In his first year in San Diego Fernando Tatis, Jr. has emerged as one of the best players in baseball. (Photo: San Diego Padres/Andy Hayt)

As the San Diego Padres wrap up a disappointing 2019 season, the attention will soon turn to an off-season that will start with a manager search, then transition to improving the on-field product in 2020.

The big league club limped to another 90-loss campaign, sucking optimism and hope out of a fanbase that has been desperately starved for a winner. Despite a putrid second half of play, the perception outside of San Diego is that the Padres still have a bright future ahead of them.

“I still think that [the Padres] have one of the best farm systems in baseball,” said Jim Callis, a senior writer with MLB Pipeline. “When you look at their current big league club, it seems like almost all of the best players [are on the younger side]. Manny Machado is only 26 years old, [Hunter] Renfroe is 27. It still seems like most of their guys are either in their prime or getting to their prime rather than past their prime.

“When you look at their Baseball Reference page, their top six starters they used this year are 26, 24, 23, 24, 26 and 23 and they have more on the way. I still think that’s one of the best groups of young talent at the major and minor league level that you can see anywhere in baseball.”

As of now, the Padres have a full 40-man roster, plus 11 players that are currently housed on the 60-day injured list. Those 11 players will have to be moved onto the 40-man roster 72 hours after the final out of the World Series.

After that, the club will need to determine which players from a talented and deep minor league system to protect in the Rule 5 draft. While over 40 players will be eligible for the Rule 5 draft if left unprotected, there are decisions to be made about roughly a dozen players. This group includes a pair of second-round picks in Buddy Reed and Michael Gettys.

The team has several pre-arbitration players they could look to package with prospects as a means to upgrade their roster in 2020 and clear space on their 40-man roster.

Under A.J. Preller, the Padres have not lost a player in either the major league or minor league phase of the draft. However, the team likely will not have the roster space to house of some of their talented but risky prospects who will need to protected.  The organization has only three free agents, so there will be a lot of difficult decisions to be made.

“The reality is that the prospect talent they have added and put together the last few years is starting to hit that point where you have to protect them,” said J.J. Cooper, the Executive Editor of Baseball America and their resident Rule 5 draft guru.

“Without having done a full roster analysis of everyone that they have to consider protecting, I do know that it’s a full 40-man, they have a bunch of guys on the 60-day [injured list] to bring back off which is going to make it even more difficult and then you just look at the talent and the depth of talent they have in the minors and yes, I’d expect that this would easily be the riskiest year the Padres have had under A.J. Preller for losing guys.”

Let’s take a dive into the current composition of the 40-man roster before analyzing the minor leaguers who will be eligible for the Rule 5 draft if they are not added to the 40-man roster.

60-day injured list

RHP: Miguel Diaz, Brett Kennedy, Jacob Nix, Robert Stock, Adam Warren
LHP:
Jose Castillo, Aaron Loup, Adrian Morejon
INF:
Ian Kinsler, Fernando Tatis Jr.
OF:
Franchy Cordero

The 60-day injured list includes the untouchable Fernando Tatis Jr. and top prospect Adrian Morejon who struggled in a brief cameo in San Diego before hitting the injured list with a sore shoulder. Jose Castillo, who impressed last season as a rookie, made just one appearance in San Diego in 2019. After one hiccup working back from a left flexor strain, he tore a ligament in his left middle finger and was shut down again in his season debut.

San Diego Padres outfielder Franchy Cordero

Franchy Cordero is a question mark going into the 2020 season. (Photo: Ivan Pierre Aguirre)

Franchy Cordero has the tools to be a star but has missed valuable development time as he battled injuries the last two seasons. He heads into what would be his final pre-arbitration season if he is in the majors most of next year having played in only 79 big league games.

Robert Stock, one of the great stories of 2018, still hit triple-digits with his fastball but struggled with command at both the major and minor league levels before hitting the shelf with a bicep strain in July. Stock turns 30 in November and with all the young arms currently rostered, he may be expendable.

Jacob Nix and Brett Kennedy both came into the season with a chance to secure spots in the big league rotation, but injuries kept them on the injured list all year. Miguel Diaz, also looking to cement a spot in the majors, instead began and ended his season with knee injuries and totalled just 6.1 innings for the Padres in 2019. All three will get more opportunities in the majors, but they may not be with the Padres.

The Padres face a decision on whether to swallow the $4.25 million still owed Ian Kinsler. The veteran infielder, who faces a tough comeback from a herniated disc in his neck, may not have an obvious place on the club’s 25-man roster next season even if healthy.

Veteran relievers Aaron Loup and Adam Warren seem destined to be bought out of their 2020 options after combining for just 32 innings of work after signing as free agents.

Guaranteed contracts for 2020

(contract information courtesy of Cot’s Contracts)

RHP: Garrett Richards ($8.5 million)
INF: Manny Machado ($32 million), Eric Hosmer ($21 million), Ian Kinsler ($3.75 million, plus $500,000 buyout for 2021), INF Hector Oliveria ($8.5 million)
OF/1B:
Wil Myers ($22.5 million)

San Diego has $96.25 million committed to five players next season, plus another $8.5 million they owe to Hector Olivera as part of sending Matt Kemp to Atlanta back in 2016. While there has been much debate about what to do with Wil Myers, the Padres will be on the hook for a lofty sum of money unless they can find a taker for him, which seems unlikely. Machado and Eric Hosmer are cornerstones of the franchise (at least monetarily) and are extremely unlikely to play anywhere other than San Diego in 2020.

Garrett Richards once possessed the stuff to front a rotation. If the Padres are to contend in 2020, he will need to return to form and stay healthy – two very large question marks.

Arbitration-eligible in 2020

RHP: Carl Edwards Jr., Kirby Yates
LHP: Robbie Erlin, Matt Strahm
C: Austin Hedges
INF: Greg Garcia
OF: Travis Jankowski, Hunter Renfroe, Manuel Margot

The Padres will have to give lofty raises to Kirby Yates, who made slightly over $3 million this year and Hunter Renfroe, who has clubbed 89 homers in his first three major league seasons. Catcher Austin Hedges will be eligible for arbitration for the second time but his woeful offensive season probably won’t lead to a significant raise above his current $2 million salary.  LHP Matt Strahm is an obvious tender and shouldn’t command an extravagant salary. Manuel Margot is an obvious tender as well, despite production cratering over the final two months of the season.

From there, the Padres will have decisions to make on the remaining players. Greg Garcia is a useful utility infielder but doesn’t profile as an everyday player. Travis Jankowski broke his wrist in the spring and played very sparingly once he was recalled at the end of the El Paso season. With seven other outfielders currently on the 40-man roster, Jankowski may be a superfluous outfielder that the organization can part with. Robbie Erlin, the longest-tenured member of the organization, has been a useful bullpen piece in the past but he struggled in 2019 and could likely be replaced by a pitcher already on the 40-man roster. Carl Edwards Jr. — who was acquired at the trade deadline for LHP Brad Wieck — shouldn’t require a raise above his $1.5 million salary. However, the club may non-tender him, perhaps looking to bring him to camp on a minor league deal. The Padres have a lot of young arms who should be in the mix in 2020 and it may be difficult to justify paying Edwards Jr. a seven-figure salary.

Pre-arbitration players with big league experience

RHP: Pedro Avila, Michel Baez, David Bednar, Ronald Bolaños, Javy Guerra, Dinelson Lamet, Andres Muñoz, Chris Paddack, Luis Perdomo, Cal Quantrill, Gerardo Reyes, Trey Wingenter, Eric Yardley
LHP: Eric Lauer, Joey Lucchesi, Nick Margevicius
C: Austin Allen, Francisco Mejía, Luis Torrens
INF: Luis Urías, Ty France, Seth Mejias-Brean
OF: Nick Martini, Josh Naylor

Plenty of these players could form the core of the next Padres playoff team. Chris Paddack showed that he has the stuff and poise to be a front-of-the-rotation starter. Dinelson Lamet faired well in his return from Tommy John surgery and should be a lock for the 2020 rotation. LHP Joey Lucchesi had a solid sophomore season and should have a role on next year’s team. Former first-round pick Eric Lauer faced his share of struggles but like Lucchesi, he was able to produce a WAR over two. While he is not a lock for the rotation next year, he is firmly in the mix. Andres Muñoz and Cal Quantrill pitched well at times during the second half and both should factor into the 2020 pitching staff.

One position to watch will be at catcher, where the Padres currently have four on the 40-man roster, with Francisco Mejía headlining the pre-arbitration group. He showed promise with the bat in the season’s second half and figures to receive a significant amount of playing time. Luis Torrens was one of the best hitters in the Texas League this year and has made tremendous strides defensively. Austin Allen didn’t receive a lot of playing time this season but his power from the left-side of the plate makes him interesting.

On the 40-man with no big league service

RHP: Anderson Espinoza
OF:
Edward Olivares

San Diego Padres RHP prospect Anderson Espinoza pitching for Fort Wayne TinCaps

Anderson Espinoza hasn’t appeared in a game since the 2016 season. (Photo: Jeff Nycz)

Only two players on the 40-man roster have yet to make their major league debut. Edward Olivares, broke out in Amarillo this season and should open 2020 in El Paso.  Anderson Espinoza will once again miss most, if not all, of the season after having his second Tommy John procedure earlier this year. The talented hurler has not thrown a pitch in a professional game since 2016 and it may be difficult for the organization to continue to keep him on the 40-man roster.

“[Espinoza] is a tough one,” said Callis. “The guy hasn’t pitched since 2016, but he’s still young. Would I want to take a shot on him in the right situation? Yes. But I think it would be very hard to protect him on the 40-man roster again.

“Could you see some team who has a bad farm system and a bad big league club [claim him on waivers]? I guess someone could claim [Espinoza] but it would be hard to keep him on the 40-man roster.”

Potential Free Agents

RHP: Craig Stammen, Warren ($500,000 buyout of a $2.5 million club option)
LHP: Loup ($200,000 buyout of a $2 million club option)

The Padres won’t get a lot of roster relief from free agency, as just three players — all relievers — can hit free agency. RHP Craig Stammen has been a reliable relief option and it’s reasonable to expect that the organization would have some interest in retaining his services in 2020. Loup and Warren have been on the 60-day injured list most of the season and will likely be bought out.

September gives some clarity

While there are 40 or so minor leaguers who could be eligible for the 40-man roster this winter, the organization took care of some of their key decisions by adding players when rosters expanded in September. Righties Ronald Bolaños and David Bednar, and infielder Seth Mejias-Brean had their contracts purchased in the season’s final month. Bolaños and Bednar are both intriguing prospects and figure to stick throughout the winter.

Bolaños started the year in Lake Elsinore, where he showed increased velocity on his fastball and a very good curveball that he was able to throw to all quadrants of the plate. He pitched well in stretches for Amarillo and spent the last month of the season in San Diego. He may have been the easiest decision to be added to the 40-man roster.

Bednar, a former 35th-rounder, showed a mid-90s fastball and a newfound splitter which helped him take his game to another level. Despite a poor outing on Saturday night, he should be in the mix for a bullpen spot next spring.

Mejias-Brean has played well in a limited opportunity but he is a 28-year-old who has played eight seasons in the minors and figures to become a roster casualty at the end of the 2019 season.

Looking ahead to the Rule 5 draft

With Major League Baseball expanding to 26-man rosters for 2020, clubs will have more options to make it easier to store a young Rule 5 draftee. That could mean organizations take a flier on a player they may not have previously.

“I do think [teams may be active in the Rule 5 draft],” said Cooper. “Because there was talk of this several years ago. I heard some teams say that ‘if we have a 26-man, then maybe we use that a little differently.’

“Whether that’s stashing a player or a team says ‘this limited player can only do these couple of things, maybe it’s worthwhile for us.’ Maybe a team, for example, says, ‘we got this 80-runner center fielder and we think we can carry him as a pinch-runner or a defensive replacement in center field.’ That’s not something you’d do with a 25-man, but maybe you would with a 26 [man roster].”

“Or maybe it’s ‘hey this Low-A pitcher isn’t ready by any stretch of the imagination, but where it would be hard to carry him on a 25-man roster because it’s going to make your bullpen an arm short, we can carry him on a 26-man [roster].’ I think it does open up some more possibilities like that.”

How the Rule 5 Draft works

The Rule 5 draft breaks down into major and minor league phases. In the Major League phase, a team pays $100,000 to the drafted player’s original team. That player has to be immediately added to the 40-man roster and must stay on the active big league roster all season. To remove the player from the 26-man roster, he must first be offered back to the original team, and then clear waivers. The original organization can take him back and return $50,000 of the original fee, or let him stay with the organization that drafted him. Rule 5 players can be traded but the roster rules still apply.

After the major league phase is completed, the minor league phase begins. Teams can protect an additional 38 players on their Triple-A reserve list, cutting the pool of options significantly. Players selected in this phase face no restrictions on where they can play the following year.

Players signed at 18 or younger are eligible for selection in the fifth Rule 5 draft following their official contract date. Players who had turned 19 by June 5 just prior to signing their first contract become eligible after four years. Generally, college players drafted in 2016 or earlier will be eligible for this year’s Rule 5 draft. High school and international players from the 2015 class will be eligible for the first time if they signed at 18 or younger.

San Diego will have an interesting mix of former top draft picks and international signings that could appeal to other clubs, either via trade or in the Rule 5 draft. Here is the list of players that the Padres will need to protect:

RHP: Elliot Ashbeck, Lake Bachar, Carlos Belen*, J.C. Cosme, Dom DiSabatino, Jordan Guerrero, Henry Henry, Kyle Lloyd*, Trevor Megill, Evan Miller, Emmanuel Ramirez*, Hansel RodriguezBlake Rogers, Jesse ScholtensAustin Smith, Dauris Valdez

Left-handed pitchers: Jerry Keel, Kyle McGrath, Travis Radke

Catchers: A.J. Kennedy, Kyle Overstreet, Webster Rivas*

Infielders: Ivan Castillo*, Allen Córdoba, Ruddy Giron, Kelvin Melean, Eguy Rosario, Esteury Ruiz, Ethan Skender, Peter Van Gansen, Jason VoslerBrad Zunica, Aderlin Rodriguez*, Kelvin Alarcon, Reinaldo Ilarraza. 

Outfielders: Nate Easley, Michael Gettys, Taylor Kohlwey, Jorge Oña, Rodrigo Orozco*, Buddy Reed

*Player is eligible for minor league free agency. Players re-signing minor league contracts prior to the Rule 5 draft are eligible for selection.

The Rule 5-eligible group is headlined by a trio of outfielders who could intrigue other organizations. Jorge Oña, lauded for his offensive potential, received the second-largest bonus during the 2016 international signing period.

Padres prospect Jorge Oña batting for Amarillo

Jorge Oña got off to his best start since coming over from Cuba but then went down with an injury. (Photo: John Moore)

Fast forward three years and Oña, who turns 23 this winter, is at a bit of a crossroads. He started his pro career in 2017 in Fort Wayne and posted a solid wRC+ of 115 but struggled with injuries and consistency with Lake Elsinore in 2018.

This spring, Oña looked tremendous at the plate, making loud and consistent contact. He carried that into Amarillo, where he hit .348/.417/.539 in 114 plate appearances. But, Oña hit the injured list in May and soon underwent season-ending surgery. The organization surely wants to see how Oña bounces back in 2020, however, the team already has a large group on the 40-man roster and may not want to use a spot for Oña despite the large investment the club made in him.

“To me, with the Rule 5 Draft, you’re looking for a guy who you feel is ready to compete,” said Cooper. “Ideally, most of the outfielders who get picked can play center field. Also, you’re looking for a guy that you feel comfortable with stepping up and playing. And I am not so comfortable with Oña being able to do that.

[Oña] is a name and people know about him but I don’t see [him being selected].”

Buddy Reed, San Diego’s second-round selection in 2016, has loud tools but struggled to make consistent contact in Double-A after making strides at Lake Elsinore in 2018. That performance led to Reed playing alongside Tatis and Urías in the MLB Futures Game, where he made a spectacular catch, robbing Tatis of an extra-base hit. Reed’s charismatic demeanor also earned him praise from many who covered the game.

However, Reed has struggled to make consistent contact in Double-A. Reed has struck out in 30% of his 600-plus Texas League plate appearances. Reed did hit 14 homers, stole 23 bases and has played great defense at all three outfield positions.

“[Reed] is a really good defensive player and he can run so he can contribute in those ways,” said Callis. “But now when you are looking at teams carrying 12 position players on a roster, are you going to keep Buddy Reed and Rule 5 him for the whole year?

“I like Buddy, he’s a great personality too, so you kind of root for him. I’d have a hard time seeing him getting picked in the Rule 5, to be honest. He hit .228 in Double-A, he’s struck three times more than he has walked and the only place that he really put up big numbers in the minors was in Lake Elsinore which isn’t exactly Petco Park. He’s going to be 25 next year and I’m under the assumption that those roster spots will be at a premium, I think you don’t protect him and if somebody Rule 5’s him, they Rule 5 him.”

“The reality is that Buddy has had troubles with his hit tool,” said Cooper. “It’s sporadic; there are times that he hits. But there have also been significant stretches [where he hasn’t hit]. It’s impossible to say right now that Buddy Reed can handle Double-A pitching. And if that’s the case, I think you have to have concerns if you a team in saying ‘what is that going to translate to in the majors?’ And especially in the majors with sporadic playing time.

“Again, I am not saying that some team wouldn’t take a look if he was left unprotected. I go a little crazy on the Rule 5 draft preview and he’d definitely make the preview but I do not see him as someone who’s likely to be picked.”

Outfielder Michael Gettys slammed a career-high 31 homers in El Paso, which set a new franchise record. He also has a plus arm and is a fine defensive outfielder. However, like Reed, there are many questions about his ability to make contact.

Gettys struck out in 30% of his plate appearances and his overall slash-line of .256/.305/.517 was 12% below league-average. For the second consecutive season, Gettys will be available to 29 other organizations, assuming the Padres do not add him to the 40-man roster. For a team facing a bit of a roster crunch, that may be difficult.

Michael Gettys hit 31 home runs for El Paso this season. .Photo: Jorge Salgado

“With Gettys, you have upper-level minor league experience,” said Cooper. “He’s got plenty of upper-level experience but on the flip side, I know he hit a ton of homers this year for El Paso, [but] everyone hit a bunch of homers for El Paso. You obviously have to worry about the hit-tool.

“But at the same time again, if you are a team that’s looking at defensive [ability], power and they can live with the average, then yeah, I could see that being a possibility; I wouldn’t say it’s implausible.”

In the lower minors, the Padres have a few intriguing position players who should also merit consideration for a roster spot. Infielder/outfielder Esteury Ruiz has generally been part of top-30 Padres’ prospects lists since the organization acquired him from Kansas City back in 2017.

Ruiz had a decent first-half for Lake Elsinore and even made an appearance in the California League All-Star game, where he blasted a no-doubt homer. However, the 20-year-old hit just .190/.233/.256 in July before missing the last month of the season with a hand injury. The talented athlete played second base for the majority of the season but made a widely-anticipated shift to left field upon Xavier Edwards’ promotion to the Storm. Ruiz has tremendous athleticism but struggled to take efficient routes in left field in our brief look at him this summer. He is still incredibly young and talented but his lack of experience in the upper levels of the minors should reduce his ability to stay at the big league level all season.

“[Ruiz] is an interesting prospect,” said Callis. “But he would be tough to protect. With Ruiz having a rough year in High-A, I don’t know how you could look at him and say, ‘Oh, I think that guy is going to be ready for the big leagues.’ So I think he is the type of guy who is still a prospect but my guess is that you don’t protect him and he doesn’t get taken in the Rule 5 draft.

20-year-old Eguy Rosario spent a second consecutive season in Lake Elsinore, breaking out in the second half. Overall, Rosario’s slash-line of .278/.331/.412 is just above league-average. However, in the second half, Rosario hit a blistering .319/.370/.485 while striking out in just 16% of his plate appearances. Rosario also played every position in the infield, although he profiles best at second or third.

“With Eguy, you have some defensive value,” said Cooper. “That gives you a starting point because I have heard good things about his defense. He’s got some versatility. He’s probably not the best at short but … could plausibly be a backup infielder. The reality of it is that it would be a big jump.

“He’s the kind of guy that maybe gets taken but I probably wouldn’t put it above 50% that he would be able to stick but at the same time, that’s what leads to a whole bunch of fun decisions about the guys that you’d need to protect.”

Others of note: 

RHP Elliot Ashbeck had a very good year for Lake Elsinore, bouncing back-and-forth between the rotation and the bullpen. He is also pitching in the Arizona Fall League after throwing nearly 100 innings. However, he doesn’t possess big-time stuff and he will be 26 at the beginning of the spring.

RHP Carlos Belen converted to the mound last year and reached Double-A Amarillo this season. He has a mid-90s fastball and a developing slider. The Padres first have to convince him to sign as a minor league free agent before worrying about his Rule 5 eligibility.

RHP Dauris Valdez is among the biggest humans in the Padres system, at 6-foot-8. He can touch triple-digits with his fastball but he averaged 4.55 walks per nine innings out of the Amarillo bullpen. The soon-to-be 24-year-old is with the Padres’ instructional league this fall. He is the top of arm that a rebuilding club may take a shot on.

Infielder Ivan Castillo, who missed April with an injury, wound up winning the Texas League batting title. The switch-hitter possesses good speed and can play all around the diamond, and offers additional versatility as a switch-hitter. He was signed as a minor league free agent last winter, so the organization doesn’t have as much invested in him as some of the other players on this list. He’ll have options as a minor league free agent again this winter.

Looking ahead to navigating 2020

After next season, the Padres’ will need to protect their 2016 international draft class. This includes players like Gabriel Arias, Jeisson Rosario, and Tirso Ornelas. If the Padres are going to trade from their prospect depth, this off-season might be the best time.

Posted by Kevin Charity

Kevin Charity has written for MadFriars since 2015 and has had work featured on Fox Sports San Diego. He is a lifelong San Diego native and is looking forward to seeing the current wave of prospects thrive in San Diego.

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