Former number one draft pick Cal Quantrill should be one of the top performers in 2018. (Photo: San Antonio Missions)

Over the last several seasons, Major League Baseball trades have increasingly seen younger and younger prospects targeted over “big league ready” prospects.  For instance, the Padres acquired guys like Enyel de los Santos, Fernando Tatis Jr., and Esteury Ruiz before they ever played above Low-A ball instead guys who were a year or two away.

Now, there are plenty of exceptions to the trend with contending teams opting for prospects in the high minors and teams’ trading stars electing to minimize risk in their return; yet, I think it’s changing the value of prospects, placing a higher weight on young, high-ceiling prospects. As such, I’ve placed more stock on prospect ceilings than you may see out of some of the other lists.

Both risk and floors still play a vital role in projecting prospects, but I think they’re more of a factor once a player reaches Double-A than they are in the lower minors (generally speaking).

Since John Conniff, who took on daunting task of publishing first, already delved into some criteria, logistics, and situations, I’ll jump into the rankings without much further delay.  Just let me first mention two items of note: 1.) I decided to place both Chris Paddack and Anderson Espinoza on my list, but I know some will omit them because it’s difficult to know how high they fit in the top 30; 2.) as you already know, the Padres’ system is ripe with talent, so it’s inevitable that there are quite a few intriguing prospects that simply won’t be able to fit on this list but could easily warrant a place.

1.) SS/3B Fernando Tatis, Jr. 

Living in Fort Wayne, I’ve had the opportunity to see quite a bit of Fernand Tatis Jr. on the diamond, and I can attest that there’s much more substance than fluff to his prospect shine.  The combination of power and speed that he displayed as an eighteen year old certainly support that, but I think his growth at the plate as the season progressed speak even louder.

Over the first three months of the season, Tatis struck out 87 times while walking just 35 times, so when I asked him about his approach about at the time, he said, “You know, I’ve been working on my patience right now.  At the beginning of the season, I was striking out a lot, but now, I got my confidence and know what they’re [throwing].”  His disciplined change in approach, along with an increased ability to recognize pitches, manifested in a strong second half with a 40:37 BB/K ratio in his final two months at Low-A Fort Wayne.  I wouldn’t be surprised if Tatis follows a similar path happens this year at Double-A San Antonio, having moderately high strikeout numbers to begin the year before settling into a dominant hitter.

Additionally, on the defensive side, there’s little question from those who saw him regularly that he has the chops to stick at short stop, at least early in his career.

2.) RHP/SP Cal Quantrill

I know for some, Gore is the choice here, but I think the combination of a high floor and high ceiling make him the best Padres’ prospect not named Fernando Tatis Jr.

While the 2016 first rounder had more of a solid full season debut than a spectacular one, it shouldn’t be that unexpected given the distance from Tommy John Surgery.  Perhaps, that seems like cliché excuse, but command takes some time to return, especially in light of pitching against the toughest completion of one’s life.  The walk rates of 7.6 percent and 8.3 percent are don’t highlight the command issues, but Quantrill does a pretty good job of spelling it out in an interview with Marcus Pond (MadFriars), saying,

“Walking people has very little to do with command a lot of the time.  It’s about throwing the pitch where you want to throw it.  If you’re aiming for the outside corner and you’re just leaking it over the middle every time, that’s not command, even though you might not walk anybody on the entire year.  For me, that’s probably been the thing I’ve had to work the hardest at, and I’m going to continue to work at – executing pitches where I want them executed in high pressure situations.  For each person, the surgery and the comeback is a little different, but for me, it’s been the touch that I had in college – one game I’ll feel it, the next game I won’t feel it.  Arm feels great both games, but it’s about getting that consistent feel for the pitch.  But it’s coming around now.”

As his command continues to sharpen this season, his fastball mixed with what I’d consider a 70 grade (future value) changeup, which comes of the same plane as his fastball, has Marco Estrada-esque velocity differential, and possesses some wacky and deceptive movement, should enable him to flash more of his potential.

3.) LHP/SP MacKenzie Gore –D

With just 21 innings of professional experience in the Arizona League, it’s difficult for me to even place Gore this high, but there’s a reason his advanced look and four pitch mix made draft evaluators salivate.

In his debut season, the fastball sat in the mid 90’s with good movement, and if it can add a few more ticks as he matures, it could lethal pitch for the southpaw.  The high leg raise in his delivery gives me some minor concern that he’ll have to tweak his delivery at some point, but he’s both consistent and athletic enough to roll with it at this stage in his career.  For 2018, the focus will likely be seeing how he responds pitching deeper into games against competition more on his level.

4.) RHP/SP Michel Baez

There may not been a lot of hype when Baez signed with the Padres last offseason, but it didn’t take long for his name to vault up prospect lists as the 6’8” right-hander dominated the Midwest League.  He struck out 56 batters over his first six starts, relying primarily on a mid-upper 90’s fastball that plays up from his long extension (sure helps to be 6-foot-8).  Naturally, the more the Midwest League saw of him and the more he tried to sharpen his repertoire, the more he began to look less than spectacular, coughing up five runs in consecutive games and seeing his strikeout numbers dip slightly.

Michel Baez with the TinCaps. (Photo: Ryan Cox)

Baez will be tested in the upper level of the minors because the fastball won’t be enough alone to keep hitters off-balance the second and third times through the order.  Nonetheless, he maintains a nice fall back option as a dominant reliever if things don’t ever come together with secondary offerings.  (He has plenty of time to sharpen his secondary pitches before that’s even considered, but it provides a nice floor for a prospect.)

 5.) 2B/SS Luis Urias

There’s a small part of me that recoiled at the idea of Urias being all the way down at five spot because he looks like the future at second base for the Padres; however, the ceiling for a low-power, non-stealing second baseman remains limited.

He’s not stolen more than eight bases in a season in the last three years and hit a mere nine home runs over that same duration, so even if his advanced approach at the plate—controlling the strike zone and utilizing the entire field, hitting 37.3 percent of balls opposite field compared to 33 percent to the pull side– he profiles as a solid to good player more so than a perennial all star.  He’ll need superb defense and at least ten home runs if wants to be a guy that can eclipse four war in a season.

Morejon hit some bumps in the Midwest League. (Photo: Jeff Nycz)

6.) LHP/SP Adrian Morejon

Like Gore, Morejon’s professional resume is still wanting, but he possesses the talent and intangibles to one day be a strong mid-front rotation candidate.  He’ll just need considerable development time to get there.

Both replicating his delivery and maintaining velocity were issues for Morejon as he progressed in games, but that’s not overly concerning as an 18-year old, so look for him to improve in those areas this season.  Of particular note, though, is that while southpaws hovered around the Mendoza line against Morejon, right-handers in the Midwest League hammered him to the tune of a .322 average with an 11:14 BB:K ratio (small sample size).   On the flip side, he didn’t struggle with the home run ball, allowing just 4 home runs over 63 innings.

7.) RHP/SP Anderson Espinoza

As far as the Padres system is concerned, Espinoza’s year was by far the most disappointing, throwing not a single inning as he was plagued by injuries and ultimately shut down.  He won’t pitch again for the second straight season, making his future a bit murkier than anyone would like; yet, at 19 years of age, there’s still plenty of time for him to grow into his potential.  Although, he’s now the definition of high-risk, high-reward.

8.) RHP/SP Joey Lucchesi

With an unorthodox delivery and steady attack, Lucchesi was able to do what Eric Lauer and Cal Quantrill were unable to do, transition to Double-A without skipping a beat.  His lack of both elite velocity and a diverse arsenal limit his ceiling to back half of the rotation, but that’s really not a knock on him.  After all, not every pitching prospect can be that front of the rotation guy.

Lucchesi, already 24 years of age, is a strong bet to open the season in Triple-A El Paso and could end up in the rotation before the close of 2018 if things go his way.  The question with him is whether is ability to deceive with his throwing motion will continue to keep hitters off balance as he climbs the ladder.  If it doesn’t all come together, he could become a decent reliever with his deception playing up in short spurts.

9.) RHP/SP Jacob Nix

It’s easy for Nix to get in the lost in the shuffle given the bevy of talented arms in the system, especially since a groin injury kept him in extended spring training until late May; however, a healthy Nix could be a poised for a big season in 2018. After all, his mid 90’s fastball is located well and the spike curve has always had the potential to be a big pitch.  (It was certainly on full display when he flirted with perfection in June, tossing  9 innings of two-hit ball with eleven strikeouts.)

There was some growth with the changeup, but it’s something he needs to be consistent with if he wants it to develop into a quality third pitch.  I’d expect him to spend a good portion of the season in San Antonio before closing out the year with El Paso.

 10.) 1B Josh Naylor

One of the concerns with Josh Naylor when he was acquired in the Andrew Cashner deal was that he needed to be more selective at the plate.  It wasn’t that he was struggling with an egregious strikeout rate but rather that he would continually swing and make contact on pitches that he couldn’t drive.  This year, he rectified that situation some as he saw his walk rate jump from 2.1 to 8 percent at High-A Lake Elsinore with similarly good results at San Antonio.

Since he’s limited to first base defensively, he’ll need to start demonstrating that the selectively can be combined with game power, hitting just 10 home runs this season, but he possesses the bat speed and raw power to be strong power option at first base.  Besides, at 20 years of age, that’s frankly enough to get excited about.

 11.) 3B Hudson Potts

As John Conniff mentioned in his top 30, Hudson Potts was sensational to close out the year, slashing .346/.398/.664 with 8 home runs in August.  It’s also what makes Potts difficult to rank because the reality is that he was horrendous for most of the season with a .226/.259/.360 slash line that included a strikeout in over a third of his at bats.

On the one hand, Potts is just 18-years old and you have to like that he seemed to take a huge step forward (and his 20 home runs would be highlighted more if Tatis hadn’t hit 21 at Fort Wayne).  Still, as impressive as the August through September numbers were, a a 7:27 k:bb ratio during that timeframe suggest he’s got a lot of work to do at the plate.

While I get that you’re usually not looking for consistency at a such a young age, I need to see more than a month and a half of intrigue to move Potts over the guys higher on my list.

12.)  LHP/SP Eric Lauer

Eric Lauer, the proud owner of owner of a pristine 0.69 ERA his junior year of college, continued to cruise to the tune of a 2.79 era and 11.17 K/9 at Lake Elsinore for the first half of the season, and though he had a three game stretch of 19 runs, he adjusted reasonably well to the competition at San Antonio, allowing no more than one earned run in a start over his last five regular season games.  His diverse repertoire and knack for limiting the damage give him a reasonably high floor as someone who’s a strong bet to spend time at the back of rotation. I just wouldn’t anticipate the high strikeout numbers from the first half of the season to ever be a staple of his major league career.

Enyel De Los Santos (Photo: San Antonio Missions)

13.) RHP/SP Enyel De Los Santos

In his full season at San Antonio, Enyel De Los Santos was nothing short of incredible…except when he faced the Oakland Athletic’s Double-A affiliate, Midland.  His 32 earned runs over 38.1 innings (7.56 ERA) against them is befuddling when you consider he only allowed 31 runs in 111.2 innings against all other teams; yet, to be fair, the Midland squad was quietly the best offense in the Texas League.

In what’s hopefully a more insightful note, there was a lot of concern with his ability to profile as a starter after a precipitous drop in strikeout rate last season as his K/9 fell under seven, and while it didn’t return to anything elite, a 8.81 K/9 in the second half is a marked improvement.  I’d expect him to spend all of 2018 in El Paso as he continues hone his secondary pitches.

 14.) LHP/SP Logan Allen

Allen was downright dominant as a member of the TinCaps during the first half of 2017, allowing two runs or less in nine of his ten starts along with just one home run to go with his .199 opposing batting average.  At Lake Elsinore, he continued to avoid the long-ball and walks, but an inflated BABIP [batting average on balls in play for the non-saber geeks out there] obscures how effective he was overall.  There’s little reason to not push Allen into stronger competition at San Antonio with his burgeoning repertoire looking like it’s not been challenged enough.

 15.) OF Francy Cordero

It’s truly difficult to ignore a 20 home run, 21 triples season, so despite the 44 percent strikeout rate in the big leagues, Cordero finds his name high on the list. Yet, he whiffed frequently on all pitch types in the majors.  For instance, the 16.7 percent swinging strike rate against four-seamers highlight how overmatched he truly was.

He seems like a safe bet to play a role on a big league team in the near future, but unless he can cut down the swinging strike rate to something more palatable, it’s hard to envision him as an everyday player on a good team.

Reyes led the Padres’ organization in home runs with 25. (Photo: San Antonio Missions)

 16.) OF Franmil Reyes

After a 25 home run season, the 6-foot-5, 262-lbs. Franmil Reyes has vaulted up the rankings as one of the best power bats in the system.  If there’s anything to watch this season, it’s that he needs to surpass the miserable .147/.233/.293 line that he posted against southpaws in 2017.  His previous couple of seasons suggest it hasn’t been a major problem, but his future role would be limited if he can’t do better than that, especially since he’s already limited to a corner outfield spot.

17.) 2B Esteury Ruiz

In what was quite a lackluster trade deadline for the Padres, they did acquire an intriguing second base prospect in Esteury Ruiz.  He only weighs 150, so it’s unlikely he’ll ever have the frame to hit more than 10-15 home runs; however, an advanced feel for hitting and an wOBA over .420 in 108 games of rookie ball warrants attention.  He’ll likely spend his age 19 season here in Fort Wayne trying to prove that those numbers are more than a mirage.

18.) RHP/SP Chris Paddack

It’s been almost a year and a half since Paddack took the mound in an official game, so I understand the inclination to leave him out of a Top 30, but the potential of his devastating changeup alone makes him a player to watch.  I would sober expectations for 2018 with plenty of bumps along the way as you would normally anticipate with a pitcher coming off of Tommy John Surgery.

Chris Paddack in action in 2016. (Photo: Jeff Nycz)
19.)  C Austin Allen

Considering he hit 22 homers and produced a .373 wOBA, I couldn’t help but rank Austin Allen higher than I wanted to.  Even his defensive numbers and reports evince some growth behind the plate, so it’s quite possible that the move to first base is not the inevitable course many though it would be.  Instead, he looks poised to continue proving doubters wrong as a likely member of the Missions in 2018 behind the plate.

20.) C Luis Campusano

For some, Austin Allen’s bat and presence in the upper minors solidifies his place as the top catcher in the system, but his defensive question marks and the lack of catching depth in the organization prompted AJ Preller and company to grab Campusano in the early second round.  His plus arm and raw power could make him the heir apparent to Austin Hedges (way down the line) if he continue to polish his receiving skills in a slow ascent through the minors.

21.) RHP/RP Hansel Rodriguez

After three years in the minors, something drastic needed to happen for Hansel Rodriguez to halt his frustration, and the transition a bullpen role was precisely that.  He struck out a whopping 56 hitters in 40 innings while holding batters to a .185 average.  Now, with a full off-season to hone his craft as reliever, I expect his stay in Lake Elsinore could be a brief one.

22.) OF Michael Gettys

To go with a cannon of an arm and strong defense in center, Gettys has the tools to be a 20/20 player, but he has to find a way to reduce some of the swing and miss in his game.  A twenty-two year old striking out in nearly forty percent of his at bats in High-A with little discernible growth over the season is a red flag if I can ever saw one, even if there were some injury concerns.  On the bright side, his defense and speed combo suggest he could be a quality fourth or fifth outfielder even if the strikeouts are always an issue.

23.) RHP/RP Trey Wingenter

His towering frame and long extension are a formidable pair on the mound as his fastball jumps on opposing hitters, touching the upper 90’s.  He induced grounders over half the time and struck out over 12 per nine, so the biggest question at this point is just how he adjusts to better competition.  He’ll be a major league bullpen option at some point in 2018 for the Padres.

6-foot-7 Trey Wingenter led the Texas League in saves with 20. (Photo: San Antonio Missions)
24.) OF Jorge Ona

By all accounts, Ona endured a fairly successful professional debut, hitting .277/.351/.405.  The home run total (11) may seem low but given his explosive bat speed and projectable body, he should flash more power moving forward.  Currently, he presses at the plate more aggressively than he should, enabling opposing pitchers to entice him to whiff on breaking balls down and away, so he’ll need to show better patience and pitch recognition as he matures.

Injuries hurt Mason Thompson in 2017. (Photo: Jeff Nycz)

25) RHP/SP Mason Thompson

I realize Thompson may not be as high on other rankings, but the reality is that injuries prevented from really ever getting going, which is uniquely important for a player that hasn’t pitched a full season in quite some time.  Even if that makes him inherently risky, he’s a sharp kid and hard worker who has an advanced changeup for his age to go along with what projects to be a plus fastball and curveball.  Furthermore, his 6-foot-7 frame allows his fastball to play up in terms of effective velocity, and I expect him to take giant step forward, beginning in Fort Wayne next season.

26) RHP/SP Reggie Lawson

I’ve seen Lawson more than I’ve probably seen any other starting pitching prospect in system, and while there’s a lot to like, he’s a long way off from contributing in the majors.  TinCaps’ pitching coach Burt Hooton worked hard to instill in Lawson the idea of being a power pitcher, hammering zone with his fastball and pounding with the curveball.  And for the most par, Lawson embraced it.  Yet, no matter how strong he started a game, he’d lose control of his curveball a couple of the innings into the game and watch it get uncharacteristically loopy.  He’ll need to build up his stamina and flash a little more out of his changeup next season.

Also, he relies a bit a more on the catcher’s direction at this point, so I’d love to see him a take more methodical approach.

27) SS/INF Gabriel Arias

Offensively, Arias still looks quite raw at times, hitting far too many balls on the ground, but that isn’t unnatural for a player yet to celebrate his 18th birthday.  On the defensive side, his range, instincts, and quick feet at shortstop were tantalizing to watch in his brief time in Fort Wayne.

Given the glut of middle infielders in the system, it’s uncertain whether he’ll be pushed to Lake Elsinore or spend some more time at Fort Wayne; although, the latter would be a better for his development in the short-term.

28) 2B/3B Eguy Rosario

Rosario proved to be not quite ready for the completion in Low-A ball, but don’t let that dim his prospect shine since he was youngest player in the Midwest league to start the year.  His innate ability to hit the ball and his plus speed (33 stolen bases) have leadoff hitter written all over them, and it certainly doesn’t hurt that patience at the plate belies his age, as he hovered around a 10 percent walk rate.  He simply needs to add some more strength and fill out a bit as he grows.  Regardless, the potential of seeing Ruiz and Rosario in the same lineup in 2018 is very intriguing.

29) RHP/SP Brett Kennedy

While the 23 year old Brett Kennedy isn’t going to light up the radar gun or rise up prospect rankings, he’s a steady arm that has consistently performed at all levels.  He’ll be challenged to hone his offspeed pitches in El Paso, but he ultimately projects to be a guy that could be a back of the rotation starter, and though that’s not a profile that majorly excites anyone, it’s the type of player you need over the course of a 162 games season.

30) RHP/SP Walker Lockett

Between hitting a wall at Triple-A and injuries, Lockett has been slipping since being named MadFriars’ pitcher of year in 2016.  Nevertheless, his fastball and slider are real worm-eaters, inducing groundballs at a high rate and allowing him to be confident in his attack.  Ideally, he’ll get some action with the major leaguers in Spring Training before kicking off the year in El Paso.

Posted by Travis Barnett