We continue to close in on draft day with just five days left before the Padres have an opportunity to add more prospects to their talent laden farm system. Over the past two days, we’ve examined some logistics and draft history as well as looked at the three prospects atop the draft rankings.
While I’d consider two of those top three, Greene and Wright, locks to go somewhere in the first three picks, there are a couple of guys who could sneak in there either because either a team is enamored with them or is looking to sign them under the slot value. Yet, before we break down those players, let me note that there is strong consensus for the number four and five prospect but quite a bit of variance regarding who should settle in at number six.
MacKenzie Gore LHP
MacKenzie Gore, a prep lefty from Whiteville North Carolina, is one guy who could be considered a dark-horse candidate to go number one. After a senior season highlighted by a couple of perfect games, including a six inning, 15 strikeout performance, Gore was named the Gatorade Player of the year.
Unlike Hunter Green and many other high school pitchers, Gore already has an established and diverse repertoire. His fastball already generally sits from 90-94 mph but can hit as high as 96-97 mph, which could even see another uptick since he’s just 18 years of age. Both his curveball and his control garnered honorable mention from Jim Callis in the best tool rankings from earlier this week, giving him two grade 60 pitches. Additionally, Gore’s changeup and slider both project to be plus, albeit not quite on the level of his curveball.
If there is a concern about Gore other than the risk associated with prep pitchers, it is that he has an eccentric delivery in which he raises knee almost shoulder high. Take a look for yourselves:
When asked about it by Jim Halley of USA Today, Gore nonchalantly said, “I really don’t know where I got it from…It’s something that I started in middle school. I was always taught to turn and show the hip pocket. I don’t know why I started it, but I was able to repeat it.” As he gets older, he may have difficulty consistently replicating this delivery if his flexibility declines, so there is some need for concern.
Nevertheless, my gut says that the Padres would be more inclined to draft Gore over McKay should both be available at number three. Gore’s ceiling as a pitcher is slightly higher, so he’d easily fit the bill for Preller’s early round high upside plays.
A player you may have seen linked to the Padres in multiple mock drafts is California native Royce Lewis, who just so happens to hail from the same high school as Austin Hedges. Lewis is a shortstop by trade, but some evaluators think the average arm will push him to center field. Regardless, he flashes the overall potential to be a strong everyday player once he makes it to the big leagues.
Now, other prospects may have flashier tools, but Lewis doesn’t have a glaring weakness, earning at least average grades for all five tools. His best tool, grade 70 speed, should enable him to be 20 plus steal player and rangy defender. Meanwhile, there are some mixed reviews about how much power is in the bat with grades anywhere from 45-60, but there seems to be little doubt that hit tool is plus and that he possesses the plate discipline to be an on-base machine. The glove is expected to be average to plus depending on whether he ultimately winds up at SS or CF where the potential of 20/20 season would be more than welcomed.
With the addition of several high profile shortstop prospects in the organization, I think the notion of Lewis to San Diego is overblown. That isn’t meant as a knock on Lewis, who is an incredible prospect, but to suggest that it’s more likely the Padres would gamble on Gore, Greene or Wright rather than another 18 year old shortstop.
JB Bukauskas RHP
For much of the spring, JB Bukauskas, a right handed starter for North Carolina, was consider the next best prospect, but he’s struggled of late, leading many to think he might slip in the draft. I for one do not share in their concern as Bukauskas is just 20 years old and trust the larger sample size of 92 innings of 2.53 ERA and 116 strikeout ball.
While Gore only received honorable mention for best tools in the draft, Bukauskas, without a doubt, owns the best slider in the entire pool. Just listen to MLB Pipeline’s Jim Callis describe it, “ Bukauskas’ slider may be the most unhittable pitch in the Draft, peaking in the upper 80s with nasty bite. Hitters can’t even try to sit on it because they also have to contend with his mid-90s fastball.”
That mid-90’s fastball Callis also mentions earned a tool grade of 70, giving him two primary plus pitches. His third offering, a changeup, lags behind the other two pitches but both projects to be average and proved to be effective when he pitched for Team USA. If you’re really looking for a comparison, a thriving Sonny Gray is probably the ceiling you are shooting for.
With so many other talented player likely available at number three, it would take an under the slot deal for the Pads to settle on Bukauskas, but keep in mind, crazier things have happened in the draft.