SAN ANTONIO — While one four-day look certainly isn’t enough to come to definitive conclusions on anything, it does provide some opportunity to get a read on what’s going on behind the numbers.
Naylor is trying to make the shift to left field. What started with a few reps in the Arizona Fall League has quickly progressed to the point that he’ll get the majority of his action there in the coming months. Because he fouled a ball off his front foot midway through my first game in town, I only saw him in left for two games. He had only a few chances on Thursday and was clearly still limited in Sunday afternoon’s game. More importantly, the injury meant he didn’t do any pre-game work, though multiple people around the club noted that he’s been putting in plenty of early time to learn the position.
With all those caveats and conditions given, the defense was – predictably – still not very good. The big man took less-than-stellar routes on three fly balls on Sunday. While none likely changed outcomes, they served as a reminder that he simply doesn’t have much experience reading balls off the bat yet. After a few ugly throwing errors early in the year, Naylor has focused on mechanics in recent weeks. He made only one meaningful throw in action I saw. He should have enough in his arm to be just fine in left.
The biggest question, of course, comes down to being big. While it is true that Naylor has natural athleticism most people his size don’t, most people who play baseball aren’t his size. It’s hard to see him as a regular every-day outfielder at his current size because of the rigor of carrying the extra weight, and it’s even harder to see him doing so by the time he’s in his mid-20s. Perhaps this experiment will be the thing that inspires him to come into camp next year trimmed down.
At the plate, Naylor showed a more consistent approach, waiting not just for strikes, but for pitches he can damage. Even when he looked like he was on one foot, he was attacking. While pitchers were able to get under his hands effectively last year, he was doing better on inside fastballs this year – and at laying off them when appropriate. I think many of the offensive advances this year are likely to stick.
As for Tatis, I’m all in. Even with the slow start. Even with the chasing out-of-the-zone early in the year. Even with the continued high K rate, Tatis is a difference-maker in all facets of the game. While I was there, the strikeouts Tatis had were because he was overly-focused on not swinging at breaking balls on the outer half. He’d chased a ton over the first four weeks of the season, and he’s clearly decided he’s not going to get beat out there – even on sliders in the zone. He only swung at a couple early in counts over four games. I expect that by mid-summer, instead of recognizing and letting them go, he’ll be recognizing which are in the zone and attacking them.
While his offensive turn-around this month is obvious, it’s not the only way he makes a difference in games. There’s been a lot of misreading of the discussion about Tatis’s defensive future (and some flat stupid opinions from people who should know better). Tatis is most definitely a shortstop right now. He is most definitely a shortstop for the next few years at the very least. He only stops being a shortstop at some potential future date if and when he gets too big to stay on the position.
Right now, Tatis is an above-average defender at the position. He can make all the plays and has improved in several areas. He reads the ball off the bat well and showed impressive range both to the hole – where he’s always been strong – and up the middle. He charged several balls well and showed a quick release on the move. And his arm may be a tick better than the 60s and 65s that are out there in the public domain.
Beyond the big two, there is a lot to like on the Missions roster.
Coming into the year, I was high man on Logan Allen, ranking him number nine overall. I may have been too light. The lefty will enter his start on Sunday – his 21st birthday – second in the league in strikeouts and sporting an ERA below 3.00. In just over 14 months, his change-up has gone from being a show-me pitch to a devastating out pitch. He’s using a grip that results in ultra-low spin rates – sometimes dipping down to 700 RPM and lower – that creates some knuckle.
After losing the feel for his curveball last year and shelving it in favor of a slider, he’s found it again with pitching coach Jimmy Jones and is now throwing both breaking balls for called and swinging strikes. He’s physically mature and has incredible poise on and off the field (though apparently, nobody’s sent “low heart rate” talking points out to the staff on him just yet).
Obviously, the dominating return of Chris Paddack is the biggest upside pitching news in the system this year. But Allen – who is 16 months younger, has 160 more professional innings, and was drafted five spots ahead of Paddack in the eighth round in 2015 – is not too far behind him in importance.
Jose Castillo and Gerardo Reyes – the two pitchers who came over to the Padres with Wil Myers in the big winter 2015 trade – were briefly reunited in San Antonio during my visit. Castillo, who was promptly promoted to El Paso, worked back-to-back nights for the first time this year and was dominating. Every bit of his listed 6-foot-5 and probably more than his 246 pounds, Castillo has the look and repertoire of a closer.
The 22-year-old Venezuelan whiffed at least two batters in eight of the 15 innings he pitched for the Missions, including both nights I saw him. His fastball easily sits at 96-97 and he has a slider that is devastating when it’s on. Already on the 40-man roster, Castillo will almost certainly be in the big leagues later this summer.
Reyes, three years older and nearly 100 pounds lighter, has almost as much velocity from the right side but requires a high-effort slingshot delivery with incredible recoil to generate it. When he’s on, he’s a fierce match-up – witness the ten strikeouts in his first five innings after joining the Missions from Elsinore. But when he’s even a little off, as he was in the outing I saw on Sunday, he can be wild and have his pitches flatten out.
After his torrid start to the year, Austin Allen has – as you’d expect from someone who carried a 1.200 OPS through the first month of the season – cooled off at the plate. The big lefty had a hit in each game of the series but was chasing pitchers’ pitches. While he struck out only three times in 16 trips to the plate, he fell victim to several breaking pitches against a hittable Frisco staff.
I was lower on Allen than the rest of the MadFriars guys coming into the year because I wasn’t sure his defense would allow him even a backup role at the big league level, or that his offense would be quite loud enough to justify time at first base. However, for the third straight year, he came to spring training showing defensive improvement – both in receiving and blocking balls and in his footwork to support a better throwing game. Paired with offense that’s also better than he performed either of the last two seasons, he’s positioning himself to get a chance to play at the highest level.
Cal Quantrill’s start was a really odd mix. The individual components were good. His fastball velocity held in the mid-90s throughout. His change was effective, and he was back to throwing his slider. But without much life on that pitch, which was at exactly the same velocity range as the change, hitters were timing him well all day. Last year, with the slider on the shelf, Quantrill tried to find the feel for a slower curve, but it never really took. I wonder whether he’d be better served by either adding a few ticks to his slider or if he can’t do that, go back to the curve at least occasionally to introduce a third speed for hitters to deal with.
Ty France, Kyle Overstreet, and River Stevens have all been incredibly valuable pieces on the team. Each has built on their core abilities in the organization and now have legitimate pathways to the big leagues. France looked especially smooth at third base defensively and continues to get on base even on the rare days when he’s not getting hit by pitches. Overstreet is still figuring out first base, but adding that position to his versatility is important in his development. He’s been hitting the ball for power since the start of last year.