AMARILLO, Texas — In 2016 the Padres spent nearly $40 million dollars in the international market and double that amount in penalties. The biggest recipient was Cuban left-hander Adrian Morejon, who signed with the organization for $11 million dollars, the largest signing bonus in the fifty-year history of the San Diego Padres.
And it wasn’t even close.
The second highest was the $7 million that San Diego gave to his Cuban national teammate outfielder, Jorge Ona. In fact, three of the four biggest bonuses in team history (the Padres gave $4 million to infielder Luis Almanzar) were not only in that year, but they also came with a nearly dollar-for-dollar penalty.
“The first time I saw him was in the fall of 2015,” said Chris Kemp, the Padres Director of International Scouting and now additionally is the coordinator of minor league instruction, on when he first saw Adrian Morejon.
“I was impressed just watching him take his early warm-up tosses and had a feeling that this kid might be a little different; he had a type of Tom Glavine look to him. He had pitched in the Cuban big leagues at 15, which is something no one else had ever done.”
“After I watched him throw the first inning I was on the phone to A.J. [Preller]. I told him this was the real deal and I needed him to get everyone down here: Logan [White], Don [Welke], Mark [Conner] because this is going to be the top guy internationally for next year.”
The Padres decision to go after Morejon meant that they would have to blow past their allotted $3.347 million allocation — something they did in spectacular style, racking up nearly $40 million dollars in penalties in a strategic decision to load as much international talent into the organization in one year as possible.
The splurge resulted in the team signing in addition to Morejon, many of the big names of the international class such as outfielder Jorge Ona and infielder Luis Alamanzar, along with pitchers Michel Baez, Ronald Bolanos, Osvaldo Hernandez, and lesser-known prospects pitcher Luis Patino and position players Tucupita Marcano, Tirso Ornelas and Jeisson Rosario.
While some have succeeded more than others, six of the Padres Top 20 prospects from the MadFriars Top 20 prospects for 2019 were international signees from what was considered the top farm system in baseball.
Going into this season the player with the highest ceiling from that group is still Adrian Morejon.
“Across the board, he just has big stuff,” said Philip Wellman, his manager in Double-A. “It’s all above-average. He’s like most young pitchers; he needs to mature and not show his emotions when he gets some adversity. He’s done better this year from what I heard he did last season.”
In three minor league seasons, Morejon, 20, has yet to throw more than 65 innings. He has dealt with a variety of nagging injuries but if left-hander MacKenzie Gore is considered the Padres top pitching prospect, Morejon is considered “1B”.
“He is as talented as probably anyone in the minor leagues,” said Padres’ pitching coordinator Eric Junge. “He is good obviously; he is really good.”
This season in Amarillo, Morejon has been limited due to minor shoulder soreness but has said that he is pitching without any discomfort.
“I don’t feel any discomfort and I feel fine,” said Morejon through an interpreter. “The players are better but my challenge is always with myself. The hardest thing is staying healthy and trying to perform the way that I know that I can.
“In terms of baseball, it’s just about throwing strikes and getting ahead of hitters.”
At six feet and 195 pounds, Morejon can consistently sit in the mid-90s with his fastball, to go along with a curve, a changeup, and a rarely seen knuckle-curve.
“The knuckle-curve is more of a fast drop, while with the changeup I try to throw it like a fastball in the strike zone and it spins more like a fastball but is slower,” Morejon said on explaining the differences between his changeup and knuckle-curve.
“His changeup is like a straight change with a little bit of fade and then he has the knuckle-change which is slower and kind of tumbles down,” Junge explained on why it is such a difficult pitch for hitters. “There is a speed differential between the two and very few guys that throw 97 have a type of knuckle-ball.
“He can throw it late in counts and guys are gearing up for his velocity. It’s not really a knuckleball like Tim Wakefield had, it’s a different animal.”
As with many of the Padres Cuban pitchers, the initial challenge when he came into the organization was putting a limit on how many different pitches that he threw. Perfect his fastball command, a breaking ball, and a changeup and then expand.
“It is something we grow up with in Cuba, learning how to throw multiple pitches and having the ability to throw them. But it’s not like I can use all of them in the game, but I do have the knowledge of how to throw them.”
Off the field, moving from Cuba to the United States has not been as big of an adjustment as one might think.
“Off the field, there are not as many differences,” laughed Morejon. “Mainly things are more professional over here; the game is a little more passive, it’s not a bad thing, it allows you to concentrate more and the discipline.
“You have to be on time, you have to do what you are supposed to do – you are expected to be a professional.”
As compared to when he first came into the organization in 2016, Morejon is also in noticeably better shape.
“Yes, the food is healthier and the facilities are better for working out. I am eating more under control, but I am also running more and have more intensity in my workouts.”
With a 3.92 ERA in 160 minor league innings, the excitement on Morejon is obviously more about what the organization believes he will become than what he is right now and maybe what baseball in general believes with his inclusion in the 2019 Futures Game.
The main goal with Morejon is to get him on the mound more regularly and see if his premium stuff has the ability to pitch the workload that is needed of a major league starter.