Padres’ farm system improving with series of recent moves

Padres prospect Chris Paddack.

Jeff Nycz

FORT WAYNE — The Padres may end up spending more than $60 million on international free agents, and spent well over $15 million dollars in the amateur draft. But they may have added more to their overall minor league depth by the more traditional route; trading established veteran players for high-end prospects.

General Manager A.J. Preller held on to his most valuable trade chip at the last season’s deadline, despite being roasted by most national pundits, to score one of the bigger hauls of the off-season when he sent All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel  to the Boston Red Sox for Manuel Margot, Javier Guerra, Carlos Asuaje and Logan Allen.

While Guerra has struggled at High-A Lake Elsinore, Margot has been all that was advertised at Triple-A El Paso, and Asuaje has turned into a solid utility option.

But Allen, who has been on the disabled list since early June, has also been impressive with a 3.07 ERA in 44 innings to go along with a 41:7  strikeout-to-walks ratio before being sidelined.

"He’s an extremely poised kid for someone that is only 19," said his manager Anthony Contreras of the Padres’ Low-A affiliate, the Fort Wayne TinCaps. "He has three solid pitches and prepares far beyond his years."

During the off-season the Padres were also able to flip set-up man Joaquin Benoit to the Seattle Mariners. Enyel De Los Santos, who was one of the two players that came back,  impressed enough at Fort Wayne to get promoted to Lake Elsinore last month. Baseball America included him at number eight in their recent mid-season system rankings.

While his numbers indicate that he is still raw at 20, he is also capable of throwing a 97 mph fastball which tends to get people’s attention.

However, Preller’s biggest accomplishment may have been parlaying two players that he acquired very inexpensively into a pair of highly regarded prospects.

Fernadno Rodney was dealt in late June for Chris Paddack, a young pitcher out of Texas who had been one of the Miami Marlins’ top prospects.

"I would have had him at number five in the Marlins’ system," said Vince Lara-Cinisomo, who wrote the Padres’ section in this Baseball America Handbook and covers the Marlins as part of his purview for the magazine.

"He’s a big kid with a very good fastball and plus change-up. I was surprised San Diego was able to get him."

In nine starts this season, Paddack has a 0.85 ERA in 42 innings, with 71 strikeouts and only five walks. The big out pitch for Paddack is his "Vulcan change-up."

"He explained it to us that he splits the ball between his middle and ring fingers on the seams of the ball and then throws it as hard as he can," said Mike Monaco, one of the TinCaps’ announcers.

"His changeup is outstanding and generates a lot of swing-and-miss. His fastball sits around 90 to 92 mph but what differentiates it is his ability to command it."

Preller’s biggest prize yet was the recent acquisition of Anderson Espinoza, one of the top pitching prospects in baseball, who came over straight up for [Drew] Pomeranz.  According to ESPN’s Keith Law, Espinoza is capable of throwing a 99 mph fastball and has a plus curve and changeup at just 18 years old. Despite not putting up astonishing numbers at Low-Greenville in Boston’s organization, scouts are near universal in their praise for the young Venezuelan.

"He said in what had to be one of our biggest media days ever, that he thinks his best pitch is his fastball, followed by his change-up and his curve is improving," Monaco said.  "He’s not small, around six feet or maybe six-foot-one, but he is a solid 190 pounds."

When the current group of Single-A standouts moves up next year, there is already a group of talented arms ready to take their place;  particularly with the pitching when ten of the first twelve selections in the amateur draft were pitchers. Additionally, LHP Adrian Morejon, who should start the year at Fort Wayne next year, "real" bonus, is even more than $11 million price announced signing when it also comes with a 100% penalty because San Diego exceeded its slot amount.

"I think they have improved quite a bit but I’m not sure they have turned into a top-tier farm system yet," said Lara-Cinisomo.  "The season isn’t over yet, more moves could be made and we [Baseball America] really haven’t started our overall process where we rank each organization."

"But are they better than they were before the year? Yes, no question."

You can follow all of the action in the Padres’ minor league system at www.madfriars.com and @madfriars on Twitter.