An Early Look at the Padres’ 2018 MLB Draft

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(Casey Mize) Credit: Auburn Athletics

Casey Mize

Since A.J. Preller became San Diego’s general manager, there has been a considerable amount of college pitchers selected early by the Padres. Current top prospects Cal Quantrill, Eric Lauer, and Joey Luchessi form this group, and 20-year-old Auburn student Casey Mize can be among them. Evaluators rate him as the best college performer for a number of reasons that the Friars should eye closely.

One reason Mize is highly rated is because of his outstanding control. Oftentimes, draft eligible pitchers lack the ability to consistently pound the strike zone. Yet, the player from Alabama ranked fourth in K/BB ratio (12.1) and BB/9 (1.0) in 2017’s NCAA Division I. If these figures remained true in the highest league, he would easily be the leader in both categories. He would be the ultimate control artist, blowing away the 7.361 strikeout per walk rate of Corey Kluber and the 1.387 walks per nine innings statistic posted by Jeff Samardzija in 2017. Realistically, Mize’s numbers will regress, not because of a decrease in control, but an advancement in competition. However, his current success speaks loudly to how plus control is one tool in his heavy belt.

In addition to exceptional finesse, the Auburn junior commands a superb fastball. Witnesses determine that the pitch runs anywhere from 92-96 mph. This isn’t too exciting considering how high school kids such as Ethan Hankins and Kumar Rocker can reach 98. However, what differentiates his heater is its late running life. It is this action that allows him to attack hitters and let his offspeed pitches be great complements. The primary offering has contributed to a sophomore 2.04 ERA, down from 3.52, and 10.82 BB%, down from a 26.09 walk rate. These adjustments have arisen because of more velocity and more control.

Although Mize would say that his best pitch is his fastball, scouts would disagree and argue that his cutter is even better. It is a relatively new offering, sprouting from the failure of a changeup. However, the upper-80s cutter is viewed as nasty and a plus weapon. It works extremely well with Mize’s fastball, keeping hitters off balance and driving fear into their at-bats. One could argue that it is the best cutter in the class, much like Quantrill’s changeup was. Thus, pairing the two would produce a dominant setting.

Even Mize’s last pitch, a slider, is a quality offering. Like the cutter, this slider originated from the demise of another tool. This time a below-average curve that proved to be less of a challenge to opposing batters was replaced. The newfound mid-80s offering is something the Auburn student is highly confident in. He will reportedly utilize it at any time and the first count of an at-bat is vulnerable too. As such, hitters who try to guess against Mize will consistently be put into holes and have to battle their way out. As a result, the slider is a secret weapon that keeps opponents on their toes. It helps the 20-year-old to sustain his success and limit his reliance on a fastball and a cutter.

Overall, Casey Mize is the type of college hurler that Preller targets. He resembles Cal Quantrill in many ways, beginning with a mid-90s fastball that ranks as plus and a pitch that is viewed as one of the best in his class. However, the Auburn player has an additional plus pitch, a slider, as well as excellent control, and can therefore be described as better than Quantrill. This is a very high honor considering that the Stanford product is usually ranked in the top thirty prospects and projected as a mid-rotation arm. In other words, Mize could be a pitcher the Padres can plug into the top of their rotation. Also, it shouldn’t be very long since he’s one of the more advanced college arms. He might even be ready for the first competitive team in San Diego since the mid-2000s.

There is one concern over Casey Mize though. He has suffered from injuries throughout his college career. Forearm tightness flared up during his sophomore year and came back during his run on the USA Collegiate National Team. Both indicate possible Tommy John surgery in the future. Yet, there are reasons to be optimistic whether he goes through surgery or not. A.J. Preller hasn’t been scared to draft talent with the same misfortune. Cal Quantrill was recovering from Tommy John when he was taken eighth overall in the 2016 draft. Association with him will no doubt aid Mize in any possible bounce back. Moreover, the success rate of Tommy John survivors has increased in the last several years. Great players such as Yu Darvish and Stephen Strasbourg have shown that arm complications do not have to fade the shine of a star. Lastly, the reward for such risk will be great enough to explain the selection of Mize. He threw for an incredible 2.04 ERA with 109 strikeouts in 83.2 innings as a sophomore. His K total set an Auburn record since 1999 and his 12.11 K/BB led the nation. This is true top of the rotation stuff. Imagine placing him alongside MacKenzie Gore and Michael Baez in the near future. That would be a lights out crew.

(Jarred Kelenic) Credit: HomeTeams Online

In short, Preller should take a long hard look at Mize, a kid from Alabama, who wasn’t valued highly coming out of high school, but became a top college pitcher. There’s a good chance the GM would not regret it, especially since coaches rave about how the Auburn student is always eager to learn and hone his craft. He has the intangibles to succeed spectacularly.

Jarred Kelenic

Toolsy athletes are all the rage once draft season approaches. That said, Wisconsin outfielder Jarred Kelenic has a shot to go early in the 2018 draft. He has so many assets working in his favor, and the Padres, with the 7th overall pick, can capitalize.

The most raved about quality that Kelenic holds is his superior hit tool. Normally, toolsy high schoolers do not have this skill. But his is rated as a plus. Perfect Game notes how he has low tension in his swing. This allows him to turn on balls at times and let pitches travel in other situations. He doesn’t get trapped in a pull habit as a result and he can battle against any strike. These traits give scouts the impression that he is a .280 future hitter in the big leagues. However, there is plenty more that Kelenic is capable of. For instance, his 60-grade hit tool matches Luis Urias‘, and the Padres’ second baseman is viewed as a possible batting champ one day. Likewise, the outfielder from Wisconsin may reach incredible heights. In short, there is so much untapped potential here.

In addition, the speed which Kelenic runs at enamors scouts. He has been clocked as a 6.57 burner, meaning he is a tick above-average in that regard. Yet evaluators consider the tool to be of supreme use to any team. He has the power to take extra bases and be a constant source of runs. What speed also does for him is place stress upon the pitcher. Such stress is important to a kid who has to win, but it also aids teammates in their run-producing aspirations. Wins are the result of contributions, not individual work, so by unnerving the opposition, the 18-year-old gives his team an edge.

Lest anyone think that the Wisconsin prepster is merely a quick man, power is another device that Kelenic employs. Most disagree on the extent as some argue that his over the fence pop is far more advanced than any other skill and others say that it is just average. Both come to the conclusion that he will swat double digit homers, possibly into the 20s. Round trippers will be a constant part of his future because of his fast bat speed and engaging raw power. Mixed with a 6’1″ and 196 lb. frame, the sweet-swinging lefty has the muscle to create a lot of runs. He already drives the ball into gaps on a repetitive basis and does not rely on just one side of the field. In other words, he demonstrates power from left field to right. There is little he can hit with loft currently and he should push the power expectations placed on him with more maturing. In the end, only one high schooler, by the name of Joe Gray Jr., has more potential in this department. That’s a bat worth betting on.

Although the lefty’s skillset at the dish is very romantic, Kelenic is far from a lag on defense. Reporters place a 60 on his arm, a rare trait amongst center fielders, and a 50 on his glove work. Detractors point to less than smooth routes, but the more positive scouts see the highest defender. He certainly has the range and speed to be in center for the long haul. If he can’t make it there, though, both corners fit him well as he possesses a cannon arm. Either way, there is a good chance he will be a difference maker in the field. Just look at his stellar diving catch at the 2017 PG All-American Classic at Petco Park for justification. Many observers believed the ball would get past him and lead to a double, but Kelenic would have none of that.

In all phases of the game, Jarred Kelenic is a stud. He’s got an extremely advanced approach at the plate and a sweet swing that allows for a high average and good power. He’s an above-average runner who will cause mischief on the bases, disrupt pitchers, and run into scoring position. He’s got a very strong arm, one that would easily surpass other center fielders. And he has the speed and range to cover the vast confines of Petco. There are few questions he must answer.

The one that comes up often is how his environment affects his play. Players from cold environments in the North such as Wisconsin, Minnesota, and New Jersey are hurt by seasonal differences. Heavy snow impacts the amount of baseball being played in the winter and limits great competition. As such, scouts often regard these regions to have lesser competition for draft eligible players to prove themselves against. Kelenic grinds hard against this bias by waking up “every morning at 4:45,… report to his personals trainer at 5:15, work out until 7:30,… hit for two hours in a batting cage,… sleep,… repeat” (Lananna 1). From this, we can obviously see how hard-working the kid is. He refuses to be relaxed like every other high schooler. Instead, he pursues his dreams with vigorous life and this tenacity puts him at an advantage over other northerners the scouting system discounts. Additionally, he has been lucky to have a contractor for a father. Two multi-million dollar training facilities were built by his dad in Waukesha, Wisconsin. One of those centers hosts NFL superstar J.J. Watt. Although Kelenic can not train with the illustrious defensive end, he can view the hard work. He has followed Watt’s strong work ethic and definitely has another advantage due to the experience. Lastly, many from the north have disproven the notion that those who hail from cold areas are less than they appear. The best example is Mike Trout, who lasted until the 25th pick in the 2009 draft. He too was born in a locale with long winters, but has arguably become the greatest player of all time. Thus, the idea that Kelenic is less valuable because of his city is nonsense.

In conclusion, if Preller wants an extremely projectable and toolsy athlete, he might just want to look at Kelenic. He could be a star one day.

Within this article, there have been several 2018 draft-eligible players described. Each have beautiful futures ahead of them in MLB. Preller has the amazing option of taking that beauty and lighting up Petco Park with it. He just needs to be wise in the next draft to impact the state of the Padres in the years to come.

6 thoughts on “An Early Look at the Padres’ 2018 MLB Draft

  1. Highly interesting piece Eric. I love reading about the draft. I like the prospects discussed as well. 2 pitchers I’m intrigued by are Kumar Rocker, the high school righty (mentioned in the article in section about Turang) and Jackson Kowar, a college right hander from Florida.

  2. I like Nander De Sedas also. H e is a switch-hitter with solid power tool and defense to go with great hit tool. He is being compared to All-Star Francisco Lindor.
    I would really like to add LH bats that can play on the corners. I think we have plenty of toolsy down the middle guys, catchers, middle IF’s, and CF types. We need High On Base guys with extreme pop. They have to be league average in the field at minimum. I hope we can get as many LH bats as we can. We have 3 picks in the Top 50, 7th, 34th, 46th.

  3. Good write up Eric. The nice thing about the hitters at the top of this draft is they are lefties (Gorman, Turang, Kelenic) and a switch hitter (De Sedas) which is what the Padres are going to need down the road. All of their top hitters at the Major League level as well as their top hitting prospects are right handed, except for Naylor, and they are going to need some balance in the lineup that hopefully brings a World Series to San Diego. As far as Mize goes, he seems like a very good pitching prospect who would be a nice get for the system, but I am just as intrigued by Liberatore, who might fall to #7. Any way you look at it, the Padres will/should be drafting a very interesting prospect with their top pick. With as deep as this draft is said to be, that competitive balance pick should result in a nice prospect as well. I cannot wait for 2020!! Go Padres!!!

  4. You did a good job summarizing four players the Padres’ could get in this year’s draft. Nice work!

    We’re lucky this draft is so deep. We can get a major talent with the #7 pick. I hope we get Gorman, but he’s probably going in the top five. Nice thing about Mize is that he could come up quickly, he could be in the majors by 2020.

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