Padres Get Their Man, Draft Dylan Lesko With The 15th Overall Pick
LOS ANGELES—When Dylan Lesko suffered an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery this spring, the Padres didn’t move him down their draft board. As far as they were concerned, the only thing that changed was they went from likely picking too low to get him to having an actual chance at him.
That exact scenario unfolded perfectly for the club on Sunday night. The Padres selected Lesko with the 15th overall pick in the 2022 draft, acquiring the top high school pitching prospect in the draft class.
Lesko entered the year considered a likely top-five pick out of Buford (Ga.) High, but he fell down draft boards after having season-ending surgery in April. Lesko had his Tommy John surgery performed by Dr. Neal ElAttrache in Los Angeles and is about 12 weeks removed from the procedure. Based on a typical 12-to-18 month rehab timeline from Tommy John surgery, he could be ready to return to games as soon as early next season.
“Even after (the injury) he really didn’t change much,” Padres scouting director Chris Kemp said. “He was squarely close to our top five.”
Lesko, 18, starred on the summer showcase circuit and carried his success into the spring, including a dominant showing at the National High School Invitational that had scouts debating whether or not he had the best changeup they’d ever seen from a high school pitcher.
But less than three weeks after his buzzworthy NHSI outing, Lesko had surgery that ended his season. He is currently in the early stages of his rehab process.
“For me it’s just rehabbing and then just hitting the weight room hard for lower body and core,” Lesko said. “Just doing as much as I can to be better than I was when I got hurt.”
Even in light of the surgery, Padres officials couldn’t erase what they had seen. At the Perfect Game All-America Classic at Petco Park last summer, Lesko completed his lone inning of work on just 12 pitches and struck out a pair while retiring the side in order. His fastball sat 95-96 mph that day, his fading changeup sat 82-83 mph while drawing plus-plus grades and his upper-70s breaking ball served as an effective third pitch. He demonstrated impeccable control of his arsenal by throwing nine of his 12 pitches for strikes out of a polished, clean delivery.
Beyond just his on-field performance, he got to spend time with Hall of Famer Trevor Hoffman and experience San Diego. Over the course of that weekend, he gained an affinity for the city and the Padres organization.
“Just being out there already, pitching there, I loved it out there,” he said. “So I was really enticed by the Padres for sure.”
The Padres were enticed by him, too. The Padres had an in-home meeting with Lesko in the fall with Kemp, special assistant to the general manager Dave Post and area scout Tyler Stubblefield all in attendance. The meeting only solidified the Padres’ interest in Lesko despite projections that he would be long gone by the time they made their first pick.
“I like to meet with anybody, whether it’s Druw Jones and Jackson Holliday going 1-1 to guys that are maybe going in the fifth or sixth round,” Kemp said. “I like to meet with players. I like to get their pulse whether they’re projected early (or) late. If we have intrigue or we have interest, we’re going to get around to you.
“With Dylan at that point it was so early, with high school pitching you never really know. It wasn’t like ‘I just wasted my trip, this guy could go really early.’ It was ‘This kid is really special, I want to see what makes him tick and how he thinks.’ ”
When Lesko got hurt, the Padres interest didn’t wane. If anything, it had the opposite effect because it increased the odds he might actually fall to them.
The Padres invited Lesko to a pre-draft workout in San Diego even though they knew he couldn’t pitch. The goal was just to meet with president of baseball operations A.J. Preller and the rest of the staff.
It was around that time the Padres jumped on Lesko’s radar as a real potential landing spot.
“Once I got hurt I fell a little bit on the boards or whatever, so they were in serious consideration,” Lesko said.
“Before that I was honestly a top-five pick at the time, just the confidence I have in myself. But I got hurt and that probably wasn’t as likely. So it was really after I got hurt it was a real consideration they would pick me.”
With the mutual interest, it was just a matter of whether or not Lesko would still actually be there on draft day. Rather than be deterred by his injury, the Padres viewed it as an opportunity to get a top-five player in the class who would otherwise have been unavailable.
Once the Mets selected Rockwell-Heath (Texas) High infielder Jett Williams with the 14th overall pick, the Padres had their answer. With Lesko still there, his talent was just too great to pass up.
“It was a process,” Kemp said. “We had a couple of guys in play at 15. I didn’t really know. I thought he was going to go before us, to be honest. He’s that talented. As it got closer, we were able to get something done.”