Rafael De Paula, RHP, Double-A San Antonio
Minor-league relievers, man—they aren’t gonna churn the page views (read Oscar below).
De Paula, like most relievers, was once a starter when the Padres acquired him long ago from the Yankees as part of the return on Chase Headley. It took the right hander parts of three years to get through High-A ball as a starter, and he still couldn’t get his ERA below five. So midway through last season the Padres pulled the plug on the starting thing, and they’ve stuck with that decision this year while moving De Paula out of the hitter-friendly Cal League to Double-A San Antonio.
It worked. With nine innings at Triple-A El Paso sprinkled in with 54 1/3 at Double-A, De Paula has struck out 87 while walking 22 and surrendering just two home runs. There have always been concerns with his delivery and command, and a move to the bullpen has seemed inevitable for a few years now . . . but give De Paula credit, as he took his game to the pen and, at least by the numbers, turned his career around. There’s not much out there from a scouting perspective on him this season—remember, minor-league relievers and page views—but De Paula has an exciting enough late-inning power profile to likely earn a spot in the Padres ‘pen next season, and it’ll be interesting to see how his stuff translates into the majors. (Sac Bunt Dustin)
Kyle Lloyd, RHP, Double-A San Antonio
With the recent infusion of new blood into the El Paso Chihuahuas pitching rotation (Walker Lockett, Dinelson Lamet, and Michael Kelly), one of the last mainstays of the San Antonio Missions pitching staff is 6’4” right hander Kyle Lloyd.
Lloyd was a 29th round draft pick in 2013 out of the University of Evansville. I watched him last month at Wolff Stadium and was impressed with his stuff. His fastball topped out at 89, according to the stadium radar gun, and he got a lot of swings and misses with his breaking pitches. I don’t know a ton about pitcher mechanics, but his delivery seemed pretty repeatable and smooth.
Although he started the year in the Mission’s bullpen, he’s made 20 starts in San Antonio this season. Things started off a little rocky, with Lloyd posting a 5.50 ERA and 1.76 WHIP in his first six outings, averaging less than five innings a start.
He’s been heating up down the stretch, however. In his last six starts, he’s given up just six earned runs in 36 innings. A sparkling 1.50 ERA and an extremely solid 1.083 WHIP are very intriguing, but it’s tough to get too excited, even despite the small sample size.
He has 22 strikeouts in those last 36 innings, good for a 5.5 K/9 rate, which isn’t much to write home about. Allowing just 10 free passes gives him a 2.5 BB/9 rate, which is pretty decent, but it doesn’t allow him much room for error, especially if he’s to be moving up in the system. The Pacific Coast League can be a cruel mistress to pitchers with far more impressive pedigrees than Lloyd’s.
It wouldn’t appear that Lloyd has a particularly high ceiling, given the lack of K’s and overall velocity, but his control and use of breaking pitches might be valuable enough to allow him a chance to crack the tail end of a future Padres rotation. (Marcus Pond)
Phil Maton, RHP, Triple-A El Paso
Nobody ever gets excited about relief prospects, and for good reason. They’re just a bunch of failed starters who should give up on their dreams. Many don’t, and thus we have to tolerate them. Fortunately, some of them manage to become useful major leaguers and not just a strain on the eyes.
Why am I even bothering writing about relievers, especially since they won’t be as valuable to the Padres as they would be to contending clubs? Glad you haven’t exited the page yet! The Padres have a glut of talented relievers on the way, many of whom we’ll see next year. It’s a deep pool to choose from—Jason Jester, Yimmi Brasoban, Brad Wieck, and more—so I’ll choose the guy whose last name literally translates to BULLY in Spanish.
Phil Maton has been killing it this year. Let’s take a look at the 2015 20th round draft pick’s numbers: 50 and 2/3 innings, nine earned runs, 76 strikeouts, 11 walks and a nifty 1.60 ERA. THAT’LL DO. The Padres decided to fast-track the 23-year-old right-hander, as he’s already reached Triple-A after starting the season at Low-A.
Now, back to the question of why guys like Maton and others like him matter. We’ve seen time and again contending teams lose their minds and overpay for elite bullpen pieces. Maton et al. aren’t on the level of an Aroldis Chapman (I know, I know) or Craig Kimbrel. But if they’re just notch below? It only takes one desperate contender with a shaky bullpen for A.J. Preller to roll up the sleeves of his terrible shirt and start working the phones. He’s already proven to be a proactive GM willing to sell high on talent. (Oscar)
Hunter Renfroe, RF, Triple-A El Paso
John Conniff of MadFriars and I have had a healthy debate about Hunter Renfroe as a prospect on Twitter lately. It stems from my #want of Yasiel Puig, as the Dodgers had placed him on waivers and he reportedly was claimed by a few teams. I was rooting for the Padres to be the team that lands Puig while John’s position was against that pickup. Mostly because he, as many others do, believes Puig would be a clubhouse cancer, but also because Puig would be blocking Hunter Renfroe. My counter argument was threefold: 1) The Padres should always look to acquire talent, 2) that Puig could man right while Renfroe patrolled left, and 3) that Renfroe has a fairly high risk of not panning out as an MLB level player.
In week three of this series Oscar did a nice write-up of the caution one should take when dreaming on Renfroe patrolling right field for the Padres. Conniff implores that I review Renfroe’s second half stats to see the improvements in Renfroe’s approach and production. So I took a look. From July 1 through August 31, Renfroe has produced the following line:
And his rate stats over that same time period:
The only improvement of his second half line over his season line is the walk rate. He has improved from an astonishingly low rate of 4.0 percent to a still absurdly low level of 5.2 percent. John sees Renfroe’s improvement over last season in San Antonio to this one in El Paso as Renfroe having better swings on pitches in the zone. But that doesn’t explain the low walk totals. Renfroe actually walked more in Double-A (7.2 percent). It could be the case where Renfroe is simply swinging more because when you are slugging over .500 you might as well swing away instead of taking a walk, but that type of plate discipline does not always translate well to the major-league level. Of the 153 players with a qualified number of plate appearances, here are the players in the general range of Renfroe’s walk rate:
Starling Marte and Jean Segura are the shining examples of success with that walk rate. Segura gets a bump in fWAR for playing a premium position, while Starling Marte mans a corner outfield spot. Marte doesn’t have the K rate or ISO that Renfroe produces. The name in that list that jumps out as a very possible comp is Matt Kemp. The walk, strikeout, and ISO numbers all line up very well. Renfroe will surely give the Padres better defense, so maybe a league average offense player with good base running skills and plus defense is what the Padres need to succeed. My concern remains the same. If Hunter Renfroe’s ceiling is Matt Kemp, Yasiel Puig makes sense as an insurance policy. I’m hoping John Conniff is right, and that Renfroe can succeed in the majors. I just like hedging my bets. (Billy Lybarger)
Austin Smith, RHP, Single-A Fort Wayne
When looking at prospects, it’s easy to find data for their performance, thus it’s easy to “scout the stat line.” I scouted Walker Lockett’s line at San Antonio and liked what I saw, so I wrote him up two weeks back. It was nice to see some validation of the observation as he was featured in a few other reviews. Lockett had a good start on August 17 and then was promoted to El Paso. He had a pretty decent debut there too. Sometimes you hit a stat line that is worthwhile. Sometimes you don’t. Viewing Austin Smith’s line might be one of those times where you have to know more than the line.
Smith is currently rated as the Padres 27th best prospect, according to MLB Pipeline. He was drafted in the second round last year out of Park Vista Community HS in Lake Worth, Florida. He is a big (6’4” 220 lbs) righty that made nine starts in the Arizona League last year, and moved up to Fort Wayne this season. He has made 15 starts so far this season with what appears to be mixed results. A great example of this mix is just in the last couple of weeks. On the 24th of August he went four innings, giving up no runs and one hit while striking out five and walking two. Not too bad. On the 29th he went 1/3 of an inning, giving up 5 runs on five hits with 3 walks and no strikeouts. Oof.
In 87 innings pitched he has allowed 101 hits, 66 earned runs, hit five batters, walked 53, and struck out 69. His WHIP is an unhealthy 1.74. Reports about his starts basically say the same thing. He has a hard time with control, and a hard time missing bats. The good news is that he doesn’t give up many home runs, surrendering just six all season. The reports also say he has a bit of a kinky delivery, with the ability to get his fastball up to 96. He is said to be a bit thick in his core, and needs more flexibility to work out that kink. He also stiff arms his delivery with recoil that could make one yearn for the days of Jake Peavy pitching. I’m not comparing the two, just reminiscing. Patience with this young 20-year-old pitcher will be needed. (Billy Lybarger)
Luis Urias, 2B, High-A Lake Elsinore
Oscar wrote about Urias and the importance of the hit tool in the first edition of this series, and Urias hasn’t slowed down since. In fact, he’s done this
Luis Urias has now gone 66 PA's without striking out once! All at high A as a young 19 year old
— Philip (@givenupomlife) September 2, 2016
which isn’t all that exciting because he had a stretch of 49 plate appearances in April without striking out, and a stretch immediately before the most recent one where he k’ed just four times in 108 plate appearances. Dude can hit. That’s really all I got to say.
Wait, I’ve got more. Urias has been pulling this trick for his entire career. Last year, in Tri-City, he started the year with just one strikeout in his first 58 plate appearance, then he followed that up with just two whiffs in his final 52 plate appearances of the season. In 2014, in the AZL, there’s a 3-for-53, a 4-for-78, and a 1-for-26, which is totally unexciting at this point. Dude can hit. I’m done. (Sac Bunt Dustin)