Padres offer inside look into Draft preparation
SAN DIEGO -- Someone was kind enough or, quite possibly, cruel enough, to leave the blinds halfway open in the fourth-floor auditorium at Petco Park last Monday, providing a tantalizing view of another sun-kissed day in paradise for those armed with sunscreen and discretionary schedules.
Heck, you didn't even have to squint hard to make out the Coronado Bridge, sparkling in the distance.
But inside this space, on this day, it's an entirely different kind of landscape, one that doesn't exactly qualify as a backdrop for a picturesque postcard.
Half-empty Diet Coke cans litter the tables in the room, finger smudges on computer screens show up even more so when the sun peeks into the Padres' Draft room. There are snacks (giant tub of Red Vines, anyone?) and enough testosterone in the room to drive up the temperature in a hurry.
"It can get a little stagnant in there at times," said Padres area scout Andrew Salvo. "That first day, we were begging for the AC. It got a little steamy in there."
Not just the temperature, but the pointed conversations between those who have a hand -- both big and small --- in how the Padres would go about attacking the 2013 First-Year Player Draft.
For two hours on Monday, MLB.com had a back seat in the Padres' Draft room to observe the dynamics in the room as the team went about putting the final pieces in place for baseball's lifeline, the Draft -- a critical function for teams, especially small-market ones like the Padres, who need to infuse their Minor League system with players who could one day impact the Major League roster.
"It's a lot of work for one week," said first-year scouting director Billy Gasparino. "But it's a fun week, an important week."
Major League Baseball's Draft might lack the sex appeal of its other professional sports brethren, but don't try telling these guys -- the area scouts, the cross-checkers, scouting director (Gasparino), vice president, assistant general manager of player personnel Chad MacDonald and many others.
The Draft means everything to these guys, who consider sexy to be a 60-grade bat, a projectable frame and exceptional makeup.
Still not sold?
On Monday, three days before the three-day Draft began, general manager Josh Byrnes, assistant general manager A.J. Hinch, senior vice president of baseball operations Omar Minaya, president and CEO Tom Garfinkel and two members of the ownership group -- Tom Seidler and Kevin O'Malley -- swung by the room to simpy listen or even ask questions.
They didn't come for the Red Vines.
"The mixed nuts are pretty good," MacDonald said.
What they are witness to is an exhaustive period of a week where the team has gathered its area scouts, regional supervisors, cross-checkers, Gasparino and the guy who will ultimately makes the call on picks -- MacDonald -- with the singular intent of getting the right players for the organization.
"There's some team-building, there's some teaching that goes on, too. We have a young staff and some of our older guys can teach. We learn from experience," said MacDonald, who presided over his second Draft with the team. "The [older] guys can teach the younger guys a few things: 'Here are some mistakes I made, some potholes to avoid.'"
To be sure, there's a lot of information, video, scouting reports and conversation to digest. To those who have never sat in on these meetings, they discover what a meticulous exercise it is.
"I had no idea what went on in here," said Brent Mayne, who spent 15 seasons as a catcher in the Major Leagues. Mayne now scouts Southern California and southern Nevada.
By Monday, the Padres hadn't decided on whom they would select with the No. 13 overall choice, a pick that eventually turned into Mississippi State outfielder Hunter Renfroe, who hails from Salvo's territory. In fact, the running joke in the room is that Renfroe is Salvo's "man crush."
But three days before Renfroe's name was called, the team was busy rolling through 130 players on one of its Draft boards. One board has the names of players who profile as relief pitchers. One is for college seniors, who don't have bargaining leverage and might present a value for the team. Those boards and, ultimately, their final board, come later in the week.
On Monday, conversation ruled the room.
The crux of the conversations that Gasparino and MacDonald steer came down to this: "In two days, if he's at 13, are we taking him?" MacDonald asks of a high school pitcher from Texas, although he could have easily been talking about a handful of others.
Here's how the process works:
A name is called out and a video of a player shot by the area scout himself or cross-checker plays on the video board in the room. The area scout, for example, Salvo, who has been with the Padres since 2008, covers Alabama, Mississippi, southwest Tennessee and the Florida Panhandle, talks about a player -- his player -- and then is peppered with questions about him.
"They know the players the best. We need their opinions. As a cross-checker, you only get a small part of the picture. They [area scouts] get the whole picture," Gasparino said. "That's why we try to pull out their conviction. Do you want them or not?"
The Padres, by this point, know enough about each player to make more than an educated guess. Reports and video aside, conversations with the player, parents and coaches are vital. After all, they're picking players, but they're also picking people.
When Gasparino or MacDonald have more questions, or even Byrnes, that generally means they have more than just a passing interest in that particular player.
"I want you to feel good about it, so I feel good about it," said MacDonald, pressing for a gut reaction on a particular player.
It's not all business, though.
As the group discusses a high school pitcher from Southern California, someone in the room asked if the player in question "has an overactive bladder." The room erupted in laughs. It seems the player heads to the restroom following each inning and no one is quite certain why.
Each brief synopsis of a player finishes with one simple question: "Are you all-in on him?"
But there are pitfalls to being all-in on a player. Area scouts don't have the luxury of seeing players the other scouts see in the fall, spring and summer. They see their guys. Ultimately, they're asked to go to bat for their guy, but have to temper enthusiasm for the good of the club. That's not always easy.
"It's great to be able to fight for your guy, but I think you have also got to know when to back off," said Salvo, who recommended Jedd Gyorko in the second round in 2010.
"There's some give and take. You do want to be selfish in a way and fight for your guy … but it's a team thing. And when I hear another of our scouts talking passionately about a guy and I'm just OK with my guy …"
But these area scouts aren't just charged with compiling scouting reports and video. They're evaluators first, but in some ways have become part-time psychologists. With the investment teams make in the Draft, the "Can he play?" question isn't the only one being asked.
"An NFL personnel guy once told me, 'If you haven't talked to the school janitor … you haven't done enough research,'" Byrnes said.
So questions of character, personality, desire and upbringing come into play in the Draft room.
"How tough is the kid?"
"His father is a retired policeman."
"He comes from a single-parent home."
What would you sign him for?"
"He looks bored with high school baseball pitching."
Question: Is he nice? Answer: Yes. Question: Is he too nice? Answer: He's very nice.
All of this information represents pieces of the puzzle. Can he play? Sure, but can this guy play well with others?
"Having a different personality is not a bad thing, but you want to do your homework to make sure he doesn't get into trouble. You do your homework to see if he's been in trouble before and if he has, did he get past it?" Salvo said. "We've all made mistakes."
The afternoon session in the Draft room concluded with something akin to a lightning round of a game show, with the affable MacDonald playing the role of former Match Game host Gene Rayburn.
"If you've got one bullet and want to talk about a player … do it now," MacDonald said. "In three days, it's too late to say you messed up. It's not now."
At this point, the group has been in the room for nearly eight hours. At one point, Sean Campbell, the regional supervisor for the Northeast, stands in one corner of the room to stretch his arms and legs, a sure sign that he's been sitting and staring at his computer far too long.
As the group breaks in the late afternoon, the Nerf hoop in the back of the room gets some action. A few toss around a football that has somehow made its way into the room.
It has been a long day and there are still a few to come. MacDonald doesn't appear tired in the least. If anything, he feels energized by the process, the vibe, the dynamic of the room and the passion of the team's scouts.
"You're trying to talk about as many guys as you have in play and that comes from almost 12 months of work," MacDonald said. "It's exciting. It's the time when you get to infuse your system with new talent, it's not tarnished yet. There are no injuries and there are no bad performances.
"There are the dreams of our scouts that are hopefully realized and these guys can eventually impact our Major League roster."