In the week after the 2016 MLB Draft, we talked with Jim Callis, Jeff Ellis, and JJ Cooper for their views on the Padres' draft this year. Each of them said they were a bit confused about the Padres' approach at the end of day one, by the time everything came together, they were impressed. In today's first of a two-part conversation with Scouting Director Mark Conner, we get a bit more insight into the thinking that led to taking three pitchers who didn't throw competitively in the months leading up to the draft, but who each once were considered top-of-their-class picks.
Conner, already ramping up for the 2017 draft that will be his third at the helm for San Diego, took time to talk with us from Cary, North Carolina, where he was watching underclass highschoolers at the Tournament of Stars showcase.
MadFriars: I think a lot of people see the pitchers at the top of your class as having risk, both because of the injuries themselves and because of missing so much opportunity to see them against competition. How did you balance those risks with the upside?
Mark Conner: The decisions we made were as a group. We’ve seen them in competition - none of the guys that we took were solely blind - but we didn’t see them in competition this year. That’s why we scout well in advance to build history with these guys. Cal’s been on the scene for an extremely long time, and he’s pitched against pro hitters as a member of the Canadian national team.
You go back to looking at him and the viewings that our group had, there was a lot of interest in him in high school. While I never saw him in a competitive game, but we did our work throughout the spring and got to know Cal and it was one of those things where our group felt really comfortable with the player and the ability he has and the make-up and the progress he made from the surgery. We put a lot of work into him. Everyone was familiar with the risk with it and I think we did our due diligence and assessed the player the best we can given the circumstances and understanding all components of the surgery. I don’t view it as a risk, it’s just us doing our work and being comfortable with where we picked him.
Were there any concerns that, even though Cal had a huge number of resources between his father and Stanford, he did his rehab without the sort of highly controlled environment the organization is able to create and manage it?
Mark Conner: Any time they’re outside of your care, you don’t know 100 percent. But I can tell you, the thoroughness of the rehab notes and Cal’s knowledge of the rehab himself, that was the most thorough notes and dialogue I’ve ever had with a player about, knowing exactly where he was to the day. Everything was extremely thorough and honestly, when you read it, there was a lot of comfort.
Then, with the high schoolers, Lawson’s case is a bit different because you lost the opportunity to observe but without the same long-term concern about structural issues, but you really don’t have any control with Thompson?
Mark Conner: It’s a case of two different injuries, that allowed us to get first round talent later in the draft. When you talk about Reggie Lawson, it’s an intercostal strain that hindered his ability to pitch in the spring. There was nothing structural, nothing to be concerned about. Anybody who saw him last summer was excited to see him pitch in the spring, that’s why we spend a lot of time scouting these guys in advance, because if an injury happens and you don’t know when your last viewing is. So we scout them constantly. And for us, we believe in what we saw in the summer out of Reggie. We got to spend time with him this summer and talk to him this spring, and there’s a comfort with the player and we’re glad to have him.
Mason on the other hand, you know, I’m at the Tournament of Stars now, and Mason Thompson as an underclassman at this event was one of the most exciting arms. Unfortunately, he had Tommy John, and again, he’s someone we did our homework on and went through understanding what his rehab process was and his knowledge of his body and the comfort level of the surgeon, and all the different factors with that. Ultimately, when we got to be around him this spring, we were excited. We’re excited to have both of them who are quality young men and who are quality talent. And Erik Lauer is another arm who is a quality individual and they’re all extremely talented.
If that’s your four arms for the future, we’re extremely excited. And there are others who we added that are going to push them for sure.
Hudson Potts had a lot of run, especially because of his age, but was seen as a later pick by most. So as you manage the draft and you think you have Jason Groome falling to you at number 24, and all of the sudden, he goes off the board ahead of you, now you restack. How do you balance the opportunity to save money, does your board have two separate running columns to manage talent and money?
Mark Conner: First of all, I never expected Groome to get to us there. I think people talked about it like we were trying to get him there, but I never, in a million years thought he was getting there, so that was never a scenario I was running through. The one thing for me, my true feeling when we are looking at the next pick at hand, it’s that we take this player who’s going to sign for x amount of dollars, that sends us on to the next plan. We took Cal and what we’re going to sign him for, then we’ll go here. And then if we want to take Hudson then we’ll go to this path, and we’ve got money since he’s going to sign under slot, then that branches off in another direction. It’s a constant, at each pick, to choose a path. As long as we’re comfortable with the player and the value, it just puts us on a different path. There’s no separate board. We are putting the players and their abilities up there, and we’ll factor in signability when the pick is coming up.
Dan Dallas is a guy who popped up so late last year. How many sets of eyes do you get on a guy like him, who wasn’t in a lot of tournaments, doesn’t have a long season, and wasn’t on the circuit? How many times does your area guy see him, and then up the chain from there?
Mark Conner: Dan was a situation where our area scout, Don Stewart, sees him, puts him in and identifies him. The time of year that he actually popped and he got to see him was late, but the process wasn’t done when his season was over because he ended up coming and throwing for us at one of our pre-draft workouts. And there, we had everyone in the organization there, from area scouts to regional and national cross-checkers, myself, special assistant, senior advisor, general manager, pitching coordinators, the farm director – everybody saw him. So needless to say, we had a lot of eyes on him.
How many of those pre-draft workouts did you have and ballpark how many kids did you bring through those?
Mark Conner: We did some smaller ones. This year was different in that we had four bigger ones and then five or six days at Petco where we had very small ones. Probably we had 75 to 100 kids over those days.
Did Lawson or Thompson get to work in either of those or in a one-on-one session with you guys?
Mark Conner: They did not get to attend the workouts.
In the second part of our conversation, we talked with Mark about position players and more about how the team balances ability and signability.