Jeff Ellis on the Padres' 2015 draft

Jeff Ellis is the new guru taking over for Kiley McDaniel. He had previously spent the last few years as the head of the Cleveland Indians site, as well as working closely with Chris Crawford of Baseball Prospectus and has written guest articles for them as well as for ESPN.

Jeff was nice enough to give us some time to talk about this years draft.

As someone who is relatively new to the scouting/drafting/prospect list world how do you go about making your top 100 draft list?

Jeff Ellis I am definitely a sabermetric guy. Especially when it comes to the draft, just because it is so difficult to see everyone around the country, you have to rely on the more advanced stats plus scouting reports from people I trust.

A lot of the more advanced stats to look at, specifically for college kids, are BABIP (batting average balls in play), contact rate, walk rate, and a few others. I am working on a piece right now for Scout, to identify in depth the top few indicators for college players and resulting success post-draft.

For high school players a lot of it is pure scouting. I try to look at stats, and compare them to stats from similar players in the area, and the number of D1/draft eligible players that came from that area, to get a broader sense of the type of competition they faced. But a lot of the high school kids it is more pure scouting, the eye ball test.

How big of a difference is it evaluating sabermetric stats from a college player in a power conference verse a division two school?

Jeff Ellis It is a pretty big difference. An example this year would be Andrew Benintendi from Arkansas and Donnie Dewees from North Florida. Both put up great numbers, but Dewees was facing maybe a few pitchers who would get drafted (in the later rounds), while Benintendi was facing pitchers every week who were going to go in the first few rounds (whether this year or next). That is why Benintendi went seventh overall and Dewees went 47th.

It is also why for players from smaller schools (even D1 schools), the summer leagues like the Cape Cod League become almost more important than the actual year of college. Dewees did great in the Cape last summer and I had him top 25, so I think the Cubs got a steal getting him at 47. Point being that because these players are not used to facing tough competition there is a much greater chance for failure (specifically with hitters). That doesn’t mean that they will fail, but a lot of teams are much more hesitant to spend a high draft pick (first five rounds or so), on a player from a small school because there is a good chance the player doesn’t even make it out of A-Ball.

From an overall talent level, how does this drat compare to drafts in years past?

Jeff Ellis In terms of overall talent, drafts tend to be very similar. However, the top of this years' draft class was extremely light. Probably any of the top seven guys from last year, all graded better than the top few picks from this year. That doesn’t mean there wasn’t talent in the draft, but rather there wasn’t as many elite prospects this year. This was a relatively deep class when it came to right handed pitchers, which meant you saw a run on other players because it wasn’t a deep class for position players, but you also saw a team like the Padres get really good players later in the draft because of how deep the class was.

Next year’s draft actually is looking like the best draft class since 2011, where you could easily see someone who would have gone top three this year fall to 10th or so.

Speaking of which, do you think not playing baseball against tough competition hurt the draft stock of Jacob Nix?

Jeff Ellis Nix had a bit of a late fade both this year and last year. Last year he was thought of as a first round talent out of high school, and then when he didn’t put up the same numbers, still good just not as good, his stock dropped a bit, which is why the Astros got him so late in the draft. I really like Nix, and it does hurt him playing Juco verse a big school. But all of baseball knows it wasn’t Nix’s fault he didn’t sign, and he continued to show the same speed and movement that got him thought of as a first round pick last year.

The Padres seemed inclined to draft every pitcher 6’4” and above, many of whom are out of smaller schools, or high school. Is there a statistical advantage to being a taller pitcher?

Jeff Ellis There is a little bit more deception with a higher release point. So especially if you have extra velocity, it can look even faster because of the height. Which is how you can see a tall pitcher like Chris Young throw a 90 mph fastball and have hitters continuously miss the pitch. A lot of people think, and there has not been a study to prove this yet, that taller pitchers have more natural velocity and thus are less likely to be injured.

The Padres draft is really interesting as they seemed to take really tall pitchers and really short up the middle players. The Padres were one of the few teams that just by looking at their draft you can tell exactly what their gameplan was.

What can you tell us about Austin Smith?

Jeff Ellis This was a really deep right-handed draft class. Austin Smith is a name we have been hearing since this time last year as a possible top 15 pick. He is a big kid with really easy velocity. He probably had the easiest velocity of the draft class, and with his body still probably can add another mile or two on his fastball. His secondary stuff is ok, but like most high school players needs some work. He is a big athletic kid with really good velocity. Most scouts had him as a first round pick, so the fact that the Padres got him at 51 was a pretty big win for them.

Speaking of Austin’s, do you think Austin Allen can stay at catcher, and is he just a pure power hitter?

Jeff Ellis Allen came out of a small school, so as said earlier you have to take his numbers and know they were put up against weaker pitching. He graded really high as someone that has a lot of power, and most think that he has a chance to hit for some average (again small school bigger risk). Most scouts think he will move off catcher, but I am glad the Padres announced him as a catcher. It gives him the most value, and he has a strong enough arm to stay behind the plate.

Is there any player in the later rounds that you like from the Padres’ draft?

Jeff Ellis Trevor Megill is a really interesting pick. He was a high pick with the Cardinals last year and didn’t sign as he wanted to show he was healthy coming back from Tommy John. He showed glimpses that he was going to be healthy, but never was able to show that he was fully healthy which is why he slipped.

Tyler Moore (29th round) is another interesting pick. A lot of scouts that I had talked to really liked his bat, and most people had him going somewhere between the early middle rounds (eight to twelve). He has a nice bat and is an all-out hustle type player.

The Padres were also one of the few teams that didn’t draft any players that stand out as being unsignable. They took a few tough(er) players to sign in the later rounds, but there is no player that on paper has a strong enough commitment to college (and talent level) that they would be unsignable.

Last question, given the Padres didn’t pick until 51, how do you think they did?

Jeff Ellis Overall the Padres did a really solid job. Normally when I do my write-ups I look at what players I really liked, and what players I would change. With the Padres there really wasn’t a player I would change. Austin Smith wasn’t my favorite player available at 51, but I can understand why they went with him. Smith is totally an AJ Preller type of player. If you look back at the Ranger’s drafts over the past few years Smith is exactly the player they would have taken.

When you lose a first round pick it hurts, trading another high pick also hurts, but their top three picks and Megill were really good, and some of their picks five through ten were either signability picks or boom or bust picks, as most people didn’t know much about some of the players they took. Meaning it could be AJ Preller, super GM, or just a bust pick, though after round five or so it is really hard to find solid MLB players. So if Preller thinks he is on to something, maybe he is right.

Overall though Preller did a good job with the picks he had.

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