Thursday, June 12, 2008

Thinking Behind the Draft

With the importance of process in my mind, I want to share some of our thoughts from this year's draft.

Every year presents a different crop of players, and consequently the first evaluation is a macro one. What are the strengths and weaknesses of this draft class? It's commonplace to say, "This draft isn't very deep." That's usually true, though it may also be our subconscious managing expectations. Either way, a more detailed analysis can greatly inform a team's strategy for a particular draft. As I've mentioned before, due to the fact that baseball's draft does not immediately impact the Major League level, teams don't necessarily have to draft for need. This allows for more flexibility in the process on an annual basis.

This year our scouting staff determined that the 2008 draft class was particularly deep in high quality college hitters, thin in college pitching, and a bit disappointing in terms of depth at the high school level. In fact, there seemed to be an unusually high number of high school players who weren't terribly interested in signing (demanding top half of the first round money in order to forego their college experience).

In our search for more high school players we asked the room who had some players who were interested in signing. One particular scout jumped on the opportunity and rattled off a few players. According to our scout, the first two he mentioned weren't "interested" in school. When describing the third, our scout was quick to state that the player didn't have the grades to go to college. Someone asked him, "Doesn't anyone in your area have grades?" Without any hesitation, the scout quipped, "They're all NP's (non-prospects)." I don't mean to make light of the situation, but this was the best line of the week.

Approximately five days before the draft we started having conversations about the reality of the draft class and began formulating our strategy. What if we didn't take a pitcher the entire first day? Given the class, we decided, we were prepared to do just that. We weren't going to take a pitcher just to seemingly balance our draft. There were pitchers were liked, of course, and we would be prepared to take them. However, there was an unusual number of attractive hitters, so we wanted to take advantage of the opportunity and land as many of them as possible. We certainly didn't want to pass on some of these hitters, who in other years may be at the top of the class, in order to take a pitcher who was very similar to pitchers available in the following few rounds (or in any other year). As I've stated many times in this blog, we know we're not going to be right every time, but if we could secure a full group of top hitters, not just one or two, we felt that at least some of them will meet or exceed our expectations.

As a group we felt strongly about this evaluation of the draft class, so we spent a lot of time on the college hitters, trying to get them in the right order for selection. Ultimately, Grady Fuson and Chief Gayton did a masterful job of game planning the draft, and we truly maximized our number of targeted hitters.

One of the biggest complaints about most drafts is that certain players were "overdrafted". I'll be honest - I don't really believe in that concept. First of all, our knowledge in terms of where players will be selected is imperfect to put it mildly. Remember, it only takes one team out of thirty to step up and take a player, and then he's gone. There are no do-overs. We may really like a guy, think we can get him in the 4th round or so, and then he's gone in the second. It happens all the time. Therefore, I believe that if you like the player and want him in your system, just take him. My litmus test is how I'm going to react when I hear another team call the player's name: a) a grimace with a head bob, b) an audible "Gah!" with a twist of the neck, or c) nauseous. If (c), then take the player if he's available.

Though we had a strong conviction about the strengths of this draft class, it was not easy to maintain the discipline throughout the first day. After all, we were watching pitchers whom we liked go off the board round after round. Nevertheless, we were comforted by the names we were calling in each and every round. With each selection, we expected to lose some target players before our next selection, and of course we did, but the exhaustive planning paid off as we anticipated most of the "losses". Our decisions in each round, therefore, were factoring in these expected losses. I had some (a) reactions and a few (b)'s, but the (c)'s were more rare than usual.

The first round is always the most difficult, especially when you're picking in the bottom third. It's very difficult to predict the pool of available players, and the 5-tool, can't miss types are generally gone in the top 5 or 10 picks. This year was no different. It was telling though that so many college players, especially college hitters, were taken in the first round this year. If anything, this fact only strengthened our resolve, because it indicated that our analysis of this draft class was a common one.

All in all, we feel as though we were able to draft a number of hitters will both skill and power, and we were also able to get a handful of athletes with speed and defensive ability/versatility. Further, despite not taking a pitcher in the first four rounds, we're pleased with the pitching that we acquired throughout the draft. Who's going to be the best of the group? I wish I knew.

We will certainly look to continue to improve our draft process, but I can honestly say that we're thrilled with this year's class of new Padres. We, along with our fans, anxiously await the development process and the first Major League arrival. In the meantime, however, we're sleeping well knowing that we analyzed the situation (seemingly appropriately), devised a plan, and executed it with discipline. Let's hope we're rewarded with a positive outcome.


Chris said...

Keith Law mentioned in his review of the draft that Logan Forsythe is a potential convert to catcher. Is that the plan for him?

Unknown said...

Wow, I have been generally impressed with this blog. But something about this particular post blew me away. Maybe it was giving us fans a little more insight into the personal aspect of how the front office and scounts feel and conduct themselves behind the curtain. Regardless, this was a fantastic post.

Out of the signings, do the Padres typically send any of the high school players to extended spring training, or does everyone get assigned to one of the minor league clubs?

How much down time (if any) do you guys get before turning your eyes to the international signing period and non-waiver trading deadline? How active do you expect the Padres to be in this year's international market? Any comment on how the cost/talent ratio of the amateur draft compares with the cost/talent ratio of international signings?


Chaz Fiorino said...

I see that you sign a good chunk of the players you draft. How is there all that room in the system to place these players? Where do all the players from last year go that makes room for the new ones?

Eric Clark said...

To be perfectly honest, I was confused and disappointed by the Pads first pick in the draft. I know that in MLB you should always draft based on talent, not need, but I assumed that the odds of the most talented player coincidentally being a 1B when the 23rd pick rolled around were probably pretty slim. Add to that the fact that most of the mock drafts that I'd seen had predicted that Dykstra would be picked about 10-15 spots after the Padres first pick, and I was pretty close to mad when he was picked.

After reading this post, I've come around completely and trust the process that was used to make the pick. In MLB there is almost no such thing as a 'lock'. The first 5-10 players are probably going to have good MLB careers, but after that there are no guarantees. If our scouts saw something they liked that indicated that this kid has a better shot at being a successful major leaguer than the other guys available, then I really can't argue.

I have no reason to trust the "mock drafters" over the Padres scouts.

Thanks for the explanation, Paul.

Unknown said...

All teams, every year, seem to say/believe that they had a great draft. Paul: I understand that you are relatively new to blogging (as is everyone else really). Three questions: How would you have crafted your post if you felt that you did *not* have a good draft? Would you have said so, or would you have bombarded us with cliches and the overuse of the words 'potential' and 'upside'? And wouldn't the blogs of every GM, if they had them, sound almost like your last post?

Jason said...

My litmus test is how I'm going to react when I hear another team call the player's name: a) a grimace with a head bob, b) an audible "Gah!" with a twist of the neck, or c) nauseous. If (c), then take the player if he's available.

Sounds like most fantasy drafts I've been in. Four-letter words usually factor in, too.

obsessivegiantscompulsive said...

Eric, have a read of my study of the draft done a few years ago but I still think is applicable, it applies to your former concerns and supports what you finally decided:

I wrote it as a Giants fan, but is a general study of the draft, first that I was aware of and still the only one that makes the point that the odds of finding a good baseball player (which I defined as a player with certain good level of performance who reached free agency) is pretty bad once you get past the first 5 picks overall, let alone late in the first round, where only approximately 10% of draftees are able to reach my definition of a good player.

So, just as you wrote, once you get past those few at the top who look like sure things (still, I found less than 50% reached "good" out of the top 5), you have to trust the process, trust the guts of the scouts you hired.

Still, it is in the post-draft analysis, in future years, where you can see whether that scout is skilled in what he does or not. Assuming there is such analysis, that is, I would not bet that every team does just post-mortems.

Anonymous said...

The point about overdrafting is a great one because it is nearly impossible to predict what 29 different braintrusts are going to do with a particular pick. Yes, one can have a general idea, but likely not exact enough to ensure anything.

Another thing I think we as fans fail to recognize is that we get virtually all of our scouting info from one media source, Baseball America. You might have read an article about Yonder Alonso and the draft on a blog or website, but the likelihood is that blogger (with certain obvious exceptions) is basing their opinion primarily off BA and their interpretation of the players statistics. Don't get me wrong, BA is fantastic at what they do, but they get a great deal of their info from pro scouts, so it's really just a matter of which scouts opinion you value more. Plus, if a scout has found a "hidden gem" of a player that is seemingly undervalued for his skill set, it is unlikely that scout is going to shout his name to biggest draft publication in the world.

Beyond that, I do have a question. I know drafts are not supposed to be "need based" but generally I feel that refers to position scarcity, so I ask does a ball park (especially one as extreme as Petco) factor into that equation or not? Is there a certain type of offensive skillset a team would value to better suit the park? Does a player like Dykstra (who many said had some of the best power in the draft) take on an added value because elite power isn't punished as harshly as a normal hitter's in PETCO? Perhaps an emphasis on defensively skilled players because PETCO helps keep balls in play? Perhaps pitchers whose strengths come from control rather than power and would thus benefit from PETCO and strong defensive players? Or does the park not really matter at all and the team just goes for whoever they think is best and worry about the rest of that stuff later on?

Anonymous said...

kind of off topic here but can you give us an update on carillo. he pitched tonight. not very well on the box score but how did he look? any pain?

Paul DePodesta said...


Our guys have been working hard on the international front since late last summer. The official signing date is July 2 (players must be at least 16 years of age). We've been more and more active in the past couple of years, and given our investment in the state-of-the-art facility there, we expect to be active again.

Paul DePodesta said...

you know me!,

Cesar had been pitching in a handful (3 or 4, if I remember correctly) of extended spring training games before making his appearance last night in Elsinore. Fortunately, he has been feeling good, and his velocity continues to increase. Given the extended layoff, the performance last night was not entirely unexpected. Further, we think that the general trend will be positive as he continues to regain his velocity and touch. Right now we're just happy he's back on the mound and pain free.

robert said...

Hi Paul,

I'm not sure if you respond to these old posts, but I do have one question about the draft process.

Your organization has a finite number of slots and a reasonably large number of draft picks each year. In creating your draft board, how do you incorporate your evaluation of players currently in the Padres' minor league system? The one or two years you've had to evaluate some players is not a lot of time (nor is it a lot of time to develop from coaching) and I wonder how you decide whether someone should lose their roster spot to a potential draftee.

Perhaps a simpler way to ask this question....when you draft a player do you know who he will replace on a minor league roster and the specific position they will play (assuming they sign)?

How do all of you discuss situations where the potential draftee has a slightly higher cieling but the player currently in the system is currently performing better?