Padres search for more than tools in Draft

Padres search for more than tools in Draft

SAN DIEGO -- The 2010 First-Year Player Draft stretched out over three days and 50 rounds, although for San Diego Padres area scout David Francia, the event essentially amounted to a tension-filled, eight-pick sprint.

The Padres, who held the No. 9 overall pick in the Draft, had their sights set on a high-school pitcher, Karsten Whitson from Florida, and a realistic expectation he would be there for the picking when their turn rolled around.

Draft Central

Still, that wasn't enough to keep Francia, who over the past year had formed a close and somewhat unique relationship with Whitson and his family, from feeling apprehensive.

"I was telling my wife -- because you're always away from home, you got to put in work on every player. ... I would have been disappointed if I hadn't gotten him," Francia said.

"I told him [Whitson], 'For your sake, I hope you do go before us.' ... Just for the financial aspect of it. At the same time, I hoped he would be there for the organization. I told him, 'Regardless how it turns out, we're never going to lose that relationship.'"

In the end, the Padres got their man, selecting Whitson at No. 9. The waves of relief were felt from the Draft room in San Diego to Whitson's home in Chipley, Fla., which is located on the Florida Panhandle, all the way to Francia's home in Alabama.

"If you don't get to know him, you don't have a shot," Francia said. "That's one thing the new regime has stressed. If I hadn't done all that work with Karsten, we would not have taken him."

The legwork by Francia started before the Padres' front office -- including general manager Jed Hoyer, assistant general manager Jason McLeod and scouting director Jaron Madison -- came on board.

Still, it's this new group -- though McLeod and Madison previously worked for the team -- that's placed a strong emphasis on character and makeup of a player and how attributes like these should be nearly tantamount to physical skill.

"It's important for us to dig on a lot of those areas," Hoyer said. "It's about really getting to know the players as well as possible. You want guys with good character, because that goes a long ways toward building that winning culture.

"You want to see what kind of upbringing they have -- when you do home visits, you want to see how they interact with their parents. Pro baseball is not an easy life. You're turning pro when you're 18 or 19. You want to make sure they have the requisite skills to handle that. You're investing a lot of money in players ... so the more you get to know kids, [you learn] what motivates them."

All those scouting reports the Padres mulled over in their Draft room earlier in the week, the ones filled with all sorts of scouting jargon (projectable body, fringe stuff and soft makeup, among others) -- there was a spot for where scouts make observations that relate more to character issues or conversations than particular skills.

"Jed and Jason brought over a whole process [from Boston]. As we can keep track of our evaluations of players we also can keep track of meeting with of the kids. Like with Karsten ... if we're sitting in the Draft room and we have a question, we can look that up. That way it's easy to see how well we know a kid. That makes us feel comfortable," Madison said.

When did scouting reports become windows to the soul? Well, when the signing bonuses of these players began to reach astronomical heights. A year ago, the Padres handed over a club-record $6.25 million signing bonus to high school outfielder Donavan Tate, who was the No. 3 overall pick.

"Pro baseball is not an easy life. You're turning pro when you're 18 or 19. You want to make sure they have the requisite skills to handle that."
-- Padres GM Jed Hoyer

Whitson, at No. 9, likely won't command nearly that much money. But that's not the point, not for an organization still gunshy from the much-publicized Matt Bush debacle, when the No. 1 overall pick in 2004 experienced brushes with the law and character issues before being designated for assignment and eventually traded in '09.

The more information, the better, Madison said. That's why McLeod, Madison, national cross-checker Bob Filotei, team director of player personnel Chris Gwynn and, of course, Francia had looks at Whitson this spring.

"For us, there are so many variables that go into making a Major League player. There's the work ethic, the toughness. These are 17-year-old kids who have never failed. Now, they're going to be placed in an environment where others are as good as them, if not better. They have never been challenged, never faced adversity," Madison said.

"It's important for us to know that this kid is an honest, hard-working kid. In some cases, these kids have never had to work hard. He might not be able to live with kids from outside the country. We need to know that. It's important we know he has good makeup."

Enter Francia, a former Minor League player, who is in his third season with the Padres. Francia has a scouting area that includes the states of Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi and the Florida Panhandle, where Whitson's hometown of Chipley is located.

"Chipley is a small town. It's not that much different from where I live in Alabama," Francia said. "It's more spread out, there's land and some farming that goes on. We were joking at one point when Jason and Jaron were here and had time to kill that they were going to Starbucks."

Only there isn't a Starbucks in Chipley.

"There's a Wal-Mart and a McDonalds. We [scouts have] sat at that McDonalds for hours doing reports," Francia said.

By the time McLeod and Madison, both in their first year in their current positions with the Padres, got to Chipley to see Whitson, Francia's relationship with the Whitson family was already in full bloom. That became apparent on a visit to the family home.

"David went above and beyond this year," said Madison. "He had an advantage because he had built that relationship. When you stepped in the Whitson's house, you could see how he interacted with the father, the mother and how comfortable they were with David."

Francia's background with Whitson goes back further than the six times he saw the right-hander pitch this spring. A year ago, Francia managed an East Coast showcase team that included Whitson. Francia was impressed from the first time he saw Whitson and filed a report on him. He also made contact with the family, specifically father, Kent Whitson.

"Kent and I have been honest with each other since the beginning," Francia said. "I try to leave the kids alone during the year because they have so much going on. I might call to say 'Hi' ... but that's about it. But I called Kent at least once a week."

And, Francia said, just about everyone else. He spent a great deal of time with Whitson's high school coach. He observed Whitson with his peers and how he interacted with his parents. Eyes and ears open, Francia soaked in everything and logged it into reports, too.

"You've got to dig and pry, especially when you're picking this high," Francia said. "Anyone you ask in that town, I don't think anyone has anything bad to say about him. The way he handles himself on the mound is above other high school players. He knows game situations. He makes adjustments. We're getting a really good player.

"You just pick up on some things. The Whitsons are a laidback family. You could have a situation where all they talk about is money. It was never like that with them. It wasn't all about going in the top 10 picks. It was about going to the right place. We supplied him with enough information about the Padres. Honesty is a big thing with me. I've been as honest as I can."

In the end, by the time the Draft rolled around, there had been plenty of scouts who came through Chipley and passed through the Whitsons' living room. The kind of information they sought, really, wasn't much different than what Francia and the Padres sought.

But there was a distinct difference.

"Having been in business for 22 years on my own, you get a really good feel for people and you get a good read on them," Kent Whitson said. "For the fans of San Diego, you couldn't have better people running your baseball team than the people I've met."

As for Karsten Whitson, who hopes to sign a contract soon and get his professional career underway, he's felt a kinship with the Padres for a while. Oddly enough, the East Coast Showcase he played in was sponsored by the Padres, and Whitson wore a Padres jersey during the event.

"The relationship part was really good," Karsten Whitson said. "Talking to some of those guys, having them come in the home, I felt welcomed ... even before they drafted me. I felt a sense of trust there, a sense of ease. They were easy to relate to. That made it easy for me just to talk to them."

Corey Brock is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.