A look at the history of the San Diego Padres’ first-round selections since the 2010 season.
Ask any Major League executive what the best way to reboot a franchise is, it’s more likely than not that they will respond with two words: The Draft.
For years, teams in not just the MLB, but the NFL, NBA, and NHL draft a young athlete with the hopes that he will develop into a star and lead their team to greatness.
When a top-tier talent declares his intentions to forego his high school or college years to join the pros, teams even lose on purpose in hopes of securing a better draft position.
The San Diego Padres partake in this yearly event alongside the other 29 teams and have had varying success. Since 2010, San Diego has selected 19 players in the first round and supplemental “sandwich” rounds.
Let’s look at each Padres’ first-rounder pick since the year 2010 and how they panned out for the franchise.
The Padres only had one first-round selection in the 2010 Draft after finishing the season at 75-87, good for fourth place in the National League West. This cost longtime General Manager Kevin Tower and Farm Director Grady Fuson their jobs. Former Boston executive Jed Hoyer took the helm as General Manager shortly after the firing of Towers.
Karsten Whitson (Ninth Overall, Right-handed pitcher)
Whitson was a highly-touted pitching prospect out of Chipley High School and, after pitching to a microscopic 0.62 ERA as a senior, was named the third-best high school prospect in the country by Baseball America. In his first draft as General Manager, Jed Hoyer selected Whitson ninth overall.
Whitson spurned the Padres by rejecting a signing bonus of $2.1 million and enrolled at the University of Florida. Shoulder issues plagued him in his junior year, and the Boston Red Sox eventually drafted him in the 11th round of the 2014 Draft.
As a member of the Red Sox, he pitched seven innings for Boston’s Low-A team before hanging up the spikes.
San Diego may have dodged a bullet with Whitson; they missed taking another Florida-based pitcher in Chris Sale, who was drafted four picks later at 13th overall by the Chicago White Sox. Other All-Stars selected in the 1st round were Yasmani Grandal (Cincinnati Reds, 12th), Mike Foltynewicz (Houston Astros, 19th), and Christian Yelich (Florida Marlins, 23rd).
Thanks to a 90-72 record, the failure to sign Whitson in 2010, and the departure of Kevin Correia, Yorvit Torrealba, and Jon Garland, five of the 60 first-round picks of the 2011 Draft belonged to Hoyer and the Padres. Despite the high amount of picks, none of the players selected by Hoyer made the impact that a first-rounder is expected to.
Cory Spangenberg (10th overall, Infielder)
The compensation pick for Whitson was spent on Spangenberg, an infielder out of Indian River State College. MLB.com rated Spangenberg as the 43rd overall prospect, so the pick is strongly considered to be a reach.
Spangenberg was regarded as a player who had the potential to hit for a high average and had plus speed but otherwise possessed average tools for an infielder. The ability to hit for power was vital for Spangenberg to become a standout player, and Hoyer was willing to roll the dice on his potential.
Unfortunately, the power never came as he hit 27 home runs in five total seasons with San Diego, which handicapped him as nothing more than an average starter. He accrued a total fWAR of 3.9 before being released by the squad at the end of the 2018 season.
The pick is a black eye for the Padres as Javier Baez was selected one pick earlier by the Chicago Cubs, and the Astros selected George Springer with the very next pick. Four picks later, Jose Fernandez was chosen by the Marlins.
Perhaps the real reason Hoyer and company reached for Spangenberg was to save money to sign other members of their draft class. Spangenberg received a $1.883 million signing bonus, while players like Springer and Milwaukee Brewers pick Taylor Jungmann received bonuses of $2.52 million and $2.525 million, respectively.
Joe Ross (25th overall, Right-handed pitcher)
The younger brother of then Oakland A’s pitcher Tyson Ross, Ross attended Bishop O’Dowd High School in Oakland, California, like his older brother. Like Tyson, Joe had garnered the attention of Major League scouts due to his power fastball that sat in the low 90’s and topped out at 95 MPH.
Ross was rated just below Spangenberg on MLB.com’s Top 50 Draft prospects at 47th overall, with Jonathan Mayo noting that Ross while possessing a plus fastball and a potential plus curveball, was a project whose ceiling topped out as a mid-rotation starter.
On top of that, Ross committed to the University of Los Angeles to play college baseball, signaling that any interested teams were going to have to pay a pretty penny to sign the 6’3″ pitcher.
With the money saved from Spangenberg, San Diego had the draft capital to sway Ross from his commitment, signing him to a contract with a $2.75 million bonus.
Ross spent three-and-a-half years in the Padres’ farm system before being packaged with Trea Turner in a three-team trade that sent the two prospects to the Washington Nationals.
Ross never did become more than a mid-rotation starter and was eventually moved to the bullpen in 2019, but he did win a World Series ring with the Nationals in that same year.
Michael Kelly (48th overall, Right-handed pitcher)
With the compensation pick acquired after the Los Angeles Dodgers signed Garland, the Padres moved to select Kelly, a pitcher out of West Boca Raton Community High School in Florida, with the first of their three supplemental picks.
The 48th overall draft prospect on MLB.com, Kelly, was noted for having a power arm with a power arm that needed some tweak to his mechanics.
Kelly never put it all together in his career as he posted high ERA’s in nearly every level of the minors before electing for free agency in 2017.
He pitched in the Baltimore Orioles’ farm system in 2018 and last played in the Atlantic League.
Brett Austin (54th overall, Catcher)
Two picks after the Tampa Bay Rays selected Blake Snell with the 52nd overall pick; San Diego was looking to draft a catcher with the compensation pick they received for Torrealba, who had signed with the Texas Rangers.
They found their man in Austin, a catcher out of Providence High School in North Carolina. However, his commitment to North Carolina State University kept him from signing with the Padres, and he instead honored his commitment.
Austin was later drafted by the Chicago White Sox in the fourth round of the 2014 Draft and reached Triple-A Charlotte before being released.
While the Padres missed on Austin, the catcher they selected in the second round, Austin Hedges, tempered the loss by reaching the Majors in 2015.
Jace Peterson (58th overall, Infielder)
The final first-round pick for the Padres and one of two to don a San Diego uniform, Peterson was selected at the tail end of the supplemental round out of Mcneese State. As a Cowboy, Peterson was a dual-sport athlete, playing defensive back for the football team and manning the infield for the baseball team.
Seen as an on-base threat due to his 78 stolen bases at Mcneese State, Peterson inked a contract with a $624,600 signing bonus before reporting directly to Low-A Eugene.
Peterson demonstrated his prowess for pilfering bases as he swiped 148 total bags in the Padres farm system while consistently posting above-average contact numbers, leading him to make his major league debut before Spangenberg.
Unfortunately, his skills never translated in the 27 games he played with San Diego, leading to him being sent to Atlanta as a part of a prospect package for Justin Upton.
Peterson never developed into a full-fledged starter and slipped into the role of utility infielder. He is currently a member of the Brewers after signing a minor-league contract.
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