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Draft depth could benefit the Padres

RHP Austin Smith the club's top pick at No. 51

Bill Center, longtime sportswriter for U-T San Diego, is an employee of the Padres.

The Padres might have picked a great time to surrender their first two picks in the draft (Nos. 17 and 41 overall) to better themselves via free agency (right-handed starter James Shields) and trade (right-handed closer Craig Kimbrel).

While this year's amateur draft - which started Monday - has a lot of depth, there was the great talent at the top as with some recent drafts . . . no Kris Bryants or Bryce Harpers out there this season.

"This draft was a little lighter at the top, but I think it will produce a lot of big leaguers," Padres director of scouting Mark Conner said Monday night after the Padres made right-handed, high school pitcher Austin Smith their first pick with the 51st overall selection in the draft.

"There is a lot of depth in this draft," Conner continued. "You are going to see Major League players from the middle and later rounds. They will develop."

This is the first Padres' amateur draft conducted under the team led by General Manager A.J. Preller and Conner. But there is more to this signing season than the 40-round draft. Preller, and top talent evaluator Don Welke, are recognized as leading players in the international free agent market. That signing season starts next month.

The Padres traded away 10 prospects last winter as Preller upgraded the Major League roster through trades. Preller and ownership agree that the Padres' long-term future is keyed on developing players in the farm system. This summer is an important first step.

Meanwhile, Conner and Preller seem very happy to acquire Smith with their first pick.

The 6-foot-4, 220-pounder attended the same Florida High School (Park Vista Community) that produced the Padres first pick (shortstop Trea Turner) in last year's draft. Smith was 8-2 with a 1.03 earned run average this season.

Conner said Smith has a three-pitch mix with a fastball that ranges from 89-96 mph. His second-best pitch is his changeup over the curve.

"Austin has a big body on a good frame," said Conner. "He is big, strong and durable. He has a good, clean delivery and multiple weapons."

Although Smith has a college commitment, Conner believes he is signable.

The 51st draft slot is assigned a signing value of $1.78 million.

"We were very excited Austin there for our pick," said conner. "There were countless scenarios we were running through. As the day unfolded, we were erasing names from our list. There were a group of players we liked. I think our (scouting) group did a great job."

Smith last year pitched in a high school all-star game at Petco Park and later pitched the U.S. team that won the Pan-American Championship in Mexico.


-- Right-handed reliever Brandon Maurer has been credited with the win in each of his last two appearances with the Padres to run his record to 3-0. Monday night was Maurer's fifth straight scoreless appearance (one hit with four strikeouts over five innings) and his 17th in his last 18 outings. Since the start of May, Maurer has allowed one run on seven hits and two walks with 15 strikeouts over 19 innings as his earned run average has dropped from 4.50 to 1.86.

-- Padres relievers worked six straight scoreless innings Monday night in Atlanta as the offense rallied for a 5-3 win in 11 innings. The Padres bullpen has not allowed a run in four appearances covering 16 1/3 innings (eight hits and four walks with 12 strikeouts. The relievers have not allowed an earned run in their last 23 1/3 innings (one unearned run on 13 hits and six walks with 19 strikeouts).

-- Right fielder Matt Kemp is 8-for-21 with three doubles, a home run, six RBIs, a steal and four runs scored in a five-game hitting streak.

-- First baseman Yonder Alonso is 10-for-22 with a double, a home run, two walks, a hit-by-pitcher (good for a .520 on-base percentage), six RBIs and five runs scored since coming off the disabled list.

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