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Draft goes well beyond the first picks

Padres have third overall pick, three total Day 1 picks
MLB.com

Although the Padres draft third in Monday's MLB 2017 Draft, general manager A.J. Preller and scouting director Mark Conner didn't tip their hands Sunday about who the Padres might be looking at with their first-round pick.

Things change. And depending on who is selected ahead of them, things could change a lot. So mum was the word about the identity of the Padres' top pick Sunday as Preller and Conner met with the media.But one thing is clear. This is not just about the top pick.The last pick could be just as important as the first.

Although the Padres draft third in Monday's MLB 2017 Draft, general manager A.J. Preller and scouting director Mark Conner didn't tip their hands Sunday about who the Padres might be looking at with their first-round pick.

Things change. And depending on who is selected ahead of them, things could change a lot. So mum was the word about the identity of the Padres' top pick Sunday as Preller and Conner met with the media.But one thing is clear. This is not just about the top pick.The last pick could be just as important as the first.

Hall of Fame catcher Mike Piazza was picked in the 62nd round by the Dodgers in 1988. The modern Draft no longer has that many rounds, but you get the point. Gems can be found in every round.

Another example is Tony Gwynn, a third-round pick by the Padres in the 1981 Draft. Center fielder Kevin McReynolds was the first-round pick. Now, that was a good Draft. Any Draft that eventually produces five Major Leaguers -- as the 1981 Draft did -- is a good Draft.

The Padres don't have three first-round picks Monday, contrary to last year. Four of the seven top-30 prospects who came out of that Draft were not first-round picks. The Padres have three picks before Monday is done, including a competitive-balance pick after the formal conclusion of the second round.

"You never gloss over a round," said Conner.

That hasn't always been the case with the Padres. Once they drafted a pole vaulter who had never played baseball. That's never with an "n" in front of ever. No need to guess how that worked out. Undaunted, the Padres took a javelin thrower in the later rounds a year later. Good athletes, yes. Baseball players -- no way.

I don't sense this will happen again with Preller and Conner in the room.

Over the past year, more than three dozen Padres scouts have watched thousands of players in preparation for the three-day Draft (Rounds 1 and 2 are today starting at 4 p.m. PT on MLB Network).

Many of those scouts and players have been at Petco Park the past week auditioning for possible calls from the Padres.

It seems Conner is as excited by the 30 picks he will make Wednesday as the two players he will identify today.

Talking about the Draft last year, Conner said: "The top-round picks have identified themselves to every team. But it's in the later rounds where you can find players who really make a Draft successful."

The problem is, baseball players take more time to develop their talents than NFL and NBA players. There is more to baseball than pure athletic skills. We're just beginning to get a warm feeling about last year's Draft. The fastest advancing players selected over the next three days might not be Major League ready until 2021-22.

The days of moving directly from the draft to the Major Leagues -- ala Dave Winfield in 1973 -- are over.

Which is why smart baseball teams don't draft for need. Who knows if the need position of today will be the need of five years from now.

"We're not drafting for need," said Preller. "It's the best guy available. It's not the NBA or the NFL, where you draft a guy and the next year they're playing."

The Padres' Draft bonus pool is just under $12 million, and they can spend it any way they desire. Last year, for example, they saved some money high and used it in the later rounds to lure some top high school players away from college commitments.

"The Draft is a living, breathing exercise that changes pick-by-pick," Conner said last year.

So take a deep breath and enjoy the next three days.

Who knows who is out there in the first (Hunter Renfroe), second round (Austin Hedges), third round (Wil Myers), eighth round, (Clayton Richard), 12th round (Craig Stammen), 20th round (Phil Maton) or the 23rd (Brandon Maurer) rounds.

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