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.

He looked tentative in the first couple innings, working slowly and seeming to be extra focused on his wind-up mechanics, but as the start went on he grew more comfortable in his motion and worked more quickly. He throws fairly easy gas, what I would guess was a consistent 93-95 mph (he’s been reported in the 91-96 range), and got a couple strikeouts by pinpointing his fastball on the edges as Captains batters watched. He throws a decent slider, and got a couple strikeouts with it. It actually seemed more effective against left-handed batters, diving down and in on them. He throws a curve as well, but it seems to be the weakest of his pitches. He struck out 5 batters overall.

Bolanos entered the 7th inning having thrown 6 scoreless frames, with just 2 hits and 2 walks as blemishes on his scorecard, but it seemed immediately like a bad idea for him to continue. There was a mound meeting with catcher Marcus Greene, Jr. (more on him later) before the first at-bat of the inning started. It was quickly clear he’d lost his fastball command. He also shook his arm out a couple times during the inning, a clear sign that he was fatigued and being asked to battle through it. I don’t think that’s the best way to protect a young pitcher. He gave up a lead-off double, got the next batter to ground-out, and struck out the next on a really good slider. Then he served up a 2-run dinger, and that was it. Still a very promising start, but it would have been even better had he hit the showers after the 6th. (Vocal Minority Nathan)

Marcus Greene, Jr., C

Greene, a 16th round pick for the Rangers in 2013, came to the Padres in August 2015 in exchange for the great Will Venable. Greene is now nearly 23, and has been the primary starting catcher for the TinCaps this season. He was the first batter Captains reliever Justin Garza faced on Thursday night, with 2 runners on and 2 out in the 6th. Greene immediately took him yard just over the left field wall, giving the TinCaps a 3-0 lead at the time. The home run was Greene’s 5th of the season, and his 4th in his last 5 games played.

Greene is an offense-first catcher, but he’s also built like a catcher, at 5’11” and more than 195 pounds, with huge thighs and a thick neck. His actions behind the plate were fine, and he did catch Captains 2nd baseman Kevin Bradley stealing, but there was also a passed ball on a high fastball and a couple of his warm-up throws to second base between innings left a lot to be desired. I’d say he had an unremarkable game as a catcher, especially in comparison to what Dustin and I saw of A.J. Kennedy behind the plate on Tuesday. But Greene can hit, so that helps. I’d think, at almost 23, he should probably move up a level soon. (Vocal Minority Nathan)

Adrian De Horta, RHP

De Horta, a ninth-round draft pick from way back in 2013, has gotten some mileage over the last two years. Since the start of 2016, he’s pitched at least an inning on the AZL Padres, Tri-City, Fort Wayne, Lake Elsinore, and San Antonio. De Horta’s most frequent home has been Fort Wayne, but he’s struggled to get through the level cleanly, and now, at 22, it’s time to take a step forward.

Through the first couple of innings on Tuesday night, De Horta looked the type—nothing was really standing out, and you had the feeling the wheels could fall off at any moment. Then, in the third, when De Horta confronted his first jam of the game, he just started ripping off curve balls. At one point, he threw maybe six or seven in a row, inducing four or five whiffs. He seemed comfortable throwing it in any count and in any situation. He was also able to both drop it in for a strike or get a swing and miss on one in the dirt.

De Horta had to labor some, and he gave up back-to-back solo homers in the fourth, but he got through six solid innings. We guessed he was sitting in the low-90s with the heater, and maybe that’s even a tad generous. The ability to get a bunch of whiffs on the breaking ball, and a few on the changeup, makes him interesting as a deep sleeper, though. He’ll have to finally conquer Fort Wayne and progress through Lake Elsinore too, not to mention the high levels. But there’s something of a fringe prospect here, even if it isn’t of the hard-throwing variety. (Sac Bunt Dustin)

Reinaldo Ilarraza, 2B/SS

Ilarraza is small middle infielder, but he had solid at-bats all night against good pitching. He showed some good bat-to-ball skills, making a lot of contact and fouling off a bunch of pitches. His two hits came on a hard ground ball pulled past the second baseman and, more impressively, a well struck liner to center fielder that plated a run in the seventh. Despite the size, or lack thereof, Ilarraza held his own at the plate all night.

He’s cut his strike out rate from nearly 40 percent last year in limited playing time in the AZL to 27.2 percent so far this year, a noteworthy improvement for an 18-year-old’s first crack at full-season ball. He’ll need to make more contact to make his skill-set work, but he’s a switch-hitter with good speed (he stole his 12th* base in 13 tries in the sixth and advanced to third on an overthrow) and the ability to rotate seamlessly between second and short. There’s plenty of reason to follow this guy’s progress. (Sac Bunt Dustin)

*He swiped his 13th base the next day.

A.J. Kennedy, C

Kennedy is Fort Wayne’s back-up catcher. He’s 23 years old, a former 30th-round draft pick, and he’s hitting .199/.259/.263 in 519 minor-league plate appearances.

Yup, you guessed it—he can catch. As Nathan said to me during the game, he set a good target all night and blocked a bunch of breaking balls and changeups in the dirt. Then, right after he said that, Kennedy got a call on what looked like an outside fastball. There weren’t a ton of chances to show off the arm, but it looked plenty good on a throw to first and on throws down to second during pre-inning warmups.

He OPSed .483 back in his senior year at Cal State Fullerton, and you could see why. Kennedy was way late and off plane on hard fastballs all night; he was overmatched and non-competitive as a hitter. That’ll limit him from making Marver’s top 110 Padres prospect list, or anything like that, but the good thing about having a catch-and-throw backstop at the lower levels of the minors is that it helps the pitching staff. If Kennedy can get Hansel Rodriguez an extra strike or help Logan Allen through a night when he doesn’t have his best stuff, he’s worth having around and some. (Sac Bunt Dustin)

Jorge Ona, OF

I don’t have a lot to say about Ona, the 20 year old Cuban who signed for $7 million last July, particularly on offense. The two games I saw from him weren’t very remarkable. He homered in the day game in-between and has hit another home run since, but the most interesting thing that happened to him at the plate when I was in attendance is he was hit by a pitch in both games, both times on the left elbow.

Ona does not appear to be a strong defender in the outfield. Early in the game Tuesday, playing right field, he called off center-fielder Jack Suwinski on a ball Suwinski had already called for and was in better position to catch. Ona made the catch, but that’s just poor fundamentals. He also faced a tough play in both games, once in right-field and once in left-field on Thursday, and failed to make running catches in both instances. They would have been excellent plays had he made them, so it’s hard to be too judgmental, but not making either play and his movements on both suggest that defense isn’t his strength. (Vocal Minority Nathan)

Hudson Potts, 3B

Potts, drafted 24th overall in 2016 as a high school shortstop, seems to have settled in as the everyday third baseman for the TinCaps in his first full year as a pro. He’s built for a corner. At 6’3″ and 205 pounds, he fills out a uniform quite well, already looking the part of a major leaguer even though he is still just 18 years old. Potts crushed a fastball for a long home run to left on Tuesday, had a sharp single on Thursday, and hit the ball well but not well enough a couple other times in the two games. He’s got a nice approach at the plate and a swing that should play. He’s young and has struggled this season, but as he continues to acclimate to pro ball I think he’s got a lot of potential. (Vocal Minority Nathan)

Hansel Rodriguez, RHP

Rodriguez, normally a starter, worked the last three innings on Tuesday nearly flawlessly, racking up five strikeouts and no walks. His lone blemish was a fastball left up to Junior Soto, which Soto promptly deposited into Canada’s side of Lake Erie. Otherwise Rodriguez worked with what we believed was a good mid-90s heater and a sharp slider that got plenty of whiffs.

Rodriguez worked another two scoreless innings on Saturday, so it appears the Padres may be turning him into a reliever, at least briefly. (It’s possible, maybe even more likely, that they’re just piggybacking him to limit his innings count.) His ERA is over five this season at Fort Wayne, but the peripherals are much better. Hopefully the Padres still view Rodriguez as a starter long term, but there’s enough arm speed here for an interesting low-level pitching prospect either way. (Sac Bunt Dustin)

Fernando Tatis, Jr., SS

Much to Dustin’s dismay, Tatis, one of the Padres most exciting young prospects, had the day off on Tuesday when Dustin was in town. Dustin got to see Tatis bringing really good energy to the dugout, being the first to congratulate Potts and Zunica on their home runs, as well as seeming upbeat and into the game all night. Thankfully, I actually was able to see him play.

Tatis went 2-3 with both of those singles, 2 walks, and strikeout on Thursday. He also made a running outstretched catch on a soft liner up the middle late the game that was very impressive. The big thing I noticed about him is how relaxed and carefree he seems to be out there. He’s got a bounce to his step, which isn’t something you see a lot from players in the low-levels of the minors. The season is a grind full of long bus trips and few days off, and most players wear that, but not Tatis.

Tatis is tall for a shortstop, but he seems to use it to his advantage. He’s made a number of leaping catches this year, and the catch he made Thursday, though on the run instead of leaping, was in the same vein, using his length and reach to make a tough play. He seems to be pretty comfortable at the position, and I didn’t see anything in my small sample to suggest that he would need to switch off the position anytime soon. (Vocal Minority Nathan)

Brad Zunica, 1B

Somewhere in a meeting inside Classic Park, the Lake County Captains made what once appeared to be a sound decision. They tagged Brad Zunica as Tuesday night’s “beer batter,” meaning that everyone in attendance would get half-priced beer if Zunica struck out. Zunica, a six-foot-six behemoth, strikes out at a 37 percent clip, even though he’s pushing 22 and getting his second go-around at Fort Wayne.

Zunica would have none of it. Not only did he refuse to whiff against Lake County’s electric arms (they struck out 13 on the night*, by the way), he racked up three hits, including a double and a go-ahead home run to right-center field in the eighth. Take that, Lake County marketing employees! Zunica, limited to first base already, strikes out too much to be a legit prospect, but there’s (a reported) 254 pounds of power behind his swing when he connects.

Regardless of his future outlook, the rest of the Midwest league should take note: Never make him the “beer batter” again. (Sac Bunt Dustin)

*The Captains starter, Luis Jimenez, can’t be found anywhere near a Cleveland Indians prospect list, but don’t be surprised if he starts to creep onto them soon.

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