Top 20: Padres farm system makes franchise title contenders for years to come
The signing of Manny Machado for $300 million just as spring training started easily represents the most significant player acquisition in San Diego Padres history. While Machado obviously upgrades the team’s lineup immediately, some national pundits like ESPN’s Buster Olney questioned if the “timing was right” since many of the club’s top pitching prospects are still a “few years away.”
Well, Buster is wrong.
While the Padres are not likely to contend for a World Series in 2019, four of the top five prospects from what most observers believe is the best farm system in baseball, should be on the big league club by June.
The Padres’ top prospect – one of the best in baseball – Fernando Tatis, Jr. should be ensconced at shortstop by June at the latest. He will join Machado and second baseman Luis Urías, one of the organization’s top hitters ever since he signed in 2015.
Pitchers Chris Paddack and Logan Allen seem likely to begin the year in Triple-A El Paso but could have short stays like Eric Lauer last season. It is not inconceivable that by June, the big league rotation could feature some combination of Joey Lucchesi, Lauer, Jake Nix, Paddack and Allen, and top pitching prospects MacKenzie Gore and Luis Patiño could be pushing to join Adrian Morejon and Michel Baez at San Diego’s new Double-A affiliate in Amarillo.
How important is it to have a strong farm system? According to ESPN researcher Paul Hembekides, since 2005, 13 of the 14 teams with the number one consensus farm system have made the playoffs within two years. The only exception, the 2011 Kansas City Royals, ended up with back-to-back World Series appearances in 2014 and 2015.
In short, the days of a major-league roster put together with duct-tape as a placeholder until the prospects were ready for San Diego appear to be ending.
All ages are listed for Opening Day 2019.
1) Fernando Tatis, Jr. SS
2018 Highlights: After hitting .177 in April – which nearly sent Padres Twitter into a group heart attack – Tatis rebounded by hitting .336/.414/.639 in May and didn’t look back. Despite going down with a thumb injury to his left hand in mid-July, his ability to dominate the Texas League both offensively and defensively at 19 solidified his reputation as maybe the best Padres prospect ever. He’s certainly, the best we have covered at MadFriars.
Negatives: Tatis is an aggressive hitter and can chase the outside slider, but his ability to recognize pitches has significantly improved in the past year. There was some concern that he might outgrow the position, but as Padres’ Senior Director of Player Development Sam Geaney noted, he’s one of the rare athletes who has gotten both bigger and faster.
Projection: Tatis ranks among the best few prospects in the game. Most of you reading this have been dreaming of a power-hitting shortstop who can hit in the middle of the order with 30 bombs to go along with a plus glove.
You may be underestimating him.
2) MacKenzie Gore – LHP/Starting Pitcher
2018 Highlights: Coming out of spring training after flashing four plus pitches, there was some talk among Padres brass that Gore could be in Double-A San Antonio by mid-season. Unfortunately, recurring blisters limited both the number of innings he threw in the Midwest League and the effectiveness of his slider and curve. Despite the injuries and rust, Gore’s advanced approach and make-up still allowed him to put up stellar secondary numbers just by commanding his plus fastball and changeup.
Negatives: Because of his blisters, Gore relied on his fastball a little too much and struggled with a 6.23 ERA (three starts) in the first half but bounced back strong in the second (11 starts) with 56 strikeouts in 47.2 innings against only 15 walks and a 3.97 ERA.
It should be much better this season.
Projection: With a fastball that sits in the mid-90s, a plus changeup, slider and a very good curve, Gore still has top-of-the-rotation projection.
3) Luis Urías – Second Base/Shortstop
2018 Highlights: For the first time in his career Urías struggled at the plate in minors. Before having a monster August when he posted a slash line of .420/.480/.659, he was hitting .265 as he struggled with the timing of his leg kick and hitting the inside pitch. Urías made the adjustments at the plate and was solid throughout the season defensively at second base, in limited time at shortstop (20 games) and third base (11 games).
Negatives: He can sometimes go for a little too much at the plate and needs to continue to make adjustments on the inner half.
Projection: Luis Urías is not is a future superstar. He’s not going to be a stellar defensive second baseman, though he’ll be plenty good. He probably will never swipe 10 bases in a season, though he won’t clog the base paths. He’s not going to have enough power to put up eye-popping offensive production. But the man will hit, and he’ll do it with a line-drive approach to spray hits to all fields.
4) Chris Paddack – RHP/SP
2018 Highlights: In 89.1 innings between Lake Elsinore and San Antonio, Paddack struck out 120 and walked eight for a combined ERA of 2.10. His changeup justifiably receives the lion’s share of attention, but somewhat lost in the analysis is his four-seam fastball that sits consistently in the mid-90s with precise command.
Negatives: To get where he wants to be, Paddack is going to need a better curve. But, as Sam Geaney noted in an interview with us, after coming back from Tommy John surgery, they weren’t going to have him crank out 50 curveballs in side sessions.
Projection: We think a little more of him than most national publications. His curve can look good, it just needs to be more consistent. He could be a top of the rotation starter.
5) Francisco Mejía – Catcher
2018 Highlights: Despite getting criticism from many San Diego pundits, Padres General Manager A.J. Preller held onto lefty reliever Brad Hand into the 2018 season. In doing so, he was able to get the maximum return for him in Mejía, who was one of the top catching prospects in baseball coming into 2018.
At El Paso, the Padres saw significant improvement from Mejía behind the plate and the switch-hitter’s bat was all that was advertised. Although he can get his bat on about any pitch, as Dustin Palmateer noted in his fantastic newsletter big league pitchers were able to exploit his free-swinging ways in his limited time in the Majors.
Negatives: Mejía’s ready for MLB, in that he has little left to prove offensively in the upper minors. But the range of likely outcomes is much, much broader for him than most top MLB-ready position prospects. He has all the tools to be a quality catcher, but thus far in his career, he’s struggled to perform behind the plate. He has lightning-quick wrists that allow the switch-hitter to hit just about anything from both sides of the plate, but his lack of patience has kept his good raw power from playing effectively in games.
Projection: Mejía could very well be the Padres’ catcher of the future, but he could just as easily be trade fodder, or become another corner outfielder with holes in his offensive game. You can be on the high end with ESPN’s Keith Law, who sees him as a potential all-star, or join others who question if he can become an everyday catcher.
6) Adrian Morejon – LHP/SP
2018 Highlights: Morejon’s signing bonus as a 17-year-old from Cuba accounted for over a quarter of San Diego’s 2016 J2 international binge. Last season he arrived at spring training in better shape, with more velocity and more consistency with his secondary pitches, but minor injuries to his hip and triceps soreness limited him to 62.2 innings in Lake Elsinore. When he was on the mound, he added a knuckle-curve to the mix to go along with a fastball that can sit in the mid-90s and a very good change.
Negatives: While the parade of pesky injuries remains a concern, there just aren’t many lefties in the game who can do what he can. And even if something major sidelines him for a full year along the way, he’d be big-league ready at 23.
Projection: It sounds like a broken record, but Morejon has the “stuff” to be a top-of-the-rotation starter; but he’s going to have to show that he can take the ball consistently.
7) Luis Patiño – RHP/SP
2018 Highlights: The Padres signed Patiño, then an undersized middle-infielder from Colombia, for a $120,000 bonus in 2016 and since then he has performed. He was one of the better pitchers in the AZL in 2017 and showed that it wasn’t a fluke in the Midwest League last season.
San Diego was careful with his innings, but he still posted a 98:24 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 83 innings while flashing a fastball that sits consistently in the high 90s. Patiño is just fun to watch. He flashes pitches with a differential up to 30 MPH, plays with his tempo and leg kick, and genuinely seems to enjoy himself in the game.
Negatives: He is not the biggest guy and there is some concern about when he goes from pitching every six to seven days, to longer stints every five. While he certainly seems to have both the demeanor and physicality for that shift, a starting pitcher Patiño’s height is likely going to have to prove it at each level.
Projection: For a guy his size, his velocity is the first thing that stands out, but he has also added a very good changeup to go along with a developing slider. If his other two pitches come along, as he shows he can handle the workload of a starter, he’s a mid-rotation pitcher.
8) Logan Allen – LHP/SP
2018 Highlights: At 21, Logan Allen was maybe the best pitcher in the Texas League with a 2.75 ERA in 121 innings yet he’s just the third-best left-handed pitching prospect in the organization. He has exceptional command of a fastball that sits in the low 90s, with a plus slider and changeup. Allen added a curve which improved as the 2018 season went on. Interesting side note: the only thing Allen does left-handed is pitch.
Negatives: Throughout his Padres career, Allen has sometimes struggled with command, but last year he kept his walks in check until his late-season cameo in Triple-A. That finer accuracy allowed him to go more than six innings in eight of his 20 outings, ensuring that the lefty saw opposing hitters a third time more than just about any prospect in the system.
Projection: If Allen’s four-pitch mix and improved command carry over into this year, he has more upside than fellow lefties Joey Lucchesi and Eric Lauer.
9) Michel Baez – RHP/SP
2018 Highlights: Hampered by a bad back, Baez’s season start was delayed, and once it began, the big Cuban had difficulty locating his fastball with the Storm. It eventually came around and he was promoted in August to the Missions, where he again struggled with fastball command.
Negatives: While he kept his arm mechanics relatively consistent, defying typical challenges for a guy his size, his overall delivery was just less dynamic last year. He frequently looked stiff or rigid on the mound, and his velocity sagged. Perhaps most concerning is that he had those issues while under the watchful eye of physiology guru Seiichiro Nakagaki, who left the organization to return to Japan after the season.
Projection: Baez has as much upside as almost anyone in the organization. The question is whether we will see the 2017 or 2018 version.
10) Josh Naylor – First Base
2018 Highlights: After signing Eric Hosmer last off-season, the Padres embarked on an experiment to see if Naylor could handle playing left field. While he made significant progress defensively during the year, it’s still an open question whether he will be able to make it work there defensively.
The part of Naylor’s performance that was not in question was at the plate with the Missions, where he posted a slash line of .297/.383/.447 and played in 128 of the team’s 138 games. At 21, he was one of the youngest players in Double-A and showed an exceptional eye with a 69:64 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Negatives: For two years, the club asked him to take seriously losing weight over the offseason. For two years, it didn’t really happen. If a year of getting to balls in the outfield two steps late inspired him this winter to really get to the weight he should be, 2019 could be a monster year for him.
Projection: According to early reports Naylor has lost a significant amount of weight and – excuse us for the cliché – came into camp in “the best shape of his life”. If he can be an average outfielder, he could become a realistic option in left field at the big league level.
11) Hudson Potts
12) Anderson Espinoza
13) Xavier Edwards
14) Cal Quantrill
15) Ryan Weathers
16) Jacob Nix
17) Tirso Ornelas
18) Austin Allen
19) Jeisson Rosario
20) Tucupita Marcano