Padres Draft Q&A with Kevin Goldstein

We caught up with Baseball Prospectus's prospect guru Kevin Goldstein to get his thoughts on the Padres draft class post-deadline and to discuss the current state of affairs in the MLB draft process.

MadFriars: Now that the signings have shaken out, what were your take-aways from the Padres' 2011 draft?
Kevin Goldstein: I thought it was a great draft. It was a miniature version of a classic Red Sox draft, which shouldn't surprise you considering who's running things in San Diego right now. It's a situation where the Red Sox have continually taken the guy they want and worried about the money later, and take the guy who's the best guy on the board period. And that's what they did. And to get the talent they got, not just at 25, but at 82 and to get these guys done, I thought they had just a fantastic draft. And they spent some money late too. You think about a half a million for Matt Whisler, and a lot of money for Casey McElroy and Burch Smith and on and on, it was a very aggressive draft for San Diego. And they have to draft aggressively because they're one of those teams that has to create their own superstars.

MadFriars: Were you at all surprised that Hedges broke the previous record for a signing bonus for someone outside the first round?
Kevin Goldstein: No. Before the draft, his number was going to be a big, big number. I don't know if anyone knew exactly what it was, but if someone would have told you it was $3M, you would gone "okay, that's about right." I think most people thought it was going to be tough to sign both the catchers – to sign Austin and Mr. Austin – but in the end they got the one guy done, and they got the better guy done quite frankly. So I don't think it's a surprise that he got $3M.

MadFriars: How much of an impact does this draft class have on the system today?
Kevin Goldstein: If I did a Padres top 11 tomorrow, I'm sure the list would be littered with guys who just signed. You'd see a lot of players either on the list or being considered for the list. Unfortunately, that says something about the current state of the Padres system, which is that it's not the best. But there's a lot of upside talent to like here. I think a lot of Padres fans might be used to these drafts where you take the college guy and he's polished and he throws 90 miles an hour, but he throws strikes and he's gonna go pretty quickly. And they took a couple of them this year, they just didn't take them in the first round. You know, they took Mark Pope in the fifth round. So it's kind of a new direction for them in a lot of ways.

MadFriars: Were there any of the high-school kids later at the draft that you thought they should have made a run at, or did you look at a guy like Notre Dame basketball recruit Patrick Connaughton as a lost cause when they took him?
Kevin Goldstein: I don't think anything's a lost cause. I think the whole industry thought Josh Bell was a lost cause, and the Pirates took him. What you're doing, especially with those late round picks that it's such a low-risk thing, if it's worth it, when you select a player, you're basically winning exclusive negotiating rights with him. That's a really big thing to win. Until we know – and we'll probably never know – what these kids' price tags were. It's not like the Padres didn't like them, that the Padres didn't want to sign them. But at some point, you have to make a decision, is the player worth that much money. And if he's asking more than he's worth, you have to be willing to walk away. And once you spend $5.75 million on two players, you might not have as much money as you want.

MadFriars: What do you think of the Spangenberg
Kevin Goldstein: I do like Cory Spangenberg. Was he the 10th-best player in the draft? No, absolutely not. But they paid Joe Ross an awful lot more money than they paid Spangenberg. He shows you another way you can make money in the draft that's in reverse. You can make money in the draft by waiting, and we just saw that. You can also make money by not waiting, and that's what Spangenberg proved. He made a truckload of money by telling everyone in the world by telling everyone in the world if you take me, I'll sign for the slot. And that's an interesting gambit. Spangenberg went higher than his talent dictated. He's a first-round talent, don't get me wrong. I'm actually a big fan of the kid. But one of the reasons he went there, by telling everyone he'd sign quickly for the number, he made himself a few extra hundred thousand dollars. So bully to him. I do like him. I like his athleticism, I love his bat speed. Obviously he got [to the Midwest League] and scuffled. I think he basically saw what a breaking ball looks like. But he's made some adjustments and been hitting much better of late. So I'm a big fan of this guy. I think he's got a whole lot of athleticism, and that's what I look for in prospects.

MadFriars: You mentioned the money they spent to get McElroy to leave Auburn after a very solid junior season. He's obviously not a guy, who at 5'8", is an A+ on the typical scouting checklist, but he has hit. What should we read into his signing?
Kevin Goldstein: Well, it tells you they believe in the bat. It's not like we haven't seen 5'8" guys do well in the big leagues. I was as guilty as anyone of saying that Dustin Pedroia isn't really that good, that he'd just be a solid player, and obviously he's much more than that. I mean, we've got a 5'4" guy in the Majors in Jose Altuve. If you can hit, you can hit. The Red Sox gave seven-figures to Sean Coyle in the last draft, and he's 5'8". I think people are more willing to look past some physical deficiencies if you can really hit.

MadFriars: Is Bud Selig the last person left who thinks this ridiculous process works to deflate signing bonuses?
Kevin Goldstein: He hates the process. He absolutely despises it. Major League Baseball hates the way the draft has worked. They've tried tons of things to make it better, and everything they've done has made it worse.

MadFriars: But they're the ones who have the ability to start releasing deals, to let their teams sign make offers and then sign off on them, rather than all this activity at the deadline.
Kevin Goldstein: Yes they do. But they believe - and they believe wrongly – that if you don't let [the numbers] come out, that doesn't screw up the draft. They think once it gets out that this guy made this much money, everybody's going to want that much money and they'll make bonuses spiral out of control. Kids get paid no matter what, because they whole industry talks to each other every day. It's a silly, silly thing and they shouldn't do it. But it's one of the things that they do because they don't like how the system works. It's a dumb thing that they do, but it's one of the things that they do because they don't like the way the system works.

MadFriars: Are they the only ones left that haven't figured out that it's not working
Kevin Goldstein: What's not working?

MadFriars: It's not suppressing bonuses, it's hindering player development by pushing everyone back so much, it's not doing what they say they want to accomplish.
Kevin Goldstein: I agree with you on that, but the draft works in its own little way. How do you want to make it better?

MadFriars: If you're going to have a hard signing date, you've got to move it up.
Kevin Goldstein: I agree. Moving to July 15 makes all the sense in the world.

MadFriars: I know that trusting current owners to make sane decisions may be tough, but don't you have to trust your owners to make reasonable decisions for their club in the draft, and if they can't, it's an operating disadvantage for them. Can't they let their own teams decide the market here?
Kevin Goldstein: Absolutely. People got all upset when we say 100 picks flying off the board in the last 10 minutes, and people say "what can we do to fix it?" And there is no fix that's not completely one-sided to the advantage of the teams and MLB. This is just how the draft works and we just have to kind of deal with it.

MadFriars: What changes do you want to see them change or think will change?
Kevin Goldstein: I've had some discussion with teams about the CBA, and it really sounds like we're not going to see a whole lot of changes to the draft. The compensation picks might happen, but you're not going to see any drastic changes to the draft. You're not going to see a slotting system. You could see the deadline move up. I don't think you're going to get any massive solution that's going to change the dynamic. The insanity that you saw [at the deadline], I don't know how that's avoidable. It's crazy and in a lot of ways, it's stupid. But it's also how things work. There's no way to – and I don't even like the word "fix" – there's no way to change it. This is just the nature of the beast at this point. You don't have to like it, but you kind of have to accept it.

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