Last year, the Padres stocked the El Paso Chihuahuas roster with a slew of minor league free agents. This year’s squad will be built on a foundation that includes Eric Lauer and Luis Urias, who should be Padres mainstays for years to come. Franchy Cordero could spend some time in the Sun City before returning to San Diego, but the bigger storyline may be who else arrives before the end of the year.
Three Strikes with Sam Geaney, Padres Director of Player Development
1) At the end of last year, Eric Lauer seemed destined to return to San Antonio. What pushed him to Triple-A?
Sam Geaney: I think it is what everyone has always been impressed with by Eric. His fastball command and his poise on the mound. We saw a big uptick in the quality of his slider and he really performed well in the spring.
2) What improvements does the organization expect to see from Luis Urias?
Sam Geaney: We are going to continue to play him a few times a week at shortstop as well as hope to see his continued improvement at the plate. We are not asking him to hit home runs, but we like the progress he has made in getting more hard contact and continuing to have quality at-bats.
3) Trey Wingenter has really emerged as a prospect in the past year. What has been the biggest improvement that you have seen with him?
Sam Geaney: Mainly in how he uses his fastball to attack at the top of the strike zone as well as at the bottom. His slider also picked up quite a bit last year and now it’s a legitimate weapon.
2018 El Paso Chihuahuas Projected Lineup:
1B Allen Craig RF Franmil Reyes
2B Luis Urias CF Travis Jankowski*
3B Dusty Coleman LF Shane Peterson*
SS Javier Guerra* UT Diego Goris
C Raffy Lopez*/Stephen McGee
LHSP Eric Lauer RHRP Trey Wingenter
RHSP Brett Kennedy RHRP Phil Maton
RHSP Kyle Lloyd RHRP Eric Yardley
RHSP Chris Huffman
RHSP Walker Lockett
* indicates left-handed or switch-hitter
MadFriars’ Top 20 Prospects with El Paso Chihuahuas
Luis Urias (#4), Eric Lauer (#13) and Franmil Reyes (#19)
As of now, the Padres remain unsure of when Franchy Cordero (#10) will return to action. At a minimum, we expect him to spend some time in El Paso on a major league rehabilitation assignment.
Catch a Rising Star: Luis Urias, 20, should be the Padres’ starting second baseman for the foreseeable future. When his tenure begins remains the only question. In the Arizona Fall League, Urias became much more comfortable playing shortstop than he was during the season with Double-A San Antonio. Still, the Padres want to see Urias become an option who can play shortstop, rather than an everyday choice. Defensively, he is a plus second baseman with a shortstop’s arm.
El Paso Chihuahuas Pitching Staff
Starters: Eric Lauer, 22, wasn’t far behind Joey Lucchesi in big league camp this spring. The lefty relies on a low 90’s four-seamer with maybe the best fastball command in the organization. His slider has taken over as his predominant secondary pitch, but he also has a good changeup and curve as well. Brett Kennedy, 23, was the MadFriars Pitcher of the Year in Double-A San Antonio. He threw the second most innings of anyone on the staff and led the Texas League and organization with 13 wins. The 6-foot, 190-pound New Jersey native does it with a lot of four-seam fastballs in the low 90s which he will relentlessly and continually throw. Kyle Lloyd, 27, threw the organization’s first no-hitter since 2009 in San Antonio and has plus splitter. To be effective, he must rely on his sinker to set up his splitter. Lloyd will start for the time being, but he profiles better as a reliever. Chris Huffman, 25, has been a workhorse in the organization and has logged over 100 innings in his past three years. Walker Locket, 23, had a big year in 2016, but injuries cost him most of last season. When he’s on, the six-foot-five Floridian can pound the zone with his sinkers. Once he is ready, expect to see lefty Matt Strahm, 26, who was slightly over the rookie limits with 56.2 major league innings, in the El Paso rotation on a rehab assignment. Strahm throws in the low to mid-90s and easily would have been in our Top 20 if he was eligible.
Pen: At six-foot-seven with a three-quarters delivery, Trey Wingenter, 23, makes for a difficult match-up for right-handed batters. Wingenter led the organization and Texas League in saves with 20 in 2017. Despite an upper-90s fastball, the Auburn product credits his success to getting called and swinging strikes from his slider. As they’ve already demonstrated early in the season, the Padres will shuttle a number of relievers back-and-forth from the big club to El Paso this year. Righties Phil Maton and Colten Brewer and lefties Kyle McGrath and Buddy Baumann are on the 40-man roster and should log plenty of frequent flier miles. Eric Yardley, 27, the independent Pecos League refugee, posted another effective season throwing 61.1 innings with a 2.05 ERA for the Missions. As with most guys who throw from the side, his frisbee slider played better against righties than lefties.
Catching: Raffy Lopez, 30, made the opening day big league roster before being sent down after one day. Lopez has toggled between the big leagues and the minors since 2014 and owns a very good minor league slash line of .274/.357/.406. Stephen McGee, 27, was the primary catcher for San Antonio last year and is a solid defender with occasional pop.
Infield: Urias will mainly see time at second base, but will continue to make occasional forays to short. Javier Guerra, 22, was seen as the primary prospect coming over in the Craig Kimbrel trade of 2015 because of his exceptional defense and gap power left-handed bat. While all the reports on his defense have been true, his bat never came around in two years with High-A Lake Elsinore, where he hit .214/265/.341 in 793 plate appearances and was about the same in a brief cameo with the Missions at the end of last year (.212/.262/.326 in 140 plate appearances). With Tatis manning shortstop in Double-A and a third trip around the Cal League not viable, the organization hopes that a change of scenery could lead to a change in performance.
Southern California native Allen Craig, 33, had some big years with the Cardinals before falling off a cliff with the Red Sox and struggling with the Triple-A Pawtucket Red Sox for the past three years. Dusty Coleman, 30, who saw time with the Chihuahuas and Padres in 2017, will see time all around the infield.
Outfield: Our guess is that Franchy Cordero, 23, returns to El Paso once he’s healthy. He should see time all around the outfield, but play in center most of the time. Cordero owns premium athleticism, blending speed (15 stolen bases in 19 attempts last year), and power. Although he had a .369 on-base percentage for El Paso last year, he struck out in nearly 30% of his plate appearances. That number spiked to 44% in his 30-game big league stint. Once his chase rate on balls outside of the zone goes down, expect to see him heading west on a Southwest flight. Travis Jankowski, 27, got caught in a numbers game at the big league level and hopes to regain some of the promise that he showed in San Diego in 2016. Franmil Reyes, 22, has put up some numbers in the past few years. In 2017 he led the Texas League in home runs, extra-base hits (53), total bases (235) and was fourth in slugging percentage. Shane Peterson, 30, who came over from the Rays’ organization and longtime Padres’ farmhand Nick Schulz, 27, will round out the outfield.
On the Spot: The organization has given Javier Guerra multiple opportunities to show that he can hit. He has yet to reward them. His glove is special, but he must hit higher than the Mendoza Line to have a chance – particularly with the talent below him.
Under the Radar: Franmil Reyes put up big power numbers last year in Nelson Wolff Stadium, a graveyard for right-handed power hitters. If he’s healthy, he could do some serious damage in the fun zones of the PCL.