Rafael De Paula, RHP, Double-A San Antonio

Minor-league relievers, man—they aren’t gonna churn the page views (read Oscar below).

De Paula, like most relievers, was once a starter when the Padres acquired him long ago from the Yankees as part of the return on Chase Headley. It took the right hander parts of three years to get through High-A ball as a starter, and he still couldn’t get his ERA below five. So midway through last season the Padres pulled the plug on the starting thing, and they’ve stuck with that decision this year while moving De Paula out of the hitter-friendly Cal League to Double-A San Antonio.

It worked. With nine innings at Triple-A El Paso sprinkled in with 54 1/3 at Double-A, De Paula has struck out 87 while walking 22 and surrendering just two home runs. There have always been concerns with his delivery and command, and a move to the bullpen has seemed inevitable for a few years now . . . but give De Paula credit, as he took his game to the pen and, at least by the numbers, turned his career around. There’s not much out there from a scouting perspective on him this season—remember, minor-league relievers and page views—but De Paula has an exciting enough late-inning power profile to likely earn a spot in the Padres ‘pen next season, and it’ll be interesting to see how his stuff translates into the majors. (Sac Bunt Dustin)

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Here’s some stuff I read this week that you might enjoy:

  • Removing the Fangs From Ty Cobb’s Notoriety (New York Times) – There’s a new book out about Cobb, and what author Charles Leerhsen discovered after four years of researching his subject surprised even him: “I thought I’d find new examples of monstrous monstrosity. Instead, I found a very different person than the myth. I was a little disappointed at first. He’s more normal than I thought.” Sounds like a great read, as is Cobb’s SABR biography.
  • The Braves are Salvaging a Salary Dump (FanGraphs) – As Jeff Sullivan notes, former Padres center fielder Cameron Maybin has stopped hitting so many groundballs in Atlanta. That and health are turning him into the player folks once envisioned him becoming. For now, anyway. [h/t reader Didi]
  • Attendance Update and the Angels’ Latest PR Mess (FanGraphs) – Through June 4, the Padres ranked 12th out of 30, just ahead of the Rangers and behind last year’s American League champion Royals. The Pads also have had the third largest gain from 2014, behind those same Royals and the hated Mariners (go figure). On the downside, literally, the Pads’ attendance slipped from April to May more than all but three teams. Hosting teams outside the division is a little different from hosting the Giants and Dodgers, who knew? That the Padres haven’t lived up to preseason hype probably doesn’t help either. Hey, at least they aren’t the Phillies.
  • Padres Pics #1 (The 5.5 Hole) – This new blog promises to be fun. Anything that starts with Kurt Bevacqua dressed as Dick Williams being harassed by umpires has to be good, right? Speaking of Padres from the ’80s, Wax Pack is a book due out in 2017 (plan ahead!) that author Brad Balukjian calls “the story of a single pack of 1986 Topps baseball cards and the attempt to track down each of the players inside nearly 30 years after they were bundled together with a stick of chalky bubblegum.” Balukjian will be interviewing the players in this single pack, including Garry Templeton. Pretty cool. Others in the pack with Padres ties are Gary Pettis, Randy Ready, and Rick Sutcliffe.
  • Padres draft RHP Austin Smith at No. 51 (San Diego Union-Tribune) – A.J. Preller likes his team’s first pick in the 2015 draft: “It’s a big body, good frame, big, strong and durable. Clean arm action, good delivery, and he shows three pitches.” MLB.com adds: “He works at 90-92 mph and tops out at 96 while looking like he’s just playing catch. He could sit in the mid-90s once he fills out his 6-foot-4 frame and gets more consistent.” Learn more about the Padres draft class (including third rounder Jacob Nix, who has an interesting backstory) at Draft Tracker 2015 and from our own Dustin.

The San Diego Padres selected right-handed pitcher Austin Smith in the second-round of the 2015 draft tonight. You can find lots of information about Smith all over the internet, a large percentage of it from people far more knowledgeable about his likely future than this writer. Here, for example, is what Kiley McDaniel said about him:

Smith has a big frame, smooth arm action and has run it up to 97 mph along with an above average curveball, so the starter traits and solid health indicators are there, but the lack of a plus secondary pitch has him in the second tier of prep arms.

Sounds good.

But here’s a potentially interesting piece of information about Smith: he’s relatively old for a high school draft pick. In fact, on McDaniel’s draft board, only seven of the 108 high schoolers listed are older than Smith, and the average age is 18.4 compared to 18.9 for Smith, who was born July 9th, 1996.

Various studies suggest that younger is better when it comes to draft prospects, perhaps most obviously because younger is better when it comes to baseball prospects in general. Take two guys in Double-A ball, both performing at the same level, and one’s 20 while the other one is 22. Which one are you taking? Take two players performing at the same level in high school, one’s almost 19 (Smith) while the other (Triston McKenzie, let’s say, drafted 42nd overall by the Indians) has yet to turn 18. Which one are you taking? There’s just more room for improvement for the younger player, especially if both players have shown a similar ability against comparable competition.

You’re smart, so you probably thinking … wait a second, there’s a lot more to a pitching prospect than age. Of course, you’re right, which is why there’s a decent chance this won’t matter — pitcher aging curves are funky, anyway. If Smith delivers as the Padres expect him to, he’ll turn into a valuable pitcher regardless of his age when he was drafted. Then again, if he doesn’t, maybe the Padres will look back and wish they gambled on a younger high school hurler.

Or something like that.