In their final season as the Padres Double-A affiliate in the Texas League (they will join the Brewers organization next year in the Pacific Coast League), the Missions started off strong, finishing a game and a half back of the Corpus Christi Hooks for the first half division title. An injury to Padres top prospect Fernando Tatis Jr. and the promotions of Jacob Nix and Logan Allen, among others, dampened their second half, though they still made it to the Texas League championship before being swept by the Tulsa Drillers.
When considering team awards, we took into account where the players made the majority of their regular-season appearances. So, while the aforementioned Nix finished the year in the big leagues after being promoted from El Paso, he’d still be eligible for the Missions end of year awards since he spent 52.2 of his 101 innings pitched in San Antonio.
While there can be some overlap in awards, the Player of the Year is the player we think had the best overall season, while the Top Prospect is the one who has the brightest future and potentially the biggest impact at the major league level.
Double-A is where things start getting pretty real for prospects. It’s not unheard of for players to show enough at this level and earn promotions to the majors while skipping past Triple-A (Joey Lucchesi being a recent example of this for San Diego).
Unlike the Cal League (High-A) the Texas League has less of a reputation for being hitter friendly, so it’s not uncommon to see pitcher production improve upon promotion, while many hitters struggle to adjust to facing advanced pitching and playing in more neutral parks.
2018 San Antonio Missions Position Player of the Year (unanimous)
SS Fernando Tatis Jr. – .286/.355/.507, 16 HR, 22 2B, 4 3B, 16 for 21 SB, 8.4% BB rate, 27.7% K rate
On April 22, 2018, Tatis Jr. was hitting .197/.206/.316 and had struck out in 20 of his first 68 plate appearances, walking just once. It prompted a tweet from a member of old media, needling Padres fans about the pride of their farm system. Tatis’ reply ended with a string of emojis and “we talk in September”.
Unfortunately, the stellar shortstop didn’t finish out the season due to a thumb injury. However, he showed that he was able to adjust, as he hit .308/.388/.552 after responding to the tweet.
As fun as it would be to frame a social media troll as the motivating factor for Tatis’ turnaround, the less interesting and more likely story was just letting a 19-year old adjust to advanced pitching. Tatis showed a similar progression during his time last year in Fort Wayne, where he was able to cut down on strikeouts and increase walks throughout each month of the season.
He did all of this while playing very good defense at a critical position. While the bats of Josh Naylor and Austin Allen carried the team during Tatis’ rough patch, and despite Tatis missing the last 40+ games with the thumb injury, it’s telling that he’s receiving this recognition because he was just that good.
Top Position Prospect (unanimous):
While some of us hemmed and hawed about the Player of the Year, little thought had to go into who was the top position player prospect for San Antonio. While Naylor and Allen had solid seasons and could become decent major league pieces, Tatis is a top five prospect in all of baseball, and outside of Luis Urías, the Padres don’t really have any position players in his stratosphere yet, let alone in San Antonio.
Other Players of Note
In Eric Hosmer, the Padres have their first baseman for the foreseeable future and were something to happen to him, Wil Myers is ready to step in. That left the aforementioned Josh Naylor, who’s bat has progressed nicely, blocked out of San Diego. To work around this, they’ve put him in left field, to mixed reviews at best (and some downright awful ones at worst).
Naylor is an OBP machine, putting up a .297/.383/.447 line in San Antonio. He had almost as many walks (64) as strikeouts (69), and finally seemed to unlock his in-game power, blasting a career-high 17 dingers. However, a hot April (1.123 OPS) inflated those numbers a little, as he hit a slightly less impressive .278/.368/.394 the last 104 games of the season.
Alright, stop me if this sounds familiar – Austin Allen had a good year as well, and still finds himself behind a pair of lauded catchers on the Padres depth chart. Though another Austin (Hedges) is far from a sure thing, he offers superior defense, while the recently-acquired Francisco Mejía has a bat that placed him in the Top 100 in most publications last year.
Allen, for his part, has put in the work to silence the haters, as his defense – once viewed as a liability – is now significantly improved. He also had a breakout year in Texas, posting a .290/.351/.506 slash line, though at 24 years old (according to Baseball Reference, the same age as the average player in the league), he didn’t face the same disadvantage that Tatis and Naylor had.