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.