Only a few days after the Detroit Tigers hired Rob Metzler away from the Tampa Bay Rays as the Vice-President and Assistant General Manager to run the scouting department, Metzler now has his scouting director. The Tigers raided another good organization to find their man, hiring long-time San Diego Padres scouting director, Mark Conner, to head up the Tigers amateur scouting department.
Conner joined the Padres as a scout back in 2010, and was the organization's scouting director from 2015-2021. After the 2021 season, Padres GM A.J. Preller moved him to a new role as special assistant to the general manager. With the Tigers, he’ll be back in the role he thrived in with the Padres, running the amateur scouting department and heading up their efforts in the MLB amateur draft.
During his time running the draft for the Padres, Conner had quite a bit of success. High-end prospects like SS C.J. Abrams, LHP Mackenzie Gore, CF Robert Hassell, and C Luis Campusano, all of whom ranked as top 50 prospects in baseball for San Diego, were all Conner picks. Shortstop Jackson Merrill was drafted in Conner’s final draft and is currently ranked 22nd overall prospect in baseball by FanGraphs. Connor landed both Cal Quantrill and Eric Lauer in the 2016 draft, and both starting pitchers have gone on to success with Cleveland and Milwaukee after being traded away by Preller. 2017 second rounder 2B/SS Xavier Edwards is another borderline top 100 prospect taken by Conner.
A quick analysis of Conner’s work shows a strong tendency toward landing talented prep talent early in the draft, particularly on the positional side. Abrams, Gore, Hassell, and Edwards were all prep selections in the early rounds. Their 2019 draft featured outfielders Joshua Mears and Hudson Head taken in the second and fourth rounds, both overslot. The Padres first three picks in 2020 were all prep talents as well.
Metzler showed some of those traits with the Rays as well. As a result, we should see the Avila/Pleis tendency to take safe college talent for their full slot bonus in the first round replaced by a desire to spread the bonus pool around and hunt for bigger wins with overslot bonuses to prep talent in the top few rounds.
A.J. Preller is a GM who came up as a very highly regarded scout, so he’s always likely had more input in their selections than most GM’s, who tend to lean more on their scouting directors. That doesn’t diminish the fact that Conner ran one of the more respected scouting operations in the game for seven seasons.
One of the corollary advantages to finally firing Al Avila and hiring Scott Harris as the President of Baseball Operations, is how great an opportunity it is to diversify the knowledge base within the front office. Hiring talented people from multiple good organizations not only gets you a talented individual, but it adds the organizational knowledge of those clubs into the mix among the Tigers’ new decision makers.
The combination of Metzler and Conner brings the evaluations of two clubs that are quite good at evaluating amateur talent into the fold on top of Harris’ information from the Giants. Combine that with the info on hand from outgoing scouting director Scott Pleis, who appears to have done a pretty good job over the last few drafts, and the institutional knowledge and contacts available to the new front office should be very good.
Only time will tell, but this seems like another strong hire for the Tigers.