On June 12, the Padres will have their highest draft position since 2009, when they selected Georgia prep outfielder Donavan Tate with the third overall pick… wait, maybe that’s not the best memory.
Lets throw out that pick and go back a little further in history. The Padres will have their highest selection since 2004, when they drafted Mission Bay High School shortstop Matt Bush with the number one overall pick.
All right, so the organization hasn’t done so well at the top.
Then again, that was also a long time ago. There have been four different General Managers since Bush was selected, and three since Tate. Starting with Jed Hoyer and Jason MacLeod, who replaced the more Moneyball-oriented Sandy Alderson/Grady Fuson combination, the Padres have dramatically increased both their scouting and analytics departments.
“I’m not saying we are not going to miss on players,” said one Padres official, “but if we miss it's going to be because of baseball reasons, not because we didn’t have enough information on the type of player we were drafting.”
- Brendan McKay, a left-handed pitcher and first baseman from the University of Louisville; who could be selected either position. However, most draft pundits were initially leaning towards him as a pitcher, more and more are seeing him as a position player.
- Kyle Wright, a right-handed pitcher from Vanderbilt and considered the best college pitcher in the country. At 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, he has the size and stuff that you want to see from a top-of-the rotation starter.
- Hunter Greene, a prep right-handed pitcher and shortstop from the Los Angeles area. Arguably, he has more attention on him than any other prospect in the past few years. Both Callis and Manuel believe he will be a pitcher as a professional, but both also think he has first round talent at shortstop. However, throwing a 102-mph fastball tends to make people want to put you on the mound.
- MacKeinzie Gore, a left-handed prep pitcher from North Carolina. There are more than a few scouts that consider Gore the best high school pitcher in the draft and with nearly as much ceiling as Greene. He doesn’t have Greene’s fastball, but has better secondary stuff and is very athletic.
- Royce Lewis, a prep shortstop/centerfielder from Southern California. Most scouts see his future in center field, not shortstop, but he has the best combination of “hittability” and athleticism of any position player in the draft.
“If it were me, I would take MacKenzie Gore,” said Callis. “When I err, I tend to err on the side of ceiling because my job isn’t on the line. Also, I don’t have to worry about writing a check for millions of dollars either.
“I really like him. He’s a lefty that can throw between 92 and 96, has a plus slider, curve and change-up. He doesn’t show it to you every time, but they are there. He’s a very good athlete and even though he has that high leg kick, he is athletic enough to consistently repeat it.”
The consensus pick among Padres’ fans however appears to be Hunter Greene, largely based upon a glowing profile by Sports Illustrated’s Lee Jenkins, a San Diego native and frequent guest on the popular San Diego-based sports-talk radio show, the Darren Smith Show.
Greene was only the thirteenth prep athlete to make the cover of Sports Illustrated in its long history and while it’s difficult to not find a scout that is not impressed with Greene, there is also an element of hype as well.
“There are some scouts that like Gore more as a pitcher and even a few who believe that Lewis is the top overall high school prospect on the board right now,” said Manuel, the editor of Baseball America who has overseen more than twenty drafts for his publication. “So, I know on some boards that Greene is at number three.
“Gore has a better breaking ball than Greene and is more of a fast-twitch athlete. Greene has a great arm, but the track record on high school guys that throw 100 mph isn’t great. Last year Riley Pint threw 100 too, and had a better breaking ball – but Greene is more polished. I have him as a legitimate top ten pick as a shortstop as well.”
Manuel also now believes that Gore will fall to the Padres mainly because the Cincinnati Reds appear to have overcome their apprehension about Greene’s long-toss throwing program. Both Callis and Manuel expect the Minnesota Twins, who have the first pick, to take Wright.
But both also add the caveat that those picks are not set in stone.
“I think you can make an argument for any of the top five guys to go number one overall, but Gore would be mine,” said Callis. “On the Padres’ side, I think that A.J. [Preller, the Padres’ General Manager], Logan [White, a Special Adviser to the General Manager and Director of Pro Scouting] and Mark [Conner, the Director of Amateur Scouting] have all shown in the past that they like ceiling and are not afraid to take a high school kid that high. They tend to do things the right way, they let the draft come to them and bet on talent.”
ESPN’s Keith Law has written and said on various news outlets that if the Padres had the first pick it would be Greene; and while Callis and Manuel both generally agree with this scenario they also note that there is far from a clear separator between Greene and the rest of the field as there were in the drafts of Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper a few years back.
“There is a lot of hype on Hunter Greene, but Hunter has also earned the hype and not shied away from it," said Manuel. “He has a chance to become a once in a generation player, but he is not a once in a generation prospect.”
“We need guys like Hunter Greene in our game that not only can become a star, but want to become a star with everything that comes with it.”