Reinaldo Ilarraza, 2B, Single-A Fort Wayne
Forget the numbers—he’s struck out at a 34 percent clip in 24 professional games—the best indicator about what the Padres think about Ilarraza might be the assignment. He’s 10 days younger than the more hyped Fernando Tatis Jr., just 18 and already in Single-A ball. He’s nearly 3.5 years younger than the average player at this level.
After suffering though some injuries last year, it would have been reasonable for Illarraza to stay back in the Arizona Rookie League to start 2017, then progress to Low-A Tri-City by the summer. Instead, the Padres skipped that option and ambitiously sent him to full-season Fort Wayne, where he’s flanked by similarly young teammates like the Tatis, Eguy Rosario, and Hudson Potts. It’s clear that the Padres aren’t scared to challenge certain prospects, and with all four of these guys playing on the infield, there’s a chance they could play together a bunch in the minors.
Ilarraza, signed out of Venezuela in July 2015 for $300,000, gets good reports for his baseball instincts but isn’t without plus tools. He plays stronger than his 5-foot-10, 150-pound frame, and word is he has enough arm strength to play short in the long run. Right now, with Tatis at short, he’s playing mostly second base, but there’s a decent chance he’ll slide over to short more regularly once an opportunity opens. Not even listed in Baseball America’s Padres top 30, Ilarraza is an under-the-radar prospect to watch. (Sac Bunt Dustin)
Jorge Ona, OF, Single-A Fort Wayne
The Padres gave Jorge Ona a $7 million bonus last summer, the second largest of any player they signed. Ona wasn’t a typical July 2nd signing. He’s already 20 years old and is already projected to a corner outfield spot. Whereas most J2 kids are held back in extended Spring Training until the Dominican Summer League starts, Ona’s already playing full-season ball at Fort Wayne.
It’s still extremely early, but through 11 games Ona’s hitting .277/.333/.362 for the TinCaps. The slash line doesn’t yet reflect the scouting report, as Ona’s calling was his power and advanced feel for hitting.
AJ Preller to the Journal Gazette, just before the season: “Compact swing. He’s got a really good bat path. Hits the ball very hard. As you look at hitters, there are a lot of good components he brings to the table as a corner outfielder.”
Still, it’s evident that 51 plate appearances in, Ona hasn’t been overmatched. It’s even more noteworthy considering he hadn’t played competitive baseball since competing in the Pan American Games in Mexico in late 2014.
Hopefully as Ona gets more adjusted to life in the states, and the weather starts warming up, we’ll start seeing his power potential and he’ll emerge as a top bat in a system that’s suddenly bereft of them. (Oscar)
Fernando Tatis Jr., SS, Single-A Fort Wayne
Tatis Jr. got a game-tying double on Tuesday, a game-winning single yesterday, and he hit a monstrous home run a week and half ago, but he’s striking out—a lot. Outside of the hit, he whiffed in all three of his other plate appearances yesterday, marking his ninth consecutive game with at least one strike out. Overall, on the very early season, he’s hitting .163/.226/.245, with 19 strike outs and three walks in 52 plate appearances.
The good news is that Tatis is extremely young. He’s just 18 years old and prior to this year had played in just 55 professional games. By my count, he’s the fifth-youngest player in the entire Midwest League, just months (or days) older than Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Isaac Paredes, and teammates Ilarraza and Rosario. Most of the players Tatis is playing against—particularly the pitchers—are three or four years older than him. In many respects, he should be struggling.
Of course, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be concerned with his performance. If there’s any one thing that’s going to derail a prospect like Tatis—one full of power and speed and athleticism—it’s the almighty hit tool. He’s striking out 37 percent of the time, an indicator that he’s struggling with the more advanced pitchers of this level. He’ll have to adjust, obviously.
Just for comparison, the slightly younger Guerrero Jr. has just seven strike outs and nine walks in 48 plate appearances on the season. For further context, I decided to look up some current MLB stars who followed a similar early professional path to Tatis (limited pro experience, first appearance at A-ball, super young). How’d they fare, both early in the season and later on in that introduction to Single-A?
|Player||K%—BB% April||K%—BB% Rest of Year (at level)|
Everyone develops in different ways. Lindor went right into Single-A and didn’t miss a beat. He actually struck out more later in the year, though he also added walks. Same thing with Machado at an even more extreme rate. Look at Correa, though. He struck out a lot in April of his first month in Single-A (the Midwest League, to be exact), after entering the season with 50 games of pro experience in rookie ball from the previous season (plus some winter league play), all at 18 years old. That is the Tatis path. He even had a Tatis-like 11-game stretch with at least one whiff, over which he struck out 36 percent of the time.
Then, something clicked. In May, he dropped his strikeout rate all the way down to 12.2 percent, and he had just one multi-K game in the entire month. From June 23 to July 4, he had a 38 PA run without striking out once. Bogaerts, too, lowered his K-rate at every minor league stop, and now he’s a .300-hitting big-league shortstop with a very workable 18.5 percent strikeout rate.
(By the way, I don’t necessarily mean to put Tatis on this level as a prospect. These are elite guys, and they were mostly viewed that way at the time. He’s not quite there yet. Again, just providing some context.)
If it wasn’t obvious already, Tatis has plenty of time to reduce his strikeouts significantly this year. Whether he does it or not—well, that’s why we watch. (Sac Bunt Dustin)
Luis Urias, SS/2B, Double-A San Antonio
Even if Tatis Jr. is the best position player prospect in the system, in this writer’s eyes, Urias is legitimate competition for that crown.
First off, what’s the deal with him playing shortstop? Most of the stuff I read about him last year seemed to indicate that his arm would be stretched at third and that his range might even be stretched some at second. His best positon was “hitter,” and shortstop was never really a consideration, even though he had received some scattered playing time there. Now he’s playing short, the most demanding defensive position, every day in the minors, an experiment that started in spring training, continued into the World Baseball Classic, and has rolled right through the first month of his Double-A debut. It should be noted that fellow San Antonio shortstop Jose Rondon is injured, which has likely contributed some to Urias playing there.
I haven’t heard (or seen) much on his performance at short, but it probably can’t hurt that he’s playing there. Second and short are relatively interchangeable, so it’s not like he’s losing a lot of development when he switches back to second. Further, it never hurts to have a little added versatility, in case he must play short in a pinch at a higher level. And maybe, just maybe he proves capable of sticking at the position.
Second . . . to steal a line from Oscar, the boy can hit. It should be no surprise to anyone who has followed his minor-league career, but Urias is hitting in San Antonio. He hits wherever he goes.
His current line stands at .261/.333/.478, with five walks and six strikeouts in 52 plate appearances. Urias just doesn’t strike out, as he now sports a 7.2 career strikeout percentage. That’s an otherworldly figure considering Urias—not yet 20 and already in Double-A—has always been extremely young for his leagues. With all the usual caveats about small sample sizes, what’s most encouraging about his early numbers from Double-A is the power, as he’s already popped two home runs, two doubles, and a triple in 12 games after a lackluster power showing in the hitter-friendly Cal League last season.
We’re getting close to the point where it’ll be an upset if Urias isn’t at least a useful big-league bat someday. The bigger question might be where he plays defensively, and how his secondary skills support his hitting. (Sac Bunt Dustin)