The San Diego Padres should have the consensus top minor league system in baseball or be within the top three at a minimum. A remarkable accomplishment for an organization that traded away most of their top prospects before the 2015 season in an attempt to “win now” in General Manager A.J. Preller’s first year.
Since then Preller has built a system by doing more than just acquiring players through the draft. The Padres have hired more scouts, increased travel budgets and most noticeably as compared to other San Diego regimes, spent significantly in the international market which reached its apex in 2016 when the organization incurred over $40 million dollars in penalties to sign players like Cuban stars Adrian Morejon and Michel Baez. Finally, for the past three years, they have traded any player on the big league roster that could bring a significant return for prospects; acquiring Fernando Tatis, Jr., Chris Paddack, and Josh Naylor.
The good news is that the organization is closer to turning the corner than it was last year, the bad news is that it’s not going to happen this season. The difference is 2019 should be the end of placeholders with seven of the top ten Padres prospects expected to either begin the year on the big league roster or make their debuts later in the summer.
As compared to the end of 2016, when the ill-advised “Core Four” promotion came out, by the end of 2019 San Diego fans will see the core of what could be the San Diego’s first championship club.
Fernando Tatis, Jr. is considered one of the best, if not the best prospect in baseball. The Padres pitching depth, particularly from the left side, is the envy of all of baseball and the team is particularly strong up the middle, which has been the emphasis of the organization.
Wish my usual caveat, the Top 30 rankings are far from a perfect hierarchy. This is not an apples-to-apples comparison because the minor leagues generally have three different levels, each of which has different value points.
The short-season leagues (AZL and Tri-City) the emphasis is on ability/potential as opposed to consistency. The A-ball levels (Fort Wayne and Lake Elsinore) are always the toughest to gauge because performance is wrapped into full-season statistics with the age of the player being as big a factor as the performance. Double-A and above are (San Antonio and El Paso), is in a way, the easiest and most deceiving. At this level, while we find many players have the capability of playing in the major leagues their ability to perform consistently is the separator.
We all love potential, but the true value is the ability to be a consistent performer in the major leagues. The best indicator of this ability is putting up numbers at the higher levels of the minor leagues, thus, that is why the most valuable prospects usually carry the moniker “major league ready.”
So, I put slightly more weight on players that are performing at the Double-A level and above than on pure potential or “ceiling”. Also, remember as opposed to our player of the year series, these lists are an attempt to project what someone may do in the future.
Also, as with last year with Chris Paddack, I’m not going to rank right-handed pitcher Anderson Espinoza who is coming back from Tommy John surgery. He obviously has a considerable amount of value, but after more than a year out, I have no idea of how he will perform apart from watching a few bullpens.
For prospects, we used the same grading criteria as Baseball America eligibility, no more than 130 at-bats, 50 innings pitched or 30 relief appearances.
1 SS Fernando Tatis, Jr.
When you read about the top prospects in the Padres’ organization – or about any of the top prospects in baseball – Tatis, Jr. is going to be near the top of any lists. If you come across any Padres’ list where he is not rated as the top prospect, stop reading and find something else to do. Since we have five more of these to go and you will be reading quite a bit more about him; I’ll be brief.
(1) He’s a shortstop. Anyone who has seen him play over an extended amount of time whether they were in Fort Wayne or San Antonio, has flatly said that he can make all the plays at the position as have the Padres. (2) He’s a bit of a slow starter at the plate. It happened in Fort Wayne and in San Antonio. Last April, Tatis hit just .177/.231/333; he then preceded to hit .324/.400/.572 before a thumb injury ended his season prematurely. Phillip Wellman, his manager with the Missions this year noted, most of his strikeouts came when he hasn’t seen a pitcher and afterward was able to make in-game adjustments.
2019: Here is a prediction that I will go out on a limb; Tatis will be with the Padres sometime this season, probably before the All-Star break and the sun will also rise tomorrow. Going down in late July with a thumb injury to his non-throwing hand may have cost him a chance to compete for the Opening Day job in San Diego, but the one part of his game that can use some improvement is recognizing what outside sliders to pound, and which ones to let go.
He should get that opportunity in Triple-A with the Chihuahuas for the first two months of the season, afterward, he will make his big-league debut at 20.
He’s a plus defender at shortstop that can hit in the middle of the lineup with power. It doesn’t get much better than that.
2 LHP MacKenzie Gore
Gore was so impressive during Spring Training, there was some talk by many members in the organization that he would be in Double-A by the all-star break. Unfortunately, blister issues on his throwing hand caused him to miss a significant amount of time and once he returned Gore relied on his plus fastball a bit too much.
On the other side, he is only 19, still has four plus pitches and mainly needs more innings to return to the consistency he was showing last Spring.
2019: Gore will start the year in High-A Lake Elsinore and if he is healthy will be on a plane east to the Padres’ new Double-A affiliate in Amarillo before the end of May. As with Tatis, he’s very good and could even be in San Diego by 2020.
3 RHP Chris Paddack
After missing nearly two years with Tommy John surgery, Chris Paddack demonstrated all the potential that the Padres saw in him when they sent Fernando Rodney to the Marlins for him before the trade deadline in 2016.
In 89.1 innings this year between Lake Elsinore and San Antonio he struck out 120 and walked eight for a combined ERA of 2.10. Paddack’s changeup justifiably receives the lion’s share of the attention, but somewhat lost in the analysis is his four-seam fastball that sits consistently in the mid-90s with precise command. His curveball is good but he needs to use it more to develop the same command as his other two pitches.
2019: It’s difficult to imagine a scenario where the native Texan would not begin the year in El Paso, but there is an outside chance the Padres could send him back to Double-A. The likelihood is that going to the Pacific Coast League will force him to throw his curveball more in the homer-domes of the PCL, but we should see his debut in San Diego sometime this year.
Paddack turned a lot of heads in 2018 and may have the ceiling of a top of the rotation starter.
4 2B/SS Luis Urias
Urias made his major league debut this year, but a hamstring injury limited him to 51 plate appearances. For those that don’t believe that going to Triple-A is beneficial, you might want to talk to Luis.
Before having a monster August where he posted a slash line of .420/.480/.659, he was hitting .265 as he struggled with the timing of his leg kick and hitting the inside pitch. Urias made the adjustments at the plate and was solid throughout the season defensively at second base and in limited time at shortstop.
2019: Urias will be in the opening day lineup in San Diego, but the question is where? He eventually will be at second base, but the Padres could have him play shortstop as a placeholder until Tatis arrives.
5 C Francisco Mejía
Despite getting criticism from many San Diego pundits, Padres’ General Manager A.J. Preller held onto lefty reliever Brad Hand last season and was able to get the maximum return for him in Mejia this year, who was one of the top catching prospects in baseball coming into 2018.
At El Paso, the Padres were able to see significant improvement from Mejia behind the plate and the switch-hitter’s bat was all that was advertised. Although he can get his bat on about any pitch, big league pitchers were able to exploit his free-swinging ways in his limited time in the big leagues.
2019: Mejia will be with the big club, but the question is how much time will he get behind the plate? Will the Padres trade Austin Hedges or platoon both with Mejia getting occasional starts in left field?
6 LHP Adrian Morejon
Morejon signing bonus alone accounted for over a quarter of the Padres’ 2016 J2 international binge when the Padres signed him at 16 from Cuba. This season he arrived at Spring Training in better shape, with more velocity and more constancy with his secondary pitches, but minor injuries to his hip and triceps soreness limited him to 62.2 innings in High-A Lake Elsinore.
2019: The Padres, as with everyone else in baseball, really like his stuff when he’s healthy and the organization plans to put him in Double-A at 20. If he performs he could make his debut in San Diego by late summer.
7 LHP Logan Allen
At 21, Logan Allen was maybe the best pitcher in the Texas League with a 2.75 ERA in 121 innings and he’s the third-best left-handed pitching prospect in the organization. He has an exceptional command of a fastball that sits in the low 90s, with a plus slider and changeup. This year Allen added a curve which improved as the year went on.
2019: Allen ended the year in El Paso, where he was 4-0. He should begin the year there again and will be one of the first pitching prospects making their major league debuts in San Diego.
8 RHP Jake Nix
After dealing with a painful groin injury that had the potential to sideline his entire 2018 season, Nix made his debut in late May and made it all the way to San Diego by the end of the year. While he’s had the highest average velocity for any starter for the past two years, he is much more of a pitcher than a thrower with a plus changeup and a solid spike curve.
The organization would like to see some minor refinements, mainly getting him to miss more bats – but if he’ is healthy he is still one of the best pitchers in the organization.
2019: Nix had offseason surgery to deal with his groin issue and should be back at full strength competing for a big -league rotation slot. Expect to hear or read reports this spring of an uptick in his velocity, which will make his secondary offerings even better.
9 3B Hudson Potts
In 2016 Potts was seen by many as an overdraft by the Padres so the team would have more money later in the draft. While that scenario is partially true, Potts also emerged as a legitimate prospect as he punished the California League at 19 with 53 extra-base hits in 106 games to go along with a .350 on-base percentage.
2019: Potts slowed down in Double-A in limited action and will start there again in 2019. As with Tatis, Jr., he has grown at least an inch or more and physically developed since he was drafted at 17. If the power he showed in High-A comes out with the Sod Poodles, he could be the third baseman of the future.
10 RHP Luis Patino
The Padres signed Patino, then an undersized middle-infielder from Colombia to a $120,000 signing bonus in 2016 and since then he has performed. Patino was one of the better pitchers in the AZL last season, this past year he showed that it wasn’t a fluke in the Midwest League.
San Diego was careful with his innings, but he still posted a 98:24 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 83 innings while flashing a fastball that sits consistently in the high 90s. This year he also showed a very good changeup and a slider that will only get better in time.
2019: At six-feet and a fairly solid 190 pounds he is not the biggest starting pitcher in the world, but his numbers speak for themselves. Look for San Diego to stretch him out somewhat more this year in Lake Elsinore.
11 LF/1B Josh Naylor
With the signing of Eric Hosmer last off-season, the Padres embarked on an experiment to see if Naylor could handle playing left field. While it’s true he did make significant progress defensively during the year, it’s still an open question if he will be able to evolve into the type of defender that won’t hurt a team defensively.
The part of Naylor’s performance that was not in question was at the plate with the Missions, where he posted a slash line of .297/.383/.447 and played in 128 of the team’s 138 games. At 21, he was one of the youngest players in Double-A and showed an exceptional eye with 69:64 strikeouts to walk ratio.
2019: San Diego will start him in El Paso this year, and again he will probably see the majority of his time in left field because the organization really believes in his approach at the plate. If he’s healthy, look for a big uptick in the 17 home runs that Naylor hit in 2018.
12 SS Xavier Edwards
Xavier Edwards was the Padres second overall pick, and thirty-eighth overall selection in the 2018 draft and if teams had to do it over again he would be picked much higher. In 190 plate appearances between the AZL and short-season Tri-City Dust Devils, he hit .346/453/.409 and that was with a strained right wrist that limited the switch-hitter to only hit from the left side.
Edwards is an ideal leadoff hitter with his ability to get on base and was caught only once in 23 stolen base attempts.
2019: Edwards is a plus athlete that moves very well at shortstop which compensates for an average to a slightly below-average arm. The organization plans to keep him there for the time being and he will be one of the younger players in the Midwest League next season.
13 C Austin Allen
The left-handed hitting Allen finished the season as one of the leaders in the Texas League in extra-base hits and slugging percentage and had his best overall season since becoming a professional.
Since being drafted in 2015 he has transformed his body from a muscular 245-pounds to a leaner 220 and his ability to block pitches and throw out runners has increased every season. In 2018, Allen threw out 37% of baserunners attempting to steal and had only three passed balls in nearly 800 innings behind the plate.
2019: Allen will begin the year in El Paso, where he is currently blocked on the big-league level by Austin Hedges and Francisco Mejia. Although the one constant during the A.J. Preller regime in San Diego is that things change.
14 RHP Michel Baez
Baez was hampered by a bad back which delayed the beginning of his season and once it began the 6-foot-8 Cuban had difficulty locating his fastball with the Storm. It eventually came around and he was promoted in August to the Missions, where he again struggled with his fastball command.
2019: Baez will begin the year again in Amarillo and look for him to focus more on regaining the sharp downward angle on his fastball that made him so successful in 2017 in Fort Wayne. With taller pitchers it sometimes takes a while to get everything in sync and Baez should be in Double-A for most of the year.
15 LHP Ryan Weathers
Weathers was the Padres top pick in this year’s draft and the reason so many liked the Tennessee left-hander was the belief that the son of former big leaguer David Weathers already had all the goods; plus, fastball and a quality curve and changeup. Between the AZL and the Midwest League Weathers struck out 18 batters in 18 innings against only four walks; although statistics for high school players just out of the draft are much less important than what they showed – and with him, all of the pitches were there.
As Keith Law of ESPN told MadFriars, both Weathers and Edwards were seen as “players with upside but also a lot of polish.” The Padres think both of them are capable of moving up quicker than the usual high school prospects.
2019: The Padres will start him in Fort Wayne for 2019, but many in the organization believe that because of his unique skill set that he could be in Lake Elsinore by the end of the year.
16 CF Buddy Reed
Buddy Reed has always had some of the best tools in the system since San Diego selected him in the second round of the 2016 draft out of the University of Florida. The problem was he hit .254 with the Dust Devils and .234 the next season in Fort Wayne.
This year things changed. Reed hit .324/.371/.549 with the Storm and put on a show at the Future’s Game before being sent to San Antonio, where he struggled with 63 strikeouts in 43 games. He bounced back in the Arizona Fall League, hitting .333/.397/.485.
2019: He’ll begin the year in Double-A and will have to prove that he can handle upper-level velocity. Defensively, he’s one San Diego’s best defenders as the 6-foot-4 Reed can cover an amazing amount of ground.
17 2B Tucupita Marcano
In the end, if the Padres do turn the corner and win on the big-league level, pundits will point to the decision of San Diego’s front office to go “all in” and pay double the signing bonus to sign as many talented international players as they could get their hands on in 2016.
While Morejon, Baez and some others got most of the attention, a slight Venezuelan was signed for a relative pittance and may come into more fans focus this year. Between the AZL and the Dust Devils, the left-handed hitter batted .366/.450/.438 while playing a plus second base defensively.
Marcano can also play shortstop and has played third base in the past.
2019: Marcano and Edwards will form a very exciting double-play combination in Fort Wayne next season and could be the next big thing in the Padres Prospect Universe.
18 RF/OF Tirso Ornelas
Ornelas has made tremendous strides since San Diego acquired him – yes, you guessed it – in the 2016 international signing period. The Tijuana native is a powerful 6-foot-4, 215 pounds and the left-handed hitter is one of the few legitimate corner outfield prospects in the Padres’ system. Last year he hit .252/.341/.392 before a hand injury in mid-July sidelined him for the rest of the year.
2019: He should begin the year in Lake Elsinore, where the short right field wall will play to his strengths. As with his best friend and teammate, Jeisson Rosario, he has a very advanced approach at the plate which should see an uptick in power.
19 SS/INF Owen Miller
Miller, 22, was more of a basketball player in high school – he only played travel ball in high school after his freshman year – but had a batting average of .345 in his three-year career at Illinois State. After being drafted by the Padres in the third round of this year’s draft he hit .336/.386/.460 between Tri-Cities and Fort Wayne and was the starting shortstop for the Missions in the Texas League playoffs.
2019: With the talent, the Padres have in the organization, he probably will not stay at short – but then the question arises does he have enough power for third and is he better than the myriad of options they have at second base? If he keeps hitting as he did in 2018, he will provide an answer to that question.
He will get a chance to compete for the opening day shortstop position in Double-A in the Spring.
20 RHP Cal Quantrill
For most of the year in Double-A San Antonio, Quantrill was behind Chris Paddack, Logan Allen and Jake Nix in the Missions’ rotation. The velocity on his fastball was good, consistently in the low to mid-90s and he has always had a plus changeup. His primary problem was commanding his fastball and finding an effective breaking pitch which led to a 5.15 ERA.
San Diego gave him a change of scenery in early August and he put together better starts with El Paso finishing with a 3.48 ERA in 31 innings.
2019: San Diego will start him in El Paso to open the season and if he can regain the fastball command that he had a Stanford, which made the eighth overall pick in the 2016 draft, this ranking will be far too low. The last thing to return from a Tommy John surgery is usually the fastball command.
21 RHP Andres Munoz
As with Patino, if you enjoy watching a relatively slight guy throw pure smoke, Munoz, 19, is someone to like. Between Tri-City and San Antonio, he struck out 28 batters in 24.2 innings after a late start to the season because of minor soreness in his right elbow.
When he’s on he consistently touches over 100 mph and has simply blown away the competition unable to handle his plus, plus velocity. His slider is good, but he needs to use it more and consistently throw it for strikes rather than just having it has a chase pitch.
2019: He should begin the year as the closer for the Sod Poodles as the Padres will attempt to not only increase his workload but help him develop and rely more of a second pitch.
22 C Luis Campusano
Campusano put together one of the better years on a talented TinCaps’ team with a .288/.345/.365 slash line despite only being moved to catcher from first base before his junior year of high school. A good athlete, he has a powerful arm and a good idea of the strike zone at the plate. A concussion cost him most of the last month of his season.
2019: He Will start the year in Lake Elsinore with Blake Hunt behind him in Fort Wayne. Campusano has a very good idea of the strike zone and we should see more power from him this year – particularly to left field.
23 LHP Nick Margevicius
Outside of Brett Kennedy, Margevicius, 22, may have had the most impressive year statistically of any San Diego minor leaguer. The seventh-round pick from Rider University in 2017 draft was very good with the TinCaps with a 3.07 ERA and 87 strikeouts against nine walks in 76 innings. He pitched better than his numbers indicated in Lake Elsinore – he had a 1.11 ERA in 32.1 innings at home and an 8.20 ERA on the road, which included a few stops at Lancaster where the MadFriars staff could compete in a home run hitting contest.
His most impressive outing was in the playoffs with the Missions where he threw a seven-inning shutout in a must-win playoff game for San Antonio.
2019: It’s hard to see how Margevicius will not start the year in Double-A and he could move quickly. He’s not going to blow up any radar guns, but his exceptional command allows his low 90s fastball to work along with a very good changeup and curve.
If you are looking for a sleeper, this could be your guy.
24 SS Gabriel Arias
Of all the players on the list, Arias could rise the fastest. He’s always been considered the best defensive shortstop in the organization; the question has always been his bat and in the second half it showed up. He posted a .730 OPS after a .570 one in the first half. A big part of the turnaround was getting him to use the whole field instead of trying to pull everything.
2019: San Diego fans will be able to make the drive up the I-15 and dream up endless possibilities of what may or may not happen soon on the left side of the infield. If Arias’ second half is for real, he’ll easily be near the top of San Diego prospect lists in 2020.
25 RHP Reggie Lawson
This was the season that Reggie Lawson began to turn from a thrower that was a really good athlete into a pitcher that is athletic. Lawson has always featured a fastball with good velocity, but the development of a good curveball and particularly his changeup propelled him forward. After a strong first half with a 2.61 ERA, he fell off in the second with a 7.04.
2019: Lawson could begin the year again in Lake Elsinore at 21 and be a candidate for promotion to Double-A at midseason. He has as much talent as anyone in the system, it’s just about putting it together for a longer period of time.
26 LHP Joey Cantillo
Cantillo was an over-slot sign by the Padres from the 2017 draft, that chose to start his big league career now rather than pitch for the University of Kentucky. This year in the AZL he had 58 strikeouts against 12 walks in 45.1 innings for a 2.18 ERA as the opposition hit just .198 against him and earned a late-season promotion to Fort Wayne. He drew praise from the Padres for not only being one of the hardest workers in the organization but one of the more intelligent.
Cantillo has a somewhat funky motion and has the standard fastball, curve and changeup mix with a fastball that sits around 90.
2019: He’ll be part of a very good rotation with the TinCaps next year with fellow lefty Ryan Weathers. He will be only 19 next year and he his 6-foot-4 frame should fill out a little more.
27 RHP Brett Kennedy
At 10-0 with a 2.72 ERA in the PCL, it’s safe to say that Brett Kennedy had a “good’ season. The Padres promoted him to the big leagues in early August where he posted a 6.75 ERA in six starts as big league batters teed off at a .330 clip against him before a knee injury shut him down.
2019: Kennedy performed in the minor leagues mainly based on being able to place his four-seam fastball wherever he wanted it without really using his slider or changeup that much. How well this approach will work on the big league level is an open question.
He will compete for a rotation spot in San Diego in the Spring, but also could be back in El Paso as the first call-up.
28 LHP Osvaldo Hernández
Hernandez was one of three hyper-athletic pitchers that the TinCaps featured in Gore and Patino, and this season with the help of Fort Wayne pitching coach Burt Hooten, Hernandez found a delivery which helped with the command of his fastball and tempo that worked for him. His ERA went from 4.71 in 2017 to 1.81 this season. He led Fort Wayne in innings pitched and posted a 94:27 strikeout to base-on-balls ratio.
2019: Signed out of Cuba in 2016, the 6-foot 175-pound Hernandez might profile more as a reliever with the depth of starting left-handed pitching in the organization – but for now, he’s earned a shot in the Storm rotation.
29 CF Jeisson Rosario
Rosario may be the best defensive outfielder in the system and seemingly glides to nearly everything hit in the general vicinity of center field. At the plate, he posted a .369 on-base percentage and stole 18 bases but was caught 12 times. He’s going to need to show a little more power – and his power did pick up some in the second half with 18 extra-base hits after only seven in the first.
2019: Rosario, 19, and Ornelas will form a very exciting outfield next year with the Storm. As with Ornelas, Rosario has a very good strike zone judgment and the organization believes that his power will pick up as he gets older and stronger.
30 C Blake Hunt
Hunt lost most of last season to shoulder soreness but returned this year to hit .271/.371/.377 and showed a lot of potential in his 6-foot-4 frame. His coaches praised his ability to call games and the development he showed as the season progressed. As with anyone his size, his ability to move laterally will determine how far he can move up at catcher.
At the plate, he had a very good idea of the strike zone and in August he showed some power with a .506 slugging percentage.
2019: Hunt will be the everyday catcher in Fort Wayne. At 20 he will be young for the Midwest League, but the arm, tools and desire to stay at catcher are a lot to dream on.