The San Diego Padres’ minor league system remains one of the deepest, and most talented in the game. Its place near the top of organization rankings is especially impressive given the sheer volume of high-end talents to exhaust their prospect status in 2019.
Four of our top seven prospects entering the year, seven of our top 20 and three others who appeared on individual lists, graduated this year. As we turn our attention to our Top 30 lists for 2020, we take a look at the players who exceeded their rookie eligibility in the just-completed season.
As a reminder, position players graduate with 130 plate appearances in the majors while pitchers do so after 50 innings. Players who spend 45 days on active big league rosters before they expand in September also lose their rookie status.
Breaking news: last year’s top prospect will not be on the list for 2020. Tatis made the Padres’ roster out of spring training and quickly emerged as one of the most dynamic players in the league. Despite missing almost half the season with a pair of injuries, the 20-year-old finished third in Rookie of the Year award voting on the merit of his contributions in every facet of the game.
Beyond his actual performance – and the list of 20-year-old shortstops who’ve matched his production is quite short – Tatis also has the it factor to be a transcendent star for the organization. Barely more than three years after the month of transactions that put the organization firmly in a ground-up rebuilding mode, the acquisition of Tatis for James Shields stands out as a historically one-sided deal that could put him in the same breath as Lou Brock, Jeff Bagwell and John Smoltz.
Luis Urías, 2B/SS
A year ago today, Urías seemed the best bet to be the Padres’ infield prospect to break camp in 2019. The then-21-year-old finished the 2018 campaign with a big league cameo. Despite a surprising jump in his strikeout rate in Triple-A, we still had the Mexican standout at number three overall coming into the year – and two of us were even more bullish. But of course, it was Urías who opened the 2019 campaign in El Paso and is now out of the organization. In the interim, he put up 339 strong plate appearances for the Chihuahuas and 249 less-inspiring trips to the plate for San Diego. Still just 22 years old, Urías continues to show a skill set that could make him a valuable big leaguer for a long time.
Chris Paddack, RHP
Three weeks after landing Tatis, the Padres sent All-Star closer Fernando Rodney to the Marlins for a 20-year-old who’d logged just 28.1 innings in full-season ball. The hard-throwing righty from Texas only made three starts in Fort Wayne before going down with a UCL tear that required Tommy John surgery. Despite that start, things seem to have worked out alright for San Diego.
A year after Paddack was held back from Lake Elsinore to open the 2018 season, he mowed down the San Francisco Giants in his five-inning big league debut this April. The fiery competitor kept it up, allowing only 10 runs through his first eight starts in the majors. Even as the club carefully managed his workload throughout the summer, Paddack showed some signs of fatigue as he carried the heaviest workload of his career. He nonetheless finished the year with a 3.33 ERA and in the top 15 of K%-BB% among all pitchers who topped 140 innings.
Paddack, who ranked as high as number two on our individual lists last season, could still stand to add a third pitch – given his so-so results spinning a breaking ball, maybe that turns out to be a cutter – to solidify his spot atop the Padres’ rotation. But he will arrive in Peoria next spring as a 24-year-old with lofty expectations and more than enough ability to meet them.
Coming into the year, we had Mejía at number five overall but noted he was riskier than most big-league ready prospects because of his free-swinging approach and continuing questions about his defensive abilities. After 244 plate appearances for the Padres this season, the same questions largely remain. Given how putrid even the league median catcher’s offense has gotten, Mejía was already adequate at the plate. While his production improved as he got more regular playing time in the second half of the year, his pitch selection did not.
Playing at 23 years old, he continued to show glaring lapses in his receiving, reinforcing the questions some have about his ability to stay behind the plate long-term. If he can’t, his bat will need to continue to progress to be an everyday option in the outfield. The switch-hitter has all the tools to be a force on both sides of the game but will need to hone them into more consistent skills to reach his still achievable ceiling.
Josh Naylor, 1B/LF
While our number 10 prospect didn’t open the year with San Diego, he did log more playing time with the big club than he did in El Paso in 2019. A converted first baseman, Naylor made his big league debut almost a month before his 22nd birthday but underwhelmed through his first 100 plate appearances.
The big man did manage a .334 wOBA in the second half but posted strikeout rates well above his career norms. It would not have been at all unreasonable for Naylor – who has been pushed quickly through the system even though his production has never been as impressive as his raw abilities, and has been forced into an ill-fitting position change – to spend the entire year in Triple-A. Had he done so, he’d clearly be near the top of prospect lists this winter. Instead, he’ll look to build on an uneven debut campaign in 2020.
Cal Quantrill, RHP
The Padres’ pick with the eighth overall selection at the top of the 2016 draft, Quantrill has never performed to expectations that come with that elevated profile. Despite that, the club has continued to push him forward aggressively and gave him a chance to win a rotation job in spring training. The 24-year-old instead underwhelmed and went back to El Paso to work on fastball command and feel for his breaking ball. He got shelled in his first outing, but then turned in five straight strong starts to get his first big league opportunity. The righty shuttled back and forth to Triple-A through May but returned to the Majors to stay in June.
Despite a fastball that averages a hair under 95 and a change-up that can show well above average at times, Quantrill’s strikeout rate remained average in the majors, just as it did throughout his time as a prospect in the system. The second-generation hurler worked well in limited action out of the bullpen and could be asked to serve as a swingman in 2020 depending on how the rotation fills out this winter.
Austin Allen, C
While he tallied just 71 plate appearances, Allen edged over the 45 days of service time when he was recalled for a fourth time on August 30. The catcher with big raw power struggled in his limited action in the big leagues but put up monster numbers in his abbreviated campaign for El Paso. The 25-year-old has worked hard to turn himself into a passable defensive catcher since coming into the system in 2015 and continued to improve his value after pushing his way up to 18 on our list last winter. Some of his strengths – hitting left-handed as a catcher and offering some positional versatility at first base – are less in demand for the Padres as their roster is currently constructed, so his future with the organization will depend in part on how they resolve the logjam of four catchers on the 40-man.
I was the high man on France coming into the year, slotting him in at the back end of my personal list because of his spot on the 40-man roster and the fact that he’d performed at every level. After decimating the PCL for the first few weeks of the season, France got his first call-up, but he didn’t make much solid contact and was sent back to El Paso in early June. He continued to post historic numbers there to earn our player of the year honors and a return to the big leagues in August.
His second stint went better. Even as he continued to strike out at a surprising clip, he made much louder contact, slugging .453 to power a nearly league-average line in the second half. While the former Aztec is better suited to corner infield positions, he proved to be adequate in short stints at second base this year. If he remains with the Padres through the offseason, he’ll head to Peoria with a shot at an opening day roster spot as a right-handed platoon option.
Nick Margevicius, LHP
When candidates ahead of him failed to take hold of the Padres’ open rotation spots this spring, the lefty managed to leap all the way to the big leagues despite logging just seven postseason innings at Double-A level. (That jump made certain Twitter users look pretty ridiculous.) The Ohioan got off to a strong start, posting a 3.23 ERA through his first six starts. His strikeout rate plummeted in May though as big league hitters got a better read on his low-velocity repertoire.
Things turned downright ugly in June and he was sent back to Double-A to regroup after a nine-run shellacking over 1.1 innings in Coors Field just before his 23rd birthday. Back at a more appropriate level, the lefty posted solid but unspectacular numbers over 12 starts for Amarillo. Margevicius would be well-served to spend the majority of the 2020 season in the minors where he can hone an approach to keep advanced hitters off-balance without overwhelming velocity.
Trey Wingenter, RHRP
The big righty from Alabama logged enough time in 2018 that he quickly exhausted his rookie eligibility in April this year. While Wingenter’s ERA ballooned by nearly two runs compared to his limited first-year exposure, most of his underlying numbers – including his 33% strikeout rate – improved or held steady. His fastball-slider combination from a low release point makes for uncomfortable at-bats. If he can refine his command even a bit, he remains a threat for late-inning relief work.
Gerardo Reyes, RHRP
The hard-throwing righty only logged 26 innings across his six different stints with the Padres but did spend more than enough time with the club to exhaust his rookie eligibility. His max-effort delivery generates triple-digit velocities that helped him to strike out 38 but also contributes to his poor command. The 26-year-old, whose FIP was less than half his unsightly 7.62 big league ERA, can be a valuable late-inning reliever if he can dial in his control in the coming years.
Note that while Michel Baez, Andres Muñoz, and the since-traded Logan Allen all came close to the rookie limits, each will head into 2020 with their eligibility intact. While Adrian Morejon, Jacob Nix, and Brett Kennedy all earned significant service time during the year, days spent on the Injured List don’t count toward rookie eligibility. Both Nix and Kennedy have come off the 40-man roster since the end of the season and have work to do to earn another opportunity in the majors.
If you aren’t already a subscriber, please consider joining today. For just $4.95 a month or $40 a year, you’ll get access to all of our premium interviews, analysis and on-site reporting from across the Padres’ minor league system.