Fort Wayne has become the roster Padres fans like to watch as they dream of maybe seeing the next Fernando Tatis, Jr., who starred in the Summit City just two short years before his big league debut.
The A.J. Preller regime has consistently supplied their Low-A affiliate with talented teenagers, and this year was no exception with infielder Xavier Edwards and pitchers Joey Cantillo and Ryan Weathers — all 19 at the time — on the opening day roster.
The TinCaps finished 62-76 and didn’t make the playoffs, but there was still some quality baseball played in northeastern Indiana and some players we could see in San Diego in the next few years.
We use a simple formula for the awards. Whichever team the player appeared for most is where he is eligible. For the top prospect, we take into account not just what the player did this year, but his age and potential impact in the major leagues.
Low-A is the bottom rung of full-season ball, so it can be difficult to gauge how meaningful a prospect’s performance is in the grand scheme of things. Some pundits focus primarily on the ability and potential demonstrated while others shift their gaze to the consistency of performance.
We lean toward a more a middle-of-the-road evaluation, relying on a couple of questions to filter through it: (1) how old is a prospect compared to the competition; (2) how raw or developed is the prospect heading into full-season ball; and (3) is he making the necessary adjustments in terms of mechanics and approach?
2019 TinCaps Player of the Year
OF Michael Curry .285/.379/.437 70 K 41 BB 330 PA wRC+ 139 (Charity, Conniff, Jay, Pond)
In three years with the University of Georgia, Curry, 22, hit .285/.375/.437. He really turned it on in his junior year when he hit .322/.395/.532, playing primarily as a DH and occasionally catching. After the Padres drafted him in the 16th round in 2018, Preller jokingly cited his defensive position going forward as a hitter.
After a so-so debut in Tri-City last summer, Curry didn’t break camp with the TinCaps this spring. He was quickly summoned, but went 2-for-16 in 5 games and was dispatched back to the desert. He spent the next month working in extended and, when he returned to Fort Wayne in late May, quickly showed the approach and ability the team hoped for. By the end of the year, he held the team lead in slugging percentage, OPS and wRC+ and the right-handed slugger capped the campaign with an .897 OPS in August when he posted a strong 18:16 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 108 plate appearances. Curry profiles best in left field, but he has the tools to do enough damage at the plate to make the profile work as he moves up the system.
2B Xavier Edwards 336/.392/.414 35 K 30 BB 20 SB in 29 attempts 344 PA wRC+ 135 (Davey)
While Edwards spent only three months in the Midwest League, his performance was strong enough in that short time to earn the nod here. No player with more 150 plate appearances approached his .336 average and his 20 stolen bases were near the top of the league at the time of his promotion. The switch-hitter was electric at the top of the TinCaps lineup, reaching base at a .417 clip when he led off an inning.
Xavier Edwards (unanimous)
The Padres were able to talk Edwards out of his commitment to Vanderbilt after selecting him 38th overall last year. He rewarded them by reaching base at a .450 clip between two short-season levels through the summer, making the decision to start him in Fort Wayne this year an easy one. The switch-hitter was just as impressive in his full-season debut. Before getting promoted to High-A Lake Elsinore a month before his 20th birthday, the Floridian was leading the Midwest League in batting average and was one of the better fielders at second base.
He went on to put up solid numbers with the Storm, hitting .301/.348/.367 and continuing to show good speed and instincts on the basepaths. Edwards has exceptional bat control and is one of the more difficult hitters to strike out, but there is some question about how much power can add to improve the .399 slugging percentage he’s carried through his first 756 professional plate appearances. While he will still get occasional play at shortstop, his best position is second base.
Others of Note
Catcher Blake Hunt, 20, showed significant improvement in 2019, on both sides of the ball. In the second half, he posted a slash line of .291/.356/.426 and the 6-foot-4 California native made big gains in his receiving and blocking. Corner outfielder Dwanya Williams-Sutton led the Midwest League in on-base percentage at .411 despite a .236 average thanks to thanks to a 15% walk rate and an improbable 32 times getting hit by a pitch. The Padres think a few mechanical adjustments could help the 22-year old, whose 6-foot-2, 235-pound build carries plenty of power, could lead to bigger things at the plate. Tucupita Marcano had a breakout season in 2018, dominating the Arizona League and playing well in the Northwest League. This season, the left-handed-hitting Marcano, 20, hit .270/.323/.337 with a single-digit strikeout rate. He’s still rail thin and will have to add strength to make his contact-first approach work, but he showed he could handle three infield positions well defensively this summer.
Neither infielder Justin Lopez, 19, nor center fielder Jawuan Harris, 22, put up good overall numbers, but both showed glimpses of plus athletic ability. Despite this being his second season in the Midwest League, Lopez was still two and half years younger than the average players he competed against. He posted a .793 OPS in July while showing the tools to provide plus defense at shortstop. Harris, a two-sport star at Rutgers, is beginning to see the rewards of playing only baseball though he still struck out in a third of his plate appearances. Agustin Ruiz had a see-saw year, doing real damage in April despite an ugly K rate, but limping to a .129/.194/.226 line in May. He focused heavily on cutting his strikeout rate in the second half but lost his power stroke in the process. He could see a big jump in production next year if he can get the different pieces working at the same time.
Finally, the feel-good story of the season in the Padres’ organization was the return of infielder Ethan Skender, 22. A series of injuries threatened to end his career before it ever began, but the Illinois native made his professional debut three years after he got an overslot bonus out of Junior College in 2016. Skender hit .385/.441/.673 in the Arizona League and .302/.371/.444 in 170 plate appearances with the TinCaps.
You can also read all of our 2019 level-by-level wrap-ups this month. We’ll have the Fort Wayne pitchers, a Q&A with Padres player development director Ben Sestanovich, and interviews with local media coming up this week. If you’re not already a subscriber, join now for the top coverage of the Padres minor league system.