|Original Published Date: December 26, 2017|
I really didn’t like what the Padres did when AJ. Preller was initially hired. The brought on a bunch of win-now players and traded away really good prospects in the process. To give them credit, they did an about-face when that process did not work and have created an excellent and very deep system in the process.
While it’s a deep system, it’s also a very young system that could take several years to start to fill their major league roster. Then again, I thought that about Fernando Tatis Jr. entering the season and he tore through three levels and has closed his arrival date considerably. Oh, and by the way, he’s one of the best prospects in the game and should be spoken with the names of Acuna, Vlad, and VR.
The Padres also have a trio of excellent starters in Cal Quantrill, MacKenzie Gore, and Adrian Morejon. While Quantrill is ranked the highest, partially because of his closeness to the majors, Core and Morejon have higher upsides. The pitching continues with Michael Baez and Joey Lucchesi who both could be in the starting rotation as early as next season or 2019.
With a couple of nice major league pieces in Wil Myers and Manny Margot and significant help on the way, the Padres could be contenders by 2020. The Dodgers are better and have deeper pockets but the Padres minor league talent is arguably stronger. Will they be able to climb over their northern foes? Time will tell…
Fernando Tatis Jr. (3B)
Highest Level: Double-A, ETA: 2019, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 OF
If you decided to take a break from prospect-watching and are surprised to see Fernando Tatis Jr. at the top of one of the best minor league systems in the game, then let me share with you what he did last season.
After getting off to a very slow start in the Midwest League, he caught fire in May and after four and half months, posted a .910 OPS with 21 home runs and 29 stolen bases. He also posted a 14.5% walk rate while striking out a reasonable 24% of the time. Oh yeah, he did all of that at 18-years-old. In fact, he doesn’t turn 19 until January.
The Padres were so impressed that they promoted him in mid-August, not to High-A but all the way to Double-A to help their San Antonio affiliate win the Southern Division before losing to the Athletics in the Championship Series. He didn’t play all that well but the experience was invaluable.
While I believe the Padres will start Tatis back in High-A to begin the 2018 season, he’s only a couple of years away from making his major league debut. With his combination of power and speed, he could be a force.
Scouting Report: Tatis is a tooled up player but is also demonstrating a solid approach with the ability to make contact and control the strike zone. He has plus raw power that is not only born from sheer physicality but also plus bat speed. The 21 home runs he hit in the Midwest League is just a prelude of what he could become – a power bat sitting in the middle of a very good Padres lineup with 30 plus home run potential.
While he’s a good runner, as he fills out the 29 stolen bases will likely not continue. That said, early in his career, he could steal 15 or more bases.
While the Padres have played him exclusively at shortstop, I don’t see that continuing. He doesn’t have the quick twitch athleticism for the position and his arm is average. A move to third or even left field is likely where he lands.
Fantasy Impact: When Tatis was traded for James Shields a couple of years ago, I should have jumped on him. I didn’t and therefore, none of my Dynasty League teams can call Tatis his home. I hope this didn’t happen to you. The kid has a chance to be a real fantasy stud. The upside is a 30 plus home run power, a .260 plus batting average with another 75 points on top of that in on-base percentage. Throw in 10 to 15 stolen bases early in his career, and you have all the makings of a Top 30 fantasy player.
Cal Quantrill (RHP)
Highest Level: Double-A, ETA: 2019, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 30 SP
There were significant health concerns with Cal Quantrill entering the 2016 Draft. He had Tommy John Surgery in college and didn’t pitch in the 18 months leading up to draft day. After a solid 2017, I think it’s safe to say that Quantrill is all the way back. In fact, his stuff is reportedly better than it was pre-surgery.
2017 was a good season for the 6-foot-2 right-handed pitcher. He began the season in the difficult California League posting a 3.67 ERA while striking out over a batter an inning and walking less than three. He was promoted mid-season and while things proved to be more difficult, he still managed to post a 4.04 ERA in eight starts in Double-A.
Scouting Report: Quantrill is primarily a fastball/changeup pitcher. His fastball sits 92 to 94 MPH with plenty of sink. While many times pitchers with a heavy sinker become pitch-to-contact pitchers, Quantrill strikes out batters. His primary out-pitch is a plus changeup that just disappears. It’s a great pitch that is already big league ready. His slider is his best breaking pitch and is still work-in-progress. For Quantrill to reach his ceiling of a number two starting pitcher, he needs to improve his slider. Through repetition, I see no reason why the pitch cannot become at least an average pitch, if not more.
Quantrill’s delivery is a little stiff but he does get good plane on his pitches as well as good extension. He is off-balance on his landing as he puts so much power into the delivery. It doesn’t appear to affect his arm slot as it looks like it stays pure.
Fantasy Impact: It appears that Quantrill is healthy and his stuff and control have returned. He has a chance to strikeout a batter-an-inning; and with the ability to keep the ball down, his ratios should be better than league-average. It also helps that he’ll pitch half his games in Petco Park and another four to six in Dodgers Stadium and AT&T Park.
MacKenzie Gore (LHP)
Highest Level: Rookie, ETA: 2020-21, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 30 SP
With Hunter Greene and Royce Lewis off the board in last June’s draft, many thought that the Padres would select left-handed college pitcher Brendan McKay. Instead, they went with another left-handed pitcher in high schooler MacKenzie Gore. Candidly on draft night, I was a little surprised but in talking with evaluators after the draft, many had him as the next pitcher off the board after Greene and one had him ahead.
While it was Rookie ball and the Padres only allowed Gore to pitch a maximum of four innings per outing, he dominated. In seven starts, he pitched to a 1.27 ERA while striking out 34 and walking seven. He also did not allow a home run.
The Padres will likely start Gore in the Midwest League to begin 2018 and given his advanced feel for pitching, could end the year in the California League and be on a fast train to San Diego.
Scouting Report: While Gore only turns 19 in February, he already possesses an advanced four-pitch arsenal. His fastball is a plus offering that sits 92 to 93 MPH but will touch higher. He throws both a curveball and slider with his curveball being a potential double-plus pitch. He also shows a feel for a changeup.
The delivery is one of power with a high leg kick and a drop-and-drive approach. He does lose plane on the delivery and while he keeps the ball down in the zone, the reduced plane could make him more homer-prone in the future.
Fantasy Impact: While he’s still a teenager and therefore, a lot can happen through the development process, Gore has the stuff to pitch at the top of a fantasy rotation. His stuff is advanced enough to move through the lower levels of the minor leagues before he will truly be challenged in Double-A. For those drafting in Dynasty League redrafts, he’s a Top 5 pick for me.
Adrian Morejon (LHP)
Highest Level: Low-A, ETA: 2020, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 30 SP
Adrian Morejon graduates from our emerging prospect to take a seat at the big-boy table this year. Signed in 2016 for an impressive $11 million-dollar signing bonus, the Cuban émigré had a nice debut in professional ball last season. Pitching across the Northwest and Midwest leagues, he posted a 3.86 ERA, striking out 8.29 per nine while walking only 2.29 per nine. He did all of this as the third youngest pitching in both leagues.
Scouting Report: Morejon has plus stuff and polish for an 18-year-old and therefore could move through the system quickly. He’s only 6-feet tall but as a lefty, that should limit his exposure to having a lack of downward plane. He has two impact pitches in his fastball and curve that when he can throw them for strikes, can miss bats. His fastball touches the mid 90’s that sets up his hard curveball. He also shows a feel for his changeup. He can throw all pitches for strikes but does lose his release point at times which can lead to bouts of wildness.
Fantasy Impact: Morejon is someone fantasy owners should be adding to all their rosters. He’s a Top 100 prospect and given the quality of his stuff and his age, he could move up the prospect ranks rapidly. He’ll likely start the season back in Low-A but should end the season in High-A, or even Double-A. Remember, the Padres are not afraid to move their prospects hard.
Luis Urias (SS/2B)
Highest Level: Double-A, ETA: 2018, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 Middle Infielder
Luis Urias is quietly becoming one of the better players in the minor leagues. He doesn’t have flashy tools and lacks above-average secondary tools, but man can he hit. He posted an impressive .296/.398 batting average/on-base percentage last year in Double-A as one of the younger players in the league.
He will likely start next season in Triple-A and could see the major leagues in the second half. He can play both short and second but doesn’t have the skills to be an elite defender at either position and therefore, many believe he will settle into a super utility role at the highest level.
Scouting Report: Luis Urias has one plus tool and that is his ability to hit. In fact, he’s hit at every level in the minor league posting a .310 batting average in four seasons. He’s also walked more than he’s struck out while posting an Altuvian-level 90% contact rate. The problem is that his secondary skills are lacking. He has below average raw power and average-at-best foot speed.
I did get a chance to see him in the AFL and he does make hard contact but his swing mechanics are more geared to gap power than over-the-fence power. He could and will likely add loft to his swing but I still believe he will top out at 10 to 12 home runs at his peak. If he can push that to 20, he could become a star. However, at 10 home runs and a handful of stolen bases, he’s at best a Top 15 middle infielder.
Fantasy Impact: While Urias does look like a tweener from a fantasy standpoint, I have talked to people who believe he will develop 20 home run power. If that happens, he could be an impact player who could contribute to batting average, on-base percentage and runs while providing average home run totals. I’m torn and have changed his ceiling from Top 15 to Top 20 multiple times before settling on a Top 15 ceiling.
Michel Baez (RHP)
Highest Level: Low-A, ETA: 2019-20, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 40 SP
The Padres have been very aggressive in the Latin market and have signed a number of high upside talent. One player that has flown under the radar has been Cuban émigré, Michel Baez. While he turns 22 in January, the stat line he put up in Low-A last season was just unfair.
In ten starts, he posted a 2.45 ERA while striking out 82 and walking only eight. He also gave up less than a hit an inning. His one blemish was the eight home runs he gave up.
He’ll likely begin 2018 in Lake Elsinore with a good chance to see Double-A before the end of the season.
Scouting Report: At 6-foot-8, Baez is an intimidating presence on the mound. His delivery is a simple and over the top but it does lack some deception. This could partially explain why he was so homer-prone last season. He does have good stuff with a fastball that can touch into the mid to upper 90’s with an excellent slider that misses plenty of bats. He also shows a feel for a change-up.
The best thing about Baez is his ability to throw strikes. He defines pounding the strike zone. As his command improves, he’ll learn to pitch to the corners better as currently, he catches too much of the plate. But the stuff is good enough that he still misses plenty of bats.
Fantasy Impact: There’s a lot to like with Baez and the best part is he’s a relative unknown in fantasy circles. He has the size and stuff that should allow him to have success at the big league level. Given his ability to throw strikes, he should move through the system quickly with a chance to see San Diego as early as 2019.
Joey Lucchesi (LHP)
Highest Level: Double-A, ETA: 2018-19, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 45 SP
It’s hard to not think of Clayton Kershaw when watching Joey Lucchesi pitch. NO, he’s not Clayton Kershaw. Let me repeat, he’s not Clayton Kershaw but he’s clearly trying to emulate the delivery. It starts with his hands held together high above his head and then moved slowly downward. Then, he has the high leg kick that ends with a hesitation (not quite as pronounced as Kershaw) before delivering his pitch.
Hey, Kershaw is the greatest pitcher of this era, why not emulate his delivery? The bigger question though…is it working? Across High and Double-A, he posted a 2.20 ERA, striking out 9.6 per nine while walking just over two per nine. So, yeah…something is working.
Scouting Report: So not only does Lucchesi have that funky delivery, ala the funkiest of funky, Clayton Kershaw, he also has good stuff. His fastball sits in the low 90’s and touches higher with a hard curveball that he throws for strikes. His changeup has improved since he was drafted and is also considered at least an average offering.
If you add it all up, you have a lefty with three above-average pitches who throws strikes. That’s a recipe for a very good pitcher at the highest level. Throw in that he could easily make his major debut in still one of the best pitchers park in the league, and it’s time to get excited.
Fantasy Impact: The Padres minor league system is stacked and therefore your Dynasty League should be stacked with Padres. If you missed out on Quantrill, Gore, Morejon or even Baez, you won’t be settling too much with Lucchesi. There’s just a lot to like with a chance for him to be a number three starter on your fantasy team if not more. And while the delivery looks like Kershaw, he ain’t Clayton Kershaw…
Josh Naylor (1B)
Highest Level: Double-A, ETA: 2018-19, Fantasy Ceiling: Corner Infielder
I’ll be the first to admit that I have not been high-man on Josh Naylor. I’ve questioned the hit-tool and candidly the body but I’ve also expressed concern about several publicized questionable antics that have plagued him early in his career. What I will say is after seeing him in the AFL, the kid plays hard and looks like he was having fun at it. Both are really important and not talked about enough.
He split time between High and Double-A last season slashing .280/.346/.415. While he does have significant raw power, it has yet to show up in-game as was demonstrated by his 10 home runs and middling SLG.
Scouting Report: While Naylor is clearly a prospect, for me, he’s not an elite prospect. The body is not great and while he has plus raw power, the approach is very raw and there is a lot of swing and miss in his game. At his size, he’s not void of speed. In fact, his nine stolen bases last season and 10 in 2016 are not a fluke. Will it continue? Not long term, but he’s more athletic than I originally thought.
Despite my less than enthusiastic profile, the game is changing and a below-average approach is tolerated if a player can produce double-plus power. Candidly, Naylor could hit 20 to 25 home runs, possibly 30 and that could make him a full-time regular in the major leagues. That said, I’m still not sold as I believe the bad body and the swing and miss will get in the way of his power.
Fantasy Impact: The upside for Naylor is an Adam Lind type of performer – a 20 to 25 home run power that will be a platoon first baseman. As he works his way through the minors, I believe he will be exposed by lefties and will be a more effective performer if used exclusively against right-handed pitchers.
Anderson Espinoza (RHP)
Highest Level: DNP, ETA: 2020-21, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 30 SP
When A.J. Preller traded Drew Pomeranz for Anderson Espinoza on July 14th, 2016, I thought it was a huge win for the Padres. I thought Pomeranz would struggle in Boston given his flyball tendency and Espinoza was a young talent that had a number two upside. In 2016, Espinoza continued to pitch well and on-queue, Pomeranz struggled. But, 2017 was a different story.
Pomeranz pitched to a 3.32 ERA, granted by getting a little help from his high strand rate, but still, a 3.84 FIP showed he was pretty good. Espinoza on the other hand, hurt his elbow in spring training and finally had surgery last July and will likely be lost for a total of two seasons. So far, advantage…Red Sox.
That’s how it works out sometimes as injuries are part of the game and it’s the risk of trading for young pitchers. But assuming Espinoza comes back healthy, he has every chance to return to an elite pitching prospect. His arrival date has been pushed back to at the earliest 2020, but depending on how he recovers, it could easily be 2021 or later. The good news is that Espinoza only turns 20 in March so he has time on his side.
Scouting Notes: Taken from our 2016 write-up with few changes.
Espinoza is a slight pitcher, standing 6-feet tall and only weighing 160 pounds. However, his arm strength is impressive and when I saw him in early May 2016, he easily hit 96 MPH in the early going. His fastball though sat for the majority of his outing in the 92 to 94 MPH range, only losing about a mile per hour from the first to the fourth inning. The pitch has a ton of late life and really jumps up on hitters with most everyone being late on the pitch throughout his outing.
He complements his fastball with two different curveballs – a harder curve that sits 78 to 79 MPH and a slower variety (70 to 72). Both pitches will be real weapons once he learns to repeat his deliver better. I only saw him throw a handful of change-ups and it’s clearly his third pitch.
In general, his delivery is very easy and effortless. However, he doesn’t always repeat it well and can get out of sync. This should improve over time as he gains more experience. The only thing holding him back is his size. At 6-feet, he doesn’t get a lot of plane on his pitches and you do worry about him being homer-prone. However, pitching half his games in Petco should help.
Fantasy Impact: What to do? If you are in a shallow Dynasty League, you have to throw Espinoza back. However, if you are in a league that has 200 plus minor league prospect, I would hold onto Espinoza. The ceiling remains the same until proven otherwise. The worst part is that you won’t see any changes until 2019.
Gabriel Arias (SS)
Highest Level: Low-A, ETA: 2020-21, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 SS
The Padres spent nearly $2 million dollars to sign Gabriel Arias during the 2016 J2 signing period. He was quickly brought over to the states and spent six weeks in the Arizona League where he hit .275 without hitting a home run, striking out 30% of the time while walking 10 times in 37 games. So what did the Padres do? Promoted him to Low-A where he finished up the season.
Scouting Report: Why are the Padres being so aggressive with Arias? The simple answer is they believe his bat-to-ball skills are good enough to handle aggressive assignments. While he only hit .242 in the Midwest League, he was not overmatched. He has a good approach and great bat speed that as he puts on more weight, should develop into in-game power. I know he didn’t hit a home run all season, but he’s also 17 and just needs development time. While he’s very athletic, he’s not a burner but should be good for double-digit stolen bases.
Defensively, he could be a star. He’s got a great glove with nice footwork and a plus arm.
Fantasy Impact: The Padres system is so deep that I could have put one of 10 names as the last guy on the list. But, Arias could be special. He has elite bat speed and at 17 was not overmatched in a league that he had no business being in. If you are in a deep Dynasty League and have a slot available, I would take a gamble. I think the payoff could be very nice.
2018 Emerging Prospect
Esteury Ruiz (2B)
I was really bummed when the Royals included Esteury Ruiz as I had him as the number three prospect in that system. Ruiz has a chance to be a very good offensive performer. He has a good approach at the plate with great bat speed and is a plus runner. While he hasn’t shown much in-game power, all the tools point to above-average power potential. Want some proof – he hit .350 with four home runs and 26 stolen bases in the AZL.
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