Fort Wayne, Ind. — A significant portion of this team is comprised of players that the Padres signed in the J2 class of 2016.  Some are doing well, some are struggling.  However, for the TinCaps this year as long as he is with the team, everything will begin and end with the performance left-handed pitcher MacKenzie Gore, the third overall pick in the 2017 draft.

Padres top prospect MacKenzie Gor warms up for the Fort Wayne TinCaps.

MacKenzie Gore is back. Photo Credit: Jeff Nycz.

On Sunday, June 10, Gore, 19, made his first appearance since mid-May and threw two innings and struck out three against no walks.  His fastball sat between 92-95, although his breaking pitches and changeup weren’t quite as sharp as they were at the end of Spring Training.

“It’s all good now and felt good yesterday,” Gore said on Monday after his first outing in a month.  “The blisters were more annoying than painful, but hopefully they are gone.”

“I still have some building up to do.  It’s June 11 now and I’m only at ten innings. I have a lot of work to do.”

In his next start six days later Gore threw three innings and struck out five, didn’t give up any walks and allowed one hit.

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Last year, Padres Director of Player Development Sam Geaney was understandably effusive on Gore, but he was nearly as high on Columbian right-hander Luis Patino, 18.

“If you want a comp, he reminds you of the more athletic pitchers that you will see in terms of Mike Leake or Jake Peavy,” said Geaney at the time.  “But remember, I’m not saying he is going to have the careers they did, but he is the same type of premium athletic pitcher.”

“I throw weighted balls every day which I think helps to improve the strength of my arm,” said Patino.

As with Gore, the organization is keeping him on a fairly strict innings limit since he threw a total of 56 innings last year between the Dominican Summer League and the AZL in 2017.  Right now he has a 3.08 ERA in 26 innings with the TinCaps.

In his three starts in June he has a 0.69 ERA in 13 innings and the Midwest League has hit a grand total of .167 against him.

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In addition to Gore, the Padres have a wealth of talented left-handers in Nick Margevicius, Aaron Leasher, and Osvaldo Hernandez.  

Nick Margevicius has been one of the best pitchers in Fort Wayne. Photo Credit: Jeff Nycz.

Margevicius, 22, has 76 strikeouts in 64 innings with a 3.09 ERA going into the Midwest League All-Star break. The six-foot-five, 220 pound native of Cleveland has a quality three-pitch mix; a four-seam fastball that he throws in the 90-93 range, curve and changeup.  Nick is also one of the more cerebral pitchers in the organization and can break down why he threw any pitch in any given situation.  

He was a seventh-round pick from Rider University last year and is my guess for the first one to make the trek west to High-A Lake Elsinore.  

Leasher, 22, owns the fourth-lowest ERA in the Midwest League, and also has more strikeouts (63) than innings pitched (61.2) against 23 walks. He doesn’t quite have the stuff of Margevicius, but has a good command of his fastball and can throw a decent changeup.

Hernandez, 20, looks like a different pitcher from last year, mainly he has much better command of his fastball than he did with the short-season Tri-City Dust Devils (5.33 ERA) and TinCaps (5.27 ERA) in 2017.  This year he’s second in the Midwest League in ERA at 2.25.

After struggling in April with an ERA of 4.26, he posted an ERA of 0.90 in May and has a 1.59 mark in June.

Despite their successes, it is possible none are looking at promotions immediately. With Reggie Lawson, Adrian Morejon, Michel Baez, Pedro Avila and Chris Paddack all in the Lake Elsinore starting rotation, there isn’t a whole lot of room at High-A unless someone is promoted to Double-A San Antonio in the near future.

The organization is using a six-man rotation with the Storm, but a five-man rotation in San Antonio.

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Six-foot second baseman Esteury Ruiz,19, who the Padres got in the trade deadline deal with Kansas City last year might weigh 150 pounds after multiple trips to the buffet line, but he can hit.  He leads the team in extra-base hits with 23 and total bases at 98.

The downside is that he also has 75 strikeouts in 58 games for a .251/.328/.417 slash line.  Defensively he is still very much a work in progress at second, especially with his throws.

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Rosario might be the best defensive center fielder in the organization. Photo Credit: Jeff Nycz.

I’m not sure if Jeisson Rosario, 18, will ever hit for enough power to stay in the major leagues.  What I am sure is that he has a very good idea of the strike zone with a .381 on-base percentage and plays one of the better center fields of anyone in the game. Rosario seemingly glides to nearly every ball hit somewhere in the vicinity of northeastern Indiana.

His best friend and teammate Tirso Ornelas, 18,  has gotten into much better shape since he was signed and is a solid corner outfield prospect.  The Tijuana native is starting to find his power stroke.  This month he has a .280/.410/.520 slash line and like Rosario has a very good idea of what he wants to hit.

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The Padres gave Luis Almanzar, 18, $4 million to sign, their third-highest bonus in the international market in 2016 and so far he hasn’t lived up to it. With two plus defenders at shortstop in Gabriel Arias, 18, and Justin Lopez, 18, the team has moved him off of shortstop and switched him to third base.  

Defensively he will be fine, but right now he looks like he is putting too much pressure on himself at the plate.

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All of the things you have read about Arias’s defensive ability are true and he has as good an arm as any shortstop in the system.  The problem is with his offense where he is still trying to figure out what type of hitter he is at .217/.285/.286.  He is tied for third on the team with 10 doubles and is second on the team in strikeouts with 67.

The TinCaps and the Padres are confident he will hit and as nearly with all of these guys, he’ll have more than 1,000 professional at-bats long before he is 20.

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Lopez, who has seen time almost evenly at second, third and shortstop this year, may have the best hands in the organization.  Lopez is the youngest player in the Midwest League and has grown to six-feet-four.  The switch-hitter has some pop offensively and the organization is working with him on his lateral movement in the field.

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Six-foot-seven right-hander Mason Thompson’s velocity still isn’t quite back to where it was when he was a sophomore in high school in Round Rock, Texas – but it’s coming.  The 20-year-old had much better command of his curve and changeup than we saw last year.

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“Gramps” in action. Photo Credit: Jeff Nycz.

At five-foot-seven outfielder Robbie Podorsky is used to being overlooked, but he has shown that ability every time he’s been given the opportunity. Last year, he was our player of the year with the Dust Devils. Since joining the TinCaps late this season, he owns a team-leading 333/.376/.448 slash line in 90 plate appearances.  He also has 13 stolen bases in 16 attempts in that abbreviated action.

Podorsky has the best speed from first to home in the organization and has a very good idea of what he is attempting to do at the plate. He has more pop than you would expect, collecting seven extra-base hits in 24 games.

Defensively he can play all three outfield positions and at 23, is the senior citizen of the group. 

Posted by John Conniff

John grew up in Poway and has written for MadFriars since 2004. He has written articles for Baseball America, FoxSports San Diego, the El Paso Times, San Antonio Express-News, Amarillo Globe-News, Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette and Pacific Daily News in addition to appearing on numerous radio programs and podcasts. He can also break down the best places to eat for all five of the affiliates. There is no best place to eat in Peoria, Arizona.

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