Post-Draft Interview with Jason McLeod

Given the Padres well documented struggles in the first round of the past five drafts and the injury plagued first year of Donavan Tate, it's understandable that many fans let out a collective groan when the organization failed to sign first round selection Florida high school pitcher Karsten Whitson, despite an apparent pre-draft agreement.

However, the first round pick doesn't always turn out to be the best player or maybe even a major leaguer at all. Chase Headley, Nick Hundley and Will Venable have all had better careers so far than the first two picks of the 2005 draft, Cesar Carrillo and Cesar Ramos, and Mat Latos was an 11th-round pick in the 2006 draft.

While San Diego may have not signed Whitson, it did go significantly over the recommended slot bonuses to sign pitchers John Barbato, Zach Cates and high school outfielder Jose Dore. The bonus given to Barbato was more than they paid any of their draftees this year and puts him on par with what lower first round picks received.

In selecting Barbato, A.J. Vanegas and Dore in the sixth, seventh and eighth rounds, the team gambled that they would be able to pay over the slot money to get them away from their college commitments; essentially taking a gamble on talent but on multiple players instead of one.

The gamble paid off as the Padres were able to sign Barbato and Dore in addition to Cates, a JUCO player with a powerful, yet raw arm. Also some college picks such as center fielder Rico Noel, shortstop Brian Guinn and third baseman Jedd Gyorko, the second round pick out of West Virginia, have been impressive in the Northwest and Midwest Leagues this season.

We caught up with Jason McLeod, the Padres assistant general manager overseeing scouting and player development to get his thoughts on the recent draft and how the three big high school stars from last year, Donavan Tate, Everett Williams and Keyvius Sampson, are doing in their first year.

There have been quite a few reports about what type of deal the Padres did or did not have in place with Karsten Whitson before the draft. After speaking with you in an earlier interview, it seemed like you guys did quite a bit of research before selecting him, so what happened?

Jason McLeod: That is a good question because the signablity process is a big part of the evaluation which we take pretty seriously. We did a lot of work before the draft in meeting with the family and the day before I had a talk with his father and told him that if we had an opportunity to select Karsten what the parameters of our offer would be and he was fine with it. I spoke with him again on the day of the draft just to see if anything had changed and he said they were fine. They knew the number range that we had in mind, and throughout the summer we didn't get any indication that they weren't willing to sign – he came in and took a physical with us, which I thought was a very good indicator - until we got a phone call 20 minutes before the deadline that they wanted more than what we thought we had agreed upon.

Somewhere things changed with them, and I still don't really know why it happened.

You signed Florida high school right-hander John Barbato for $1.4 million, the most you paid to any draft pick this year, and the money paid to him would have put him somewhere in the lower first round this year. Some pundits had him going in the second round where did you guys have him before the draft?

Jason McLeod: We tried to be very aggressive in the draft. Both Jed [Hoyer] and Jeff [Moorad] were onboard with our approach to try to select impact players and we made good offers to all three [Barbato, A.J. Vanegas and Jose Dore] and were able to sign two of them. Vanegas, who decided to go to Stanford in the end, had an offer which would have put him in the top ten of the draft this year.

Obviously, we liked Whitson a little more, but we also really liked what we saw in Barbato. He has a very good delivery and right now he can touch 95, but we think he is the type that will eventually pitch between 91 to 92 with tilt and touch 94 or 95 occasionally. There is still a decent amount of development and projection left in him so we were really happy to get this deal done.

After he was selected, how much contact did you do on him to determine if you were going to spend the type of money needed to sign him?

Jason McLeod: We had seen a lot of Whitson and Vanegas with Team USA last summer and this spring so we didn't really need to do that much more. Whitson didn't pitch this summer, and we really didn't want him too either; we were pretty confident we were going to be able to sign him. Vanegas was age eligible to pitch for the USA junior team so we saw him a little bit this summer. Barbato didn't pitch after the draft because he was busy with some summer school classes and family vacations.

Same question on Jose Dore, who you guys gave third round money too, a toolsy high school outfielder from Orlando. Did you see anything after the draft that made you think he was worth the money he eventually got or did you have a figure in mind all along?

Jason McLeod: I had some people that I respect very much were pretty high on him – Chris Gwynn and Paul DePodesta to name two –and they liked him a lot. He's a left-handed bat with power, and he didn't get a lot of notice because he hurt his ankle last summer. He really became a guy early in the spring that we were on and I was able to get into Orlando to see him work out. Even though he went to a private school and had committed to Florida State, he really wanted to play pro ball and we were pretty happy to get him where we did.

I know you really liked the arm of Zach Cates and that he had a pretty strong commitment to Oklahoma State, what turned him to going with San Diego?

Jason McLeod: Zach has really only been a full time pitcher for less than a year and really wanted to sign, but at the same time had an idea of the type of number that it would take to get him away from his commitment to OSU. He had one of the best arms of the draft, an ability to get the ball up to 96 and an amazing feel for a changeup for someone that hasn't been pitching that much. He really generates a lot of swing and misses off of it. Right now, the big thing for him is to get some consistency on his breaking ball and that is what we are going to be focusing on during the Instructs.

So far I know you have to be happy with Jedd Gyorko, your second round pick. Have you come any closer to determining where you think he will play in the field next year? It seems third base is his best position but you have Edison Rincon there right now at the same level?

Jason McLeod: To me, right now, he is at third base, and it's nice to see how well he's played there defensively at Eugene and Fort Wayne. Eugene manager Greg Riddoch, who has been in the game for a long time, was really impressed with how well he moves his feet and with his arm. Again, we had trouble understanding why he was still around at number 59 because he was one of the top four or five college bats in the draft. I think he's going to hit his way to the big leagues.

How has Donavan Tate been doing in recovering from his injury and how would you evaluate his first year?

Jason McLeod: You don't want to call it a wasted year, but, at the same time, he has missed a significant amount of time away from the field. The accident in the off-season, spring training and I think he's missed about a month and a half of the Arizona League season. Our medical staff has been working with him on his stomach illness.

The positive side is as hard as it is to be down in the AZL, I think he's really starting to learn what it takes to be successful in this game, the type of work that you need to put in away from the field. He's going to have to make up the at-bats that he's missing now in the Instructs and in spring training to show that he is ready to break with a full-season team next year.

Everett Williams has really struggled in Fort Wayne this year. What has been his main problem?

Jason McLeod: It's not an excuse, but he's had some nicks and minor injuries, which I think might have affected him this year, especially in finding more consistency at the plate. He has a fast bat, strong hands and in a way a little too much power for his own good. He can get a little pull happy, but when he is on, he still has one of the best swings in the organization. He's been streaky but the bad part is the downward streaks have been lasting longer than the good ones. I still like him a lot, and we have to remember he's only 19 playing in his first full season league.

Right now, his problem is he can get a little off-kilter in his mechanics. When I was at Boston last year, he was a guy we were really liked so I'm pretty happy that he is in our organization.

Finally Keyvius Sampson was having a great year in Eugene before he had some arm problems. What is his status?

Jason McLeod: I don't think it's anything serious, and he is in our training facility in Arizona getting daily treatment and our medical staff is pretty optimistic. With such a young arm you are always going to be extra conservative. Our goal is to get him ready to pitch in the Instructs and then to design an off-season program around him and go from there.

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