What’s Brewing On The Farm: August 11, 2016

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Series intro and week no. 1
Week no. 2

Logan Allen, LHP, Single-A Fort Wayne

The state of Indiana is known for Hoosiers, its anti-noodling law, and the Fort Wayne TinCaps’ starting rotation, which consists of Austin Smith, Jacob Nix (more on him later), Anderson EspinozaJean Cosme, now-injured Chris Paddack, and Logan Allen. Allen is a 6’3,’’ 200-pound lefty, originally drafted in the eighth round last year out of high school by the Red Sox, and acquired by the Padres as part of the Craig Kimbrel trade.

Last season, in the Red Sox organization, he pitched only 24 1/3 innings, mostly in the Gulf Coast League (rookie ball), but he struck out 26 while allowing just a lone walk and no home runs. That performance, combined with his age, stuff, and handedness, pushed him onto Baseball America’s top 10 Padres prospects list once it came out last December (he just missed BP’s top 10).

With San Diego, he started off this season at Single-A Fort Wayne, generally picking up where he left off. While he didn’t quite keep that shiny 26-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio, a 3.0 K:BB ratio for a 19-year-old in full-season ball is pretty impressive in itself, especially since he’s surrendered just one home run this season in 44 innings (despite so-so groundball numbers). Allen’s season was halted by elbow soreness in early June, which resulted in a nearly two-month long trip to the disabled list. He’s back now, currently on a rehab assignment in the Arizona Rookie League, where he’s thrown three innings with four strikeouts and a walk (and, of course, no home runs allowed).

Most scouts pegged Allen as a “safe” high school lefty coming into the 2015 draft, and that general profile has stuck (though some have concerns about his delivery). He sits in the low-90s with the four-seam fastball, with a solid curve and, as BP’s James Fisher noted back in May, a changeup that’s more of a work in progress. Hopefully, with the elbow soreness out of his system, Allen can continue to mow down Single-A hitters the rest of this season, staying on the fast-track to the majors. (Sac Bunt Dustin)

Javier Guerra, SS, High-A Lake Elsinore

Woe, Doctor! – Hey, are you doing the thing on Guerra today?

William Lybarger – I’ve started it, but haven’t done too much. Do you want to do one on him? It makes sense since you’ve seen him and talked to people.

Woe, Doctor! – I was thinking we could both do it, or I could tell you what I’ve heard. I also have video, if you want to use it.

William Lybarger – Shoot, you’ve got the goods. All I did was collect some metrics and look up how Ruddy Giron has been doing in the second half.

William Lybarger – Do you move Guerra up to Double-A to start ’17? Giron is not exactly lighting up A ball, but his numbers from July 1 on are solid. He is hitting .283/.345/.480 over this 33-game period.

Woe, Doctor! – That’s actually an interesting angle to consider. Maybe they just flip em…? I say keep that, run it, and I can share what I’ve seen and heard either with you this week, or maybe next time.

Woe, Doctor! – He’s a prospect that’s so interesting, I think it helps more than it hurts to share more.

William Lybarger – I completely agree. And I do not want to bury him. I am looking for clues to what is going right. I also considered the flip thing. I wanted to do the write up, because a) prospects will break your heart and b) my pre-season write-up claimed he was the crown-jewel of the system and had to be developed. It is a bit of a follow-up piece. Let’s go with me covering him this week, and you piggy-back next week. Sound okay?

Woe, Doctor! – Perfect. And I’m with you—the constant Guerra bashing hurts, because I’ve heard how hard he works and how much he cares.

Woe, Doctor! – There’s still some good there, too. Namely, his defense

William Lybarger – Didn’t he also have some scouts say he was a bit too dejected, I mean understandably, but a bit too down?

Woe, Doctor! – I’ve heard that from two of the three I talked to. Like, he looks defeated. Has no idea what he’s doing wrong and why the results aren’t there.

William Lybarger – His BAPIP shows he is having a bit of bad luck, but his swing and miss is not explainable.

Woe, Doctor! – It’s not just swing and miss, either. His pitch selection is atrocious. He doesn’t seem to recognize pitcher counts, and he isn’t very selective or patient at the plate. It’s like he doesn’t see anything until it’s on him.

Woe, Doctor! – Unlucky, plus bad approach? Oooooof

William Lybarger – Right? Sending him down may not help with that. Is he done? I ask that with huge trepidation.

Woe, Doctor! – I think it’s the only way to work on fundamentals. If that’s the problem. Chance that it isn’t.

William Lybarger – What happened to this shiny new development department?

Woe, Doctor! – It’s one of two potential things, right? Either development stalled, or their enviable new scouting department missed on a potential waving red flag.

Woe, Doctor! – Like, high K% is one thing. But missing on things like pitch recognition, contact ability, and—worst case scenario—motivational or emotional concerns that might impede on development? Those are biggies.

William Lybarger – When waves of talent is your mantra, someone should make sure the wave machine is working.

William Lybarger – Otherwise you just have a pool. Like the Diamondb… *cries*

Woe, Doctor! – The Padres have a waterfall, which is symbolic for a wave of energy moving downwards, cascading off a cliff…oh. Shit.

Woe, Doctor! – Alright, let’s get to work on that Guerra piece.

William Lybarger – I think we are writing it right now. (Billy Lybarger and Woe, Doctor!)

Austin Hedges, C, Triple-A El Paso

Hedges occupies that no man’s land between prospect and major leaguer, a place where there’s not a whole lot of coverage and players can quickly become forgotten. Not Hedges. After a broken hamate bone in late April, Hedges missed over a month of games and returned, somehow, more Mike Piazza than Humberto Quintero. He had one stretch, from June 16 to July 3, that included 12 home runs and 30 hits over 15 games. After a brief (two-game) return to mortality, Hedges followed that stretch up with a four-game run in Albuquerque and Salt Lake that featured merely two home runs and nine hits.

Hedges has cooled off some since, because you can’t get any hotter—his OPS has dropped from a season-high 1.247 on July 3 to a 1.036 current mark. For Hedges, who hit just .225/.268/.321 in 457 plate appearances in San Antonio two years ago, this is a major jump, even considering his more advanced age and environment. The average runs per game in the Pacific Coast League is 4.84, and El Paso has the league’s best offense (5.87 rpg) and the 13th-worst pitching staff (5.36 rpg), which hints at something obvious: for a hitter, El Paso is a good place to ply the trade.

What’s available on minor-league park factors doesn’t actually have El Paso as an extreme hitter’s park, but it’s still a hitter-friendly venue in a hitter-friendly league, and Hedges is taking full advantage of his surroundings. Remember, this guy once played 66 games in the Cal League, where he only racked up four home runs and a .155 ISO, so even with the park factor caveat, there’s still plenty to be encouraged about. Plus, the Padres don’t need Hedges to be Piazza at the plate. Quintero . . . well, Nick Hundley will do.

There’s more good news: Hedges is still a defensive wizard. The pitch framing is down some, per Baseball Prospectus, but some of that decline could be attributed to the hamate bone break on the Hedges’ left hand. He’s also thrown out would-be base stealers at a good clip (33 percent, just off his career mark) and any mention of his defense is almost always in praise. Derrek Norris is an interesting catcher who should regress back towards something better someday and Christian Bethancourt might be even more intriguing as backup backstop/fifth outfielder/mop-up man, but Hedges—despite the awkward, unnecessary delayed start last year—is the future. (Sac Bunt Dustin)

Jacob Nix, RHP, Single-A Fort Wayne

Nix, the Padres’ third round pick in 2015, was drafted by the Astros a year earlier but didn’t sign because… it’s complicated. After showcasing his abilities and pitching at IMG Academy last year, the right-hander signed with the Padres and made a few Rookie League appearances in preparation for his full-season debut this season.

His numbers at Fort Wayne aren’t staggering. He has a 4.20 ERA (league average is 3.56). Batters are hitting .291 against him, although thanks to a 5-to-1 K/BB and an .097 ISO, it’s an empty .291. Nix hasn’t walked more than two batters in any of his 21 starts this year and hasn’t allowed a home run in eight home starts. Add in the fact that 88 percent of plate appearances against him have been by players older than he is, and there’s room for optimism.

MLB.com rated Nix as the Padres’ no. 15 prospect in its midseason update, noting that he “has a tendency to battle his mechanics at times and will struggle to find his release point.” If his success this season is any indication, such struggles are on the decline. As Nix told the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel‘s Reggie Hayes in June, “I’m locating my fastball. I don’t give up a lot of doubles in the gaps.”

I haven’t seen Nix in person, but Baseball Prospectus’ Grant Jones watched him in May and was impressed with a fastball that sat at 94-95 mph, touching 97. Jones liked Nix’s improved secondaries enough to conclude that he has the “potential to be a number two or three pitcher if everything works out for the best.” Jones’s assessment is more enthusiastic than BP’s preseason report, which viewed him as more of a back-end starter type.

Nix remains a work in progress, albeit an intriguing one. He won’t advance quickly, but with a plus fastball and developing secondaries, he could be a significant part of the Padres’ future. Missing more bats would be good, and maybe that will come as his other pitches progress. For now, keep watching and be patient as he moves up the ladder one rung at a time. (Geoff Young)

Hunter Renfroe, RF, Triple-A El Paso

There’s a lot to like about Hunter Renfroe: power, speed, defense, the ability to give him a nickname that sounds like “boner” so as to express your excitement whenever he hits 400-foot home runs to all fields.

It’s an impressive package, so why do I have serious doubts about his ability to become an above average major leaguer? He doesn’t walk. I don’t want to be THAT guy; the guy who points out of every flaw in a prospect’s game. I usually like to focus on what a player can do, rather than what he can’t.

On the one hand it’s troubling that Renfroe’s walk rate has declined ever since his first year at Double-A (10% in 2014). His walk rate this year is a meager 3.8%, down from last year’s not-too-impressive 4.2%. On the other hand, he’s hitting for power (.592 slugging, 144 wRC+) and getting on base (.350 OBP). Why bother walking, or learning to walk when you can hit everything?

It’s probably just a nitpick on my part, but what’s going to happen when Renfroe slumps and pitchers stop feeding him fastballs? Is his hit tool good enough to overcome his lack of plate discipline? It’s certainly possible his plate discipline improves over time as he adjusts to major league pitching. We’re seeing it this year with Wil Myers, although Renfroe is nowhere near the hitting prospect Myers was.

The good news on Renfroe is the major prospect ranking sites don’t seem too concerned. Baseball Prospectus ranked him 43rd on their mid-season top-50 list:

Why He’ll Succeed: Big-league teams are always fixing for right-handed power, and Renfroe has the goods. He won’t be a high-OBP guy but he could combine plus pop with a .275 batting average at full maturity.

Why He Might Fail: His free-swinging ways hinder his hunt for power and push potential OBP problems to the surface. Right-handed power is the tool du jour, but it might show itself in a platoon role for Renfroe.

Baseball America had him 66th on their list, and MLB had him 48th; he didn’t make ESPN’s midseason list. So, there appears to be some sort of consensus that Renfroe’s plus tools will allow him to overcome his issues at the plate. I’m still a bit skeptical, but am more than ready—hoping, actually—to be proven wrong. (Oscar)

Franmil Reyes, RF, High-A Lake Elsinore

Franmil Reyes is a large human. If there’s anything I’m sure of, it is this. Listed at 6’5” and 240 lbs., it may in fact feel like an understatement when you see him alongside other players on the Lake Elsinore Storm roster.

Until recently, Reyes’ size was the headline, and I suppose—having led with that—I’m not helping. A mammoth (again, with the size) human, Reyes’ build produced enormous length on his swing, which was only enunciated by the herculean effort he put into his long, upper-body cuts. When I saw him, Reyes had a very wide stance that varied at-bat to at-bat, and a pronounced toe tap he used for timing—which was also the extent of his lower-body engagement. The rest came from his upper body, and at times the bat dragged through the zone like a freighter through open ocean.

But when he connects? Oh boy. There are fanfic sites dedicated to less explicit material than used to describe the sight and sound of a well-struck ball off of the barrel. I was fortunate enough to watch Reyes in BP, and he can easily and routinely put a ball out to all fields. It’s a fun parlor trick, for sure. As for his in-game power, he turned on a fat change-up and clotheslined it between the left centerfield fence and scoreboard; for anybody that’s been to The Diamond, that’s an absolute laser.

The best part? HE MAY BE LEARNING.

When I saw him, he was a batting practice, light-tower-power kind of guy that had yet to put it together. And the stats reflected that. I was in attendance for his only home run in April, but—aside from a hiccup in July—he’s been on an upward trajectory since. He’s posted a .333/.389/.758 line this month, and is one HR away from tying his best long ball output in any month as a professional (which he accomplished with 5 HR this June).

Sure, playing him against the monster RF fence in Lake Elsinore mitigates his defensive deficiencies, and his base running is an adventure (I’ve seen it described as a 20, which feels like an understatement). But he’s a fun player to watch, and that kind of power is exciting.

Is Reyes a long-term project that pays dividends for the Padres two or three seasons from now? Honestly, I have no idea. But Reyes is translating his batting practice displays into in-game results, and that’s more than worth the price of admission. (Woe, Doctor!)

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