Padres go back to back with high school picks

June 11th, 2020

SAN DIEGO -- A.J. Preller isn’t buying it.

The notion that it’s riskier than usual to select a high school prospect in this year's MLB Draft? Nah. Not if your scouts have done their homework, Preller says.

The Padres’ general manager nabbed a pair of high schoolers Wednesday on Day 1 of the Draft, taking Tennessee outfielder Robert Hassell at No. 8 overall and then right-hander Justin Lange at No. 34.

In doing so, Preller brushed aside the idea that selecting high schoolers in 2020 carries an additional risk. Those players may have missed out on their spring seasons because of the COVID-19 pandemic. But Preller noted that the Padres got extensive looks at both Hassell and Lange as underclassmen and on the showcase circuit.

"Hassell and Lange, if they had played their senior seasons and had a chance to complete their senior seasons ... those guys may not have even been there at the picks that we took them at," Preller added.

Lange might be the perfect example of the delicate risk/reward balance facing teams in 2020 (even though Preller only acknowledged the "reward" part of that equation).

A late riser among prospects in the Draft class, Lange's fastball sat around 90 mph midsummer last year at the Area Code Games. But Conner had an inkling of what was to come.

"You could see the body, the projection, the width of the shoulders and how the arm works with looseness and quickness and easiness," he said. “You knew, in time, the velocity was going to come."

Sure enough, Lange hit 95 mph at the Future Star Series in September. And after overhauling his workout regimen, he reached 100 by the start of the spring season.

There are obvious risks associated with the selection, which was the fifth in MLB's Competitive Balance Round A. Lange's velocity is relatively new, and he hasn’t used it much. It's unclear how well he'll command his high-90s heater. (Which isn't to say that he won't be able to. Just that there's very little information.)

Lange also needs time to hone his two offspeed offerings -- a changeup and a slider. Padres scouts are optimistic about both -- especially the slider, Conner said, once Lange shelves his other breaking pitches and puts a heavier emphasis on it.

At 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, Lange has a smooth delivery and his athleticism readily apparent. Had he been given the chance to harness his newfound velocity this spring, it's worth wondering just how high Lange might have risen in the Draft.

"We clearly think we're getting a guy that's got a big ceiling big upside," Preller said.

The Draft continues on Thursday with Rounds 2-5. The MLB Network preview show begins at 1 p.m. PT, with live coverage on MLB Network and ESPN2 beginning at 2 p.m. PT.

Go to for complete coverage, including every pick on the Draft Tracker, coverage and analysis from MLB Pipeline’s Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo, the complete order of selection and more. And follow @MLBDraft and @MLBDraftTracker on Twitter.