Michael Kelly, RHP, Double-A San Antonio
While we wait for Cal Quantrill, Adrian Morejon, and the rest of the Famers that will be the foundation of the Padres’ dynasty (2021-2025), we must first drudge through “Jhoulys Chacin Pitching on the Road” piles of shit and ride Clayton Richard’s stapled shoulder to 5-2 losses.
It’ll be a long time before the Padres rotation is truly great, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to have to wait that long before it’s good. We’ve already seen what Dinelson Lamet’s capable of in his short time with the big club, and Luis Perdomo, while still mostly just stuff and upside, can every now and then give you a 6 IP, 6h, 2er, 1bb, 8k night.
While two OK arms don’t make a good rotation, three might! I wrote about Michael Kelly last year for one of our first What’s Brewing on the Farm segments. Kelly pitched at three different levels last year, including Triple-A El Paso, where he was mostly up and down. He struggled at Lake Elsinore (29.1 IP, 25K, 12BB, 5.83 ERA), looked great in San Antonio (49.2 IP, 49K, 17BB, 2.90 ERA), before getting knocked around again Triple-A (49.2 IP, 41K, 23BB, 4.89 ERA).
Kelly, who’s still only 24 and was a supplemental 1st-round pick back in 2011, has been terrific at Double-A, where he’s pitched the entire season. Even with the caveat that he’s repeating the level and San Antonio is a pitcher-friendly environment, 91 strikeouts in 84.2 innings (15 starts) is impressive.
As I wrote last year, Madfriars had Kelly’s fastball in the mid-90s; with his strikeout numbers, it’s safe to assume not only has he maintained that velocity this year, but his secondary pitches have also started coming along. Kelly will probably be promoted to Triple-A at some point, and considering how mostly trash the rotation is right now, a call up to the big leagues shouldn’t be far off. (Oscar)
Aaron Leasher, LHP, Unassigned
6th round, 168th overall (Morehead State)
Aaron Leasher is a left handed college pitcher taken out of Morehead State University, a D1 school in Kentucky and the Ohio Valley Conference. Aside from being the first college player the Padres selected, there’s some hidden intrigue behind Leasher’s rather pedestrian college stats. In his Sophomore and Junior seasons, Leasher turned in a 4.69 and 4.19 ERA respectively. He did strike out nearly 12 batters per 9 innings his Sophomore year and 10.2 SO9 his final campaign, which isn’t at all pedestrian so my apologies to Mr. Leasher there.
But the ERA is, and while it’s tempting to say “Well the Padres scouts probably saw something” and move on, there’s more to the story. Leasher pitched his home games in Allen Field, a 1,200 capacity stadium built in 1973 in Morehead, Kentucky. For us, the most interesting part of Allen Field is the right field fence, located much closer to home plate than a ballpark with more standard dimensions.
Nathan Boyd provides park factors for college ballparks, the most recent of which I could find were from 2012-2015. If you’re not familiar, park effects measure how hitter or pitcher friendly a ballpark is. It so happens that Allen field, perhaps due to the short porch but likely also including other factors, measured far and away the most hitter friendly ballpark in all of D1 baseball over that time period. It scored a park factor of 182, more than 20 points higher than the Air Force academy which plays its games 6,000 feet above sea level. Boyd also includes a park factor that combines every home and away stadium Leasher’s freshman team played in during 2015. That team had the second most hitter friendly ballpark schedule, again in all of D1 baseball.
Allen Field is a monstrously difficult park in which to pitch, making Leasher’s ERA much more impressive. In fact, in 2017 Leasher led every other starter on his club in ERA by nearly a run. The team’s ERA as a group was 6.00.
Of course, teams rarely if ever draft exclusively on a stat line, certainly not for their 6th round pick. Padres scouts saw something in Leasher, but I have to suspect the team also used park effects to identify an undervalued player. (SacBuntChris)
Justin Lopez, SS/2B, Low-A Tri-City
The Tri-City Dust Devils opened their season this past Thursday, and a handful of the players signed during the International Signing Period made their professional debuts. Among them was SS/2B Justin Lopez, who was born in 2000.
Lopez is the youngest player in all of minor league baseball, having just turned 17 years of age last month. He is the first player born in the 2000s to appear in a minor-league game. The Venezuelan signed for $1.2 million during the first day of last year’s signing period. MLB.com’s scouting report seemed to put him as a “glove first” guy who has some work to do with the bat. They actually listed him at 6-foot tall before the international signing period began last year, and now he is listed on MiLB.com at 6’2”. The consensus for Lopez seems to be, if he can hit, look out. For more information on Lopez (and any Padres prospect, really) I recommend checking out @CaliKusiolek on twitter. Chris was seemingly quite impressed with Lopez throughout his looks of him during extended spring training.
Anyhow, Lopez has played in all five games for Tri-City, four at 2B and one at SS. He started out 5-for-12, but has cooled off a bit since then. The numbers aren’t spectacular (.233 avg., 10 strikeouts, and no walks in 30 PAs), but it is very early and there is enough excitement around this kid that he absolutely warrants some attention in the next few months. Between him and international signees Kevin Melean and Luis Almanzar, Tri-City has an extremely young (but talented) infield that is more than worth giving a good amount of attention to. (John Horvath)
Joey Lucchesi, LHP, High-A Lake Elsinore
Lucchesi might be the best draft pick from the Preller regime so far. Taken in the fourth round in 2016, he signed for just $100,000 after striking out 12 per nine in his senior at Wichita State. Not only is Lucchesi tearing up the minor leagues (more on that in a second), his below slot deal helped allow the Padres sign players like Reggie Lawson, Mason Thompson, and Jack Suwinski.
Last year at Low-A Tri City, Lucchesi posted a ridiculous 53 strikeout, two walk, no home run line in 40 innings. That was an easy spot for him, an experienced college pitcher beating up on younger hitters. Still, whew. The Padres jumped him past Fort Wayne this season up to Lake Elsinore, and the strikeout barrage has continued. Lucchesi’s fanned 31.1 percent of the batters he’s faced, second in the Cal League to A.J. Puk (and just ahead of teammate Eric Lauer).
Sure, he’s still old for his league, but the thing with Lucchesi is that he isn’t just a stat-line stand out. The scouts dig him, too. In a report from Baseball Prospects, J.H. Schroeder noted that Lucchesi works with a low-to-mid 90s fastball (he touched 95 in one start) and a plus changeup. Combined with that funky yet repeatable delivery, Lucchesi has the foundation for a big-league starter.
The big question is whether he can develop a workable breaking pitch. Schroeder was down on his curve ball, closing his write-up thusly: “I don’t think his curveball in its current form offers much promise, and he may be better served developing a harder, shorter breaking ball like a cutter, or slider.”
The other question is how well he’ll do against more advanced hitters, when he isn’t necessarily one of the more experienced players. He’s answered every call so far, though, and I’m looking forward to see how he does when he gets to San Antonio. Lucchesi might not even crack the top 10 on a Padres prospect list yet (if he doesn’t, he probably should), but he’s easily one of the most interesting players to follow in the system. (Sac Bunt Dustin)
Jack Suwinski, CF, Single-A Fort Wayne
One of the few position players not covered in our previous edition of What’s Brewing on the Farm, Suwinski was an over-slot 15th rounder from last year’s draft. Nothing Suwinski did at the game I attended really stuck out (he went 0-for-5 at the dish), but he reminded me of Travis Jankowski in appearance, flowing locks and all.
On the downside, he’s hitting just .202/.309/.326 in 286 plate appearances this year, and he OPSed just .612 in limited time at Tri-City last season. He’s also striking out 30 percent of the time, which is too much for a speed-and-defense type. On the plus side, he doesn’t turn 19 until late July. He’s also walking nearly 12 percent of the time, and he’s swatted five homers and 18 total extra-base hits so far. There’s something of an approach here and a tad more power than you’d expect for this type of player making his full-season debut.
Suwinski’s still a slow burn project, but he’s someone to keep an eye on as you scan Fort Wayne box scores. (Sac Bunt Dustin)
Dominic Taccolini, RHP, Unassigned
10th round, 288th overall (Arkansas)
Last week we did a recap of some of the players recently drafted for our What’s Brewing, and I covered pitcher Alex Cunningham. This week I was looking at the draft a bit more and saw that the Padres picked up another righty in the round following the selection of Cunningham in Dominic Taccolini. Besides he has a cool Italian name that sounds like a character from The Sopranos: “Hey Dominic, you be good to Meadow, or your gonna have to learn to pitch southpaw, capisci?”
He’s also a kid that grew up right here in the Tropical Storm Cindy soaked city of Houston. Taccolini, like all three of my kids, was raised in the Harris County suburbs. He comes from Sugarland, just minutes from my home town of Katy. He played football and was an all-state high school baseball player for the Kempner Cougars. He also pitched for the 18U USA Baseball team. In a moment of “small world” I realized while researching Taccolini that he and my eldest daughter crossed paths as they were both playing for amateur national teams (my daughter played for the Adidas All American softball team) and was featured in a few local publications crediting their accomplishments.
He ventured north but stayed in the South West Conference (wait, that’s not a thing) and attended the University of Arkansas where he joined the Razorbacks pitching staff as a spot starter and solid bullpen arm. He pitched well his sophomore season, more as a starter than in the ‘pen but had his season end early due to a blood clot in his throwing arm. His junior year he returned healthy and again started for the better part of all of his appearances. He was drafted that June of 2016 by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 16th round (492 overall). He opted to return to the Razorbacks and complete his senior season, where he again was used as a starter and out of the pen.
He features a fastball described as “diving” so I’m not sure if the Padres plan for him to be a bullpen arm or a starter. His stats from college are a bit mixed, but reports about his repertoire state he has an above average changeup to go with the sinker. I look forward to seeing what short-season teams he lands on, and will keep a close eye on the local kid.
Fernando Tatis Jr., SS, Single-A Fort Wayne
I know I’m in the minority, and there isn’t necessarily a ton of evidence or support for my claim, but I’d rate Tatis as the best prospect in the organization right now. Maybe Anderson Espinoza offers more long-term upside, but he hasn’t thrown a pitch yet this season. The other pitchers, like Morejon and Quantrill, have question marks of their own (plus, they’re pitchers). Luis Urias has a more impressive performance track record, but his size and likely position limit the profile some.
Consider this comparison:
That Mystery Player is Gleyber Torres, a shortstop in the Yankees system who recently underwent Tommy John surgery but is a consensus top prospect. After that age-18 season back in 2015 in the Midwest League, Torres was ranked as the 37th-best prospect in baseball (averaged between Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, and MLB.com). Torres has (and had) a more refined hit tool than Tatis, and he’s probably a better bet to stick at short long term. But you can give Tatis the edge in power projection, and throwing arm and foot speed are a wash.
I’m not trying to make an argument for Tatis as a better prospect than Torres right now (don’t test me, though). I’m just saying that he looks really similar to the 18-year-old version of Torres. If Tatis continues to progress this season, don’t be surprised if he makes a Torres-like ascent up national top 100 lists in the offseason. (San Bunt Dustin)
Brad Wieck, LHP, Double-A San Antonio
The Padres acquired Wieck as a part of the proclaimed “Alex Torres deal” in 2015 and let him start 13 games in the organization that year. Following a few successful outings in Fort Wayne, he struggled through 11 starts in Lake Elsinore. A.J. Preller & Co. came up with an idea to turn him into a reliever at the beginning of the 2016 season. Since then, he has been absolute dynamite. The velo has gone up (he was clocked at 95-96 in last year’s Arizona Fall League) and the stuff has gotten better. Wieck turned into a strikeout machine out of the bullpen in 2016, striking out a combined 93 batters in 61 1/3 innings with the Storm and Missions.
The 25-year-old left hander opened 2017 in San Antonio, and he’s been pretty darn good all year . . . but even more so as of late. Since May 19th, Wieck has thrown 10 innings, giving up seven hits while striking out 19. He has only given up one extra-base hit while holding batters to a .206 average. On the year, Wieck is sporting a 2.96 ERA, striking out a career high 14.79 batters per nine innings. There is a good amount of evidence to suggest that the 6’9” reliever out of Oklahoma City University has even been better than the numbers indicate, too. He has a FIP of 2.36 and batters are hitting .347 on balls put in play against him. That average would figure to go down at least a few ticks as the year continues.
Right handed hitters are hitting only .185 off Wieck, and do not have a home run off him this season. As a matter of fact, he has not allowed a home run to a right-handed batter since he became a reliever. It would not surprise me to see a promotion to Triple-A El Paso sometime soon for Wieck, with the goal being for him to be ready to compete for a bullpen spot next spring. (John Horvath)