But that is just a small piece of the puzzle. Chief Gayton is scouring the country for last looks at prospects, high school and college, in an effort to prepare the final draft board for the June draft.
Despite a grueling schedule, we caught up with Gayton – who was, conveniently, at a high school game – and discussed many topics.
I know you still have roughly a month left, but are there any draft-and-follow candidates besides Matt Latos that you're maybe taking a closer look at signing this year?
Chief Gayton: Right now, there are four kids that we have an interest in signing and there are a couple of others that we like but it probably would be difficult to sign them because of their commitments to four-year institutions and the value we have placed on them from an evaluation standpoint.
Since this is the last year for draft-and-follows, is there any sort of pressure to maybe sign another guy or two than you normally would to take advantage of the process?
Chief Gayton: No, not at all. It has always been a bonus. We have had some kids who have gone out and done well. It was always nice – and we had (Andy) Laroche one year – the guy who just got called up to the big leagues the year we signed (George) Kottaras and (Jared) Wells. We have had some success, but it is a matter of where kids commit and if we feel like we can make a serious run.
You don't want to upset the family by making an offer that is potentially viewed as unrealistic and what they might view as low. We try to be respectful.
There are the four kids and that could change. The kids we have under control might have a change of heart and decide they do want to pursue a professional career. Then we are open to listen to what they have to say as well.
Essentially, we work with our scouts and their recommendations. Sometimes, the scouts would like to sign a player but it might not be a good fit at this time.
Can you afford to take a risk pick like Latos was now that the draft-and-follow has been eliminated – knowing it might take above slot money to sign a kid and you only have two months to sign a kid?
Chief Gayton: This year is kind of unique because we have all the additional selections. At some point, we might reach a conclusion that a certain guy might be worth taking a chance on in the area of the draft we are comfortable with. Last year with Latos, Joe Bochy felt that Matt would likely end up going to a junior college and wouldn't end up at the University of Oklahoma so we felt comfortable making the selection and we were happy with what we had already done over the first 10 rounds. There really wasn't a risk. It was just a matter of tying a kid up that we thought was a potential big leaguer. And hopefully it plays out, we negotiate, and sign him.
This year it might be that somebody out there we are comfortable with is sitting in a particular area of the draft and we say, ‘Yes, there is a risk here, but we don't anticipate any problems with the kids we have already selected. We feel they are going to go out and we are going to be able to get them out playing in the organization and we can make a move.'
With so many picks in the first few rounds, do you look to get a nice balance in those picks of positional and pitching prospects?
Chief Gayton: We talk within the organization about what our needs might be and of course the talent always dictates what you do.
Right now, we are running out of time. There are a lot of high school kids this year and our schedules have us bouncing around.
When we sit down and see what we have we can make that decision. If we grab a high school kid it would be nice to back him up possibly with a college pick. If we take a college kid with the first pick it gives us some options. It just depends on who is sitting there.
This year has been touted as having a strong contingent of high school players – does that affect your strategy?
Chief Gayton: Yes. I am with Grady right now and we are out in the middle of nowhere. We are apart for a day and then we will be back together for a couple of more days this week. We will have a chance to talk a little bit more about that.
Strategy is the key. If there is a kid you really like and you want to get him, you make the selection. (Chase) Headley is a good example but there were very few left-handed pitchers. We wanted to be able to get a left-hander and (Cesar) Ramos was sitting there. We kind of crossed out fingers and hoped our gut was right and that we would have a legitimate chance to get somebody deeper and Headley happened to be that guy and we were excited to get him where we did.
It is interesting how it unfolds. You set the board up to try to address what you are trying to accomplish in a particular year. So there is risk with everything we do, from evaluation to signing them and hopefully keeping them healthy. That is the risk – you might lose a guy you really like. If you have to have him that is when players get over-drafted in the minds of those who cover the draft closely.
You mentioned something there that I wanted to touch on concerning over-drafting. Is there a position of need that perhaps you go into the draft thinking you can fill with a player or two and does that cause you to bump that player up on your board?
Chief Gayton: At times. It just depends. The depth at the position, the depth in your organization. If you don't do something at a certain position, what is the likelihood you can do it a little deeper in the draft. If there is no question on signability those guys are gone. If there are five catchers in the country that we feel are really good prospects you almost have to reach up to get one. That is the tough part. You have to go through the whole process to see how it unfolds.
I can say that last year I had a riot. Grady and I worked together for the first time in years as my boss. He was here in 2005, but in 2006 he is who I directly began reporting to and I really felt like we had good chemistry. From a strategic standpoint we were in agreement. We tried to mix in some lefties, some high school kids and some bats. It was nice and the kids have gone out and done well. Now you hope they continue to progress and don't get injured.
Keep an eye out for part II tomorrow where we find out the strength of this draft, how this year's class measures up to last year's, how strategy plays into picking 23rd, learning from past mistakes, and much more...