As the calendar turns to 2020, the Padres hope the new decade brings much more success than the last 10 years of futility. To remedy their losing ways, the organization has spent the last four years accruing young talent to build a sustainable winner.
San Diego has had one of the best farm systems in all of baseball over the last two years but the graduation of top prospects like Fernando Tatis Jr. and Chris Paddack has thinned out the depth. Then again, that is the goal. The system may not be able to claim Tatis any longer, but it is still a collection of talent that should help the Padres take the next step in the coming years and hopefully help the club claim its first playoff berth since 2006.
Earlier in January, Baseball America published their top 10 Padres prospect list, headlined – not surprisingly – by left-handed pitcher MacKenzie Gore, who they rank as the best pitching prospect in the game. Right-handed pitcher Luis Patiño, infielder CJ Abrams, outfielder Taylor Trammell and catcher Luis Campusano round out the top five.
San Diego native and Baseball America writer Kyle Glaser compiled the list for the magazine and the full list for Baseball America Prospect Handbook by getting a first-hand look at many of the players on the list, as well as polling scouts and front-office personnel. He was nice enough to answer some questions about the list he put together.
MadFriars: It seemed easy to call Gore number one overall, just like it was last year with Fernando Tatis, Jr. Did you find that the rest of the list was as fluid for you? And what was the process like for putting together your list for Baseball America?
Kyle Glaser: Well, numbers one through three were pretty straight forward. That was Gore, Patiño, and Abrams, in that order. Numbers four through seven were kind of fluid and numbers eight through eleven were pretty fluid. Those were the three tiers in how they broke up.
It’s pretty similar to most years and most teams, where you will have a pretty clear top-two or three, some guys in the middle and then at the end [of the top ten]. So in terms of this year’s system and how difficult it may or may not have been to rank, it was pretty par for the course.
I know you can’t go into too much detail in the top-30 because the Prospect Handbook hasn’t been released yet but the Padres have graduated a lot of players over the last year. Is the quality of players in the back half of the list as good as it was last year or has it taken a significant step back?
Kyle Glaser: I don’t think it’s taken a significant hit but it’s a little lighter towards the back. When you look at the numbers like the number 29 and 30 prospects now, it’s more guys that have a chance to be low-leverage relievers or utility guys. Whereas one, two and three years ago, the very back of the list still had guys that maybe had a shot to be everyday players. It’s taken a bit of a step back but it’s still probably the deepest farm system in baseball and if not number one in [overall] depth, it’s still in the top three.
[The system] is incredibly deep but it’s just coming from such a place that it was so outrageously deep, it’s kind of inevitable to take a little bit of a step back from that.
Your observation on MacKenzie Gore seemed pretty close to what I saw in 2019: he could easily dominate the Cal League with just a fastball and one offspeed pitch. Is having all four pitches working consistently the last box he needs to check before becoming a big leaguer?
Kyle Glaser: That’s the biggest [improvement]; getting all four pitches to work at the same time. That’s definitely a big box that needs to be checked still. I’d say in the major leagues, guys take advantage of any flaw in your game.
The book on him in the Cal League was that you could get him out of sorts if you ran on him but that was difficult because a lot of guys never got on-base against him in the first place. If he can make some tweaks there and get that eliminated, that’s the other box that needs to be checked. That’s just something that big leaguers will take advantage of and you want to get that shored up before you make that jump.
In regards to Luis Patiño, every publication seems to have him a tick below Gore. Gore’s ceiling is as an anchor at the top of the rotation. Does Patiño have a similar type of ceiling or is he more of a strong number two?
Kyle Glaser: It’s more of a strong number two. Some of the command isn’t what you’d want from a number one. For a 19-year-old to make it to Double-A, there’s still plenty of command there and it’s improving. But there are maybe five or six number one starters in the major leagues at a given time and there’s maybe one every three years in the minors, so it’s not a knock against Patiño, it’s just a number one starter is really rare to find.
For him to be a number two is a great ceiling and who knows, if something clicks he could be a number one. He’s a really talented young kid with a lot of growth still ahead. It’s still a very high ceiling and it’s certainly not crazy to say two more years of maturity and reps he gets even better. That’s definitely in the cards.
Aside from the risk of injury that can happen with any other pitcher, is there anything else that could prevent Gore and Patiño from reaching their full potential?
Kyle Glaser: There are injuries but there are certainly [other] things. If Gore never, for whatever reason, never quite gets all four pitches working. One example is that there have been a couple of evaluators, who depending on the day, have never seen a plus breaking ball out of him. They’ve seen a plus fastball and a plus changeup but the breaking balls are more average to above-average and say maybe he is more of a number three starter. There have been evaluators who have said that.
For Patiño, it’s getting his slider and changeup working together consistently and also his command [has to] grow. If MacKenzie Gore doesn’t get any better, then yeah, he’s not going to be a number one starter. If Luis Patiño doesn’t get any better, then he’s not going to be a number two starter. But you are banking on these kids getting better and you believe in the makeup and the raw ability, athleticism and you kind of bet on it getting better. It’s not like they are ready to fill those roles in the major leagues right now; there’s still development ahead. But development is never guaranteed.
Before you published your list, most of the other ones I saw had Taylor Trammell ranked ahead of CJ Abrams. Like you, I had Abrams at the number three spot in the system because I believe that his hit tool is a big separator. Was that your takeaway as well?
And if not, what led to you ranking Abrams ahead of Trammell?
Kyle Glaser: It’s a couple of things. There’s a little more faith in the bat, which is the main thing. But Abrams also plays the infield, where Trammell is a pure outfielder, so the bar Abrams has to clear is a little lower. [Abrams] is also faster. Trammell is a good athlete but Abrams is an even better athlete.
So if you have a better athlete who plays the infield and you think is going to be a better hitter, [ranking Abrams ahead of Trammell] wasn’t very close. There’s a very clear separation from number three to number four. That’s not to knock Trammell; that’s a testament to Abrams.
Do you think that Trammell ultimately develops into a viable center fielder or is he really more of a left fielder long-term? And if he is a left fielder, does that diminish his overall value?
Kyle Glaser: It’s not even about the value; I’m not a huge guy on the value of a corner. If you can hit, and play every day, that’s good enough for me. The Padres and the way their offense works, don’t have the luxury of being choosy; they need to find guys that can hit and wherever they play be damned.
For me, it’s more about the faith that Trammell will hit, whether he plays center field or left. There are very mixed degrees of confidence, even within the Padres’ organization, whether he will or not. I’ve spoken with some evaluators who think that the changes that he made can hold over long-term. Others who say it was a great small sample but they are not sure if the changes will hold up over a season.
There were some people who thought that Trammell should have been ranked number seven. Number four was really the top spot he could have gone and number seven was the bottom spot. We gave it to him at number four because he’s still a great athlete with great makeup. He got to Double-A and showed better at the end of the year, so we are kind of betting on giving him the benefit of the doubt. But he was not a clear number four; he went from number four to number seven for evaluators within the organization.
Luis Campusano is one of my favorite players in the system, just based on his bat behind the plate and how he carries himself and his competitive intensity. Was there any consideration to move him into the number four spot?
Kyle Glaser: It wasn’t because of his profile, it’s because of his talent. His talent is what made him potentially number four. He absolutely had consideration there. Any time you have a guy with his abilities at the plate and behind it, it’s a real talent that you have to take into consideration.
Ultimately, the reason he was number five and Trammell was number four is that for catchers it’s so hard. We see a lot of catchers, with the workload, they stagnate a little bit. You kind of feel a little bit better about the outfielder who’s been to Double-A and then is going to start the year at Triple-A. But it would be no surprise to anybody if we look back ten years from now and Campusano has had a better major league [career] than Taylor Trammell — that is very much in the cards. When you get your Prospect Handbooks, you will see that [Campusano and Trammell] have the same grade and the same risk on them. You could interchange them if you wanted to.
What is the biggest concern in Campusano’s development? Is it that the bat won’t carry or is it the fact that he has had some concussions?
Kyle Glaser: The bat will carry. No one is concerned about that. There have been concussion issues and the defense has some growth ahead. It has been growing and developing but some work needs to be done.
It’s mostly the concussion issues and again, just the list of catchers who look like studs up through High-A and as soon as they got to Double-A and the pitchers are throwing harder and the stuff is nastier and you are trying to handle all that while holding your own at the plate where everything just got more difficult as well. There’s a long list of catchers who looked great in High-A then collapsed in Double-A.
As much as you see the talent that he has and as much as you believe in the talent. with catchers, you kind of have to see it at higher levels and you have to check every box because they can stagnate. I believe in him. I think he is a really good player with a bright future ahead but you always want to take the cautious route with catchers.
You had Adrian Morejon at number six. Is he ranked that high because you believe that he can overcome some of the injuries that he has had and develop into a viable starter?
Kyle Glaser: The ranking was based on talent. Personally, if it were me, I would have probably had him lower. If you ask me who is going to have the better major league career ten years from now, I think that both Michel Baez and Andres Muñoz will probably have better careers than Adrian Morejon, just because of the health issues. Morejon is just a guy who has never stayed on the mound as a starter. I think it’s really tough to project him to when he has rarely ever done it.
Like I said in the [Baseball America’s Padres] chat, a 20-year-old left-hander who touches 98 mph and has two potential plus secondaries, you don’t want to jump ship on that. One of the things that we ultimately try to do here is rank the talent. The talent is what it is and I think you give him the benefit of the doubt with his youth and stuff. The questions with [Morejon] are very, very real regarding durability and if he will ever stay healthy enough to be a major league starter.
Gabriel Arias is another of my favorites in the system. One of the things you mentioned in the chat is that when he misses a pitch, he doesn’t necessarily miss a pitch inside of the zone. With his profile as a low-walk hitter, do you think he can improve upon his eye as he moves up through the system?
Kyle Glaser: I think given his youth and the strides he showed in the second half last year, you feel better about the possibility that he improves at Double-A. He still has to go out and do it. He’s not necessarily a guy you feel 100% convinced on, but just the way he adjusted at the end of last year, in terms of his pitch selection, even though the walk rate didn’t spike but the pitch selection got so much better. I think the youth and that progression, you feel better about it.
Ryan Weathers got off to a really good start in April and then hit the injured list in May. His velocity seemed to drop when he came back. I know that there was been some concern about conditioning but was his issue more of a legitimate arm injury? In other words, what was the biggest reason for the drop-off we saw?
Kyle Glaser: I think most people cited the injury. Even then, the injury was arm fatigue — it wasn’t like there was ligament damage in there. Again, it’s all kind of related. Yes, it was an injury but the ability to hold up over a long major league season, there are some physical components to that. I can’t tell you how many Padres’ officials I talked to that were very blunt about his conditioning and saying that ‘he’s not in the shape he needs to be in and that needs to get fixed.’
They have said that they have been blunt about it with [Weathers]. Like I mentioned other places, he’s a talented kid and it’s just kind of going to be up to him if he takes that message to heart and puts in the work to do it or not.
I think the biggest surprise for me was Andres Muñoz cracking the top-ten. Obviously, he’s a really talented pitcher but is this just another example of you ranking the talent because you see him as a dominant reliever at the big league level?
Kyle Glaser: Yeah, he’s a high-end, end-of-game closer, which in today’s game and really the game over the last 20 years is hugely valuable. One of the biggest beefs I have with the prospect world is that it gets kind of disconnected from Major League Baseball. A great closer is an enormous value to a Major League Baseball team and it feels that in the prospect world its just ‘eh, a reliever’ and they get tossed aside.
When you have that level of talent and you can be that kind of arm, that’s an incredibly valuable big leaguer. With Muñoz, the talent combined with the major league readiness and the youth, I wanted to put him higher, to be honest. I didn’t give any consideration to having him lower on this list.