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2020 Draft recap: San Diego Padres

Padres all in on youth movement with four prep picks
Robert Hassell III hit .385/.467/.654 last year in the Prospect Development Pipeline Showcase.
@katiejwoo
June 24, 2020

Following the five-round 2020 MLB First-Year Player Draft, MiLB.com takes an organization-by-organization look at each pick with help from team scouting executives.

Following the five-round 2020 MLB First-Year Player Draft, MiLB.com takes an organization-by-organization look at each pick with help from team scouting executives.

In the shortest Draft in Major League history, many teams selected proven collegiate players, not willing to risk uncertainty in their limited selections.

Not the Padres, however, as the organization's scouting department and general manager A.J. Preller stuck to their trend of drafting elite prep talent, taking four high schoolers among six picks, and further bolstering their highly regarded farm system.

For director of amateur scouting Mark Conner, that was more coincidental than anything, with factors like signing ability, pool money and overall makeup influencing the organization's direction.

Still, there's no denying the allure raw tools and high ceilings have for the Padres. They got that and more in first-round pick Robert Hassell III.

First Round: Robert Hassell III (No. 8 overall)

For the fourth consecutive year, the Padres selected a high school talent in the first round, using the eighth overall pick to land the smooth-swinging 18-year-old. San Diego was linked to MLB Pipeline's No. 16 Draft prospect in the weeks leading up to the Draft, so it was hardly a surprise when the selection became official. Prized for his hitting, Hassell's appealing swing was the trait that sealed the deal.

"Robert was very intriguing to us because of the bat he possesses," Conner said. "From a young age, he's been a natural hitter.

"He's definitely a hit-first package, somebody who has a good awareness of the strike zone, has plate discipline. He has a strong desire to put the ball in play and he does not like striking out."

COVID-19 concerns limited Hassell's senior season -- he played only two games this spring for Independence High School in Thompson, Tennessee -- but he hit .423 with 14 home runs as a junior. In the inaugural Prospect Development Pipeline League last summer, Hassell ripped a .385/.467/.654 line.

It remains to be seen if Hassell can play center field professionally, but the expectation is that he will. The Padres also are optimistic that additional power will develop down the road.

The two-time Tennessee Gatorade Player of the Year joins fellow first-rounders MacKenzie Gore (2017), Ryan Weathers (2018) and CJ Abrams (2019) in a robust system, rated tops in the National League by MiLB.com. Hassell already is familiar with one of his soon-to-be teammates -- he played travel ball with Weathers.

San Diego's system is deep, but expect Hassell to slide in with fifth-ranked prospect Taylor Trammell and No. 13 Hudson Head as the top outfielders in the organization.

"When it looked like he was going to be there for our pick, truthfully, we were really excited," Conner said. "He's a guy we targeted early on in the process. ... As it came near, he definitely turned into our guy."

Justin Lange was ranked 57th among this year's Draft prospects by MLB Pipeline. Bill Mitchell

Competitive Balance Round A: Justin Lange (No. 34 overall)

San Diego rolled the dice on its second selection, again opting for prestigious prep promise. In Lange, an 18-year-old out of Llano High School in Texas, the Padres added a 6-foot-4 right-handed hurler who touched 100 mph this spring.

"[Lange] has some of the most upside in the entire Draft," Conner said. "Ultimately, the sky is the limit for him. He has the makeup and work ethic to get everything out of his ability."

Lange's fastball averages between 93-95 mph and he's recently developed a slider that could become a plus pitch. A poor showing in the Area Code Games last August led to some trepidation, but Conner is encouraged by the progress of the Dallas Baptist commit.

"His velocity took a tick up," Conner said. "His delivery got cleaner, the arm strength improved. The sheer velocity that he throws with the ease that he does ... he's a worker and he's growing into his own ability."

Second Round: Owen Caissie (No. 45 overall)

Ranked 75th among MLB Pipeline's Draft prospects, the 17-year-old Canadian outfielder possesses a powerful left-handed swing. At 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds, he should develop his raw power as he continues to grow, the Padres believe.

"It's pretty evident why we're excited," Conner said. "Large human ... wide shoulders with room to expand. Then you see the swing. He has a looseness and quickness with his bat path. The ball comes off very loud. There's going to be potential plus-plus power in the end."

What sets Caissie apart is his work ethic, which Conner described as one of the more admirable parts of his game. While that can often be a cliche, Caissie has the proof to back up the assertion -- he once went through 33 pairs of batting gloves in a single season.

"He's into the biomechanics of things," Conner said. "You get that kind of desire and passion with a big, tall projection and a lot of power, that's pretty intriguing to us."

Caissie projects as a corner outfielder with a standout arm. He committed to the University of Michigan, but should he sign, he'll likely slot into the middle of the Padres' top 30 prospects list with players like 18th-ranked Jeisson Rosario and No. 19 Edward Olivares.

Cole Wilcox held opponents to a .216 batting average as a Georgia freshman. Kristin M. Bradshaw

Third Round: Cole Wilcox (No. 80 overall)

In perhaps one of the biggest steals of the Draft, San Diego landed the Georgia product in the third round, despite projections that Wilcox would be a first-rounder. The Padres were surprised that MLB Pipeline's No. 23 Draft prospect was still on the board.

"We looked at Cole as a first-round talent," Conner said. "After Day 1, we looked at the situation and saw his name still on the board. So we kept his name in the back of our mind, and as we were starting to put the class together and saw he was going to be there as a real option, we were ultra-excited."

The pandemic limited Wilcox to four strong starts in his sophomore season for the Bulldogs. The 6-foot-5 20-year-old went 3-0 with a 1.57 ERA over 23 innings, limiting opponents hitters to a .209 average. Most notably, he whiffed a whopping 32 batters while issuing only two walks.

Wilcox's 65-grade fastball is his best pitch, but he also features solid off-speed offerings in a slider and changeup. There are questions regarding whether he projects as a starter or reliever, but either way he'll bolster a system that already includes Gore, MLB Pipeline's No. 5 overall prospect, and Luis Patino (No. 27).

"We feel like we got a first-round talent in the third round," Conner said.

Fourth Round: Levi Thomas (109 overall):

With their penultimate pick, the Padres grabbed another right-handed college arm with impressive numbers.

Although a lesser-known commodity in this year's Draft, Thomas packed a punch in his abridged junior season. Over 23 innings, the Troy University product allowed one run on nine hits while striking out 42.

"When he's on the mound, he pitches with no fear," Conner said. "He has some deception to how he does things with a little bit of a crossfire delivery. His fastball really plays at the top of the zone. He's somebody who's been trending up in a very good direction with his stuff."

With a lively fastball and two solid off-speed pitches (changeup and slider), Thomas is another enticing arm for the Padres.

Fifth Round: Jagger Haynes (139 overall)

With their final selection, San Diego turned to a small region in North Carolina with which they've grown quite familiar in recent years.

The Padres capped the Draft with a southpaw from West Columbus High School in North Carolina. Haynes is from Cerro Gordo, a town with a population of 207. The community is just outside Gore's hometown of Whiteville, which also is where recently signed right-hander Seth Frankoff is from.

Haynes was relatively unknown coming into the Draft -- neither MLB Pipeline or Baseball America had the 17-year-old ranked. Nonetheless, the Padres are high on his long-term projection and offered quite a comparison.

"This is a long, loose, projectable left-handed pitcher," Conner said. "He's got a lot of room to grow. He's from the same pocket of the country where MacKenzie Gore is from. If you get a long left-hander that can throw strikes with his fastball, you want to take another shot on that."

Conner praised Haynes, who passed up a commitment to the University of North Carolina and signed for $300,000, for his fastball command and developing breaking ball. Haynes also projects as a starter.

Overall outlook: In a Draft marred by shortened or canceled seasons, limited travel and virtually uncharted territory due to COVID-19, the Padres stuck to the plan that helped make their farm system into one of baseball's best. Preller's affinity for high school talent and high-upside pitching shined through again as San Diego was able to land three "first-round" talents.

"We have a lot of good workers and guys that are very driven to learn and get better in their craft," Conner said. "Overall, I'm very excited for the guys we brought in. I thought our staff put in tremendous value, just getting to know these guys as people and adding them to the group."

San Diego has seen many of its former prospects begin to flourish in the big leagues. Still, as the Padres start to move toward contention, they hope it's just the beginning and that their Minor League system will continue to churn out talent.

Katie Woo is an editorial producer for Minor League Baseball. Follow her on twitter at @katiejwoo.