became the Padres’ 6th best prospect. Then he basically skipped High-A last year, making only 6 starts before being promoted to AA San Antonio, and he’s now the team’s #2 prospect and Baseball America’s #44 prospect in baseball.
He’s been promoted to AAA El Paso, and his last two starts have been much better than his first three. He should be seen in San Diego at some point this season.
Round 8, Pick 263: Kevin Quackenbush, RHP, University of South Florida
The Padres signed reliever Quackenbush for $5,000. He’s now a frequent flier between El Paso and San Diego, currently hanging out in the Padres bullpen until they probably kick him out again to promote Jesse Hahn or Odrisamer Despaigne to start Tuesday night’s game. Most times you commend the Padres for spending money, but sometimes you have to commend them for getting a great value.
Round 14, Pick 443: Burch Smith, RHP, Oklahoma
The Padres gave Burch Smith $250,000 in the 14th round. The 2011 draft was crazy! Oh wait, $250,000 is basically nothing to baseball teams. Smith, who came into the year as the Padres #8 prospect, now slowed by a forearm injury, rose quickly through the system, and had quite an amazing 2013, which included 7 starts with the big league club. I don’t know if he’s a starter or a reliever, or if his forearm injury will turn into an elbow injury which will turn into Tommy John Surgery, but it was a heck of a draft pick.
It’s too early to give a real evaluation of this draft class, as few players from this draft are in the majors and many are still in the lower levels of the minors, but it’s fun to take a look at the notable players drafted and see how different and much more interesting the draft was before the owners neutered it to save a few bucks.
This year’s first year player draft will be held this week, starting with the first two rounds on MLB Network on Thursday. The Padres pick 13th for the second year in a row, and like last year seem to be focusing on hitters with their first round pick. Last year’s first round pick, Hunter Renfroe, is crushing in High-A and could be two weeks from a promotion to AA San Antonio, so whatever they did last year they should probably just do again.
The Vocal Minority posts on Mondays. Follow me on Twitter. I’ll be tweeting amateur analysis of the Padres’ 2014 draft picks as much as I can. Thanks to this guy for the 2011 bonus info, and as always Baseball Reference, Fangraphs, and Baseball America. Even Wikipedia. I’ll always love you, Wikipedia.