SAN DIEGO -- In A.J. Preller's eyes, preparation for the Draft is a year-round process, no matter where his club's selections may fall. When San Diego owned just one of the first 85 selections a year ago, the Padres' general manager treated the endeavor as a potential franchise-changer.But even Preller
SAN DIEGO -- In A.J. Preller's eyes, preparation for the Draft is a year-round process, no matter where his club's selections may fall. When San Diego owned just one of the first 85 selections a year ago, the Padres' general manager treated the endeavor as a potential franchise-changer.
But even Preller is ready to acknowledge that the stakes are raised this year. Among those first 85 selections in the 2016 Draft -- which begins next Thursday at 4 p.m. PT on MLB Network and MLB.com -- the Padres have six picks, the most in the Majors. In the span of a year, San Diego went from the quietest team in the Draft's early stages to its most active.
A 74-88 finish to last season netted the Padres the No. 8 overall pick. Then in November, Justin Upton and Ian Kennedy declined qualifying offers, adding a pair of compensation picks at the end of the first round. Throw in a second-rounder and a pick at the top of the second competitive balance round, and the Friars will make five choices on the Draft's opening night.
• 2016 MLB Draft: June 9-11 on MLB Network, MLB.com
"Almost every tier of player is in play," said Preller. "You've got to be prepared for the guys that are high in the Draft, you've got to be prepared for the guys at the back end of the first round, the guys in the comp round and second round.
"In other years, you know where you're locked in, and there's players you can eliminate pretty early. You know they're not going to be a part of your mix. This year, we can't eliminate anybody."
That's what happens when you've got the eighth, 24th, 25th, 48th, 71st and 85th picks. And as a result of those early selections, scouting director Mark Conner and his staff skewed their trips slightly toward the players coming off the board early.
Complete 2016 Draft coverage
It should make for an interesting Draft-day strategy in the Padres' war room. With an abundance of picks in the first few rounds, they could be more willing to take risks with higher-upside talent.
"It gives us a little bit more flexibility with who we're going to go for," Conner said. "If somebody has a little bit more floor or ceiling, or is a high-upside type player, we can mix and match a little bit more, because we have the picks. If we go upside, then we can go conservatively."
Suffice it to say, the Draft hasn't been kind to the Padres over the past dozen years, with Matt Bush (No. 1 overall in 2004) and Donavan Tate (No. 3 overall in 2009) among their high-profile misses.
In hindsight, it's easy to fill Justin Verlander and Mike Trout into those slots and wonder what could have been. But the nature of baseball's Draft is such that early-round whiffs occur more frequently than in any other sport.
Says Conner, "Ultimately, what we do is really hard. We're identifying 17- to 22-year-olds and predicting what they're going to be when they're 25 and older."
What's been more damaging for San Diego has been the lack of consistent homegrown help from the Draft. No Padres selection from the past 10 years has put forth more than five wins above replacement for the club. (Chase Headley and Will Venable -- taken in 2005 -- were the last draftees worth that much to the organization.)
Most of those selections, of course, occurred under different regimes and different general managers. And thus, Preller isn't concerning himself with the past.
"We know the significance of it -- when you draft well, usually you look up in a few years and your franchise is in good shape," Preller said. "There's always importance in the Draft. I don't think that has anything to do with the past, looking back, good or bad. We don't need to atone for anything."
The 2016 Draft will take place from Thursday through Saturday, beginning with the Draft preview show on MLB Network and MLB.com on Thursday at 3 p.m. PT. Live Draft coverage from MLB Network's Studio 42 begins at 4 p.m., with the top 77 picks being streamed on MLB.com and broadcast on MLB Network. MLB.com's exclusive coverage of Day 2 begins with a live Draft show at 9:30 a.m. on Friday, with exclusive coverage of Day 3 beginning at 10 a.m. on Saturday.
MLB.com's coverage includes Draft Central, the Top 200 Draft Prospects list and Draft Tracker, a live interactive application that includes a searchable database of over 1,500 Draft-eligible players. Every selection will be tweeted live from @MLBDraftTracker, and you can also keep up to date by following @MLBDraft. And get into the Draft conversation by tagging your tweets with #mlbdraft.
Preller spoke to the importance of giving the Draft year-round attention in terms of scouting. In doing so, the club can bring much knowledge as possible in the war room on Draft day.
Conner echoed that sentiment, specifically noting how much a 365-day effort can impact the later rounds.
"Everybody gets focused on the top picks all the time," Conner said. "And a lot of the time, that's where your money goes, and that's where your focal point of the Draft [is]. We truly look it as a complete Draft, and we know that in the 13th round or in the 22nd round, we have a chance to change the organization."
That's true every year, but specifically in 2016, when the Padres will get that chance early and often.
"In a year where you don't have [as many] picks, you still add 40 new bodies, and you'll always see the impact down the road," Preller said. "I think this year, with the extra picks we have, it's just that much more significant."
AJ Cassavell covers the Padres for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell.