what's brewing on the padres farm system

It’s Prospect Week here at Padres Public, so I’ve decided to pop my head out of my apocalypse bunker, at great risk to my own personal safety, to discuss a matter of great import: whether or not Hunter Renfroe is actually going to be good. This message may self-destruct at any moment, so please read quickly but carefully.

Last week, ESPN Baseball Senior Writer, prospect analyst, and Top Chef enthusiast Keith Law released his top 100 prospects for 2017 ($). There was a bit of controversy surrounding Law’s list, as he ranked newly acquired White Sox uber-prospect Yoan Moncada, seen by many/most as a top 5 prospect, #17 on his list, noting Moncada’s ridiculous upside but worrying about his low contact rate. Responding to a reader question about Moncada’s strikeout rate, Law noted that “it’s not just the number, but how a player ends up there,” a suggestion that Moncada’s strikeouts are rooted in a deeper, more troubling problem, such as pitch recognition and/or plate discipline, or problems with his swing mechanics.

Over the weekend, MLB.com released their own top 100 prospect ranking for 2017, and on that list Moncada was 2nd only to his former organization’s top prospect, Andrew Benintendi, with no mention of any problems with his contact rate, and actually noting his increased patience in the 2nd half of the season as one of his many positives.

What makes this relevant to you, Padres fans, is that a very similar difference of opinion seems to have been a major reason in the range of rankings in Padres OF prospect Hunter Renfroe this off-season. Renfroe ranked 42nd on MLB.com’s list while, for the 2nd year in a row, he did not rank on Law’s top 100 list.

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Yoan Moncada to Boston always made a lot of sense, considering the Red Sox collect position player talent like a millionaire collects stamps. They signed both Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez this offseason, then promptly moved Ramirez to an outfield that already features Rusney Castillo, Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Allen Craig, and Daniel Nava. With Xander Bogaerts at short, Dustin Pedroia at second, Pablo Sandoval at third, and some combination of Castillo, Betts, and Bradley in center field, the Red Sox then shelled out $63 million for Moncada ($31.5 to Moncada, the other half to MLB), the 19-year-old Cuban phenom expected to man one of those positions in the near future — at least after he makes an abbreviated tour of Boston’s minor league system.

Moncada to Boston made sense for other reasons, too. One, the Red Sox had already gone over their international amateur spending cap this year, which means they were already prepared to serve a two-year spending penalty on foreign amateurs. Going “all-in” on Moncada, so to speak, might serve a worthy investment for a Red Sox team that won’t be able to sign highly sought after youngsters internationally until — potentially — a worldwide draft is in place. Two, Moncada’s hefty bonus won’t count against the luxury cap, which means Moncada won’t make a serious dent in Boston’s major league payroll until his first or second year in arbitration. That gives the Red Sox plenty of payroll flexibility if Moncada proves to be the 3-4-plus WAR player many are anticipating.

Moncada to San Diego made sense, too, because which team doesn’t want — as Ben Badler once described — a Yasiel Puig type that can play on the dirt. The Padres general manager also happens to be the internationally-acclaimed AJ Preller, who in large part made a name for himself in foreign markets. They also have more money than we thought, perhaps, as evidenced by the four-year, $75 million contract recently handed to James Shields and the Matt Kemp acquisition. And unlike the Red Sox, the Padres have immediate needs at shortstop, third base/second base, and (potentially, at least) center field, with nobody in the minor league system emerging as likely short-term fixes.

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Yoan Moncada was finally granted free agency by some combination of MLB/OFAC earlier this month, and the latest news on the Cuban phenom is that he’ll field offers from teams over the next few weeks with the hopes of entering the winning bidder’s spring training camp as soon as possible.

We’ve discussed Yoan Moncada quite a bit around these parts. What makes him so tantalizing is the combination of projectability and polish. He’s just 19 years old, but unlike domestic high schoolers, he already has significant experience both in international competition and in Cuba’s professional league, Serie de Nacional. He’s currently a switch-hitting shortstop, although there are whispers that he might give up switch-hitting and most scouts don’t see him sticking at short long-term. Either way, Moncada offers the kind of tool-set and upside that rarely enters the free agent market.

He’ll be pricey, and as we’ve discussed in the past, big-market teams like the Yankees, Red Sox, and Dodgers are expected to be major players in the Moncada sweepstakes. As Vocal Minority Nate discussed on Monday, since Moncada is under age-23 and hasn’t spent five years in a professional league, he’s subject to each team’s international bonus pool. That means that whatever figure he signs for — early estimates were in the $30-40 million range, but don’t be surprised if it goes higher — his new team will have to pay, essentially, a 100 percent tax on that number. If he signs for $40 million, he’s going to cost right around $80 million, once you figure in the tax. And since the winning bidder will exceed their international bonus pool by more than 15 percent, that team will have to forfeit the ability to sign any international amateur free agent for more than $300,000 for the next two signing periods.

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It’s an amazing time to be a Padres fan. At 11pm last night local time (2am for me in Cleveland), free agent starting pitcher James Shields agreed to terms with the Padres on a 4 year deal worth $75 million. It’s a landmark deal for the Padres and represents a sea change in the franchise’s approach to free agency in an off-season full of sea changes in the franchise’s approach to being a MLB franchise.

Then we found out today that not only were the Padres working out Cuban free agent super-stud infielder Yoan Moncada, but were expected to be aggressive in bidding for his services, and maybe weren’t too worried about the penalties that will be imposed to whatever team ends up with his services.

This is damn exciting stuff, and with Shields signed and all the trades the team has made, why shouldn’t the Padres be expected to get whatever they want right now? If AJ Preller wants Yoan Moncada, he’s going to get him, right? Well no, probably not.

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Not surprisingly, when 29-year-old Cuban second basemen Hector Olivera held a showcase last week in the Dominican Republic, only one general manager joined the hundreds of scouts and other front office personnel in attendance. That GM — naturally — just so happened to be the Padres AJ Preller.

Preller is like the cop who gets the promotion to the cushy office job after 20 years on the beat, yet can’t resist the temptation to return to the streets. You’ve seen the movie before. And Preller apparently wasn’t there just because somewhere buried in his contract it says that he has to scout every player. According to Baseball America’s Ben Badler, the Padres are the favorites to sign Olivera once he becomes available (more on that later), flanked by the Giants, A’s, and Braves as other leading potential landing spots.

Back in August, Badler and Baseball America ranked Olivera as the sixth-best player left in Cuba, a nation that seems to grow baseball stars at the same rate it loses them. The infielder was a perennial star in Cuba toward the end of the previous decade, impressing scouts on the international stage (like the 2009 World Baseball Classic) and tearing up Cuba’s Serie Nacional with loud contact and a solid approach. In the 2011-2012 Cuban season, his best offensive output, Olivera hit .341/.468/.626 with 17 home runs and a two-to-one walk-to-strikeout ratio in 258 plate appearances. He wasn’t a one hit wonder either, as Olivera posted a .900-plus OPS in each of the four seasons that preceded his 2011-’12 campaign.

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