McLeod previously worked with General Manager Jed Hoyer in Boston where he was instrumental in drafting a few of the current top Padres’ prospects that came over in the Adrian Gonzalez trade; Anthony Rizzo, Casey Kelly and Reymond Fuentes.
Since coming over to San Diego in December of 2009, McLeod’s main job has been to organize the infusion of talent into the San Diego organization. We caught up with Jason on the last day of the draft to get his thoughts on this year’s draft.
The Padres have said that they want to take the “best player available in the draft” as does every team. But how do you define the best player available is it in a truly neutral context or with PETCO in mind?
Jason McLeod: We certainly try to keep the ballpark in mind. Particularly does that skill set fit for our home park? The goal is to get them here but at the same time, and I know it does sound like a cliché, we are looking for the best player that will have the most impact.
Quite a few people predicted that the organization was high on Cory Spangenburg. What made him so appealing to the team?
Jason McLeod: Early in the season our cross checkers really liked his swing. This is not a gnat type hitter, but a kid that is six feet, around 195 lbs., strong and can really drive the ball into the gaps with power. We thought he was one of the better bats in the entire draft and we spent lot of time looking at scouting him.
Going back to your first question, his skill set is what can really fit into PETCO Park. He’s not going to be a home run hitter, but I do think he will send a few over the wall. We see him more as someone that will hit for high average, can run and has very good on-base skills.
We plan to play him at second base and start him at Eugene.
Two pretty high picks in a pair of right-handed high school pitchers - Joe Ross and Michael Kelly. When we’ve spoken before you you’ve stated that draft picks are “like gold” particularly for a medium to small market franchise.
In general, what type of research goes into finding out if a high profile high school athlete is willing to sign and forgo college and give us a brief description of what you liked about both of them?
Jason McLeod: You really have to put your trusts in the area scouts. They have done a thorough work-up on the players and have an idea of what they want to do, especially when they have a significant college commitment.
With Ross there is so much that we like to see in a pitcher, size, and athleticism, mechanically clean and the ability to establish and command the fastball on both sides of the plate. We don’t think he’s going to be as tall as his brother but maybe a little broader in the shoulders. He really pounds the lower half of the zone and has a plus curve.
Kelly is more of a physical beast, real wide in shoulders, loose arm, late life in fastball, low to mid 90s fastball. He came out of the gate a little slow but in the last month he really picked it up and pitched liked the guy we really liked.
The other thing that really jumps out in the draft is the selection of two high school catchers in the draft pretty high - first round supplemental (Brett Austin) and second round (Austin Hedges). They are both obviously very talented and the organization was fairly weak at that position in terms of depth. How much of those picks were based on talent as opposed to filling a void?
Jason McLeod: It’s funny there have been a few articles on that subject today and it really has nothing to do with the organization needs and all about talent. They are really two different guys.
Austin’s offense is ahead of his defense. We really liked his swing, he’s a switch-hitter and when we were at #54 in the draft we thought he was the best high school hitter out there so we took him. He’s really hungry to work on his catching skills and we think we can get him to sign with us instead of going to NC State.
Hedges is the reverse. He is one of the best amateur receivers that I have ever seen on any level. Very good arm strength and handles pitchers very well. His defense is ahead of his offense but every time we saw him he swung the bat well. Scott Boras is his adviser, so we know what is ahead of us, but we also had him as a first round pick and he was just too good to pass up. To us it was worth the gamble.
Does a guy like Auburn’s Casey McElroy get a little more attention this year because there are some "staturally-challenged" guys having strong seasons around the minors?
Jason McLeod: Again we were really surprised that he was still around especially after performing in a place like the SEC. I don’t think he is asking for a ridiculous amount of money so we think we will be able to get this done. We really like his bat.
So many of these guys appear that they signings are going to come down to the wire because of their leverage and bonus demands. Who should we expect to see in Eugene this year? Who will be this season’s Jedd Gyorko?
Jason McLeod: Well Spangenburg in Eugene pops up first. Matt Andriese is a pitcher that can really pound the zone; a sinker/slider type of guy. Shortstop Jace Peterson is one of the best athletes in the draft. Because he was a two-sport guy in college he really hasn’t played that much baseball but everything is in place. He has very loose and easy actions and kind of reminds me of Derek Jeter. We kind of have to treat him like a high school guy because he has never really played in a wooden bat league, but all the skills are there with him.
General Organizational Questions
There have been reports that Donovan Tate has been taking swings in Arizona. Do you plan to return him to Fort Wayne or start him in Eugene?
Jason McLeod: He’s pretty much two weeks away from game action right now. My guess is he will probably start in Eugene and then we will reevaluate.
How has John Barbato looked in extended and is he on target to go to Eugene?
Jason McLeod: He is on target for Eugene. For the most part he has had a really good extended spring, he has his routine down and is now used to pitching every fifth day.
Edison Rincon has been huge with the bat in Lake Elsinore but the errors seem to come in bunches – he’s had 10 errors in three games -how has progress been going defensively?
Jason McLeod: We think the progress has been good and we don’t want to move him off third base yet. He’s been splitting time with Jedd Gyorko and we think it’s been good for both of them together. Eddy’s at-bat to at-bat approach has been great this year. I think there is a good possibility that Jedd will get moved up and Eddy will play every day at third soon.
Jaff Decker’s OPS number aren’t bad but his batting average is down and strikeouts are up. What has he been struggling with in San Antonio? What is really strange is he is hitting well in San Antonio - .943 OPS than on the road .736.
Jason McLeod: It’s funny last year they struggled at home this year it’s the opposite. In the draft room Jed [Hoyer] and I made a quick phone call to Jaff to check in on him and see how he is doing. He said he feels good, is seeing the ball well and he doesn’t really have an explanation.
We both challenged him to hit .300 for June and he said he was up to it. We have a close circuit feed for all the minor league teams and I’ve gotten to watch them play quite a bit. The big thing that I noticed is that in hitter’s counts he’s not taking the usual Jaff Decker swings. He seems like he’s trying to hit 600 foot home runs instead of 400 foot ones. It’s just part of the learning process and I really think he will be fine.
Simon Castro struggled in Tucson before going back to San Antonio after rehabbing. Did he struggle physically or were his problems mainly just mechanical?
Jason McLeod: Mainly mechanical but then it seeped into the mental part too. When he was back down in extended we worked with him on stride length and the tempo of his delivery. His last outing in extended was excellent and he pitched well in San Antonio too. With his mechanics back I think any confidence that he may have lost returned too. We really aren’t in any hurry to get him back to Tucson because if we need someone we can call him up from San Antonio to San Diego just as easily.