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.
As we saw in April, MacKenzie Gore is really good.
El Paso Chihuahuas (Triple-A Pacific Coast League)
With the promotions of Josh Naylor and Austin Allen to the big-league club, infielder Luis Urías and center fielder Boog Powell anchored the El Paso offense through May. After posting a 1.236 OPS in April for the Chihuahuas, it became clear that hitting for more power (in a league where power numbers are grossly inflated) wasn’t what the Padres were looking for out of their second baseman of the future – it was improved plate discipline. Urías struck out in 38% of his plate appearances in San Diego, and despite good numbers in his first month of Triple-A ball, he was still striking out more (22%) and walking less (8%) than his minor league career numbers (13% and 11%, respectively).
May saw Urías turn it around. While his slugging dropped from .891 to .608, his on-base percentage rose 27 points, and he walked (19 times) almost as much as he struck out (20 times). While nobody expects the 22-year-old to slug .600 at the major league level if he can replicate that K/BB rate, he will be a key spark at the top of the Padres lineup.
The 26-year-old Powell signed as a minor league free agent in the offseason after originally being drafted by the Oakland A’s. After starting the year on the Injured List, he’s put up some eye-popping numbers similar to Naylor, Allen, and Ty France’s, while playing solid defense in center, something the Padres lack. Despite a 1.066 OPS and a K/BB rate similar to Urías’s, Powell could have trouble finding a spot at the big league level with the glut of outfielders ahead of him.
On the pitching side, Logan Allen was stellar in his first five May starts, allowing just three runs in 25 innings while striking out 30 (ten of which came in a seven-inning performance, his best of the season). However, in his last start in May, he was clobbered for seven runs in 3.2 innings, pushing his ERA for the month up from 1.08 to 3.14. With the Padres scrambling to find starting pitching, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Allen at Petco sooner rather than later, PCL hiccups aside.
El Paso Player of the Month: Luis Urías
Amarillo Sod Poodles (Double-A Texas League)
May was a tough month for prospect watchers in Amarillo, as starting pitchers Adrian Morejon and Reggie Lawson missed multiple weeks to injuries and combined to throw less than twenty innings. Top offensive prospects Hudson Potts and Buddy Reed finally pushed their batting averages above .200 after a miserable start to the season, but both still struck out too much to have a major impact on the team (33% and 30%, respectively).
Still, Amarillo managed to go 16-11 in the month of May (bringing their overall record to .500), due in large part to the offensive contributions of first baseman Brad Zunica and shortstop Owen Miller. Zunica started the season hot, smashing five homers in the first six games of the season, but saw his OPS drop to .762 after striking out 30% of the time. In May, Zunica led all Sod Poodles in OPS with a .941 mark, in large part to cutting his strikeout rate to 20% (well, and hitting six more dingers). Miller has been the most consistent presence in the lineup, reaching base safely in 20 games in the month of May, en route to posting a .318/.365/.439 slash line.
If there was one player that put on a show every time they were given a chance, it was reliever Andres Muñoz. In 6 appearances for Amarillo in May (7.2 innings), he didn’t allow a run, struck out 14, and walked just two. Limiting his walks have been key, as he walked nine in eight innings in April. The 20-year-old fireballer, who touched 104 MPH on the stadium gun in Amarillo, was promoted to Triple-A in the middle of the month and didn’t allow a run in five appearances for El Paso.
Amarillo Player of the Month: Brad Zunica
Lake Elsinore Storm (High-A California League)
The biggest draw to bring Padres fans up the I-15 to Lake Elsinore continues to be starting pitchers MacKenzie Gore and Luis Patiño. In May, Gore struck out 35 batters in 27.1 innings, en route to a 0.99 ERA. Of the three runs he allowed, two were on solo homers, and a 0.7 HR/9 rate in the California League for a 20-year-old starter is almost unheard of. Patiño’s 2.30 ERA in five May starts is less video-game-worthy, but still stellar for the Colombian teenager, who boasted a 10.2 K/9 rate during that stretch. He also trimmed his BB/9 from a ghastly 8.4 in April to a more manageable 2.9 in May.
While teammates Gabriel Arias and Tirso Ornelas (among others) are slumping, catcher Luis Campusano continues to be the driving force behind the offense. The Padres second-round pick in 2017, Campusano posted a .357/.427/.500 slash line in May, besting his .901 OPS in April by 26 points. After a concussion scare last month, the 20-year-old seems to have fully recovered, having reached base safely in 20 of 23 games in May (18 of which were spent behind the plate, with the remainder of the time being the Storm’s designated hitter). He also walked (11) more than he struck out (9), all while facing just one pitcher older than him.
Esteury Ruiz has begun heating up as well. After going homerless and posting a .534 OPS in April, he smacked five round-trippers and cut his strikeout rate from 35% to 23% this month, upping his May OPS to a team-high .915. While it remains to be seen if his glove can stick at second base or if a move to the outfield is imminent, his 20 stolen bases on the year (second in the Cal League) show that he has speed to burn, and he has the pop to stick in a corner outfield spot if he can get on base enough.
Lake Elsinore Player of the Month: MacKenzie Gore
Fort Wayne TinCaps (Low-A Midwest League)
What if I told you that the best hitter on the TinCaps hadn’t hit a home run this season and his slugging percentage was just a few points higher than his on-base percentage? Well, if you didn’t know who Xavier Edwards was, you’d think that hitter was in a funk. However, if you know who Edwards is, you wouldn’t be surprised at all. The 19-year-old Fort Wayne infielder not only has the highest batting average on the team but the highest in the league at .366. His stellar 11.4% strikeout rate in May was actually higher than his mark in April (8.3%). While his ceiling will be limited if he isn’t able to hit for any power, there is a market for a middle infielder who can post a .431 OBP like Edwards did last month.
While injuries to star prospect Ryan Weathers limited him to just 5.2 innings in May, Joey Cantillo has stepped up and dominated for the TinCaps, allowing just two earned runs in five starts (26.1 innings) while striking out 33 and walking seven. The 19-year-old Hawaiian – despite being drafted a year earlier, he’s one day younger than Weathers – allowed a paltry .423 OPS in May, allowing just three extra-base hits during that stretch.
Two of Cantillo’s rotation mates also struck out more than a batter an inning, as Efraín Contreras and Gabe Mosser have stepped up this month. Edwards’ double-play partner, Tucupita Marcano, got back on track after a rough April, OPSing .820, and Justin Lopez hit five home runs in a ten game stretch, his first long balls of the season.
Fort Wayne Player of the Month: Xavier Edwards
MadFriars Player of the Month for May: MacKenzie Gore
For reference, Chris Paddack, the current ace of the Padres staff, posted a 2.24 ERA in ten California League games as a 22-year-old. His otherworldly 83:4 K: BB ratio (in 52.1 innings) earned him a promotion to Double-A San Antonio for the remainder of the year, and he cracked the Padres Opening Day roster the following spring.
Through MacKenzie Gore’s first ten California League starts, his ERA is more than a run lower (1.17), and his K: BB rate is a not-too-shabby 73:10 through 53.2 innings. His worst start this month was a five-inning affair in which he allowed a run on two hits and a season-high two walks, against only six strikeouts, his second-lowest total of the season.
Whether or not Gore enjoys a Paddack-like trajectory as a 20-year-old remains to be seen, but as one of the top prospects in the game, the end-point of that trajectory should be as an impact rotation arm at the major league level.