Michel Baez, RHP, Single-A Fort Wayne
I was initially going to begin this post with a graphic description of Michel Baez’s fastball, but thought better of it because Baez’s fastball is already nasty (folks!!!!!!!!!!!!).
Signed out of Cuba last year for $3 million, the 6-foot-8 right-hander’s been pitching professionally in Cuba since 2014. He started the year in Arizona Rookie League, where he flexed (10 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 16 K) his power fastball at the expense of some poor, poor bastards.
How good is his fastball? Here’s what MadFriars (people who actually know what they’re talking about) wrote after Baez’s dominant debut at Fort Wayne:
“Baez was sitting 96 mph on his fastball, reaching up to 98 at times. He struck out two in the first throwing almost nothing but his fastball. If that didn’t impress an all-time crowd in Fort Wayne, Baez busted out his changeup in the fifth. He struck out the side making the batters look clueless. He finished the night striking out five of the final six batters he faced.”
One interesting thing about Baez is he’s already 21, obviously much older than a typical July 2 signing, and making him a bit old for the level. I wonder if the Padres might decide to bump him to Lake Elsinore at some point this season, especially if he keeps making it look easy against Low-A hitters. (Oscar)
Javier Guerra, SS, High-A Lake Elsinore
Coming into 2017, Javier Guerra was a prospect looking to get back on track. As we all know, his first year in the organization did not go as planned, as he struggled mightily in Lake Elsinore. His season ended with a mystery trip to the DL in the second week of August, and he never returned.
The Padres had nothing bad to say about the 22-year-old during spring training, though. I’m not sure if they were trying to get his confidence up or what, but Guerra was highly praised during spring. Andy Green lauded his work in the field (even though he did go 0-11 during games with the big-league club at the dish). Storm manager Edwin Rodriguez and farm director Sam Geaney also went public with comments regarding Guerra, stating that they were still “bullish” on him and that he could still be the Padres’ shortstop of the future.
Fast-forward four months, and the numbers still aren’t great at all. He’s hitting .232/.269/.364 with a 69 wRC+ in 78 games for Lake Elsinore. His defense has seemingly gotten better and is getting rave reviews by almost everyone who heads out to The Diamond, but he’s still striking out at a 32 percent clip and walking less than last year (which isn’t much). But, you know I got to be positive, so here goes nothing:
He actually has had a couple of nice moments this year. He hit a walkoff HR on May 10th. He has had two different 10-game stretches this season where he has hit over .300. He is in the midst of another one currently; hitting .368 with two home runs and eight RBI in his last 10 games. Even more impressive (for him) is that he has only struck out seven times in those 10 games. It would be nice to see him walk a bit during this stretch, but right now with Guerra you take what you get.
I know a lot of people who want Guerra to succeed. Maybe it’s cause the Padres cannot find/keep a competent shortstop, I dunno. Every now and again he shows flashes of what he could be if he could patch it all together… but he hasn’t shown he can. Maybe it’s worthless, but I still have some hope that Javy Guerra can turn it around. But it’ll have to be soon, and this recent 10-game stretch is at least a start. (John Horvath)
Eric Lauer, LHP, Double-A San Antonio
Any left-handed college pitching prospect with an average fastball under 93 mph and an idea about pitching tends to get lumped into the “safe lefty” bucket. When this kind of player is taken high in the draft—like Lauer was, 25th overall last year—fans clamoring for superstar upside are usually left disappointed. It’s often a fair viewpoint, too, as the abstract concept of the safe lefty is kind of boring, and often the floor isn’t as high as anticipated.
But then, sometimes, the “safe lefty” leaves the bucket and heads toward some minor-league field, and he dominates. Suddenly you realize that the real thing is much cooler than the abstract concept. Lauer was excellent in his pro debut last season, posting an eye-catching 37 strikeouts in 31 innings, mostly at Low-A Tri-City. This year he’s reached an entirely different level, as he racked up an 11.2 K/9 at High-A Lake Elsinore, with a 4.4 strikeout-to-walk ratio and 0.5 HR/9. Lauer’s 29.6 strikeout percentage was third in the Cal League among the 35 pitchers with at least 50 innings, behind only A.J. Puk and teammate Joey Lucchesi.
Lauer, 22, earned the call-up to Double-A San Antonio and made his first start on Sunday. He picked up right where he left off in Lake Elsinore, striking out nine and walking nobody in 7 2/3 innings. Lauer still probably profiles as something of a mid-rotation starter, so I don’t want to pump him up too much. The strikeouts have been a surprise, though, and you can reasonably start dreaming on something more if he keeps this kind of performance up at Double-A. Either way, he’s been a boon to the “safe lefty” stereotype so far in his professional career. (Sac Bunt Dustin)
Jacob Nix, RHP, High-A Lake Elsinore
Nix has shown what being a young pitching prospect is all about over his last two starts.
One June 28, he threw probably the organization’s best start of the year, going the full nine while striking out 11, walking 0, and allowing two hits and no runs. He did it all in under two hours, in front of 1,349 people (plus the Ghost), on 108 pitches (75 of which were strikes), and against a good Rancho Cucamonga lineup that featured Yusniel Diaz and D.J. Peters. After the start, FanGraphs’ Eric Longenhagen noted that Nix is “rather firmly an overall top 100 prospect.”
As a follow-up, Nix started on Tuesday at Lancaster and . . . well, things didn’t go quite as well. He only got through 4 1/3 innings, and he gave up 10 hits and eight runs (five earned). He only walked one, but he alarmingly didn’t record a single strikeout. He also gave up seven steals in seven tries, though he did get one pick-off. Bad starts happen, of course, and 102-degree weather with wind blowing out might have contributed. Nix did have a one no-strikeout game last season along with a couple of one-K duds, so it’s not like this is unprecedented.
The only real concern here is that everything is okay with Nix. The 108 pitches he made in the previous start was the most in his career by 11 pitches, and he had only reached 90 twice as a professional going into that start. Hopefully Tuesday’s start was just a fatigue or weather-based clunker and not a sign of another potential injury. We’ll be watching Nix’s next start closely just to make sure. (Sac Bunt Dustin)
Mason Thompson, RHP, Single-A Fort Wayne
Mason Thompson had Tommy John surgery during his junior year of high school, and ended up only pitching only one inning during his senior season. Despite this, the 6’7” right hander out of Texas was drafted in the third round by the Padres in the 2016 MLB Draft. He ditched a commitment to the University of Texas to sign for $1.75 million. Proving the Padres were correct about his health, Thompson made his debut a few months later in the 2016 Arizona League, as he threw 12 innings, striking out a batter per with a 2.25 ERA.
Many expected Thompson in 2017 to eventually make his way to Fort Wayne if he impressed during extended spring training, which he did. He opened a lot of eyes with a fastball reaching 95 to go along with a curveball and a changeup. Perhaps he reached Fort Wayne a bit earlier than some expected, as he got the call to pack up his bags and head East in late May.
Thompson’s first 3 starts went without concern, and he built on them and improved each start. On June 7th, his third career start, Thompson threw five innings of two hit, one run ball with six strikeouts. It seemed like a breakthrough start of sorts; something he could really gain confidence from to get his professional career rolling.
Then, all of a sudden, Thompson was scratched from his start on June 13th… and nobody heard why. It seemed to just be thought that the Padres were monitoring his innings, but there were no reports that confirmed that notion. For a solid three weeks, no one heard anything. The silence finally ended when it was reported that Thompson had been suffering from tendonitis in his biceps.
Thompson returned from his month-long absence on Monday, as he threw two innings, striking out four while giving up two earned runs. The stuff seemed to be there and he was throwing 95 mph, so all seems fine with him now. Barring any setbacks, he should keep improving his workload and get back to what he was before the injury popped up.
Thompson’s return adds to an intriguing Fort Wayne rotation that resembles a basketball team more than anything. I don’t have the evidence to back it up, but I would guess a rotation including Thompson (6’7”), Michel Baez (6’8”), Reggie Lawson (6’4”), and Ronald Bolanos (6’2”) leads the Midwest League in average height per starter. If 6’3” starting pitcher Lake Bachar makes his way to the rotation soon (as our friends at MadFriars suggest), he’ll actually hurt the starting rotation’s average height. Fort Wayne absolutely has got a fascinating and fun rotation to follow. (John Horvath)
Cal Quantrill, RHP, Double-A San Antonio
After the (much-justified) trepidation over how Cal Quantrill would perform in his first action since undergoing Tommy John surgery, it was evident early on the Padres had made a great choice with the 7th overall pick last year. Not only were there reports raving about his stuff, he was backing it up with awesome strikeout numbers (46 Ks in 37 IP).
Now in his first full season since 2014, it took him only half a season at Single-A to earn a promotion. His numbers are very good on the surface (73 2/3 IP, 76 Ks, 24 BB, 3.78 FIP), but they become even more impressive when you factor in rough pitching environment that is the Cal League, and, again, that this is the most he’s pitched in three years (110 2/3 IP as a freshman at Stanford).
The question for Quantrill now is how much do the Padres want to push him. How much should they pitch him? Obviously, the Padres have a number in mind, and whether that number has changed based on performance or the stress level of innings pitched is to be determined. In a vacuum, though, the right move would be limit Quantrill’s workload regardless of how well he’s throwing.
Another thing to consider is how much, if at all, Anderson Espinoza’s injury affects the Padres’ decision-making. Espinoza is supposedly on some throwing program, but it’s looking more and more like we won’t see him at all this year. Do the Padres want to risk Quantrill’s health when one of their other top-of-the-rotation pitching prospects is about to miss an entire season? I’d have no problem with the Padres being as cautious as possible with these guys. As a fan, it’s fun to see an aggressive promotion of one of the team’s best prospects, but there’s no need to rush anyone.
Fortunately, the Texas League is a much more pitcher-friendly environment than the Cal League, so I wouldn’t be surprised if Quantrill continued to put up impressive numbers. (Oscar)