Each month, MadFriars looks at the top performers at every level of the system. While we certainly work to provide context on the long-term significance of the production, this list is not an update to our Top 20 prospects list, but rather a point-in-time check-in on players.
Triple-A: El Paso Chihuahuas (Pacific Coast League)
In the hitters’ paradise known as the Pacific Coast League, offensive numbers are up thanks to the shift to using the MLB ball. Through the first month, six Chihuahuas players with at least 50 plate appearances posted an OPS of 1.000, including Josh Naylor, Alex Dickerson, Jose Pirela, Jacob Scavuzzo, the recently demoted Luis Urías, and the recently promoted Ty France.
Let’s get to France first. While the PCL inflates power numbers, France showed an impressive hit tool, putting together a 14-game hitting streak before getting the call to San Diego, and had an OBP of .500 through 19 games. Will he continue to hit a homer every ten plate appearances in the majors? Not likely. The SDSU alum has a career slugging percentage of .437, averaging a long-ball every 40 PAs. Still, he’s been a high OBP guy for a while, doesn’t strike out a lot (16.3% in the minors), can play a few positions, and has a penchant for getting hit by pitches (103 times in the minors, or once every 4.6 games). While the ceiling might not be as high as other prospects in the system, he’s earned a chance to show what he’s got.
Elsewhere, there are plenty of positives on the squad, though the powerful bats of Naylor, Dickerson, and catcher Austin Allen are all presumably blocked by talent at the major league level. Of particular interest is Naylor’s .402 OBP and a walk rate higher than his strikeout rate. With Eric Hosmer and his $144 million contract covering first base for the foreseeable future, his lane to make it to the majors is either to continue to improve in the outfield or get traded out of the organization.
It’s worth mentioning that Luis Urías, who got just seven starts for the Padres this season before getting demoted, went 12-for-28 with six homers in his first six games back. It remains to be seen how long Ian Kinsler’s leash is with Urías performing this well in El Paso. We’ll check back on the Chihuahua’s pitching staff next month, as starter Logan Allen got off to a slow start, and Cal Quantrill recently made his MLB debut.
El Paso Player of the Month: Ty France
Double-A: Amarillo Sod Poodles (Texas League)The newest Padres affiliate has been putting on a show in Amarillo, as affiliated baseball returns to the Yellow City after a 36-year hiatus. Away from Hodgetown, the Sod Poodles carried a 4-11 record in April and hit 14 homers. In front of the home crowd, however, they started out 6-4 and hit 20 round-trippers. Keep those home/road splits in mind when checking out the stat sheet; it can get windy and it’s 3,600 feet above sea level.
Buddy Reed and Brad Zunica were hot out of the gate, socking a combined 11 homers in the first 11 games. However, they managed just one double each – their only extra-base hits – in the remaining 12 April games. While many might have looked at Jorge Oña’s hot start with a similarly jaundiced eye (he’s off to a .367/.441/.582 mark in 93 plate appearances), he’s also walking slightly more and striking out slightly less than he did last year, so there’s hope that this improvement from his OPS of .693 in Lake Elsinore last year is a little more permanent.
On the pitching side, Reggie Lawson has been the bright spot in the rotation. Despite an unsightly 6.61 ERA, his peripherals are great, as he is striking out 14.3 hitters per nine, and (when factoring out a 1.1 inning start that inflated his ERA to above 12.00) walking just 2.4 batters per nine. The 21-year-old has expanded his arsenal, throwing more breaking pitches than he did last year, but Lawson is a fly ball pitcher and his numbers in Amarillo may be misleading.
Fireballing reliever Andres Muñoz has started throwing his slider more as well, and has become a terror on the mound, striking out an eye-popping 18 batters in eight innings, usually while hitting triple digits on the radar gun. He’s also walked more than a batter an inning, and has had three wild pitches, after not throwing any last year. As the 20-year-old continues to work on his command, he remains a prospect worth keeping your eyes on.
Amarillo Player of the Month: Jorge Oña
Single-A Advanced: Lake Elsinore Storm (California League)
No roster in the Padres system had as many intriguing prospects as the Fort Wayne TinCaps did in 2018, and this year most of that class has moved up to Lake Elsinore. With San Diego being pretty aggressive in their placement of many prospects, it’d be wise to expect that a few of their big names would have some growing pains in a higher league
While Esteury Ruiz and Jeisson Rosario got off to slow starts, the young core of Luis Campusano, Tirso Ornelas, and Gabriel Arias carried the Storm offensively through April. Campusano, a catcher who showed some good contact skills in Fort Wayne last year (15% strikeout rate, .288 average) slugged an even .500 in April while getting on base at a .427 clip. Ornelas has struck out at a higher, but still respectable, rate of 26 percent, but is second in the team in walks and posted a .766 OPS. Arias, who flashes a major league-caliber glove at shortstop, hit .300 through 25 April games, cut his strikeout rate by 5% from last year, and hit two homers in the month, after hitting just six last year.
The big story in Lake Elsinore, however, is the pitching, as MacKenzie Gore and Luis Patiño pack the biggest one-two punch in the system. The 19-year-old Patiño struck out 18 in his first 14 innings this year, and opponents hit just .196, yet his ERA sits at an unsightly 4.50 because he also allowed 13 walks in those 14 innings. His 1.64 WHIP is well above his 1.07 mark in Low-A, so the Padres hope he can work on those control issues and get back to the form that made him one of the most exciting prospects in the deep San Diego system last year.
While plenty of prospects in the organization have experienced early success this season, only one has been dominant: MacKenzie Gore. He had some blister issues that limited him to only 16 starts last season, but those seem to be past him now. He posted a 16 K/9 rate and a 1.37 ERA in five April starts, and has a swinging strike rate that would make many major league pitchers jealous. Gore on the mound is must-see baseball, and the California League seems to be hoping and praying that he gets promoted soon. Be sure to head up to Lake Elsinore to catch him soon.
Lake Elsinore Player of the Month: MacKenzie Gore
Single-A: Fort Wayne TinCaps (Midwest League)
By far the coldest – literally and figuratively – of any of the Padres full-season affiliates, the TinCaps have yet to get hot, losing more than they’ve won to start the season. With only one everyday player over 21 years old and many beginning their first year of full-season ball at 19, it’s to be expected. But while things haven’t fully clicked for one of the youngest teams in the Midwest League, there are some players who are already warming the hearts of Padres fans on the other side of the country.
The infield depth in Fort Wayne has necessitated a bit of a carousel, but Xavier Edwards and Tucupita Marcano have spent the most time up the middle, and offer the highest overall profiles of any TinCaps infielders. Edwards,the 38th pick of the 2018 draft, led the league with a .347 average in April. He had more walks (10) than strikeouts (7), and after going his first 60 plate appearances without an extra base hit, he had three in his last 24 to close out the month.
Marcano, of Tucupita, Venezuela, had the third-highest OBP on the squad in April (.344), striking out just 14.7% of the time. He and Edwards are among team leaders in runs because they keep getting on in front of outfielder Agustin Ruiz, who kept driving them in for a team-leading 15 RBI. Ruiz, a 19-year-old from Villahermosa, Mexico, slugged .466 in the AZL last summer, but has just six extra base hits – all doubles – thus far.
While Gabe Mosser, a 27th round pick out of Shippensburg, PA, has been a pleasant surprise for Fort Wayne (2.79 ERA, 8.8 K/9 rate), the big story early on has been the performance of the seventh pick of the 2018 draft, Ryan Weathers. Weathers, whose father David was a big league pitcher, struck out 31 hitters in 24.2 innings, while walking just three and posting an ERA of 1.82. While he recently hit the 7-Day Injured List for bicep spasms, he looks the part of someone who will progress rapidly through the system.
Fort Wayne Player of the Month: Ryan Weathers
MadFriars April Player of the Month: MacKenzie Gore
It was tempting to bestow the honor on Ty France, who seems to have earned at least a cup of coffee with the big league club for now. After all, how likely is it that another player in the Padres farm system puts up an OPS above 1.000 for an entire month? Well, as it turns out, former Chihuahuas Austin Hedges and Hunter Renfroe had months like that in 2016, Jabari Blash had two such months in 2017, and Franmil Reyes did that in May of 2018.
Now, how likely is it that we see another prospect put up a month like MacKenzie Gore had? While it’s tempting to look back at last year’s MadFriars Pitcher of the Year winner, Chris Paddack (who had a 2.81 ERA and a 15.4 K/9 rate in May of 2018), it’s worth noting that Gore is two years younger than Paddack was in the Cal League, and has a deeper arsenal of pitches.
Eh, maybe asking the likelihood of seeing another month like Gore put up is a bad question, because it’s April and he’s not showing signs of slowing down. Don’t be surprised to see his name here at the end of May.