In 2013 he left Baseball America and now heads prospect/draft coverage for MLB Network and MLB.com along with Jonathan Mayo. As always Jim was kind enough to give us some time to chat about his thoughts on this year’s Padres’ draft.
Were you at all surprised that the Padres still selected McKenzie Gore even with Kyle Wright and Brendan McKay still available?
Jim Callis Not at all. We cover the draft pretty intensely, and had been reporting for the last three weeks that Gore was the Padres’ guy. I knew they liked McKay some, and liked Royce Lewis some, but my feeling was that if Greene was already gone, Gore was going to be their pick.
As hyped as Hunter Greene was, all the information and scouting reports on Gore made him appear to be nearly on par with Greene. Did you have a similar thought in ranking Gore verse Greene?
Jim Callis: For whatever it is worth, and I do not claim to be a scout, I would have taken Mackenzie Gore with the first overall pick in the draft. Hunter Greene is a really good prospect, he throws 102 miles per hour, and has one of the quickest arms we have seen in years.
However to me, Gore has a much deeper repertoire. Gore is left-handed, he throws 92-97 (even if he didn’t reach that in his final start this season), he has a plus curve ball that is better than any breaking ball that Hunter Greene has. He has a slider that is already flashing plus, which is probably already better than whatever slider Greene comes up with down the road. He has a plus change up that is also more advanced than Greene’s.
For all the publicity that Hunter Greene gets for being extremely athletic and a great two way guy, Mackenzie Gore is right there with him. He is a great athlete who was also a two way player. Definitely not at the same level as Greene, who would profile as a mid-first round pick as a position player.
Gore has a high leg kick, which is incredibly deceptive, and he lands cleanly every time. He throws a lot of strikes, there is just a lot to like. A like Hunter Greene, but I love Mackenzie Gore as a prospect.
Is the high leg kick something you see a team like the Padres trying to shorten or change?
Jim Callis: I don’t know why you would. Usually when a team does it is because the high leg kick throws the overall throwing motion off and prevents him from consistently throwing strikes. That is not the case with Gore. Gore lands at the same spot each time. He has shown no problem consistently throwing strikes, and has deception without taking anything away from control or command. He is a really good athlete which allows him to keep that leg kick.
Aside from that, I don’t think a team drafting that high would take a player if they were planning on making a significant change to his delivery or mechanics. A change like that could change his stuff or get him injured. Neither of which are something you want to take a chance on with that high of a draft pick.
After Gore the Padres selected back to back catchers in Luis Campusano and Blake Hunt. Both came as a bit of a surprise for most fans who didn’t see them ranked too high on most rankings. What can you tell us about the two high school catchers?
Jim Callis: Campusano was the first catcher taken in the draft and was the consensus best catcher in the draft. It wasn’t a good catching draft, but they got the top catcher with the 39th pick. He has a chance to be pretty solid on both sides of the ball. He will take some time to develop, but he is a really interesting prospect. His arm is probably his best tool, he is a good receiver, and should end up with 15-20 home run power. It is a pretty good package.
Hunt stands out more defensively than offensively. He has a slightly better arm than Campusano and had one of the best arms for a catcher in the draft. I think his receiving is also a bit better, but he doesn’t have the offensive profile that Campusano has. While Campusano was the top catcher in the draft, Hunt was on the short list as well.
The Padres’ draft seemed to focus on high school players and players from small schools as opposed from the normal D-1 powerhouse schools. Is this strategy more of the Padres trying to outsmart the competition?
Jim Callis: I don’t know if they are trying to outsmart anybody. My suspicion would be that they are planning to spend a lot of money on the six high school guys they took at the top of the draft, so after that they had to go after guys who would be cheap. [Alex] Cunningham and [Domonic] Taccolini will not cost much as they are both seniors. The other three guys ([Aaron] Leasher, [Nick] Margevicius, and [Oliver] Basabe) should also sign for under slot but I wouldn’t know for sure. The goal for the Padres seemed to take guys who might want over slot money rounds 1-5, and make up for it with under slot guys rounds 6-10.
Can you predict which of the top six high schoolers will require over slot bonuses?
Jim Callis: It is really hard to say, because we have no idea what their asking prices are. I would hate to speculate, and it would just be an educated guess. High schoolers in the first few rounds might sign for slot, but usually after the third round or so it will require over slot money to sign a high schooler. I have no idea what Jonny Homza’s asking price might be as he is, I believe, the highest player from Alaska taken. [Sam] Keating will almost definitely be overslot. [Mason] House I would guess would be over slot, but not sure by how much. Campusano and Hunt could also conceivably get over slot. It is really hard to know. I will say that the Padres would already know what the player’s asking price is, and worked out the money to pay for everyone. You rarely see a player taken in the first ten rounds not sign.
Speaking of potentially over slot high school signings, the Padres took Cody’s brother Cole Bellinger in the 15th round. While the comparison might not be fair for Cole, is there anything you can tell us about him and does he have a chance to sign?
Jim Callis: That would definitely not be a fair comparison. Cody Bellinger is probably the best power hitting prospect in baseball entering this season, and has a very good chance to be Rookie of the Year in the National League. His brother was drafted as a pitcher. Like the other player’s we talked about I wont speculate on what his asking price might be. I would guess the Padres’ will spend most of their pool on the first ten rounds, and throw $125,000 at guys like Cole to see if he will sign.
After the first few picks, is there any other pick that stands out to you as a great selection?
Jim Callis: Some of the high schoolers that were taken after the first five rounds are really intriguing, but again I don’t know the likelihood that they will sign. Usually you see a player a team was really high on drafted in the 11th round. For the Padres that was Chandler Newman. He is really raw, but can throw upper 90s, he still has a lot of issues throwing strikes, but could be molded. Jake Lyons, showed himself as one of the better prospects in the state of Texas. He is a really big guy (6’5” 270 lbs). He is a JuCo guy, and not sure how likely he will sign. Of course Daniel Cabrera is another guy who has a lot of potential but doubt he signs. Kevin Abel is another guy. He is from San Diego, so maybe that is enough to get him to sign.
Usually after the 11th or 12th round, most of the high school guys that have a shot of signing are already gone. Usually late in the draft teams will either select a lower ranked college guy, which there are quite a few low round picks that end up making the majors, or a high schooler that will probably not sign. A team can show him around, throw 125k at him, and maybe he signs. There is no shortage on intriguing guys the Padres’ selected. The question will be how many sign.
Five years from now when we reevaluate this draft, what needs to happen in order for it to be a success?
Jim Callis: If Mackenzie Gore is as good as I think he will be, that alone will make it a great draft. If he can even get close to his ceiling, then add maybe Campusano, and then one of House, Kaeding, Hunt, or Homza to come up to the majors and it would be a pretty good draft.
In a typical draft there is usually 6-8 true stars. Then maybe a dozen to two dozen players who have solid major league careers, and the rest are complimentary players. A few will make it to the majors, or fill that middle relief/bench role. If you think about it, in a normal draft there might be 30 everyday players in the draft. So if the Gore can be that special player, and even if the others don’t reach their ceilings, Gore alone can make it a great draft.