Kemp on the Padres’ International Signings

Chris Kemp is the Padres’ Director of International Scouting and the primary architect of what has easily been the largest amount of money that the franchise has previously spent internationally in a year since its inception in 1969.

According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, the Padres are expected to spend over $60 million dollars – a number which includes penalties for exceeding their $3.347 million International Bonus Pool allocation – during the international signing period.

Because the team is exceeding its bonus pool one of the penalties – in addition to the fines - is that they will not be allowed to sign any international amateurs for more than $300,000 for the next two signing periods or roughly next two years.  However until June 15, 2017, they can sign anyone internationally until the current signing period closes.

San Diego is also expected to exceed their allocated spending pool in the 2016 MLB draft by the allowable five percent of their initial bonus pool to bring that total to $13.512 million.  As Kirk Kenney of the Union-Tribune noted in his above-referenced article, San Diego’s combined total spending on player development should approach close to $75 million.

A common theme that emerged in both the domestic and international side of amateur player acquisitions is the overwhelming emphasis that A.J. Preller, the Padres’ Executive Vice-President/General Manager, has placed on scouting as opposed to the somewhat popular perception that because many of the members of the front office attended elite institutions for college they are running a modern day Moneyball regime.

On the domestic side five of San Diego’s first six selections (Cal Quantrill, Hudson Potts, Buddy Reed, Reggie Lawson and Mason Thompson), who accounted for nearly $9.6 million that was spent in the draft, were primarily chosen based on what San Diego scouts saw in workouts, tools and past performances as opposed to number crunching projections derived from recent games. The international signings are entirely scouting based and are even more difficult to get some or really any, reliable data as opposed to watching them play and making decisions.

No one better exemplifies the current regime than the thirty-three year old Kemp, who previously worked for the Rangers under Preller for five years as an area scout.  To say that Kemp is “all-in” is a bit of an understatement. After joining the organization in mid-October of 2014, he sold his house in North Carolina and moved full-time to the Dominican Republic.


The Padres signed Cuban left-handed pitcher Adrian Morejon for $11 million dollars, which is nearly twice the amount that they signed  outfielder Donovan Tate for in 2009 ($6.25 million and the fourth largest ever paid to an international amateur player. Until now was the largest bonus that San Diego had ever paid internationally was $2 million to Venezuelan right-handed pitcher Adys Portillo in 2008, who is now out of baseball. 

San Diego is also expected to sign 20-year old Cuban outfielder Jorge Ona once he is cleared by major league baseball.

To put this in some type of context, $75 million dollars is a significant sum of money anywhere but within the confines of major league baseball a relative bargain.  This offseason the San Francisco Giants spent $220 million dollars for Jeff Samardzija and Johnny Cueto, the Washington Nationals gave Stephen Strasburg a $175 million dollar extension and the Padres two offseasons ago gave James Shields, $75 million over four years, the same amount they are spending for both the amateur draft and the international signings.

As two of the owners of the Padres, the Seidler brothers recently commented on the Darren Smith Show on 1090 AM, the spending they are doing for player development is not a bad deal.

A few days ago MadFriars' Kevin Charity interviewed Baseball America’s Ben Badler on the Padres activity internationally.  Today we caught up with Chris by phone from San Diego to discuss the Padres historic international spending.

MadFriars: What is the process in how you find these players?

Chris Kemp: You hit the road and you have to know the fields to know where the guys are going to be.  This has really been about an eighteen month process that started in January of 2015.

We wanted to identify early the guys that we wanted and started to set our board last spring.  We wanted to add power arms, be athletic up the middle and get pure bats – and we were going to have to be there really early.

How do you know where to go?

Chris Kemp: You have to work with the area scouts who also work with what are known as buscones and try to visit as many programs as we can.  You watch them workout, try to see as many games as you can that these guys put on – get multiple looks over time.  I can’t emphasize enough that this is not a one-step process.  

It is a very time consuming process and you really have to just be all-in.  When I took this job I sold my home in North Carolina and moved down to the Dominican full-time.

Because you went so far over budget this year you will be limited in the foreign market for the next two years.  What was the organization’s thought process for going big this year?

Chris Kemp: There were certain clubs that were not going to be allowed to compete, so that lessened the competition but moreover we were down there so early and in on so many kids that we thought have a chance to become really good that we identified this as the year we wanted to go big.

In a way that is a type of strategy – which is why a number of teams were eliminated this year – is if you are going to go, go big and we wanted to take our shot.

You did this job on the U.S. side for the Rangers under A.J. Preller – how are you able to see what these international guys could do in games as opposed to just workouts?

Chris Kemp: It’s tough.  You call the trainers and try to get them into the complex to set up games for three or four days.  You want to see them in competition, but it is pure scouting.  You aren’t working with video, numbers or any other indicators of past performance.  You have to trust your eyes and your gut but it also has to be more than once.  

That is a big reason why you have to be down here full-time, you have to take every opportunity to know what you are looking at.

A lot has been written about Adrian Morejon.  When did you first see him and what is the most impressive aspect of his game?

Chris Kemp: The first time I saw him was in the fall of 2015.  I was impressed just watching him take his early warm-up tosses and had a feeling that this kid might be a little different; he had a type of Tom Glavine look to him.  He had pitched in the Cuban big leagues at 15, which is something no one else had ever done.   

After I watched him throw the first inning I was on the phone to A.J. [Preller].  I told him this was the real deal and I needed him to get everyone down here Logan [White], Don [Welke], Mark [Conner] because this is going to be the top guy internationally for next year. [Note: because he wasn’t technically a free agent he wasn’t ranked by Baseball America although Ben Badler said if he did rank him he would have been the number two overall prospect.]

I know some guys had [Kevin] Maitan of Venezuela as the top guy for a lot of people, but for me it was Morejon.  If you are going to blow it out you need to get the top guy and he was it.  Before we could do that we had to get everyone around the table and agree on what we needed to find out if we were going to invest in getting him.

Which means we had to dig, get more looks, get to know him and his family and find out as much as we possibly could.  In the end we were pretty happy.

The typical route for a Latin player his age is first to the DSL and then to the AZL – a two year period.  I’ve read some accounts where you expect Morejon to start at Low-A Fort Wayne next year?

Chris Kemp: I think he is very advanced for a 17-year old but also don’t want to put any expectations on him. We are going get him over to the [Dominican] Academy for the next few months and then shift him over to the Instructional Leagues in the winter.  

The plan is for him compete for a spot on an A-ball level team in the spring, which will probably be in Fort Wayne. He has a lot of talent and poise for someone his age.

It’s natural that so many of the players you signed are listed as shortstops because most talented players that age are playing up the middle.  Which one do you think has the best chance of sticking there?

Chris Kemp: Honestly all of them have a chance to develop into major league shortstops or we wouldn’t have signed them.  They are all going to get a chance to play there and we are going to set up a competition where the best one will emerge.

Now we can space them out at different levels and it’s natural that some may end up at third base or second.  All of these guys knew that we were signing a lot of guys that can play shortstop and what is interesting is not only do many of them know each other, but they are all friends.

They work out together; they push each other and are not afraid to compete.

In general since all of these guys are so young – and the organization have so much invested in them – what is the development plan; particularly off of the field?

Chris Kemp: We do a good job at our complex in continuing their educations once they are signed.  They have English and Math classes, they learn about what life will be like in the United States and how to interact with the media and use social media.

For the physical side we have work on speed, agility, weight training and baseball.  They see a lot of live pitching.

What player were you surprised the most at who signed and why?

Chris Kemp: I didn’t really have any surprises.  As I said earlier, this was a legitimate 18-month process where we not only saw them play but spent a lot of time getting to know them and their families personally.  I felt comfortable that on July 2 the guys we wanted to sign, we would sign and we did. 

There are so many teams that are competing in these markets for players.  How do the Padres differentiate themselves from the competition or is it all about money?

Chris Kemp: I don’t think it’s all about money.  It goes back to relationships with the players and earning their trust.  I moved down to the Dominican, I’m here 24/7 and if they want to talk to me they all know where to find me. I’m in the weight room working out with these guys, throwing BP, in the classroom – so they know me.

These kids know about the Padres’ history, that San Diego has never won a World Series and they want to be part of history; they want to be a part of something special. For us to get there we have to build a strong minor league system that can develop the big club into a perennial winner.  This is one of the first steps we have to take and I think we have a chance to be part of something that has never been done before.  

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