Light mailbag today, so a few thoughts on the news of the week first.

The Padres signed Clayton Richard to a two-year, $6 million contract extension on Wednesday. Richard’s an odd breed of pitcher; he’s essentially a replacement level innings eater, at least if you use Baseball Prospectus’ pitching metrics. By BP, Richard’s at -1.1 WARP for his career, and -0.5 this season. While he isn’t good, he’s adequate enough to chew up innings and not embarrass anyone, and he’s got an outside chance of reaching 200 innings this season for the third time in his career.

My guess is he starts 2018 in the starting rotation, but shifts to the bullpen (or pasture) whenever the young arms are ready to take over. At just $3 million a year, there’s really not a whole lot that could go wrong here. The only downside could arise if the Padres are committed to keeping Richard in the rotation, thereby stealing opportunities from younger and more exciting arms. They’ve already indicated they won’t do that, however, so ultimately this is just a mild overpay for a little continuity.

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In the spirit of not picking anything in the “B” range, I’m going with an A-.

I know, I know, maybe that’s aggressive, but I’ve been inching closer and closer to the front of the A.J. Preller bandwagon since the pains of 2015 have worn away. There are dings, of course—Yasmani Grandal-for-Matt Kemp was always terrible, the Wil MyersTrea Turner trade didn’t look good then or now, and last year’s medical records snafu wasn’t a good look.

The positive marks are overflowing, however, and you can spot most of them somewhere at a Padres minor-league affiliate. MacKenzie Gore, for instance, looks like a steal, even though he was the third pick in this year’s draft. Fernando Tatis Jr. looks like a legit candidate for baseball’s best prospect come next season, perhaps flanked by the aforementioned Gore. And there are intriguing players littered throughout the system, many of whom were acquired to little or no fanfare, like Michel Baez, Hansel Rodriguez, Pedro Avila, and on and on.

Sometimes it seems really easy to build a good farm system—after all, a team like the Chicago White Sox built a super system in the blink of an eye. But the Padres haven’t had many Chris Sales or Jose Quintanas sitting around to deal, so it’s something of an accomplishment that they went from a middling system to a top one in a year or two. Players like Tatis and Esteury Ruiz were plucked in lopsided trades; Gore was a savvy (if obvious) draft pick; Baez, a 6-foot-8 flamethrower, was somehow snagged for a cool $3 million last winter.

In short, Preller & Co. have been great at finding good young talent. That alone is an exciting development, and we haven’t even touched on the solid work they’ve done scraping the bargain bin for big-league contributors (Drew Pomeranz, Trevor Cahill, Brad Hand, Jose Pirela, etc). They still have to prove they can put a winner together, but we’ll find out about that soon enough. I’m a big fan.

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The typical Luis Perdomo outing tends to start off a bit shaky, flatten out and get good in the middle innings, and then nosedive into a free fall collapse before the right hander gets the hook. The numbers generally follow this observation, although there’s always the risk of getting caught up in small sample randomness when you break any pitcher down inning by inning.

If you do look at Perdomo’s splits this season, the fifth inning, perhaps somewhat surprisingly, has actually been his best all-around inning. In 22 innings, he’s got 1.64 ERA with 17 strikeouts, five walks, and no homers allowed. The wheels come off any time Andy Green tries to push him into the sixth, however, as Perdomo has been tattooed for 17 earned runs (on five homers) in just 18 2/3 innings in the frame. The seventh gets even worse, with seven more runs tacked on in just 2 1/3 frames.

That’s the typical Perdomo start. He’ll be rolling through five innings with just a run allowed on a few hits and decent peripherals. The sixth will rear its ugly head and five batters later two runs will be in and Perdomo will be heading for the showers with runners on the corners and one out. If Perdomo had been removed from every start this season after the fifth inning, his ERA would drop a full run, from 4.62 to 3.62.

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This is the seventh Friday mailbag in a row; thanks for all the great questions.

Manuel Margot‘s had a really solid rookie campaign, although certain aspects of his game have left something to be desired. On offense, the one thing that’s surprised me is his strikeout rate. Maybe my expectations were too high, but I figured he’d jump into the majors and make a lot of contact right away. So far he’s whiffing 19.2 percent of the time, which is a tick or two better than league average but maybe a bit higher than anticipated for someone who only struck out 11.5 percent of the time in his minor-league career and earned top prospect status largely for his hit tool.

Here’s the encouraging news on that front:

Month Strikeout %
April 27.6
May 19.0
June 27.8 (18 PAs)
July 23.1
August 14.6

Margot’s strikeout rate has been trending down this season, with August by far being his best month. Even more encouragingly, he’s been able to show both power and contact ability at the same time, swatting five homers and 10 extra-base hits this month. That’s a small sample, of course, but he’s hitting .281/.318/.494 in the second-half. He’s a rookie, so there’s not much to go on; steady improvement is all we can ask.

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Little light on twitter questions this week, so we grabbed an email sent in from my alter ego.

Was the Darren Smith interview with Angels GM Billy Eppler from a couple of weeks back the most overrated GM interview of all time?
Safety Squeeze Dustin, San Diego, California

Yes. There are at least two or three glowing reviews of this interview out there, but I just don’t see it. I’ve listened to it three times, searching for whatever it is that everyone else is fawning over. I got nothin’. Here are the points against it.

  • I’m not/wasn’t a Chargers fan, really, but Eppler’s comments on that football team were annoying at best, and probably much closer to fingernails on a chalkboard if you’re from San Diego.
  • Half the interview was about football.
  • Eppler hardly said a meaningful thing about evaluating baseball players or running a big-league team outside of your typical cliches.
  • He said “procurement” three or four times.

Eppler is a fine talker, but this is an average interview. More so, there’s nothing in it to indicate that Eppler was the right choice over A.J. Preller for the Padres GM jobthat is, unless you rate radio interview skills high on the list of what you want in a general manager. The Angels are having a nice little season, but they’re two games over .500 with the best baseball player of all time, Mike Trout, having his best season yet (yes, I know he missed time with an injury). They’re still just a one-in-five shot to make the playoffs, their farm system stinks, and most of their key players, save for Andrelton Simmons (nice move, Billy), were already on the team when Eppler was hired.

I’m not critiquing the job he’s done in Los Angeles or even his interviewing chops, but c’mon, let’s chill out a little bit about Billy Eppler, the one that got away. This interview gets a four on the 1-to-10 scale of baseball executive radio interviews, and I’ll take Preller over Eppler as a general manager.

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what's brewing on the padres farm system

Luis Asuncion, OF, Low-A Tri-City

At 6’4,” 205 pounds, Luis Asuncion is already a physical specimen. The 20-year-old right fielder out of the Dominican Republic is in his second year with the Tri-City Dust Devils. Signed in November 2013, Asuncion played 2014 and 2015 in the Dominican Summer League, where he registered an OPS of .408 (as a 17-year-old) and .681 (as an 18-year-old) respectively. He was then bumped up to Tri-City in 2016, where he slashed .241/.335/.317 with a .651 OPS in 58 games. Even though he was a large kid, he was still obviously trying to fit into his body. And it showed. Asuncion only had thirteen extra-base hits in 199 at-bats, and ended the campaign with a 91 wRC+.

This year, though, Asuncion has showed much improvement. He is currently hitting .272 with a .408 SLG%. His OPS is up to .731, the wRC+ is at 103, and he has stolen six bases as well. Earlier this season, Luis was one of a selected few that represented the Northwest League in the HR Derby. He was also named as a Northwest League All-Star. Although Asuncion only hit one home run in the derby, he managed to take home the All-Star Game MVP by going 1-3 with an RBI double in the contest.

Although the numbers may not be eye popping and he is not a “top” prospect by any means, Asuncion deserves some attention just because he seemingly has built upon and improved each season in rookie ball. He is also super athletic, which does not hurt either. He will obviously have to improve on his 22.6 percent K rate and 6.6 percent walk rate he is currently showing this year, but I would not doubt that he starts next season in Fort Wayne and gets his feet wet in full-season ball. (John Horvath)

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If you don’t follow me on the twitter, I’m cutting back on writing for now. The mailbag has survived, however, and the mailbag is here.

Put me in the “sure, why not?” bucket here. When the Braves moved Freddie Freeman from first to third earlier this season, I thought it was an interesting experiment. Maybe the process behind it wasn’t great—the Braves moved their franchise cornerstone to clear room for a then scorching-hot Matt Adams—but I like the general idea of challenging guys to swim upstream on the defensive spectrum, particularly if there’s some athleticism/defensive skills present.

When Wil Myers moved from the outfield to first base initially, back toward the end of 2015, it looked like it might work out okay. The numbers said he played really good defense there last year, and he also added a bunch of runs on the bases. This season, however, he’s backpedaled in both of those areas, especially defensively, where the numbers and the eye test agree on the regression. Maybe his defensive skill-set just doesn’t work that well at first in the end, and he’ll be better off returning to an outfield corner, or even to third. He’d have more overall appeal if he could make things work defensively elsewhere on the diamond, though you could say that about any first sacker. Thing is, Myers hasn’t yet shown enough bat to cut it at first, at least not when other facets of his game aren’t firing.

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Another Friday, another twitter mailbag.

Here’s how I’d rank the priorities of Andy Green this season, particularly for the last couple of months.

  1. Develop young players
  2. Develop older players/maximize their future trade value
  3. Keep good clubhouse moral and all that jazz
  4. Read at least one good book a week
  5. Go all-out to win games

On a contending team, those five things might be reversed (toss the books), but the Padres are 50-64, and they’re in no position to make any kind of run toward even the periphery of the playoff race. They’re not a winning team, and we essentially knew they weren’t going to be a winning team all season. They shouldn’t treat games the same way a winning team treats games.

Yesterday, in the seventh inning of a one-run game in Cincinnati, Green violated the hierarchy of priorities, putting no. 5 over no. 2 while brushing up against the warm fuzzies of no. 3 in the process, likely ticking off Kirby Yates. With runners on first and second, one out, and Joey Votto at the plate (in a 2-2 count!), Green yanked Yates for All-Star Brad Hand.

So, just to be clear here, Green brought Hand, an important future trade candidate, into a game in the middle of an at-bat against one of the best hitters in baseball to try to protect a one-run lead against direct tank competition.

What’s wrong with that move?

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When the Padres acquired Pedro Avila from the Nationals last December, he was just an ordinary prospect—or at least he was supposed to be one. You can’t expect to get a good prospect for Derek Norris, not after Norris put up a .222/.283/.370 slash line in two seasons in San Diego, bottoming out in 2016.

Since coming over to the Padres, however, Avila’s quietly been distancing himself from ordinary prospect territory, as Ryan Luz documented recently over at Padres Prospectus. He’s back at Single-A currently, after some moderate struggles with Lake Elsinore earlier this year, but he’s still struck out 28 percent and allowed just 0.4 HR/9 on the season, rosy numbers for a 20-year-old no matter the level.

Then, last night happened. Avila gathered his favorite loud noise instruments—his vuvuzelas and his fog horns and his trumpets—and ensured himself a little attention in a farm system packed with attention-hogging prospects. Facing the Great Lakes Loons, in front of 3,018 patrons at a place called Dow Diamond in Midland, Michigan, Avila struck out 17 and walked none in eight innings.

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Hey, the Hangover is back too. 

The last time we talked about Carter Capps it was back in June, and Capps had just finished a showdown with an umpiring crew in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

After missing all of 2016 due to Tommy John surgery, Capps spent the first few months of this season in the minors, mostly in Triple-A El Paso, with good but not great results. In 27 2/3 innings, he struck out 30, walked 11, and allowed just one home run. Over his final 9 2/3 innings on his extended rehab, he struck out 15 and walked just one, showing the Padres that he was ready for another test.

Last night, in Cincinnati, Capps made his return to a big-league mound. There were, as you might expect, some positives and negatives.

Positive No. 1: His velocity was down, but not way down.

According to Brooks Baseball, Capps’ four-seamer averaged 93.3 mph last night, but he pumped one in there at 96 and a couple of others at 95-plus. Back in 2015, the peak Capps experience, he was averaging 98-plus, and that doesn’t include the extra perceived speed his delivery adds. So the velocity is clearly down, but it’s still just his first appearance on a big-league mound in two years. The positive here is that he was able to get it up to 96, which maybe indicates that he’ll be up to 95-plus on the reg by the time this season’s over.

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