With a flair for the dramatics and an eye on infusing high-upside talent into an improving system, the Padres managed to sign three of their top-four picks that were left unsigned heading into deadline day. Joe Ross, Michael Kelly and Austin Hedges have been added into the fold in San Diego, representing a continued dedication towards building from within and investing more into the future of the franchise than ever before.
Joe Ross – $2.75 mil (2010 Slot – $1.125 mil)
The Padres were enamoured with Ross’ mixture of athleticism and left over projection. Many of the top high school arms in the draft were decently polished – leading to a Major League-deal for Dylan Bundy – with Ross sitting just behind Arizona’s Archie Bradley on most draft boards looking for upside.
He was the top player left on San Diego’s board at number 25 overall, and for good reason. Ross boasts a low-90s fastball that should sit around 93-96 once his body begins to mature. The fastball features good arm-side run (see the videos below) and could grade out to be a 65 pitch with professional coaching. Ross’ curveball is an advanced pitch for his age, showing great spin and control, but as his delivery is tightened up with professional coaching he’ll need to keep focused on the pitch.
Like most high school arms, Ross’ changeup is a very immature pitch at this point that lacks great feel and deception. The pace that he moves through the organization will rely on the development of his changeup, in turn giving him an effective offering to left-handed batters.
The aforementioned delivery is still very raw. The good news is that he has not developed the stiff front leg that currently haunts his older brother, Tyson Ross. Joe shows enough athleticism that he should have no problem repeating his delivery with enough professional coaching to help keep his front side closed and use his lower half better.
I won’t definitively rank him in the Top 25 Prospects list until seeing him face live competition, but at first glance he would likely crack the list in the three-to-five range.
Quick story that I was told by a source just after the draft: the Cleveland Indians were set a few days before the draft to take Ross, because they believed their top choice Francisco Lindor would be off the board based on industry sources. In the end, Lindor dropped and Ross fell all the way to the Padres at 25. San Diego chose Ross knowing that he fully expected to be a Top-10 pick based on conversations with the Indians and wanted to be paid like one – hats off to the Padres for not being afraid to take a very expensive talent. $2.75 is the fourth highest bonus ever given by San Diego, behind $6.25 mil to Donavan Tate and $3.15 mil to Matt Bush.
Michael Kelly – $718,000 (2010 Slot – $728,100)
Kelly brings much intrigue with him to the Padres’ organization. The teams that believed in Kelly’s upside and projection were willing to take him in the first round, but a strong college commitment and bonus demands rumored to be hovering around $2 mil dropped him to the first compensation round.
The 6’5” right-hander can pump his fastball in the mid-90s with good command, but doesn’t offer much with his secondary pitches. At the moment Kelly’s arm-slot on his curveball works well, but his arm-speed offers little deception for hitters to have to cut through.
His current delivery is what raises the most questions. With Kelly’s build and arm strength he should be a pitcher that is able to run the ball in on right handed hitters and paint the bottom of the strike zone against lefties. But as you can see from the video below, Kelly generates little downhill tilt on his fastball with his body because he takes such a long and low stride. This also causes him to fall off to the left side on occasion, which will lead to a pitcher losing their release point and control.
Make no mistake about it; Kelly is definitely a huge project that the Padres have agreed to undertake. But with his current stuff and room for growth his ceiling could reach premier starting pitcher level if the organization is able to fix his delivery and refine his secondary pitches.
At first glance, I’d put Kelly somewhere in the back of the top 10 of the current Padres Top 25 Prospects list. He is definitely a guy I’ll need to see after some pro coaching before knowing what to expect.
Although his deal was not announced until approximately 8:40 pm local time, I was told a few days ago that Kelly and the Padres had a deal in place that wouldn’t be announced until Monday due to the tight (see: bogus) restrictions placed on teams this year by the Commissioner’s office.
Austin Hedges – $3 mil (2010 Slot – unknown, but around $550,000)
By far the biggest surprise for Padres fans on Monday was the announcement that the team had agreed to terms with Austin Hedges. Pre-draft, Hedges was rumored to have bonus demands in the $4-$6 mil range, but it was reported after the Padres selected him that he had told teams in Southern California he’d sign at a discounted rate to stay local. Although the Padres did sign Hedges to a “discounted rate”, had it not been for the Pirates signing Josh Bell to a $5 mil deal, Hedges’ bonus would have been the largest outside of the first round in draft history – yep.
The first thing that is always talked about when Hedges is brought up is defense, and for good reason. He has been labeled everything from a generational defensive catcher to the best non-professional catching prospect most scouts have ever seen. Hedges has elite arm strength that is complimented perfectly by a lighting quick release and first-rate instincts behind the plate.
He will routinely post pop-times in the 1.75-1.8 range in games and has been clocked as high as 85 MPH on his throws to second.
But a team that was willing to sign Hedges away from UCLA not only had to believe in his Gold Glove-caliber potential behind the plate, but also his bat. While his hit tool currently won’t impress too many people, Hedges shows a great approach at the plate with a keen eye for the zone. With a 6’1” 190 lb frame, he should be able to hit for a decent amount of power should his hit tool actualize to be anything above 40.
When you consider that a conservative comparable player to Hedges would be either Yadier Molina or Brad Ausmus there is definitely a reason to be excited.
At first glance, I’d put Hedges somewhere in the five-to-seven range of the current Padres Top 25 Prospects list.
Brett Austin – Unsigned
As I said on Twitter last night, Austin and the Padres were never really all that close on a deal. The organization decided to take both Hedges and Austin on draft day, figuring that they would decide later which would provide more value compared to their bonus demands.
It is important to remember that the club has invested over $5 mil in amateur catchers over the last year – between Hedges, Jose Ruiz and Rodney Daal – so expecting the Padres to dish out another few million made little sense. As one talent evaluator told me on Saturday, “Where the hell are all these guys going to play?”
In the end, Austin wanted seven-figures plus while the Padres didn’t feel he was worth much over slot and they decided to let him honor his commitment to NC State. In losing out on Austin, San Diego will receive the 55th pick in the 2012 Draft.
Overall, the Padres signed 26 of their first 27 picks, spending a little more than $11,000,000 – a new franchise record. Smart money would guess that none of these three guys will see any playing time this season as they have been away from the game for a few months now and rushing them back would only increase the risk of injury. All three will likely head to the Spring Training facilities in Arizona where they will train and work with the organizational staff until winter.
Video supplied by Replacement Level Baseball, Baseball America and MLB Advanced Media