The MadFriars.com team, which provides the most comprehensive coverage of the Padres’ minor league system, is back again this year to report on top performers at every level of the organization each month. These reports are not meant to be revisions of their top prospect rankings, but rather news about recent performances worthy of attention.
El Paso Chihuahuas (Triple-A)
After the first month of the season, the Chihuahuas lead the Pacific Coast League in most offensive categories. Hunter Renfroe and Alex Dickerson have been the biggest contributors, with Dickerson slightly edging out his higher-profile teammate. The Poway native hit .364/.419/.576, good for an OPS nearly 80 points better than Renfroe’s.
Austin Hedges was off to a stellar start, hitting .333 and a .583 slugging percentage before he suffered an injury to the hamate bone in his wrist. He’ll now be sidelined for a few months. In his absence, Jason Hagerty has absolutely crushed the baseball, with a 1.059 OPS in 40 plate appearances, though he’ll continue to log most of his work at first base and designated hitter.
Things have not been nearly as encouraging on the mound. The four guys who’ve taken a turn each time through the Chihuahuas’ rotation have combined to give up a 6.98 ERA and sport an uninspiring 43:26 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 80 innings. Carlos Pimentel was the best of the bunch, putting up a 4.87 ERA in April.
The bullpen has been a bit better as Tayron Guerrero and minor league free agent signees Derek Eitel and Jose Dominguez have all had positive results at the back end. While they posted a 1.71 ERA, they’ve still allowed 18 free passes in 25.1 innings for the month.
El Paso Player of the Month: Alex Dickerson
San Antonio Missions (Double-A)
The early surprise in the organization has been the performance of Jose Rondon and Taylor Lindsey up the middle for the Missions. Both were acquired from the Angels for Huston Street at the deadline in 2014, and they both carried averages north of .300 through April.
Lindsey, now getting his third taste of Double-A after going backward last year, had the strongest line in April with an impressive .322/.400/.559. The 24-year-old appeared to be in much better condition this spring than he was last year. Rondon bounced back from a rough introduction to the Texas League and an elbow injury last year, hitting .314 while logging 18 games at shortstop this month..
After the 2015 Lake Elsinore pitching staff limped through the season, the Padres turned to the minor league free agent market to try to find some stability for the Missions this year. While the strategy hasn’t paid off in general, Cesar Vargas made a pair of strong starts as the organization moved him back out of the bullpen, ultimately earning a spot on the big league roster based on 12.2 strong innings. The only returner in the rotation, Bryan Rodriguez, threw three strong games to secure an early-season promotion to El Paso.
Jose DePaula, who struggled as a starter, has embraced his relief role, and owns a 1.35 ERA with an impressive 10:2 strikeout-to-walk ratio through his first six innings. While unheralded righty Jason Jester missed some time on the disabled list, he also has laid claim to the closer’s spot and recorded three saves in as many chances. The 2014 draftee is an under-the-radar name to watch.
San Antonio Player of the Month: Taylor Lindsey
Lake Elsinore Storm (Advanced-A)
While the middle infield duo of Javier Guerra and Luis Urias get plenty of (well-deserved) attention, it’s 21-year-old Josh VanMeter who paced the Storm offense through April. After missing most of last year after suffering a broken leg, VanMeter hit .304/.371/.518, leading the club in all three categories while splitting time between second and third base. Among players with 50 plate appearances, Guerra was next on the club with a .713 OPS.
Coming into the season, the important pitching storylines for the Storm were Dinelson Lamet‘s progress and a deep bullpen. Through the first month, both have been positive. Lamet, whose career didn’t get started until last year when he was 22, has been fantastic through his first five games, posting a 1.73 ERA with only 17 hits allowed in 26 innings. After working on a short leash last year, the Dominican has already gone six innings twice in April, and he’ll be given a chance to stretch out more as the season goes on.
The Storm bullpen has depth, balance, and a lot of talent. Lefty Kyle McGrath has been the best of the bunch, working 12.2 innings of scoreless ball with a ridiculous 19:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Righty Jimmy Brasoban, who landed on the disabled list late in the month, didn’t allow a run in 8.2 innings. Righties T.J. Weir and Colby Blueberg, and lefties Jose Torres and Brad Wieck have all been dominant as well, combining for a 1.67 ERA and 55 strikeouts in 48.1 innings.
Lake Elsinore Player of the Month: Dinelson Lamet
Fort Wayne TinCaps (Low-A)
Austin Allen‘s pre-draft profile last year was a bat-first catcher. A month into his first full season in the minors, he’s wearing that "bat-first" label pretty well. The 22-year-old from St. Louis got off to an absurdly hot start and finished April with a .460/.539/.603 slash line. While that’s fueled in part by an unsustainable average on balls-in-play over .500, he’s also posting very good strikeout and walk rates, and hitting the ball hard.
As strong as Allen’s been, the team leads the Midwest League in runs because of a number of encouraging performances. Luis Tejada, playing the outfield in his fourth stint with the TinCaps, only went hitless in three of his 15 starts, posting an OPS of .905 that was good enough to earn a promotion to Lake Elsinore. Corner infielder Ty France posted an impressive .453 on-base percentage, continuing the trend since he was drafted out of San Diego State last summer. Meanwhile, big first baseman Brad Zunica clubbed three homers early and has an isolated power rate of nearly .200, though he’ll need to cut his strikeout rate through the summer.
The TinCaps pitching staff is one of the strengths of the system, and many pitchers showed their upside in the season’s first month. Logan Allen stood out among the teenagers on the roster, posting a 2.08 ERA with a strikeout an inning. Fellow trade acquisitions Jean Cosme (4.50 ERA with 19 strikeouts in 20 innings) and Enyel De Los Santos (2.70, 17K in 16.2 IP) also looked strong in their first Padres exposure. The club’s top two selections in last year’s draft, Jacob Nix and Austin Smith, had matching 3.86 ERAs, though both issued more walks than they’d like.
Among the 2015 college draftees, Brett Kennedy and Elliot Ashbeck led the way. Kennedy, an 11th-round pick, had a club-best strikeout rate with 19 in 17.1 innings, while Ashbeck, a product of Bradley University, led the team with a 1.63 ERA. With so many arms and several games lost to weather, only Walker Lockett logged more than 20 innings in the month, though you can expect to see the team stretch out their starters in the coming month.
Fort Wayne Player of the Month: Austin Allen
System Player of the Month: Austin Allen
Allen certainly has plenty to prove after just one month of full-season ball, especially behind the plate, but he reached base in significantly more than half his plate appearances in April, spraying line drives around the field in the process. He enters May leading all of minor league baseball in batting average and on-base percentage, so it’s hard to imagine a more impressive start to the season.