Sitting pretty at First-Year Player Draft

Sitting pretty at the First-Year Player Draft

SAN DIEGO -- Sitting in the No. 18 position in the first round of the June 7-8 amateur draft, the Padres are convinced they'll land a quality player. This draft is loaded with excellent position players and armed with talented pitchers at both the college and high school levels.

With the success they're having on the field, and blessed with a youthful nucleus with talent across the board at almost every position, the Padres have the opportunity to take the best athlete available, whether he's a collegian or a high schooler.

In recent seasons, the Padres have had success with college athletes. Khalil Greene, taken No. 13 overall in the 2002 first round out of Clemson, has emerged as one of the game's rising talents at shortstop. Tim Stauffer, a pitcher out of the University of Richmond chosen No. 4 overall in 2003, already is making quality starts for the Padres, who see him featured in their rotation for years to come. The system also has produced versatile Xavier Nady, a second-round selection in 2000 out of the University of California at Berkeley. Nady has star potential, the Padres believe, and a handful of other prominent candidates for roster spots in the next few seasons have college backgrounds like his.

"I definitely prefer college players over high school players -- always have," said Bill "Chief" Gayton, the Padres' scouting director. "The book you're writing on a player is longer; you have more chapters.

"Some of the kids we've seen since 14, 15 years of age. This might be three years later, or five or six years later. They're finally signed and they begin their road to the Major Leagues. And every kid who signs thinks he's going to make it, no matter what the odds are."

In 2004, with the No. 1 overall pick, the Padres resisted several high-priced college talents and dipped into the high school ranks for a local talent, athletic Matt Bush out of Mission Bay High School in San Diego. A combination pitcher/shortstop with a powerful arm and plus speed, he struggled after being the first high school shortstop taken No. 1 overall since Alex Rodriguez by Seattle in 1993, batting only .181 at Peoria and .222 at Eugene.

Playing for Class A Fort Wayne in the Midwest League this season, Bush was batting .240 through 47 games with 14 errors at shortstop. His .275 on-base percentage and .313 slugging mark were not what you'd want from a No. 1 overall pick.

Given their recent track record, it's not unreasonable to speculate that the Padres will be inclined to choose a mature college player -- unless they're knocked out by a high school phenom still available at 18. Maybe there's a future Jake Peavy out there, determined to go from high school to the big time in a few years.

"We've set the board up," Gayton said. "It's important to know what's projected to go in front of you, and it's also important to insure you're not overlooking players behind us. We still ranked all the players, even at the top end. Over the past three days we've ranked 80 to 90 players. We compare them to each other, merge them, rank them by position.

"You have to look at value and upside. Last year wasn't really a normal year. The value was more in line with what you're buying. Players are part of big business; they're our stock. With high school kids, it takes longer; the returns are farther down the road."

Among the prominent high school talents in this draft are three youngsters the Padres know all about: outfielder John Drennen of Rancho Bernardo High; first baseman Henry Sanchez, Bush's former teammate at Mission Bay High, and right-handed pitcher Sean O'Sullivan of Valhalla High in El Cajon.

Drennen, a left-handed hitter, comes highly recommended for his power and plate discipline. Sanchez, a massive right-handed slugger who launches moon shots, is recovering from surgery to repair the hamate bone in his left hand. O'Sullivan has size at 6-foot-2, 195 pounds and excellent stuff.

"It's subjective," Gayton said, "yet there's a lot of data. We've been using sabermetrics the last three years to some degree. We've gone deeper than ever this year into makeup with psychological testing, numbers we felt were important. You look at so many things: the level of competition, the quality of the pitches, makeup, athleticism, arm slots, deliveries, hands, agility.

"I like Golden Spike Award winners, too. We're very happy with Khalil and Stauffer. When guys put together seasons that are productive at the highest level of college baseball, you have to take that into consideration. That's not easy."

There is pressure in scouting departments not just to keep up with the Joneses, but to get ahead of them.

"We've been very progressive from a technological standpoint," Gayton said. "We're trying to stay ahead of the trends. For us, it's exciting. We're trying to be creative and constantly improve our approach to minimize mistakes and add players who have value to us.

"Everything our staff does is for the Major League club. Our job is to give [general manager] Kevin Towers options, not only with the Major League club but in terms of talking about deals. We'd love for all our kids to play for the Padres, but we sometimes draft kids who aren't really a fit for our club, thinking they can be of value in other ways."

The last three drafts:

Matt Bush, SS, 2004, Pick No. 1: Struggling to find himself at Class A Fort Wayne, both offensively and defensively, after unimpressive rookie ball debut in 2004.

Tim Stauffer, RHP, 2003, Pick No. 4: Excelled at Triple-A Portland and has assumed a spot in Padres' starting rotation.

Khalil Greene, SS, 2002, Pick No. 13: Second in the NL Rookie of the Year balloting in 2004 and having a solid sophomore year after recovering from a fractured right ring finger in mid-April.

Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.