Chad McDonald: Our strategy was to line them up based on talent. We liked a lot of hitters in the class. There could have been just as easily three pitchers who fell to those picks and we would have taken three pitchers. But we did identify some bats that we'd like to get, and we're happy with all three on the first day. All of them are very athletic and have a chance to impact both sides of the ball. They're middle of the field, even Renfroe.
We think at least he can go out and start in center. We wouldn't put it past him to play center field. His permanent home is more than likely in right, but he's a plus athlete with a great combination of strength and explosiveness, plus arm, plus-plus raw power. He's got a chance to be at least an average defender in center if not a plus defender in right and we're real happy to get him.
If you look at Hunter Renfroe in center, then you went with up-the-middle strength from literally the first to last picks. How much did you prep trying to look at strengthening the system at those positions?
Chad McDonald: There's a reason the good players play up the middle. That doesn't mean everyone you draft stays up the middle, but it's a good place to start. So, when you're out drafting players, you identify the tools you believe each player has and more importantly, how those tools translate into a skillset to translate into a Major League regular. We focus a lot on finding some athletes who not only have tools, but have the ability to become a good baseball player. So bat speed and great raw power without the ability to make contact really means nothing. The three guys on the first day all have the ingredients to be very dynamic, good hitters, so that's why we took them.
On day two, you went after a guy in Mason Smith who, by virtue of being in Idaho, might not be as recognizable as some other high school kids. What did you see for him to go off the board that early?
Chad McDonald: We think he's got a good shot to stay up the middle. He's got a lean, athletic body, he's a good runner – not an off-the-chart run speed, but it's good enough and he's got a nose for the ball in center. He's another guy that we really feel like has, not only the tools, but a pretty good skillset. We think there's some upside. We were really surprised he made it down to the fourth round, but he wasn't going to make it to the fifth round, that‘s for sure.
Smith is just one of many guys you took – both from high school and college - who were young for their class. Is that an intentional approach you're taking?
Chad McDonald: There are no coincidences when it comes to our scouting processes. We like them young, if they're athletic and have the chance to be good. I think all things being equal, we would always lean toward the high school guy with more upside. But that said, we went with Renfroe because he had a good combination of tools, athletic ability and he performed as good as anyone in college baseball in the toughest conference. With Smith and Van Meter and Bauers – who might be one of the youngest hitters in the draft class – youth is on their side to give them some time to have some bumps in the road and still be on track where they should be. We like young players with upside.
How may looks did you get for the guys at the top of the draft class in the last year?
Chad McDonald: A lot. The scouting season is now year-round. Even with the high school guys, we see them year-round. We see them the summer before their senior year, into the fall showcases in Peoria and Jupiter, Florida. As far as our guys, we've got a very deep staff with a lot of people we trust. So even though we've got some guys who have territories, we're not territorial. Anybody on our staff, if there's a chance to see a guy we have intereste in and there's somebody close by, we do that.
Sometimes we're more intentional in taking our cross-checkers to see someone our area guys like. It all starts with our area scouts. If they like a guy, we're going to get him cross-checked and compared to the other players in the country, not just in that particular area.
You went heavy from the JuCo ranks this year. Again, is that a particular strategy, or just the way things shook out?
Chad McDonald: We like junior college guys. Again, most of them are 18 or 19, 20 at the oldest, so they still have some projection left. We really scout the whole country, high school, junior college and four-year schools. We don't intentionally do anything except scout the whole country, and then we draft talent.
There's the trio of high-upside high school kids, Jones, Okey and Williams, who you took late on day three who are obviously all going to be tough signs. How much have you talked with them about a number for signing?
Chad McDonald: We've had a lot of conversations. I think things change. While they all have strong commitments to college, if something changes we want to be in position to have the ability to negotiate with them if they want to play professional baseball. So all of them might be longshots, but there's certainly a risk worth taking. To me there was no downside in taking them there. We didn't lose out on any players – we still got the players we wanted after that. So we'll let it play out and see what happens.
In the second year under the new rules, were there things you learned last year that you tried to implement this year?
Chad McDonald: We learned that the onus is on our area scouts to get to know the player. Not only what they are on the field, but their desires are off the field in terms of signability. And so our area scouts did a tremendous job last year, and just carried over this year. I think they know those players inside and out. We feel like we're given a pool of money to use to the best of our ability to acquire as many players as we can who we feel like have the ability to impact our organization at the big league level.
Given how full extended spring training has been this year and all the guys you've got waiting on the desert, did you go in expecting to maybe come out with a smaller signing class this year and take some of those younger guys later in the draft?
Chad McDonald: I think we'll have a pretty good signing class. Every player we took, we took with the intention of possibly signing him. There's no courtesy picks in there. We take guys with some kind of intention to sign them or start to develop a relationship with them. We'll sign all the guys that we can.
Was there anything in particular you looked at in this year's draft?
Chad McDonald: We thought that this year's draft class was a little deeper in high school bats. We took five of our first 11 picks were high school bats. That doesn't mean the rest of the industry feels that way, but we march to our own drummer and he leads us to the players.
Can you walk us through the mechanics of a late-round pick. Do you have a database you work from to be able to access information on guys who are more than 1,000 picks in quickly to do some comparisons in time to make a pick?
Chad McDonald: Our scouting [information] system is terrific. Josh Stein and his staff have built a system and some software that they created that has a lot of information about our players. You can incorporate our evaluations, stats, grades, video, comparable players, press list – it's absolutely the best in baseball.
After each day, there's less things on your board and you try to condense. Today there were some young arms we wanted to get up top. We got a few and a couple were taken. And then you a little deeper in the rounds and you go back to, who has a major league tool left that we think can get him to the major leagues. We're not real big on just taking senior signs who we think are one-year-and-done. We're always trying to look for a guy that has a carrying tool that can get him up the system and somehow find his value. The reality is that some of them only have value at the minor league level, but we're always trying to find the one who maybe presents something unique to the draft board.