MadFriars’ Preview: 2014 San Antonio Missions

Synopsis: The late addition of Matt Wisler makes this the strongest team in the system on the mound and in the field.  Defensively they are solid up the middle and have some power with Rymer Liriano. The Missions will field five quality starters and a bullpen cast that is capable of going multiple innings.

Three Strikes with the Padres Director of Player Development and International Scouting Randy Smith:

Why is Matt Wisler in San Antonio instead of El Paso and what is the reason for piggy backing with Jesse Hahn?

Randy Smith: We are going to piggy back both of them early in the season because they spent so much time in major league camp they aren’t really built up yet in their innings yet. We tend to treat AA and AAA as virtually the same, especially for pitchers. We think that San Antonio and the Texas League in general is a little better pitching environment for Matt because we want him to continue to throw his fastball more and not worry about fly balls going out of some of the PCL parks.

What improvements did Austin Hedges make at the plate over the winter and this spring?

Randy Smith: Truthfully I hardly saw him this spring he was up in big league camp so much. As with most hitters I think when he uses the middle of the field and doesn’t try to pull the ball too much he’s a good hitter. If he can maintain a consistent approach he will end up being a better than average hitting catcher.

How did Rymer Liriano look this spring?

Randy Smith: Rymer is still a kid and the injury, while unfortunate, may have helped his maturity in trying to understand what he is doing offensively.  Is he still going to struggle some? Sure, but I think right now he has a better idea of what he needs to do and how to go about getting it done.

MadFriars’ Top 20 Prospects in San Antonio: Matt Wisler (#1), Austin Hedges (#2), Rymer Liriano (#5), Jace Peterson (#6), Cory Spangenberg (#15)  and Travis Jankowski (#18).

Catch a Rising Star: Matt Wisler and Austin Hedges are the Padres’ top two prospects and could be battery mates in the majors for years to come.  Wisler has all the pitches, but needs to develop his changeup more and become a little better with his two-seam fastball. Hedges is a better hitter than he showed last August in San Antonio and his defense is all that is advertised.

Starting Pitching: After Wisler both Hancock and Needy are a little under the radar. Hancock was very good in Fort Wayne last year before struggling in the hitter friendly Lake Elsinore. Where he’s on, he’s a ground ball machine. Needy, at 6 feet 6 inches, was one of the better pitchers in the Cal League in 2013.  He was healthy for an extended amount of time for the first time since he was drafted in 2009. Padres’ GM Josh Byrnes deserves credit in getting both Hahn and Jones, who were Baseball America Top 30 Prospects for the Rays and Orioles in 2013, for infielder Logan Forsythe and relief pitcher Brad Brach, both of whom would have had difficulty in making the big league team. Hahn, who is coming back from Tommy John surgery in 2012, had a 2.15 ERA in 67 innings in High-A Charlotte of the Florida State league with 63 strikeouts against 18 walks and was very impressive this spring. Jones struggled last year in AA Bowie of the Eastern League, but has a big arm with a fastball that sits between 91 to 94.

Pen: The bullpen will feature three good relievers in Barbato, Garces and Ibarra. Barbato is a solid 6 feet 2 inches and 230 pounds and is capable of pitching multiple innings out of the pen with a mid-90s heater. The Padres moved the diminutive, for a pitcher, Garces to the pen from the starting role that he had held in Lake Elsinore and Fort Wayne. Last year he struck out 127 in 120.2 innings, but at times struggled with his command with 57 walks. The lanky Ibarra is the king of funky deliveries with his sidearm motion was 5-1 for the Missions last year, but also sported a 5.88 ERA. Randy Smith believes that all three are multi-inning relievers with the ability to close.

Infield:  Peterson and Spangenberg may be the class of the league and both are left-handed hitters and have very similar games built on gap power and speed. Spangenberg has received a little more attention, but Peterson a multi-sport athlete at McNeese State in football, really came on strong last year with 37 extra-base hits and 42 steals. Both of them could be in El Paso by midseason. Orr, a college teammate of Peterson’s, had a big April in 2013 hitting .378/.433/.707 before slumping and losing playing time to Kral. If he struggles again expect to see Kral get more reps at first base.  Lemmerman came over from the Cardinals in the Minor League phase of the Rule V draft where he hit .231 for AA Springfield as a shortstop.

Catching: Hedges is the best defensive catcher in the minor leagues. He has a plus arm and is extremely athletic and mobile behind the plate.  However the true separator for him may be the cerebral approach that he takes to the position. Both his coaches and pitchers rave about his game calling ability. The capable left-handed hitting Kral will serve as his backup and also see time at first. Last year he was fourth in the organization with 16 home runs.

Outfield: Liriano is one of the few true five tool talents and in 2011 he stole 65 bases to go along with 50 extra-base hits in Low-A Fort Wayne. He was out all of last year recovering from Tommy John surgery and may take some time to get going as he has in the past. Asencio, who was caught up in an age scandal a few years ago, could be a much better hitter if he was a little more patient at the plate. Jankowski led the organization and Cal League in steals with 71 last year. A gifted defensive center fielder he needs to become stronger and hit the ball to the pull side to keep defenses honest. Kyle Gaedele is a premium athlete who is slowly developing into a good baseball player with 48 extra-base hits and 27 stolen bases last year. All four guys are going to play.

On the Spot: Rymer Liriano is somewhat on the spot just because of the expectations his athletic ability creates. As noted above, Liriano is capable of doing it all he just needs more time to refine it and a year away from the game will take awhile for him to shake the rust off. However, he has drawn raves from both Padres’ manager and the Missions’ coaches who claim that he has looked better than ever in camp.

Under the Radar: Jesse Hahn has everything you look for in a young pitcher except consistent health. If he’s healthy, the former Virginia Tech star could be the steal of the off-season.