If you would like a detailed, possibly laborious, explanation of the Padres organizational philosophy, keep reading. If not, I’m sure there’s a reality TV show on somewhere.
It is not often you call out someone in a blog post and then meet that someone face-to-face.
I accused the San Diego Padres brass of changing course too often. They wanted to be a speed team, then a pitching team, then a high-priced veteran team, and now an elite farm system team. I told the Padres to pick a course, stick to it, and do it well.
I got the chance to tell this to Padres President Mike Dee after the 2016 season, at a Social Summit at Petco Park. I realize Dee is about as popular as a vegetable tray at a holiday party right now, but I give the guy tons of credit on this day. He was patient and eloquent in his explanation of the Padres current player philosophy.
In August 2014, Mike Dee oversaw the hiring of AJ Preller as the San Diego Padres General Manager. According to Dee, it was at this time the team made the decision to develop an elite-level minor league system. The goal was to create a pipeline of young talent from all levels to the big leagues.
For the next few months the organization evaluated the talent in its system. Right around that time the decision was made to hire Chris Kemp away from the Texas Rangers and make him Director of International Scouting. Kemp worked with Preller in Texas, an organization that scored MLB talent from the international market. The goal was to do the same in San Diego.
When the calendar flipped to 2015, the Padres only had a few months to gather research in the various international markets prior to the June draft and July international signing period.
As Dee explained, “If we tried to make waves in July 2015, it would have been too soon and we would have made bad decisions.”
The team was focused on July of 2016. With Kemp crisscrossing the globe gathering research, the team planned on using 18 months of information as a weapon. As Dee explains, this was always the plan. The team always had this long-term view of player development.
Now, let’s backtrack to August and September of 2014. The Padres, long considered dead in the NL Wild Card race, suddenly got really hot. On September 2nd, the Padres beat the Diamondbacks to pull within 5 games of .500 and only 6.5 games out of the second Wild Card spot. This sudden run at the post-season made the front office take notice.
It was around that time Preller told team leadership he thought this team had a chance to make a run at the postseason. In the off-season, he told them he could acquire a little offense without sacrificing any significant prospects, so the big league club could “take a shot”.
According the Dee, the 2015 spending spree was not, in any way, a change of direction from the original course laid out in August of 2014.
Dee describes the 2015 off-season as the team traveling down “parallel tracks”. On one track, AJ Preller made trades and free agent signings to help the Padres while wheels were still spinning on scouting international and American prospects.
To put it another way, Dee says the team never wavered from its goal and has no plans to waver now. The Padres are an organization built on a foundation of a strong farm system.
When the team took its shot in 2015 and failed, the decision was made to reinvest assets into the farm system, including the trades of Craig Kimbrel, James Shields, and others. Preller was able to flip veterans for prospects to achieve the goal of improving the farm system while continuing to plan for the 2016 MLB draft and international signing period.
The team succeeded in signing its top 14 draft picks, as well as 6 of the top 30 international prospects. The Padres have successfully flipped their minor league system from the bottom third in baseball to top 15 and, depending on who you ask, top 10.
Both Kemp and Padres Manager Andy Green were at the social summit as well, and while not directly stated, both implied that this new group of minor leaguers had greater potential than those put in place by the previous regime.
Green says the current crop have a “different ceiling” than those before.
Kemp says the minor leagues are “turning the corner” towards something new.
I will interject a little opinion here and comment on what is being implicitly stated. The minor league system under Josh Byrnes, while good, was limited. There were no true top-of-the-rotation arms or MVP-caliber hitters. The system was filled with solid players who had a cap on what they could accomplish. This new crop has a higher potential, and with the volume of players being brought in, the idea is that at least some of them will reach that new ceiling.
Dee says the team will compete their tails off in 2017, which is what he is supposed to say. But it is very obvious from talking to the organization’s decision makers that the team is very excited about the future.
There is evidence to support this belief. In 2016, the AAA affiliate in El Paso won the Pacific Coast League championship. The AA team in San Antonio was named Texas League organization of the year and posted a winning record. Single-A Lake Elsinore finished the second half of its season 4 games over .500.
When does that future start at the Major League level? It is hard to say. Is it at the tail end of 2017? Possibly. 2018? More likely.
Of course, the other big question is: will all of this work? That remains to be seen, but at least we know now the team is on a course. It is dedicated to make it work and won’t change midstream if things don’t go well. At least, that’s what they are telling us.
With all the heat Mike Dee has taken from fans in the Padres blogosphere, it should be noted he appears to have set a path of sustainability for the entire organization. You may like it, or you may not, but this team has, apparently, found itself.