Summary: In their eleventh season as the Padres Double-A team, the Missions started off hot, winning their division in the first half, in route to the Texas League’s best record. With the addition of many of the Padres top prospects after the All-Star break, they seemed primed to make a deep playoff run in September.
It wasn’t meant to be, however, as they were bounced in the first round of the playoffs by the Midland RockHounds, the eventual champions. Despite the disappointing end to the season, it’s not a stretch to predict that more than a few players who passed through San Antonio in 2017 will make their way to San Diego, as they boasted some of the top talents in the system.
Level: The Texas League was formed in 1888, with the Missions being a charter member. While their tenure in San Antonio has been interrupted in spurts, both by war and by franchise moves, they’ve featured a number of players who have gone on to produce at the major league level, from Brooks Robinson to Félix Hernández.
In 2017, the average age of players in the league was 24 and there were 20 different players who played in the league this year that also made their MLB debuts. When asked to compare the Texas League talent with the college level, Cal Quantrill said, “I think a college team would have a very hard time competing… by this point, you’re dealing with a lot of players at least as old or older than college players with professional experience and more talent.”
Nelson Wolffe Municipal Stadium can heat up in the summertime, the wind blows in from the outfield, so hitters moving up from the California League (High-A) often see their power numbers take a hit upon promotion.
Player of the Year: 2B/SS Luis Urías .296/.398/.380
Signed as a 17-year old out of Mexico in December of 2013 (he had signed with the Mexico City Red Devils at 15), Urías won the California League MVP in 2016 at 19 with the Lake Elsinore Storm and entered the 2017 season as the Texas League’s youngest player. After posting a .913 OPS the first two months of the season, pitchers around the league made a few adjustments and gave him fewer pitches to drive as it sank to .694.
Still, he managed to post a solid .395 on-base percentage on the year and struck out less than he walked. After splitting time between shortstop and second base for the Missions, Urías spent most of the Arizona Fall League at second base. While he has the arm, he lacks the range to play short on a regular basis, but he can certainly help in a pinch.
A lazy comp for Urías would be the similarly undersized José Altuve of the Houston Astros. However, unlike Altuve, Urías isn’t a base stealing threat (he was 7 for 20 in stolen base attempts last year), and it’s difficult to project him ever slugging .500+ in the majors, as Altuve has done in his last two seasons. Both players have highly regarded hit tools – Altuve has led the American League in hits the last four years – keen eyes at the plate (Urías’ 12.4% K rate last year was the highest of his minor league career), and play solid defense. It shouldn’t shock anyone to see Urías make his MLB debut in 2018, though the Padres may keep the 20-year old, who won’t turn 21 until July, in El Paso for the majority of the year for extra seasoning.
Pitcher of the Year: LHP Joey Lucchesi 11-7 2.20 ERA 139.0 IP 102 H 43 R 34 ER 33 BB 148 K
A 4th round draft pick in 2016, Joey Lucchesi lacked the hype of all the pitchers picked ahead of him, namely Cal Quantrill and Eric Lauer. However, the 24-year old out of Southeast Missouri State made quite a name for himself, earning the title of MadFriars Pitcher of the Year.
Beginning the year in the California League (High-A), he put up an impressive 10.9 K/9 rate for Lake Elsinore, and pitched into the sixth inning or deeper in half of his starts – no small feat in the hitter-friendly confines of the Cal League. He’s a strike-thrower, as his 2.1 BB/9 rate was almost identical across both leagues, and after a mid-season promotion to San Antonio, he lowered his ERA from 2.52 to 1.79 (though his K/9 rate dropped to a still-respectable 7.9).
While he put up superior numbers than his draft-mates, it is still believed that Quantrill (and possibly Lauer) have higher ceilings than the southpaw from Newark, CA. He has a funky windup and delivery that can be very deceptive to hitters, though many are not sure if it will be as successful as he climbs up the rungs to the majors. He has a low to mid-nineties heater and a “slurve”, which Storm catcher Austin Allen said was one of the best pitches that he’d caught all year.
Two Outside the MadFriars 2018 Top 20:
(1) Trey Wingenter
Position: RHP/Relief Pitcher
How Acquired: 2015 MLB Draft 17th Round
ERA W-L Saves IP BB/K K/9 BB/9 WHIP
2.45 2-1 20 47.2 19/64 12.1 3.6 1.091
2017 Highlights: Wingenter was a menace at the back of the almost impenetrable San Antonio bullpen. Throwing heat that reached triple-digits, along with a deadly slider, he led the Texas League in saves and was one of the Missions representatives at the All-Star game. In just his second full season in the minors, the Auburn alum showed that he was more than capable of locking down games, posting a 0.81 home ERA.
Negatives: After not allowing a home run since entering the system in 2015 (77 innings), he allowed six for the Missions this year. Of those, five of them came on the road.
Projection: His fastball and slider are plus pitches and coupled with his size and ability to repeat his delivery, he’s very well suited to be a back of the bullpen arm. He’s able to miss bats like a high-leverage closer, but the trick will be regaining the stuff to keep the ball in the ballpark on a more consistent basis.
MadFriars’ Assessment: Minor league relievers can often be passed up by starters who flame out and move to the bullpen, so it’s best not to get too invested in Double-A closers. Still, out of the relievers currently in the system, his proximity to the majors and aforementioned stuff have him on a short list of arms that could see time in Petco Park quickly. Don’t be surprised if he stumbles a bit in El Paso to start off, but he should be ready for the bigs sooner rather than later.
(2) Brett Kennedy
Position: RHP/Starting Pitcher
Height/Weight: 6-0/200 lbs.
How Acquired: 2015 MLB Draft 11th round
ERA W-L Saves IP BB/K K/9 BB/9 WHIP
3.70 13-7 0 141 38/134 8.6 2.4 1.213
2017 Highlights: Kennedy was criminally underrated in the Missions rotation this year, overlooked among bigger names like Cal Quantrill, Joey Lucchesi, Eric Lauer, Jacob Nix, and Kyle Lloyd. A workhorse, he had a 20-start streak where he pitched into the fifth inning or more. He struck out almost a batter an inning, and led the Texas League in strikeouts for most of the season, before fading down the stretch and falling to fourth overall.
On top of some dominant performances (a ten-strikeout appearance in the middle of August comes to mind), he also was very stingy to hitters, allowing just 2.4 walks per nine innings. The Fordham alum (who finished his degree during the previous offseason) was named to the Texas League post-season All-Star team.
Negatives: What he lacks in velocity and stuff, he’s been able to make up for with accuracy and pitch selection. How will this translate at the upper levels against advanced pitching remains to be seen, though Kyle Lloyd’s troubles in El Paso and San Diego this year could be a foreshadowing.
Projection: His ceiling is a back end of the rotation guy, but if he can maintain his control, he could be an effective middle reliever.
MadFriars’ Assessment: Kennedy was a non-roster invite to Spring Training in 2018 and should start the season in Triple-A El Paso. He allowed a career-high 1.0 HR/9 in Double-A, and his ability to keep the ball in the yard against advanced hitting will be tested in the Pacific Coast League. At 23, he’ll be one of the younger pitchers in the PCL.
Up Next: The final stop on the Padres’ minor league affiliates ladder, the Triple-A El Paso Chihuahuas.