Tanking ain’t easy.
Last season, the Padres finished 68-94, tied for the 2nd worst record in baseball with the Cincinnati Reds and Tampa Bay Rays, a half-game worse than the 68-93 Atlanta Braves. The Twins, having won only 59 games, tanked much harder than everyone else and will pick first in the 2017 MLB draft in 5 days. The Reds, having been very bad for multiple years in a row, won the tiebreaker over the Padres and Rays, and will pick 2nd. The Padres, having been bad but not quite terrible in 2015, won the tiebreaker over the Rays but not the Reds, and will pick 3rd. The Braves, who would be picking 3rd if they had played a full 162 game season and lost the game that was washed out, pick 5th.
With that, you could say that the Padres are a bit lucky to be picking 3rd, and that’s true, but they earned their spot by tanking really hard in the last month of the season, including losing their last 4 games. If they had won any of their last 3 games against 6th pick Arizona, they’d be picking 7th, behind both the Diamondbacks and the Oakland A’s. However, they’re either also a bit unlucky or just didn’t quite tank hard enough. If they’d lost just one more game throughout the year, they’d be picking 2nd, and with the Twins leaning against selecting high school flamethrower and consensus top talent Hunter Greene with the 1st overall pick, picking 2nd would have a huge advantage in this draft.
The public draft boards are all out, and there is a consensus top 5 that goes something like this:
- Hunter Greene RHP (HS)
- Kyle Wright RHP (C)
- Brendan McKay LHP/1B (C)
- MacKenzie Gore LHP (HS)
- Royce Lewis SS/CF (HS)
The order isn’t exact. Baseball America and ESPN’s Keith Law have Wright ahead of McKay while MLB Pipeline has McKay ahead of Wright. They all rank Greene 1st. Fangraphs has Wright 1st on their board, Greene 2nd, with McKay dropping to 5th.
As mentioned, while it’s possible they change their mind and take Greene, the Twins appear to be choosing between the less risky college guys, Wright and McKay, with the 1st pick. Jim Callis of MLB Pipeline, who may be the best in the business at figuring out what teams are going to do with their 1st round picks, is pretty sure the Reds would then take Greene. That would be a blow to the Padres, who are said to covet Greene, and as mentioned wouldn’t be in the position to potentially miss out on him if they’d just lost one more game.
(I won’t listen to anyone who says tanking doesn’t matter. While it’s possible Greene busts, having the opportunity to select the top talent on your board is better than not having it. You can’t predict the future, but you can control your destiny, and there’s obvious value in that. Yeah yeah, Mike Trout, shut up. That’s an incredibly lazy argument.)
All that being said, what should the Padres do with the 3rd pick?
If Hunter Greene is available, they should pick him. The prep righty throws 100+ mph with ease, takes care of his arm, has an easy delivery, and is said to be teachable and a great kid. He’s going to take several years to develop, but he has the makings of an ace who sits in the high-90’s and could reach back and fire one in at 102 when necessary. There’s essentially no risk he busts due to character issues like Padres top picks of the past. If he busts, it will likely be for health reasons, because pitching prospects get hurt. If he stays healthy, the worst case scenario seems to be that he’s a very good reliever.
If Greene has been picked but Wright hasn’t, I think the Padres should pick right-handed pitcher Kyle Wright. He’s the top college pitcher in the draft, projects as a potential number 2 starter, should move fairly quickly through the minor leagues, and has a mid-90’s fastball and two quality off-speed pitches. I’ve seen some concern about his delivery, but I don’t know what to make of that. I think he’s the 2nd best player in the draft. I also think he’s going to be picked by the Twins at number one.
If both Greene and Wright are off the board, which seems like the most likely scenario, the Padres will have their pick of McKay, Gore, or Lewis, or possibly making a deal with a lower-ranked player to save money for their next selections.
Let’s dismiss that last option now. Historically, teams picking 3rd overall will pick a top 5 ranked player, with very few exceptions. While Padres GM AJ Preller did do a lot of deal-making and maneuvering last year with 3 picks in the top 25, this isn’t the situation for that. This year’s draft won’t have the depth of high school talent available in the 2nd and 3rd rounds that last year’s did, and while the Padres will have 4 picks in the top 78, last year they had 6 in the top 85. While I’m guessing they will likely save some slot money with the 3rd pick to make some over-slot plays later on, they should and will likely play it straight with their first selection.
(If they do decide to make a deal, the guy I’d want is Virginia CF Adam Haseley. He ranks between somewhere in the top 15 (Law has him at 6), and may be the top college bat in the draft. He’s a sure bet to stick in CF, walks more than he strikes out, and has really improved at the plate in his junior season, with a .390/.491/.659 triple slash and 14 home runs in 223 at-bats. If Preller can get that for around $5 million, and is confident he can use the $1.6 million in slot savings later on, I’m on board.)
As for McKay, Gore, and Lewis, I’d be good with any of them. With such a consensus in terms of who the top 5 players are, it doesn’t really appear you can go wrong, and they all offer something different.
Brendan McKay is the safe pick, a polished left-handed pitcher and a potential two-way player, as he’d likely be picked in the top 10 as a first baseman as well. I wouldn’t pick him as a first baseman in the top 5, but if he were picked as a starting pitcher, that’d be fine. He projects as a mid-rotation starter who could move quickly enough to pitch in MLB next year, or more likely be rotation ready by the start of 2019. I think of him as a better version of Padres 2015 draftee Eric Lauer, wherein McKay is a projected 2-3 starter and Lauer is more likely a 4. He’d be my least favorite choice here of the options listed, and seems least like what the Padres would look for, but it’s an easily defensible selection.
Royce Lewis is the high school athlete, a 6’2″ 188 pound shortstop with a very strong hit tool and plus speed. He doesn’t project to stay at the position, but if the Padres think he can, they should definitely pick him. If he can’t, the Padres should still consider him, as he projects as a strong defender in center-field. He’s been in the top 5 discussion in this draft all along but didn’t quite have the senior year some expected of him. He hasn’t moved up into the top 3 on public draft boards, but he hasn’t fallen either. He hit only 4 home runs this year as a high school senior, but with his size you have to think he should develop more power. I think of him as similar to Manuel Margot but with more power potential.
But with the 3rd pick in the 2017 MLB Draft, I expect that the San Diego Padres will select MacKenzie Gore, a prep LHP out of Whiteville, North Carolina. Gore is a 6’2″ 180 pound lefty, which is a little smaller than you’d like, but his fastball sits in the low 90’s and has been said to touch 96. He’s extremely athletic, and while his fastball velocity doesn’t grade that high, he has a plus curve that could be plus-plus, and a slider and change-up that also project as plus pitches. If he can add some muscle and sit in the 92-95 range with his fastball and maintain command of all 4 pitches, there’s a lot to dream on there. Think Cliff Lee or Cole Hamels. I’d say he’s also similar to former Padres 1st round selection Max Fried, but with better secondary pitches.
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