Post-Draft Interview with Jason McLeod

Jason McLeod is the San Diego Padres' assistant general manager, overseeing player development and scouting. His main duties really revolve around the draft.

McLeod is a graduate of Rancho Buena Vista High School and Palomar College. He pitched a season in the Houston Astros organization before going into the front office, first with the Padres, and then with the Red Sox for seven seasons before re-joining San Diego in early January.

The outside perception is that the San Diego front office is a team of sabermetric moneyball types, but in reality, you guys took a pretty eclectic approach between high ceiling high school and college players. What was the main thing you were looking for in your selections?

Jason McLeod: The main thing we are looking for is impact players that can benefit the organization in a positive way for long term success. If you look at the Boston drafts that we did between 2005 and 2009, we tried to have, to use a financial term, a diversified portfolio, where we took a lot of high impact high school player and college guys that can perform to maximize returns.

Can you give us some idea - and I know this is tough to summarize - of what goes into the draft. It must be an incredible amount of preparation?

Jason McLeod: Everybody works hard, and I can't sit here and tell you that we work harder than other organizations, but we attempt to turn on its head the old scouting adage that "we are not information gathers, but evaluators." We are information gatherers. We try to find out as much information as we possibly can on scout's evaluations, performance and background. We really want to get the right player, so you want as much relevant information as possible. It's like if you invest your own money, you want to make sure that you know all the possible risks and rewards.

We put a lot of emphasis on our scouts and we certainly believe in the process that we have put in place. Finally, you can't overlook the human element. I've personally met with many of these kids and tried to get a good feel if we are going to invest a lot of money then we need to be as sure as we can.

It seems like the last part is the most important.

Jason McLeod: The draft is tough. You are going to miss. That is just part of the deal, especially when you get out of the first round. You can learn to live with certain picks if things are done correctly, particularly if you are right on the kid; what type of person is he and does he really have the desire. The ones that will keep you up at nights is when you miss on the person, and to this day, some of the picks that I made with the Red Sox still grate on me. To me, it's really important that I personally meet with the kid, sit in their living rooms and try to get a feel for what we may do.

One of the reasons the draft is fascinating is how difficult it is. How do you create a hierarchical ranking system of position players and pitchers that are so different in their development and competition that they face; specifically between high school and college?

Jason McLeod: When you look at our first pick, Karsten Whitson, you know what the risks are with a right-handed high school pitcher; so he has quite a number of innings to pitch before you are even going to think about getting him to the majors, and the history of teams selecting right-handed high school pitchers has not been good.

First, you want to know what is the skill level at present compared to the upside? The upside better be pretty big for us to consider taking that type of risk. When you are looking at a high school pitcher, you are of course looking at size, arm action, mechanics and velocity. Does he throw strikes with multiple pitches? You then start checking off the lists, putting the information in from background, performance and if you put all of those together – and they turn out pretty high, which they did – then you start to feel pretty good about making the pick.

We know the organization is high on Donavan Tate, who has suffered a few injuries since the Padres signed him, but at the same time most thought he was quite raw as a baseball player. Do you expect Whitson to advance a little quicker?

Jason McLeod: In general, advanced high school pitchers can move at a quicker pace because their stuff will play at higher levels easier. Knock on wood, if he can stay healthy, he could move fairly quickly, and we will have a development plan in place for him with the goal of getting him to throw 200 innings by the time he gets to San Diego.

Donavan is an incredibly gifted athlete, a little raw but has tremendous bat speed. It's unfortunate that the injuries have not allowed him to show what he can do between the lines.

Everyone likes Jedd Gyorko's bat but are unsure where he will play in the field. Where do you see him ending up?

Jason McLeod: We really liked the bat that is what attracted us to him. Although it was not the strongest year for college position players, we had him pretty high up on our draft board. He should have made Team USA last year, and when he didn't, he took it out on the Cape Cod League, where he really raked. He was very good in the Big East this year where he played short, but that isn't where he will play professionally. He could play third but will probably end up at second, and I think he will be the type of guy to hit for average and power. I can see him having the ability to hit 20 home runs in PETCO. When you first see him, he's kind of an awkward player, in a way he will remind you of Kevin Youkilis, but he can really hit.

Zach Cates was a bit of a mystery coming out of a Texas JC. What can you tell us about him?

Jason McLeod: He's a converted catcher, so this was his first year pitching full time. He's a big guy, around 6-foot-3, his arm works well, gets good extension and right now is between 92 and 96 mph. He has good command of his fastball, has a swing/miss change but his breaking ball needs to develop. He has a lot of talent, you don't see this type of arm that late in the draft, and we thought he would have been taken late in the first round or in the sandwich round. He has a commitment to Oklahoma State, but we are confident that we can get him signed.

You took a pair of pitchers in John Barbato and A.J. Vanegas that are considered tough signs. What has led you to believe that you guys will be able to get it done?

Jason McLeod: Both of them would have gone higher in the draft if it wasn't for teams having some questions over whether they could sign them. When you get to a certain point in the draft, you have to start balancing between taking better talent and potentially not signing them compared to taking a lesser player that you know you can sign. You really don't want to give away any draft picks because they are golden, but if we can get even one of these guys, it's like an extra early round pick.

As we did with Karsten, if we are going to invest in a high school right handed pitcher, we really want to be sure and both of these guys meet that criteria. We are going to spend the summer getting to know both of them a little better, and hopefully we will be able to get it done.

You guys scouted the junior colleges pretty hard, is this area that you see as undervalued?

Jason McLeod: I wouldn't say it's undervalued, every team is going to try to add talent wherever they can; for example, Cates was seen by everyone. What really helped us this year was being able to add an extra six scouts, which enabled us to spend that extra day with a JC squad, maybe see another pitcher or get a chance to see a certain player again.

Last question, if you had to pick a late round sleeper who would you go with?

Jason McLeod: We took a couple of college bats that could surprise some people. Connor Powers from Mississippi State played and hit in the SEC so he's someone to keep an eye on. Wes Cunningham of Murray State didn't play in that big of a conference, but he really hit. We are hoping that one of those guys opens up some eyes.

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