what's brewing on the padres farm system

Farm systems are big.

Sometimes we—for good reason—get caught up with established prospects like Manuel Margot and Anderson Espinoza; or intriguing ones like Fernando Tatis Jr.; or enigmatic ones likes Javier Guerra. A good system goes far beyond the headliners, however. There are under-the-radar players all over professional baseball who are going to earn scant notoriety as prospects but turn into productive big-league players (most of them are Cardinals and Giants, probably). The hope is that the Padres will find a few of them.

Under A.J. Preller, the Padres have made great strides in looking everywhere for talented baseball players. They’ve signed gobs of young players from Latin America; they’ve made noise in Asia; they’ve kicked the tires on the shires of Europe; they’ve signed a number of players from indy ball. They’ve also started to corner the market on Division III college players. Last year the Padres signed a league-leading three D-III players, and each of them got off to solid pro debuts in 2016.

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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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what's brewing on the padres farm system

Through a winter of despair comes a beacon of hope . . . it’s prospect week here at Padres Public!

Today we’ll have a cumulative top 10 list and some Big Picture discussion. Throughout the rest of the week, we’ll discuss specific players more in-depth, re-heating the cooling winter hot stove with some overdue prospect fodder.

First, the prospect list. As most all reputable prospect outlets have released top prospects lists (we’re still waiting for Keith Law and a few others), we decided to combine them together with a top-secret algorithm and spit out an overall top 10. Without further ado, using the lists from Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, Chris Crawford, FanGraphs, Mad Friars, and—yes—Padres Public, voila:

1. Anderson Espinoza, RHP
2. Manuel Margot, OF
3. Hunter Renfroe, OF
4. Cal Quantrill, RHP
5. Adrian Morejon, LHP
6. Luis Urias, 2B
7. Jacob Nix, RHP
8. Chris Paddack, RHP
9. Fernando Tatis Jr., SS
10. Michael Gettys, OF

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As we speculated last night, the Padres were active in today’s Rule 5 draft, although they didn’t grab any of the players we suggested (outside of a brief encounter with Justin Haley). A series of trades netted San Diego the top three players selected in the draft, an unprecedented Rule 5 romp. Here are those players:

Miguel Diaz, RHP, Brewers

Diaz is a 22-year-old righty who spent spent four years in rookie ball before jumping to Single-A last season. The results were largely impressive: in 94 2/3 innings, Diaz posted a 3.14 strikeout-to-walk ratio while surrendering just seven home runs. Ultimately, with young players and limited pro experience, scouting reports often provide a better glimpse than the stats. Grant Jones scouted Diaz back in June at Baseball Prospectus, clocking him at 95-96 with the fastball (he touched 98) while handing out positives marks on both the slider and change.

It’s not a surprising pick. As we discussed last night, Preller and the Padres love power arms, and Diaz definitely qualifies. While it makes some sense to slot Diaz right into the starting rotation, if he sticks, it wouldn’t be surprising if the Padres started him off in the bullpen, where they can more easily limit high-stress innings and keep the pressure low.

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Rumor has it the Padres are expected to be busy in baseball’s Rule 5 draft, set to go down tomorrow morning at the Winter Meetings. Last year the Padres took four players in the Rule 5, and two of them ultimately stuck in outfielder Jabari Blash (later acquired via trade) and righty starter Luis Perdomo. So, in the spirit of wild-ass-guessing, who might the Padres grab this year?

Jairo Beras, OF, Texas Rangers

Berras is here for one reason. He was the dude involved in an age-related kerfuffle back when he signed with Texas in 2012, and A.J Preller was heavily involved in both scouting and signing him. He doesn’t necessarily make a ton of sense beyond that, but sometimes familiarity trumps all. Beras has been slow to develop after putting the suspension behind him, having just cracked High-A in 2016 as a 21-year-old. Beras did have his best offensive season last year, hitting .262/.306/.511 with 54 extra-base hits, but that performance came in the offense-friendly context of the California League. Beras has other flaws, too. He’s walked in just 6.3 percent of his professional appearances, there’s plenty of swing-and-miss in his game, and he projects as a so-so corner outfielder at best. Think of a younger version of Jabari Blash, which ultimately means he’s probably superfluous on a team with a lot of young outfielders.

But, still, Preller has history with him.

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Series intro and week no. 1week no. 2week no. 3, week no. 4

Eric Lauer, LHP, Low-A Tri-City

Eric Lauer was drafted 25th overall in the first round of this year’s draft. Our buddy Grant Jones covered Lauer in late May at Baseball Prospectus, where he noted the left hander’s fastball wasn’t a true out pitch but it sat at 93 and touched 94. Reports from John Sickels and Chris Crawford provide additional perspectives: the rest of his arsenal of a slider, 11-7 curve, and change up are at least average with the potential for more, and unmistakably major-league starting pitcher material.

John provides video of Lauer courtesy of Jheremy Brown. To my eye, I notice a quirk in Lauer’s delivery where he rotates his body to face first base immediately before getting into the windup. Former Padre Casey Kelly has a similar quirk.

So far this season Lauer’s made two quick starts in the Arizona Rookie League and 6 in short season Tri-City. As one (at least one Padre fan) would hope, he’s dominated as a polished first round pick for the Dust Devils, striking out 10.7 per 9 innings with a 2.17 FIP.

Thanks in part to Lauer’s command and repertoire, he’s seen as a “safe” pick to move quick and has middle-to-back-end rotation potential. While not exactly sexy (prospect-wise; he’s a dashing young man), pitchers today are valuable as they are fragile. In a world where Ian Kennedy is worth $70 million over five years, middle-to-back-end starters might be the new Moneyball. (That joke never gets old. Not to me anyway.) (Sac Bunt Chris)

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Sometimes, What’s Brewing On The Farm can’t contain all of our hot prospect takes. Last Call is a semi-weekly installment sure to quench any remaining prospect thirst you might have.

The best thing about the newly minted What’s Brewing On The Farm feature at Padres Public is how it’s become a perpetual content generator. The Padres have finally embraced the #FullLuhnow (#FullHoyer?) and are tanking games with the greatest of ease; the All-Star hype has given way to an admission that the team is, in fact, currently engaged in a full rebuild.

All eyes are on the farm system, and – as Billy and I discussed last week – a lot of those eyes are no longer focused on what many perceived to be the crown jewel of the Craig Kimbrel deal: Javier Guerra. This season has been disastrous.

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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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The third pitcher taken by the Padres in this year’s amateur draft was a junior college right hander named Jordan Guerrero, notable for — among other things, presumably — being 6-foot-5 and 260 pounds. In a normal team’s draft class, Guerrero would likely stand as one of the tallest pitchers selected, if not the tallest. In fact, had he been drafted by one of five other teams — the Orioles, Reds, Indians, A’s, or Blue Jays — Guerrero would have been the tallest (or tied for the tallest) pitcher of his draft class.

Instead, Guerrero was taken by the Padres, where he was just the seventh tallest pitcher drafted, behind Trevor Megill (seventh round, 6-foot-8), Jerry Keel (ninth round, 6-foot-6), Trey Wingenter (17th round, 6-foot-7), Chase Williams (25th round, 6-foot-6), Corey Hale (27th round, 6-foot-7), and Adam Hill (39th round, 6-foot-6).

The Padres like tall pitchers, apparently.

But what about the rest of the league? Were the Padres unique in their preference for height on the mound, or were they just part of a league-wide trend?

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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.