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Much ado about Maurice Hampton

Evaluating Tennessee’s two-way star and Padres draftee.

Joe Rondone—The Commercial Appeal

In the 2019 MLB Draft, the San Diego Padres generally selected two kinds of players. In the first category, which we might call “Premium Tools”, prospects like the lightning-fast CJ Abrams and powerful Josh Mears could be counted; in the second, which we might call “Ho Hum Dudes”, you could include almost all of the Padres’ picks taken between rounds 4-10. In those rounds, San Diego selected seven consecutive college pitchers, the majority of whom were not ranked in consensus top-200 draft lists.

Though AJ Preller and Co. were slandered in some corners of the Internet by what some presumed was an inscrutable draft plan, there was obviously a plan at work in the eyes of those who were watching the larger draft board—and watching some highly ranked high school players slide into later rounds over signability concerns.

One such player was Tennessee’s Maurice Hampton. As has been written, Hampton is a two-sport high school star who has a dual scholarship to LSU. Though he was ranked as high as the top 30 range by some MLB draft evaluators, word ahead of the draft indicated that Hampton was not interested in foregoing his college commitment unless there was some serious cash in his MLB signing bonus. Indeed, once the draft was underway, late first-round teams like the Arizona Diamondbacks and Cincinnati Reds called to offer Hampton as much as 1.8MM to sign. Hampton declined.

Yesterday, Trevor Hooth penned an article attempting to evaluate our chances at signing Hampton, whom the Padres eventually selected with their 23rd round pick. Though word around the web is that Hampton is seeking as much as 2.8MM to sign away his chance at playing at LSU, this article is not about slot allocations or Hampton’s potential priorities concerning his athletic future. Instead, let’s take a look at who Hampton is on the baseball field, and what his signing would mean as far as justifying the Padres draft run on “Ho Hum Dudes”.

Loud Tools

At Memphis University High School, Hampton hit .414 with 8 home runs in his Senior season. Though his average was middle-of-the-road for an elite high school player, the video above demonstrates how he was able to generate such impressive power counting stats.
Hampton begins his setup a little front-footed, but he’s able to quickly load and incorporate a leg kick quickly before bringing a quick. wiry hack through the zone. There is an ever-so-slight uppercut in his swing, but the apparent upper body and core strength should enable him to punish balls left in the zone. True to the eye test, Rocket Radar measured Hampton’s high exit velocity at 96 MPH—far above the average of 83 MPH for high school seniors. That kind of exit velo ranks in Hampton in the 96th percentile among player his age.

In the field, Hampton utilizes 6.44 60-yard dash speed and an arm that launches balls at a speed as high as 91 MPH—two figures that, again, rank Hampton above 96% of his peers. Word is that his reads and routes need work, but spending half of the year on a gridiron can create such sharp corners in a player’s game. Looking at the 6’0, 195 player range in the outfield and deliver seeds to home plate in practice, it’s easy to see him becoming a good fielder in CF. His body shows the kind of fluidity and quick twitch one would expect to see from a top end football skill position player. “Premium Tools”, indeed.

Thought Exercise

Let’s play a game. Let’s imagine you didn’t know the order of player in which the Padres picked; let’s also presume that words like “bonus pool” and “slot allocations” weren’t a part of popular baseball parlance.

Now, let’s presume I told you the Padres obtained the services of a high school outfielder in this year’s draft. This outfielder received a perfect “10” rating from Perfect Game USA, a status reserved for high draft MLB picks and elite college recruits. As mentioned, this player does many things better than 96% of players his age. This player was recruited to a prestigious college program and was said by Fangraphs’ Kiley McDaniel to have an 85% chance of signing for a bonus exceeding 2.4MM.

Now, other considerations aside, wouldn’t you have guessed that such a player was the Padres’ top pick?

Signing a player like Maurice Hampton is never easy—because it shouldn’t be. He’s a premium athletic talent, so much so that he has a solid chance of going pro in two separate sports. But not a sure chance.

The Football Threat

In the wake of Kyler Murray, our presumption may be that kids who love football will...choose football. But before presuming that Hampton’s undying love lies on the football field, let’s take a look at how Hampton’s football future—and the inherent negotiating leverage tied up in that future—effects his chances of signing with the Padres.

First off, it’s important to remember that Hampton is a more highly regarded baseball player than he is a football player. In football, he’s a 4-star recruit ranked 107th on ESPN’s top 300 recruit ranking for the 2019 signing class. Though widely reported as a DB, Hampton played WR primarily in high school—his move to DB, his secondary position at MUHS, is necessitated in part by some rawness that college evaluators observed at his primary position.

There is no safe assumption that Hampton is bound to an NFL future. For what it’s worth, Hampton does not sound like Murray did in advance of the NFL draft (it was very clear to many that Murray’s first love was always football).

“I tell people all the time -- my love (for) football and baseball is equal,” Hampton said in an interview with LSU’s Rivals website.

And that should be promising for the Padres front office and Padres fans alike.