John Sickels on the Padres' Draft

John Sickels began analyzing baseball as Bill James' research assistant. Since 1996, he has published an annual prospect book, first as the STATS Minor League Scouting Book, and since 2003, as a self-published work. Relying on a blend of sabermetrics, scouting and intuition, Sickels is one of the preeminent prospectors. We caught up with John to get his thoughts on the Padres draft.

Overall, when you look at the Padres' draft, what are your take-aways?
John Sickels: I thought it was a good draft, balanced, drawing players from a variety of sources, with high upside types mixed with more polished players. I think that's the best way to build a farm system. If you focus solely on high-upside-high-risk players, you can end up with a farm system that has a bunch of good athletes but no baseball players. If you draft nothing but "safe" polished college picks, you might end up with a bunch of role players but few stars. I think a good system needs to draw from both demographics, and I think this draft did that.

You listed Spangenberg among your biggest reaches in the first round, despite saying you could see the logic behind the pick. Does a player with his skillset have more potential value to the Padres because of Petco Park?
John Sickels: Well, personally I think you should just get good players and not worry excessively about park effects that may or may not come into play two or three years from now. I do think he was a reach at 10th overall on a talent basis, but all indications are that they really, really coveted him and didn't think he would still be there later in the first round at 25. So like I said, I understand why they did it, even if it was a "reach."

By my count, the Padres wound up with more guys you listed in your personal top 100 the week before the draft – eight – than any other club. In addition to their first six selections, you had Mark Pope (fifth round) and Burch Smith (14th) highly rated. What is your read on those two?
John Sickels: Pope is exceptionally polished and his performance for Georgia Tech was excellent statistically, although scouts say his overall stuff is just mediocre/average. But he really knows how to pitch, and could be a fourth starter or solid bullpen arm. Burch Smith was getting third-round buzz and to see him fall to the 14th is a bit of a surprise. He is not as polished as Pope but has a higher upside, throws harder, can get up to 95. His secondary pitches need some refinement and his command within the strike zone can get sloppy, but I like his arm, and he could take off in pro ball.

After years of "pitchability" and polished college hitters under Fuson and company, the Padres certainly went with a number of upside high school and JuCo picks at the top of this year's class. How many of those guys from the top 10 do they need to get signed to consider this draft a success?
John Sickels: Well you want everyone of course. I hate wasted draft picks. At least if it is in the first three rounds you get a comp pick, assuming that is retained as part of the new Basic Agreement, which it may not be. I don't know how to answer this question. I think any time you lose a draft pick due to signability it has to count as a failure, although with this many picks not necessarily a fatal one.

High school catchers Brett Austin (supplemental) and Austin Hedges (2nd round) are nearly mirror images of each other. What do you think of their respective skillsets?
John Sickels: High school catchers are a risky demographic either way. I would say that Hedges has a better chance to actually reach the majors, but Austin has a better chance to be an impact player, if that makes any sense. It depends on if Hedges can hit and that is an open question.

The day before the draft, you wrote that Jace Peterson was a guy who could go in the supplemental round because of his surprising polish as a two-sport guy. Would you be tempted to start him in the Midwest League, or is he someone who is better served by a start in Eugene?
John Sickels: Personally I would send him to the Northwest League. They need to figure out if he's a second baseman or shortstop, and I think the NWL would be a better place to introduce him to pro ball. He has more polish than you'd think given his football background, but I would rather be too conservative with his initial assignment than too aggressive. If he tears the place up, you can move him to the Midwest League quickly.

Is there a player after the 10th round (no fair saying Burch Smith) that stands out to you as a potential steal?
John Sickels: Colin Rea. I like this guy. Lively fastball, good slider, curve and change need some work but both could be solid pitches, which would give him a four-pitch arsenal. I like his frame, and he has very clean, simple mechanics. His biggest problem is control. He walked too many guys at Indiana State, but his pitches have a lot of movement. With pro instruction I think he could really thrive. Nice pick in the 12th round.

Having filled the system with organizational types after the 30th round in their first draft class last year, McLeod and Madison took a bunch of fliers on high school kids on day three this year. Is there anyone in that group – perhaps Connaughton or the local kid Murphy – who might wind up in the organization?
John Sickels: I have no idea. I would tend to doubt it, unless they have problems signing one of the picks at the top of the draft. If they can't sign Hedges, for example, then you could take the money allocated for that purpose and see if you can pick up Murphy or Connaughton or perhaps Dante Flores, while pocketing the compensation pick for next year. A lot of times teams will pick those types late in the draft so they have a backup option in case one of the early choices balks. Ultimately my guess is that all of the early picks will sign, with Hedges the biggest risk not to, and that the late-round fliers will go to school.

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