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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what's brewing on the padres farm system

Michel Baez, RHP, Single-A Fort Wayne

I’ve been trying to work Baez into the lyrics of Jimmy Dean’s “Big Bad John for the better part of a month, but two things: 1) I’m not Geoff Young and 2) it’s not easy to compare the story of a pitcher from Cuba to that of a coal miner from Louisiana.

Point is, Baez is big—he stands 6-foot-8 and weighs 225—and he’s bad, and you get the sense that his sole purpose on the mound is to find new ways to embarrass Midwest League hitters. Heading into his sixth start of the year on Monday, Baez had already transformed himself from unheralded international signing to bonafide prospect. Over his first four starts in the Midwest League he pitched 23 innings while allowing just two runs, with 33 strikeouts, three walks, and 17 spoken words to teammates.

On Monday, Baez upped the ante by striking out 14 and walking none in a 6 2/3 innings masterpiece against the Dayton Dragons, a team that demoted itself to the Pioneer League five minutes after the game ended to avoid a potential rematch. Somewhere, a wise prospect sage is hollering TINSTAAPP, warning us never to get too excited about a pitching prospect with six professional starts. I’ll wait until Baez gives up three runs in an outing before tempering my expectations.

/Big bad Baez. (Sac Bunt Dustin)

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No matter what’s happening at the big-league level, the Padres have collected an overwhelming amount of talent over the last few years. Even though Manuel Margot, Austin Hedges, and Hunter Renfroe all graduated from last year’s top 20, the system right now is arguably just as good, with the emergence of prospects like Fernando Tatis Jr., Eric Lauer, and Michel Baez. Michael Gettys, ranked seventh on our list at the end of last season, didn’t even crack our top 20 this go around, and he’s having a fine season as a 21-year-old in Lake Elsinore (okay, the strikeouts are a concern). And there are a bunch of other intriguing names that also fell short.

Over the last couple of weeks, the What’s Brewing On The Farm crew has been huddled at Padres Public headquarters, trying to sort out this heap of exciting prospects. Our creation is a midsummer’s top 20 for your enjoyment.

20. Luis Campusano, 18, Catcher
AZL Padres: 40 PA, .290/.450/.581, 22.5 BB%, 25.0 K%

Campusano, a bat-first backstop, is the opposite of the other catcher the Padres took early in this year’s draft, Blake Hunt. You could probably take either one, depending on your preference for polished defense vs. bigger offensive potential at catcher. Campusano’s tool set includes plenty of bat speed and over-the-fence power, the kind of raw offensive skills that work at any position. He’s 18, so there’s still plenty of work to do on the offensive side of the ball, but the main question with Campusano might be how the work behind the dish progresses.

Eric Longenhagen had a mostly negative report on his defense from a late-June viewing, but it’s early. On the plus side, it’s possible his bat makes him an interesting prospect even at first base or in an outfield corner, but obviously that kind of switch would put a dent into his prospect status. For now, cross your fingers and hope the Padres can develop Campusano into a good catcher. Remember, Yasmani Grandal was once viewed as a bat-first catcher too. (Sac Bunt Dustin)

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what's brewing on the padres farm system

Michel Baez, RHP, Single-A Fort Wayne

I was initially going to begin this post with a graphic description of Michel Baez’s fastball, but thought better of it because Baez’s fastball is already nasty (folks!!!!!!!!!!!!).

Signed out of Cuba last year for $3 million, the 6-foot-8 right-hander’s been pitching professionally in Cuba since 2014. He started the year in Arizona Rookie League, where he flexed (10 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 16 K) his power fastball at the expense of some poor, poor bastards.

How good is his fastball? Here’s what MadFriars (people who actually know what they’re talking about) wrote after Baez’s dominant debut at Fort Wayne:

“Baez was sitting 96 mph on his fastball, reaching up to 98 at times. He struck out two in the first throwing almost nothing but his fastball. If that didn’t impress an all-time crowd in Fort Wayne, Baez busted out his changeup in the fifth. He struck out the side making the batters look clueless. He finished the night striking out five of the final six batters he faced.”

One interesting thing about Baez is he’s already 21, obviously much older than a typical July 2 signing, and making him a bit old for the level. I wonder if the Padres might decide to bump him to Lake Elsinore at some point this season, especially if he keeps making it look easy against Low-A hitters. (Oscar)

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The July 2 international signing period opened on Sunday, and as we predicted back in May, the Padres have been plenty busy. According to Baseball America, they’ve already signed 22 prospects from the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Mexico, Cuba, and Australia. Unlike last year, however, they can’t go past $300,000 on any player this year (Mexican loophole notwithstanding), so the strategy this time around has been quantity over quality.

According to the BA’s signing tracker, here are the number of signings by each team so far:

There are the Padres, third in all of baseball, only a few signings behind the pace-setting Astros and Dodgers, two more teams under spending restrictions. San Diego has already inked 14 more players than the average team. As we noted previously, when discussing the 57 signings the Yankees made in 2015, it’s not particularly surprising:

Teams like the Yankees (and now Padres) that are heavily invested in the international game, spending gobs of money one year, are probably more familiar with the next class of international free agents than teams that don’t devote as many resources to foreign scouting. It’s easy to just continue signing players in the year following a spending spree, with the $300,000 limit only narrowing the potential market. There’s a good shot that the Padres, given their deep roots in Latin America, follow a similar path, using the next two years to stockpile young, high upside players.

The expensive players—the ones out of the Padres range this year—have better shots of becoming good prospects and productive major leaguers, of course, but this is still something of an educated guessing game. It’s an almost impossibly difficult task to scout 15- and 16-year-old players who aren’t even finished growing yet. The Padres are probably as good at it as any other team, so it’s encouraging that they’re keeping the pedal to the floor internationally. They could have taken a step back this year and nobody would have criticized them, but it’s clear this regime is hell-bent on finding talented baseball players whenever the opportunity presents itself.

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what's brewing on the padres farm system

Luis Almanzar, 3B/SS, Low-A Tri-City

If don’t scout the stat line is a thing, then don’t scout the video clip is probably one too.

Either way, I couldn’t help but be impressed with that swing. I’m not sure how hard the pitch was or anything, but it looked like a fastball well inside on Almanzar’s hands, and he was able to turn on it, keep it fair, and line it to relatively deep left. That looks like some mighty fine bat speed for a guy who’s 17 years old, just a couple of week into his professional debut. Almanzar went 1-for-4 last night, which gives him an eight-game hitting streak; he also poked a (wind-aided) fly ball that was caught on the right-field warning track. Overall, he’s been off to a good start offensively, with five doubles, four steals, and nine walks (15 percent) in 13 games.

Defensively, it might be more of a work in progress. Almanzar had a ball clank off his glove at third last night and then awkwardly pulled up on a foul pop-up near the stands in the same inning. Further, Padres Jagoff didn’t seem overly impressed after his in-person viewing. It’s really early, of course, and it’s impressive enough that players like Almanzar are starting their careers in the Northwest League. We’ll try to chill out about the early returns, but it’s impossible to not pay attention. (Sac Bunt Dustin)

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Just after the draft, I did something ridiculous: I tried to predict all of the signing bonuses for Padres picks in the first 10 rounds. How’d I do?

Alright, not terrible. Not great, but not terrible.

I didn’t see MacKenzie Gore getting slot—or a little over slot, technically—but so be it. Give that dude all the money. Campusano signed for $400,000-plus under slot, which is kind of interesting given that he was considered the top catcher on the board. House signed for slot, which was also something of a surprise. Keating got quite a bit over, which we figured. Homza, Margevicius, and Basabe were right about where we had them. Leasher was more expensive than predicted, but maybe we weren’t considering park factors. The senior signs were cheaper than our guesses, but they’re always something of a wild card. After all that, though, one player’s signing bonus stood out (and completely destroyed my overall guesstimate).

Blake Hunt signed for $1,600,000, nearly twice his slot value of $858,600. I figured he’d be an under-slot signing.

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It’s June and the Padres are 31–45; that means it’s the time of the year when mid-season prospect list start popping up. Last week Padres ProspectusEast Village Times, and Phillip unveiled lengthy and well-done Padres prospect lists, and somewhere in his east coast palatial estate David Marver is (apparently) working on a top 110 or something. I figured, what the heck, here’s mine.

(all stats through some point this weekend)

11. Fernando Tatis Jr., SS, Single-A Fort Wayne

You might glance at Fernando Tatis Jr.’s numbers and wonder what all the fuss is about. Tatis is hitting “just” .260/.338/.430 in 296 plate appearances. He’s striking out 26.3 percent of the time and walking 9.5 percent of the time. He has 12 steals in 20 tries. There are two things here:

1. Once you adjust for age, those numbers are quite good. In the Midwest league there are only 11 18-year-old position players. Of them, only offensive wunderkind Vladimir Gurerro Jr. has a higher wRC+ than Tatis (146 to 116). Keibert Ruiz is tied with Tatis, but five of the others—including teammates Jack Suwinski, Hudson Potts, and Reinaldo Ilarraza—have figures of 80 or lower. Flip over to the South Atlantic League, the Midwest League’s east coast cousin, and it’s more of the same. There are only two 18-year-old position players there, and neither has a wRC+ better than 110.

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what's brewing on the padres farm system

Last Tuesday night Padres Public converged on Eastlake, Ohio for a Midwest League game between the Fort Wayne TinCaps and the Lake County Captains. Nathan traveled from about a half hour away in Cleveland, and myself from somewhere in the middle of New York, a cool six-hour trip. Nathan made an additional appearance on Thursday night.

This is what we saw.

Ronald Bolanos, RHP

Bolanos, a 19 year old Cuban who signed last August for $2.25 million during A.J. Preller’s summer abroad, started his minor league career in extended spring training, but he was sent out to Fort Wayne in mid-May, and he’s now made 5 starts for the team. Thursday night was the fifth, and it was his longest start of the year, at 6 2/3 innings pitched. In his previous start, he went 5 innings, giving up 2 runs and striking out 9 batters against a very good Lansing team, his best start of the year. Thursday’s was on course to be better, but it had to settle for also quite good.
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what's brewing on the padres farm system

MacKenzie Gore, LHP, Whiteville HS (NC)
First round, third overall

Gore is like the high school version of two recent Padres draft picks, Eric Lauer and Joey Lucchesi. He’s got a different kind of scouting report than your usual coveted prep pitcher. There’s no blow-you-away velocity here—not yet, anyway. But Gore also has attributes rarely associated with a young pitcher. He possesses a deep repertoire of plus (or potential plus) offerings, he’s polished (at least for the HS breed), and he’s a super athlete, important for things like repeating mechanics and, ahem, staying healthy.

There are, of course, plusses and minuses in taking a high school pitcher this high. On the down side, there’s always plenty of risk attached to any pitcher, particularly a high school one. Gore, while dominant at the high school level, hasn’t proven that he can handle a professional workload or a professional hitter. And there’s always the issue of health, and being a good three or four years away, health is always an ominous shadow.

On the plus side, the Padres got a pitcher who hasn’t gone to college, where he’d potentially be abused to win a conference title or a game in Omaha. He’ll get professional instruction right away, where the Padres will be able to carefully handle his development and promotion schedule. Many major-league stars were drafted as high schoolers for a variety of reasons, and that’s part of the appeal here.

In a perfect world, Gore’s the right combination of upside and safety. That’s something of a rare mix, though the profile—any profile—still carries plenty of its own risk. Expect the Padres to take it easy with Gore early, but his advanced style could allow him to move through the lower levels somewhat quickly once he gets rolling. (Sac Bunt Dustin)

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