With many of the Padres top prospects and minor leaguers looking to graduate to the majors in the near future, this is the first of a series of posts looking at the “other” prospects in the system, position by position. Day 1: The “Other” Catchers
Man, aren’t you guys psyched about Austin Hedges? Regardless of how poorly the Pads play this year, it’ll still be worth tuning in to watch him work his magic behind the dish. Plus, his bat caught fire in Triple-A last year, and he’s off to a hot start in spring training right now (batting .500 through his first 20 at bats), and the idea of pairing his elite defense with even an average bat should make Padres fans happy for a long time.
BUT, things happen. While his 56 game stint with the Padres in 2015 technically means he hasn’t been a prospect for a while, the same rules apply: things don’t always pan out. If you’re ready to disregard the rest of the Padres backstops in the minors for the next decade, you might want to take a look at that dusty Sean Burroughs jersey in your closet and knock on some wood. At the very least, prospects are good currency for acquiring big league talent.
So, with it looking like Hedges is ready for his first full season with the big club, and the Friars using some combination of veteran Héctor Sánchez, pitcher/outfielder/catcher hybrid Christian Bethancourt, and never-played-above-Single-A Rule 5 pick Luis Torrens, who are the catchers to know in the Padres farm system?
Age: 29 Acquired: 2010 Draft, 24th Round Last Year: .243/.321/.319 slash line between Double-A and Triple-A
I might’ve missed somebody, but by my count, Gale is one of, if not the longest tenured Padre. Drafted the same year as grizzled vet Jedd Gyorko, Gale had a cup of coffee with the Padres in 2015, getting a single in 10 big league at bats. He spent a good chunk of 2016 in Double-A San Antonio to get constant reps while Hedges took most of the playing time in El Paso, but he didn’t quite set the league on fire at the plate. At this point, it seems like he will handle the Triple-A pitching staff in 2017, and it’ll take some injuries to guys on the 40-man for him to have a second chance in front of big league fans. I spoke with him last summer about a few things, including his favorite baseball movie, and he is a certified good guy, for what it’s worth.
Age: 23 Acquired: 2015 Draft, 4th round Last Year: .320/.364/.425 slash line for Fort Wayne
MLB.com rates Austin Allen as the Padres 27th best prospect and second highest catcher (Torrens is the highest at number 23, but to stick with the organization, he’ll have to stick with the big club, and would likely lose his prospect status (though they could play some games with his qualifications if he went down with an injury). Allen was older than the average player in Single-A, and did well in a short, three game stint in San Antonio at the end of the year. An offensively minded catcher, he is the biggest behind-the-plate bat that the Padres have at any level. The yin to Hedges’ yang (well, at least until Hedges’ break out year with the bat in El Paso), Allen has thrown out just 21% of potential baserunners in his 142 game pro career (31 CS/119 SB), compared to Hedges’ 34% clip (178 CS/345 SB). It will be interesting to see if the bat continues to progress and leads to a pair of Austin’s behind the plate in the Padres future. Look for him to start in Lake Elsinore in 2017.
Age: 24 Acquired: 2013 Draft, 14th Round Last Year: .232/.283/.424 slash line in San Antonio
The oldest catching “prospect” the Padres have (outside of the aforementioned Gale), Miller alternated catching assignments with Gale at Double-A most of the season and should look to get the bulk of the playing time in San Antonio this season. Miller seems to be the average of all the other catchers on this list. He lacks the impact bat that Allen hints at, but is more accomplished offensively than the rest. He isn’t known for the glove like A.J. Kennedy is, but has still thrown out 34% of baserunners in his career (though it dipped to 27% in 2016). At 24, he’ll likely be older than the average Double-A prospect, so this will be a big year for him to show that he can succeed enough to earn him an end-of-the-year promotion to El Paso.
Age: 23 Acquired: 2015 Draft, 30th Round Last Year: .219/.275/.285 slash line across Single-A, High-A, and Double-A
Taken near the end of the Inaugural A.J. Preller Draft, Kennedy is a Cal State Fullerton alum and his college scouting report likened him to current Padres backstop Austin Hedges. His defense might go a ways to help explain his meager hitting stats, which were actually worse during his college years (.187/.273/.237 in 110 NCAA games). While he showed a huge improvement in a 24-game stint after being drafted (.276/.337/.345 with Low-A Tri-City), his bat showed a lot of room for improvement in 2016. However, the report of him being a “plus defender” and “plus pitch-framer” and having a “strong arm” seems to be verified, as he has thrown out an impressive 36% of would-be base stealers in his pro career (42 CS/76 SB). He seems to have the makeup to be a good receiver and could be a glove-first backup, even if the bat is only mediocre.
Marcus Greene Jr.:
Age: 22 Acquired: from the Rangers in THE Will Venable Trade Last Year: .189/.268/.331 slash line between High-A and Single-A
It may come as a surprise to some that the prospect acquired for a few months of Will Venable was less than a blue-chip. He came to the Padres organization a few months removed from Tommy John surgery, and struggled at Lake Elsinore so badly that he was sent down to Fort Wayne. There, he suffered a concussion and ended the season playing in just 49 games. Greene Jr. (no relation to Khalil) spent time in the Australian winter league and, feeling healthy for the first time in a long time, mashed to the tune of a .304/.323/.522 slash line. We’ll look to see if he can continue swinging a hot bat, or if the Australian winter league is significantly easier than High-A minors. Greene will likely have to fight for playing time in 2017, as Miller and Allen figure to have the inside track to the starting jobs at High-A and Double-A. Here’s hoping that improved health results in improved performance.