MadFriars Interview: Jaron Madison

With just over a week left until Major League Baseball's free agent draft, we talk with Scouting Director Jaron Madison about what "best player available" means and how the organization goes about finding someone to meet that description.

MadFriars: At this time of year, perhaps the most overused phrase in major league baseball is "best player available." Can you tell us what that means to you?
Jaron Madison:It's not necessarily the consensus best among all teams. It's the best player that our staff not only evaluates on the field, but also the work our area scouts do off the field with makeup, with what kind of people they are, with their background. We do some digging. We talk to guidance counselors; we talk to teachers, to other parents. We do a lot of work to get a comprehensive look at who these players are, not just what they do on the baseball field. Once we get in that room, obviously the guys with talent will rise and some will be eliminated because we don't know them that well or we have question marks about makeup or medical. It could be a bunch of different things.

But truly, best player available means, we spent a lot of money last year on catching… and if the best guy on the board is a catcher, at number seven, we're gonna take him. Because these guys are three, four, five years away from the big leagues, you can't get into drafting just based on position. You can never have too many catchers, shortstops, center fielders or pitchers. It's just the nature of the draft and minor league baseball. If we have a stockpile of good catching in the minor league system, not only will we be happy, but Josh will be happy because he can use some of those guys as trade chips and maybe fill some holes that we have in our organization. You don't shy away from anyone. You try to take as many up-the-middle guys as you can, because those guys if they can't stick, they can move to the corners.

MF: To you, if you look at one guy and think he has a 10% chance of hitting his peak, but if he does, he's a Hall-of-Fame caliber player, and another kid kid has a 70% chance of making it, but for him that means he becomes an every-day regular, which is the "best player available" to you?
Madison:Honestly, we try to balance it out and take a little of each of those. We'll take the high-ceiling upside guys, but we'll balance it with a Jedd Gyorko, the guy who we're pretty certain is going to get to the big leagues and be at least a regular and have an impact. But we're also going to shoot for the stars a little bit and take the Joe Ross, the Austin Hedges and some of those guys. We treat it like a stock portfolio, you have to diversify and have a little bit of everything. If you take all those safe, low-ceiling guys, you're never going to have the impact in the system. But if you take those high-risk, high-reward guys and don't hit, you're really going to be in trouble.

Last year, we took Spangenberg, and to a man we thought, this guy can hit and he can run. We were sure, to a man, he's going to play in the big leagues. And we balanced it with Joe Ross, who if it all clicks, he can be an ace on this staff. But there's risk in the high school right handed pitcher. And then we come with Michael Kelly and Jace Peterson and Hedges. We really tried to diversify our draft. And that's the fun part of it.

MF: How does the talent distribution of a particular draft class impact your thinking?
Madison:You try to find the strength of the class. Every draft class is rich in pitching and we truly believe you can find good pitching up and down the draft, in the 12th round as well as the first and fifth. The hitters that you're sure about go quick. You really have to identify the ones you really believe in and try to put together your list so you get as many of those good bats who have a chance to impact as you can while not missing out on some of the arms we consider special.

When you put the board together, you look and say there are only a handful of bats in this year's draft class, so sometimes those guys get pushed up a little bit. But truly, you're not going to walk past a Joe Ross just to get another bat unless you truly believe in that guy.

MF: Last year, you all got a lot of different looks at the kids you took at the top of the class. Are the Padres as an organization near the top in terms of on-site scouting visits for players?
Madison:We're definitely in the upper echelon of getting looks at guys. We start working early and we go pretty hard during the scouting season. On the top two round guys, we're probably get five or six looks, and sometimes up to 10 or 12. We're getting quite a few looks. AJ sees guys; Josh will see a few; Omar will get out and see some guys.

The first year I was a scouting director, we got more looks at guys than we'd ever had as a Padres staff. Last year, we had something like 30 percent more looks than the year before, and this year we probably have another 30 percent more looks than last year, when we were in good position.

MF: You talked about the off-the-field aspects of scouting a kid. Do you use aptitude testing like the NFL?
Not really. In a few specific cases, we will. For the most part, we put a lot of stock in what our area scouts and our regional supervisors. They go in the house and meet the kids and their parents. They talk to guidance counselors, teachers, people at the games who know these kids. They talk to cheer leaders at the school, they do their digging to find out what kind of people are these guys. You try to get the information from unbiased sources. We try to paint as clear of a picture for the family as we can, because minor league baseball is not glamorous. It's a grind. We paint that picture, and you can tell just by watching a parent's face or a kid's face how he feels about that or if he's ready to go out.

There's only a small percentage of high school kids that are ready to go out, physically, mentally and just emotionally ready to be away from home and be on their own and deal with teammates from all over the world. Most of these high school kids are the big fish in the small pond where they are, and they go into a system where everybody is good. And you've never failed before, but you go one-for-20 when you first start, how do you get out of that? A lot of them have never dealt with that. So we need to try to identify the kids who will grind it out, who will do whatever it takes to put in the extra work and have the confidence in their ability to get through those slumps and to learn. I know when I was a high school kid, I wouldn't have been able to do it.

We're trying to predict not only what these guys will be five years from now on the field, but also off the field. They come into money after they've maybe never had a job before, and what do they do with the money? As much as we can, we try to identify those guys who might be a red flag for us. And we're not going to be 100 percent, but we're going to do our best. We're going to miss on some guys on the field – their talent and abilities. But we don't think it's acceptable to miss on guys off the field. And we have some control over that and that's why we ask so much of our scouts.

MF: Do you think you can get the same kind of balance at the top that you got in last year's class?
Unfortunately, this is probably the last year we're going to get six picks in the top 70. But fortunately, we do this year. And this is a pretty strong class up top this year, so we're going to be aggressive. We're going to see who's there at number seven, and it's going to be somebody we're really happy about. And when we come around at 33, if we went safe – a guy we're all sure of, but maybe a little less ceiling – maybe with that next pick, we move up that guy who might have a little more upside. We play the draft as it goes. That's the fun part, but that's also the hard part. You don't know who's going to go ahead of you. I mean, I can't tell you right now who's going to go one-one. This is the first year in a long time that you really don't have an idea. We're definitely going to be aggressive and take into consideration that a guy who is a big leaguer for a long time has a lot of value, just like a guy who, if it all clicks, is going to be great.

MF: Will you stay on the road right up to the draft?
My plan is to get there either Friday night or Saturday morning. We'll have our West Coast meeting and then we'll have a workout and then we'll get into our cross-checker meetings. We have five workouts throughout the country. Most of the guys will go to the regional workouts. Most of the west coast guys come in for the one in San Diego, and then a few other guys from outside the area will come in. We'll probably have 20 guys there. [Last year] about five of the guys we took were there in San Diego and 15 overall were at a workout.

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