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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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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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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Earlier today the Padres traded Trevor Cahill, Brandon Maurer, and Ryan Buchter to the Kansas City Royals for Esteury Ruiz, Matt Strahm, and Travis Wood.

Woo-hoo, a trade!

Trades are hard to write about these days. The more credit we’ve given to teams for getting smarter and smarter, the easier it is to look at a deal and nod along: “yup, yup, makes sense. yup.” It’s really no different with this deal. The Padres had obvious trade candidates like Cahill, picked up for pennies and reconfigured into a legitimate starter, Maurer, a still-pretty-young reliever who’s consistently shown better peripherals and stuff than surface stats, and Buchter, something of a throw-in who offers some value as an always coveted lefty with good strikeout numbers, so they traded them. In return the Padres got back a pair of younger, interesting players and in the process made the major-league team worse for an anticipated, and choreographed, second-half swoon.

The Padres got back three players. One of them, Travis Wood, is unlike the others. He’s a 30-year-old veteran having an absolutely miserable year. So far in 41 2/3 innings out of the Royals ‘pen, Wood’s posted a gaudy 8.49 DRA, seventh-worst in all of baseball (min. 20 innings.). In fact, among pitchers with at least half their innings in relief, Wood is dead last in the majors. His cFIP, 112, offers some hope for non-disastrous performance going forward, but he’s fallen a long way since masquerading as a league-average starter a few years back with the Cubs.

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I used to do this Twitter Q&A thing a few years back, so with nothing to write about last night, I decided to reboot the series. Twitter came through.

With Yangervis Solarte currently out with a strained oblique, this question gets a little more complicated. Still, I have a feeling the Padres will end up sticking with Solarte even if he comes back before the deadline (the guys at Gwynntelligence felt the same way on their podcast yesterday). There are some soft factors that make a lot sense there, plus the Tigers didn’t get back a whole bunch for J.D. Martinez in a recent trade. It seems like most teams just aren’t looking to add position players at the deadline, as everyone scrambles for more arms. The Red Sox could make sense for a fit if they want to be patient with their top prospect, third baseman Rafael Devers.

If Solarte stays in San Diego, that means he’ll be getting regular reps at second. That leaves Cory Spangenberg and Carlos Asuaje to duke it out over at third, with both of them likely getting time at second and in the outfield. Ryan Schimpf lurks in El Paso as an obvious candidate for a late-season recall, but it’s not clear that the Padres are too high on him.

I’m not sure if any team would actually trade for Erick Aybar, and I write that with all due respect to the lad. He works as a fine placeholder with the Padres, but I wouldn’t mind them getting “crazy” and putting either Spangenberg or Asuaje there (they could try both, although that’d leave nobody manning third). Sometimes a guy ends up playing better there than you’d think, plus it give you an extra opportunity to get another interesting position player on the field every day. Jose Rondon could also get a look at some point, although he’s currently on the DL at Triple-A El Paso. Aybar’s 33 years old and a replacement level player; I’d like to see the Padres use the second half to audition a few other players at short.

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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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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

Michael Kelly, RHP, Double-A San Antonio

While we wait for Cal Quantrill, Adrian Morejon, and the rest of the Famers that will be the foundation of the Padres’ dynasty (2021-2025), we must first drudge through “Jhoulys Chacin Pitching on the Road” piles of shit and ride Clayton Richard’s stapled shoulder to 5-2 losses.

It’ll be a long time before the Padres rotation is truly great, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to have to wait that long before it’s good. We’ve already seen what Dinelson Lamet’s capable of in his short time with the big club, and Luis Perdomo, while still mostly just stuff and upside, can every now and then give you a 6 IP, 6h, 2er, 1bb, 8k night.

While two OK arms don’t make a good rotation, three might! I wrote about Michael Kelly last year for one of our first What’s Brewing on the Farm segments. Kelly pitched at three different levels last year, including Triple-A El Paso, where he was mostly up and down. He struggled at Lake Elsinore (29.1 IP, 25K, 12BB, 5.83 ERA), looked great in San Antonio (49.2 IP, 49K, 17BB, 2.90 ERA), before getting knocked around again Triple-A (49.2 IP, 41K, 23BB, 4.89 ERA).

Kelly, who’s still only 24 and was a supplemental 1st-round pick back in 2011, has been terrific at Double-A, where he’s pitched the entire season. Even with the caveat that he’s repeating the level and San Antonio is a pitcher-friendly environment, 91 strikeouts in 84.2 innings (15 starts) is impressive.

As I wrote last year, Madfriars had Kelly’s fastball in the mid-90s; with his strikeout numbers, it’s safe to assume not only has he maintained that velocity this year, but his secondary pitches have also started coming along. Kelly will probably be promoted to Triple-A at some point, and considering how mostly trash the rotation is right now, a call up to the big leagues shouldn’t be far off. (Oscar)

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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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