what's brewing on the padres farm system

People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare at my computer and watch my prospect status rise. —Fernando Tatis Jr. (probably)

Fernando Tatis Jr. entered the Padres organization mostly as an unknown. Acquired with Erik Johnson from the White Sox for James Shields, Tatis hadn’t played a single professional game when the Padres got him last June. Despite the household name, Tatis was mostly viewed as a wild card—an international amateur who hadn’t done enough to earn a huge bonus or lots of prospect cred.

In fact, the last time I wrote about him—in August in a WBOTF post—I noted the lack of coverage:

Tatis Jr. is so young and so inexperienced that you have to dig to find anything written about him on the internet . . . I mean, dig, dark web and all.

Fast-forward eight months and the internet is overflowing with words on Tatis, most of them glowing. For one, Tatis played, and played well. Split between rookie ball and low-A Tri City, the 17-year-old right-handed hitting shortstop posted a .273/.311/.432 line with 15 stolen bases and 24 extra-base hits in 55 games. Beyond the numbers, people really liked what they saw.

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Click here for the series intro and last week’s reports.

Chris Baker, SS, Low-A Tri-City

Taken out of the University of Washington in the 17th round of this year’s draft, Chris Baker is currently plying his trade in the Northwest League with the Tri-City Dust Devils. Having played all over the infield at Washington (competently, according to multiple reports), he’s played shortstop exclusively during his month and a half as a professional. Currently at the All-Star break, Baker’s slash line is .300/.397/.393 in 179 PA, with a 129 wRC+. That’s good enough for him to be selected for the Northwest League All-Star team.

Baker’s an interesting player, as I found out when I had the opportunity to watch the Dust Devils play a series in person a couple of weeks back. Offensively, he already looks comfortable at this level. The ball looks solid off of his bat, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a bit more power develop before he’s through. Defensively, I thought he looked average/above-average, with a pretty strong arm. In each game of the series, there were some mental lapses on the bases and in the field. John Conniff at MadFriars saw Tri-City’s subsequent series and made no notes of such issues. Given this and reports I’ve read out of college, I’d venture to guess this isn’t a long-term issue worth being too concerned about.

While the draft position and rankings justifiably aren’t particularly sexy, this is a solid player who could end up being an interesting, “under-the-radar” type guy in the system. (Vocal Minority David)

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When the Padres signed James Shields toward the end of A.J. Preller’s “rockstar GM” phase, I noted that they were putting the future on hold. The Shields acquisition, at the time, represented yet another bet on that team, on the present, on winning. That team’s still together, somewhat, but they’re still mostly failing and they’re starting to come unglued.

Shields is in Chicago now, sent away with money in a deal that returned Erik Johnson, a fringy 26-year-old right hander, and Fernando Tatis Jr., a Dominican shortstop who was not yet four months old when this happened. The timing for the deal is somewhat odd—it came just four days after Shields surrendered 10 runs in Seattle, bumping his ERA up over a full run, and three days after Ron Fowler’s radio rant, in which he specifically called Shields “embarrassing.” So much for dealing players at peak value.

Ignoring some potential trade value lost from one really bad start and a public tear-down by the team’s executive chairman—and the too-obvious irony of Fowler calling somebody else embarrassing—and maybe this was just what the Padres needed to kickstart a rebuilding process that seems plainly obvious from the outside. The Plan didn’t work, in part because it probably wasn’t a very good plan and in part because baseball’s baseball. We all kind of stink at predicting it, even the executives and general managers and scouts and analysts who are paid real money—sometimes real good money—to chronically obsess over it, study it, and put their jobs on the line for it. Players get hurt and players under-perform and other teams do smart things and randomness is always sitting in the corner, ominously waiting to pounce when things are finally going well. Oh, yeah, and sometimes non-baseball ops people get involved in baseball decisions.

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