Don’t try to figure it out, you’ll drive yourself crazy. Or maybe, there might be a method somewhere in there.
The Padres first three picks in the 2017 MLB draft were, shall we say, confusing. At least on the surface. Right off the top, it should be noted that every pundit seems to say the same thing about MacKenzie Gore: he has all the stuff you want, four pitches, good velocity, high strikeout rate. After that, the Padres took two catchers. I’m not going to recap the players themselves. Rather, let’s try to sort out how these guys fit into the Padres’ organizational philosophy.
The Padres are sticking with the same pattern they’ve developed over the past two plus years. Summarized in one word, the pattern is ceiling. Summarized in two words, high ceiling. Or, if you prefer, “different” ceiling. In order to understand the significance, you have to wind the clock back a few years.
When the Padres jettisoned prospects in the off-season prior to 2015, the team started the ball rolling. During the Hoyer/Byrnes years, the Padres acquired a large quantity of talent for their minor league system. This quantity, however, was not matched by its quality. Despite being named the top farm system in baseball in the early 2010’s, most experts agreed the Padres did not feature a single superstar. The talent was, for lack of a better term, limited. The farm system was filled with solid, yet unspectacular players.
Once he got to town, A.J. Preller turned the system on its ear. In trading away prospects like Matt Wisler, Joe Ross, and Joe Wieland, Preller cut loose those players whom the organization deemed to have lower ceilings. To put it another way, players who couldn’t win Cy Young Awards or make it onto MVP ballots. Once those prospects were gone, the Padres began to stockpile a different sort of player.
The first domino to fall was, in all truth, the Craig Kimbrel trade. If you remove the one season of value the Padres received from the closer, you will see Preller’s plan in action.
Margot, while not MLB-ready at the time, was widely regarded as a future top-of-the-order, excellent defensive center fielder. Javier Guerra, recent struggles aside, was widely viewed as a potential stalwart at shortstop, and Logan Allen was an 18-year-old, left-handed, potential major league starter. Paroubeck was a fringe prospect while Asuaje has been threatening to escape El Paso for Petco Park.
Rather than targeting players with a chance to be contributors, the organization was targeting players who projected to be potential elite performers. This continued with the acquisiton of Anderson Espinoza, the drafting of Cal Quantrill, and the signing of Cuban-born Adrian Morejon. The Padres want big upside, even if it means big risk.
The Padres 2017 draft is following the same pattern. In drafting a high school pitcher, notoriously difficult to keep healthy and productive long enough to make the big leagues, the Padres are taking a gamble on a possible home run. The first names I saw mentioned in connection with Gore were Cole Hamels and Clayton Kershaw. While not direct comps, these are some nice names.
But the risk is huge. High school pitchers have to stay away from the injury bug for four to five years, typically, to make it to the big leagues. In addition, as is the case with the Padres farm system, they have to pitch in some band boxes and launching pads in the minors. Giving up tape measure home runs and getting regularly punished for mistakes can mess with one’s mind. The Padres are gambling that Gore, much like they have with several other recent moves, can survive. The two catchers are in the same boat. There’s no way to know if they’ll hit enough, or if they can catch professionally. The Padres are hoping they do, because if they do, they will be big positive expectation players.
Will it work? Way, way, way too early to even speculate. Much like Quantrill and Espinoza, the road is really long and filled with land mines. The job now is player development, proper medical treatment, and extreme care. You can’t wrap players in bubble wrap. As many fans have been saying, you have to trust the process, because what else can we do at this point?