MacKenzie Gore getting maximum extension. Photo: Grant Wickes.

In 2018, we wrote that the Padres had talent in the minor leagues but fans would need to wait a few years before seeing it at the big league level. Last season, we wrote that the impending arrival of shortstop Fernando Tatis, Jr. and starting pitcher Chris Paddack would mark the beginning of the payoff for a development period that began after the 2015 season.

This year, the organization should hit a tipping point.

Already this offseason, the Padres included prospects Luis Urías, Xavier Edwards, and Logan Driscoll in trades to acquire Major League players Tommy Pham, Trent Grisham and Emilio Pagán.

One can argue that Tatis is the best player the Padres have developed since Tony Gwynn. A pitching prospect comparable to MacKenzie Gore might be even harder to name. We’ve been raving about Gore since he was drafted in 2017 and this year, he will spend significantly more time in the majors than the minors.

Once again, Baseball America and MLB Pipeline rank San Diego among the top three minor league systems in baseball. Up to seven Padres prospects have appeared in major national top 100 rankings, and CJ Abrams is a strong candidate to rank near the very top of the game’s best next year.

Our Top 20 this year includes more players drafted (11) than acquired through trades (2) or signed internationally (7), a reflection that the organization’s time of selling anything of value from the Major League team is coming to a close.  

2020 Top 20 at a Glance: 8 Pitchers and 12 Position Players

New for 2019: SS CJ Abrams, CF/LF Taylor Trammell, C Luis Campusano, LHP Joey Cantillo, SS Gabriel Arias, LHP Ryan Weathers, RHP Reggie Lawson, CF Hudson Head OF Edward Olivares, INF Owen Miller, OF Joshua Mears, and C Blake Hunt.

Out from 2019: RHP Jacob Nix, CF Jeisson Rosario

Graduated from 2019: Tatis, Paddack, C Francisco Mejía, OF Josh Naylor, and RHP Cal Quantrill 

Traded:  Urías, LHP Logan Allen, Edwards, and C Austin Allen

Synopsis: Seven of the system’s top eleven prospects are pitchers. The organization is also strong up the middle, particularly at catcher and shortstop.

Best Places to See the Prospects

Triple-A El Paso:  The Chihuahuas, who missed the playoffs for the first time in five years in 2019, should be positioned to return this year. Adrian Morejon, Michel Baez and Ronald Bolaños, all key members of Padres’ 2016 international signing splurge, could headline the pitching staff, along with former Top 20 hurlers Jacob Nix and Brett Kennedy. Owen Miller and Edward Olivares should join the squad from last year’s Texas League champion Amarillo Sod Poodles. However, the most interesting player in the Sun City might be infielder/RHP Jake Cronenworth, who was acquired from Tampa with Pham. Cronenworth, if he doesn’t stick with the big club, could play all four infield positions, hit from the left side and pitch in relief. 

Double-A Amarillo: The Padres could return their two top prospects, Gore and Luis Patiño to the Panhandle. If, as we expect, Taylor Trammell starts the year in center for the Sod Poodles, he’ll be part of a dynamic up-the-middle trio with catcher Luis Campusano and shortstop Gabriel Arias, who both rank among the best in the game at their positions.

High-A Lake Elsinore:  The staff will be anchored by two of the organization’s better young pitchers, lefties Joey Cantillo and Ryan Weathers. Offensively, it should be an interesting mix with infielder Tupupita Marcano and catcher Blake Hunt likely joining some intriguing holdovers from last year’s club in the outfield.

Low-A  Fort Wayne: San Diego should send the three teenagers from the top of last year’s draft out to the Summit City in outfielders Hudson Head and Joshua Mears and uber-prospect Abrams.  Abrams hit .401 in his pro debut in the AZL and joined the TinCaps before an injury ended his season in August. He is considered one of the best athletes in the system.

The Padres will once again feature two AZL teams, and the short-season Tri-City club could be a powerhouse as many of the teenagers from last season could return.

All ages are listed for Opening Day 2020.

1. MacKenzie Gore LHP/Starting Pitcher
Height/Weight: 6-3/195 Age: 21  Bats/Throws: L/L
How Acquired: First Round 2017 draft

Team            W-L     IP      ERA  GS   K/BB     Hits Runs/Earned Runs
Storm             7-1     79.1  1.02   15    110/20     36    9/9
Sod Poodles  2-1     21.2   4.15    5       25/8      20    10/10

Mackenzie Gore may be the best Padres’ pitching prospect ever. Photo: Grant Wickes.

2019 Highlights: MacKenzie Gore, 20, might be the San Diego Padres’ best pitching prospect ever. That’s no guarantee that he will be the best Padres’ pitcher of all-time, but only Andy Benes, who reached the majors 14 months after the Padres drafted him first overall in 1988, might have been a better pitching prospect in the organization. As enjoyable as it was to follow Paddack’s ascent up the minors last year, Gore should be even better.

In the California League, he never allowed more than two runs in any of his 15 starts for Lake Elsinore and blanked his opponent in seven. His 1.02 ERA was the best in the league among pitchers who threw at least 70 innings and his 38% K-rate also paced the league.

Our 2019 pitcher of the year is 6-foot-3, a plus athlete, has a fastball that sits in the mid-90s, a very good changeup to go along with a plus curve and slider. Couple that with an unrivalled work ethic and a solid dose of the “red-ass” when he’s on the mound and he has all the ingredients you can ask for.

Negatives: Blisters on his throwing hand in 2018 caused Gore to miss significant time and not get the repetitions on his breaking pitches that he would have liked, but he experienced no issues with it in 2019.

Projection: He has a chance to be a top of the rotation starter. It’s all there.

MadFriars’ Assessment: Gore will be in San Diego during the year, it’s just a question of when and for how many innings. Last year we believed the organization would keep Paddack in the minors to start the season to ease his workload, but AJ Preller’s group wanted to break camp with the best 25 players. If that holds this spring, Mac could be in San Diego in April.

2. Luis Patiño RHP/Starting Pitcher
Height/Weight: 6/195 Age: 20 Bats/Throws: R/R
How Acquired: 2016 International Free Agent Signee – Colombia

Team            W-L    IP    ERA   GS   K/BB     Hits    Runs/Earned Runs
Storm            6-8     87    2.69   17   113/34      61     30/26
Sod Poodles 0-0     7.2   1.17     2      10/4         8      4/1

Luis Patiño works under the watchful eye of Triple-A pitching coach Pete Zamora during Spring Training. (Photo: David Jay)

2019 Highlights:  Patiño put up fantastic second-half numbers in the California League. Following an electric performance in the All-Star Future’s Game, his numbers were as good as anyone’s. Despite his listed six-foot height, Luis can bring it. His fastball sits in the mid-90s and can approach triple digits. Last year his changeup showed development to become as big a weapon as his slider.

Negatives: There were times early last season that Patiño tried to simply muscle his way through the competition, leading to struggles with command. By the summer though, he was more consistently under control and issued just five walks over his final 30 innings with Lake Elsinore before a late-season promotion.

Projection: As Patiño goes further up the minor league ladder and keeps getting better, the worries about whether he is big enough to be a starter are starting to fade.

MadFriars’ Assessment: He has yet to work 100 innings in any of his three professional seasons and he has more to refine than Gore. While the organization is no doubt anxious to get him to the Majors, discretion may be the better part of valor here. A full season starting in the upper minors with a late-season cameo feels like the best path.

3. CJ Abrams SS
Height/Weight: 6-3/180  Age: 19  Bats/Throws: L/R
How Acquired: First Round 2019 draft

Team              AVG     OBP    SLG    PA    K/BB    Hits    XBH/HR
AZL Padres    .401      .442     .662   156    14/10    57       23/3
TinCaps          .250      .333     .375      9        0/1      2         1/0

Padres prospect CJ Abrams puts in the work at shortstop. (Photo: David Jay)

2019 Highlights:  CJ Abrams had the most speed among the top prospects in the 2019 amateur draft and was possibly the best athlete. However, San Diego’s scouts raved most about his bat-to-ball skills. He also has a frame that promises more lean muscle in the future. That’s a recipe for a player who could develop into an elite offensive performer. 

Although stats from the AZL aren’t especially important, he completely outclassed the pitchers he faced there, collecting far more extra-base hits than strikeouts in his stint in the desert.  As we’ve reported, while Abrams’ future might ultimately be in the outfield, the club will give him every opportunity to show he can make it work at shortstop.

Negatives: Most scouts and minor league pundits don’t believe he will be able to stay at shortstop but believe that he could be a plus defender at either second or in center field.

Projection: Abrams earned an aggressive promotion to Fort Wayne in mid-August, but a shoulder bruise shut him down after just two games. He was fine by the time he reported to instructs and had a full active offseason to prepare for a return to the Summit City. While the Padres have been markedly more conservative advancing position players than they have pitchers, they’ve been willing to push guys on occasion. Abrams is a player who will likely merit the fast timeline. Playing in the Midwest League as a teenager challenges anyone from a warm-weather state, but he is as talented as anyone the Padres have sent to Fort Wayne.

MadFriars’ Assessment: San Diego is going to keep him at shortstop for now. Whether he ends up there at the major league level is a question for a few years down the road. The goal for 2020 is to put him in the place where his talents can shine the brightest.

4. Taylor Trammell CF/LF
Height/Weight: 6-2/215 Age: 22 Bats/Throws: L/L
How Acquired: Trade with Cincinnati Reds and Cleveland Indians for OF Franmil Reyes and LHP Logan Allen

Team                                         AVG    OBP    SLG    PA    K/BB    Hits    XBH/HR
Chattanooga Lookouts (Reds) .236     .349     .336     381    86/54    75      17/6
Sod Poodles                             .229     .316     .381     133     36/13   27       9/4

Taylor Trammell, Padres prospect batting for Amarillo Sod Poodles

Taylor Trammell got off to a slow start in the Padres system. (Photo by John Moore/Amarillo Sod Poodles)

2019 Highlights: Despite plenty of disappointment when the Padres moved fan-favorite Franmil Reyes and potential I-can’t-believe-we-gave-up-on-that-guy, Logan Allen, it’s easy to see why the club was willing to take the risk to land the talented outfielder. Though he was carrying a .236 average in Double-A when San Diego acquired him, Trammell’s walk and strikeout rates were nearly identical to what he posted in his strong 2018 Hi-A performance.

The 35th overall pick in 2016, Trammell rose to the top of prospect lists last winter on the heels of two straight years of well-above-average offensive production in full-season ball and athleticism that allowed evaluators to dream that more power might emerge.

Negatives: A big part of Trammell’s value will hinge on showing he can stay in center, as he doesn’t fit the over-the-fence power profile of an everyday left fielder.

Projection: Despite struggling in Double-A, Trammell remains one of the game’s most enticing prospects. Questions remain about whether his arm can play there, the left-handed Trammell has the speed to make all the plays in center. He has the toolset to be a top-of-the-order hitter and showed enough raw power at 21 years old to dream on, especially if the swing adjustments he made after the deal stick.

MadFriars’ Assessment: Trammell could be bumped up to Triple-A, although it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him in Amarillo to open the season.

5. Luis Campusano Catcher
Height/Weight: 5-10/215  Age: 21  Bats/Throws: R/R
How Acquired: Second Round 2017 Draft

Team    AVG    OBP    SLG    PA    K/BB    Hits    XBH/HR
Storm   .325     .396    .509    487    52/57    137     47/15

Luis Campusano is the Padres top catching prospect going into 2020. Photo: Cherished Memories.

2019 Highlights: The median on-base percentage of big league catchers who logged 300 plate appearances in 2019 was a paltry .313. Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS system already projects a .301 OBP for Campusano if he were thrown into the big leagues in 2020. Fortunately, even the Padres’ notorious willingness to push prospects won’t make that happen. After hitting the ball hard but putting up so-so numbers in Fort Wayne in 2018, Campusano got the ball in the air more often last year and emerged as a true offensive force. He won co-MVP honors in the California League and put up one of the best hitting lines in the Padres’ system.

Defensively, he has come a long way – particularly for a player who didn’t grow up catching. He was lauded by Storm pitchers for his ability to call a game and he could develop into an above-average defensive catcher.

Negatives: Although the Georgia native and baseball lifer has all the tools to be a strong defensive catcher, he’ll need to improve both his receiving and throwing mechanics to actually get there.

Projection: If he can put together all the pieces, he could be part of a wave of stellar big league catchers to hit the Majors in the coming few years.

MadFriars’ Assessment:  He will start the year as the everyday catcher in Amarillo and should be there for the season. If he continues his development on both sides of the ball, he should emerge as one of the top prospects in baseball.

6. Adrian Morejon LHP/Starting Pitcher
Height/Weight: 6/200  Age: 21  Bats/Throws: L/L
How Acquired: 2016 International Free Agent Signee – Cuba

Team              W-L    IP    ERA    GS    K/BB    Hits    Runs/Earned Runs
Sod Poodles   0-4     36    4.25     16      44/15   29      20/17
Padres            0-0       8    10.13     2         9/3    15       9/9

The challenge for Adrian Morejon going forward is to get healthy. Photo: Grant Wickes.

2019 Highlights: Last year we all wrote that Morejon was “1-A” to Gore at the top of the system. The talent is still there, the problem is that he has yet to throw more than 65 innings in any of the three years since signing for the largest amateur bonus ever given out by the Padres. 

In 2019 he continued to battle nagging injuries. He hit the injured list early in the season with a vaguely-described shoulder injury and then spent the rest of his minor league tenure as an “opener” for Amarillo, pitching in two-inning spurts.

When he’s on the mound, Morejon has a mid-90s fastball, a quality curve, a changeup and a filthy knuckle-curve that tumbles out of the strike zone. He has all the components to be a very, very good big league pitcher. The question now is whether he’s content to enjoy the trappings of his successes so far, or he’ll fight to achieve it on the highest stage.

Negatives: It’s all there, right now it’s just a matter of being healthy.

Projection: The obvious concern with Morejon is that he might not be durable enough to be a full-time starter in the big leagues. However, his stuff is good enough that you can dream about him being part of the next great Padres rotation.

MadFriars’ Assessment: Morejon made his debut in the major leagues but only threw eight innings before going down again with a strained shoulder. The Padres significantly beefed up their bullpen this winter and the chance to win the lottery with Morejon is as a starting pitcher.  He should be in the rotation in El Paso where he will need to prove that he can go deep in games.

If he’s healthy, he is as good as anyone on this list, but the question is if he can be healthy.

7. Gabriel Arias Shortstop
Height/Weight: 6-1/205 Age: 20 Bats/Throws: R/R
How Acquired: 2016 International Free Agent Signee – Venezuela

Team    AVG    OBP    SLG    PA    K/BB    Hits    XBH/HR
Storm   .302     .339    .470     511   128/25 144      42/17

Gabriel Arias hitting took a big jump in 2019. Photo: Jerry Espinoza

2019 Highlights: Arias has been one of the best defensive infielders in the Padres’ system since he first came stateside as a 17-year-old. The question has always been with the bat. For the second straight year, his production spiked in the second half of 2019 as Arias posted a .909 OPS and 25 extra-base hits over his final 63 games for the Lake Elsinore Storm.

In both years, the big improvement was cutting down on his strikeout rate.  The added bonus last season was that it translated into more power, with his slugging percentage going from .394 in the first half to .533 in the second.

Negatives: While Arias’ offensive production is encouraging, there are still some signs of concern. Arias’s swinging-strike percentage was 21.5%, which led the California League, although he did make some strides in the second half. His 4.9% walk rate was the second-lowest in the league and his BABIP of .379 was the third-highest in the league.

Projection: Arias is a future big league shortstop. The question is whether he’s a star at the position or a flashy back-up.

MadFriars’ Assessment: With Tatis and Manny Machado locked in on the left side for the foreseeable future, it’s not clear where he could fit with the Padres’ long-term. He will be the everyday shortstop in Amarillo and have to show the improvements in his approach at the plate are real.

8. Joey Cantillo LHP/Starting Pitcher
Height/Weight: 6-5/222  Age: 20  Bats/Throws: L/L
How Acquired: Sixteenth Round 2017 Draft

Team       W-L    IP    ERA    GS    K/BB    Hits    Runs/Earned Runs
TinCaps    9-3    98    1.93     19    128/27   58      24/21
Storm        1-1   13.2  4.61       3     16/7      12        9/7

Joey Cantillo Padres prospect pitches for Lake Elsinore Storm

Joey Cantillo debuted in the Cal League as a 19-year-old. (Photo: Jerry Espinoza)

2019 Highlights: Cantillo put himself on the prospect map with a dazzling season with the TinCaps. He posted a 1.93 ERA in 98 innings to earn a promotion to Lake Elsinore. He’s added velocity, going from sitting in the high-80s to the low-90s with his precise fastball, and a plus changeup. Last season his curveball also improved to serve as a real weapon.

Negatives: To really shine at the highest levels, Cantillo still needs to add a few ticks to his fastball.

Projection: Cantillo, who is closer in age to most 2018 high school draftees than his own classmates, added velocity last year and the most optimistic projections of his future reasonably anticipate another improvement. If he’s able to sit regularly in the 93-94 range, his already above-average change-up will play up even more. If he tops out sitting at 91, he could still profile as a big league starter. Either way, Cantillo’s a sponge for information, a fierce competitor he’s likely to perform at the upper range of what could be expected from players with his skill set.

MadFriars’ Assessment: Cantillo should open the year as the leader of the Storm staff. The Padres and Cantillo believe that with a few more mechanical adjustments he can sit in the mid-90s. If he does, it will make his changeup and curve that much better. He is one of the more relentless workers in the organization both on the physical and mental side of the game.

9. Michael Baez  RHP/Starting Pitcher
Height/Weight: 6-8/225  Age: 23  Bats/Throws: R/R
How Acquired: 2016 International Free Agent Signee – Cuba

Team             W-L    IP    ERA    GS    K/BB    Hits    Runs/Earned Runs
Sod Poodles  3-2     27   3.00       0      38/11    22      9/6
Padres           1-1     29    3.03      0      28/14    25     10/10

Michel Baez pitching for San Diego Padres

Michel Baez and his big fastball debuted for the San Diego Padres in 2019. (Photo: Jorge Salgado)

2019 Highlights: For the second consecutive year, the big righty got underway late in 2019, this time waylaid by a shoulder injury. That followed on back issues the year before. Once he got going in late May, the Cuban hurler, who turned 23 this winter, looked much better in short stints than he did from the rotation in 2018.

He pitched exclusively out of the bullpen for Amarillo, generally pitching two innings at a time. For Amarillo, Baez struck out a third of the batters he faced while pushing his walk rate down into single digits. His contract was purchased by the Padres on July 21st and he spent the rest of the year pitching out of the Padres’ bullpen.

Negatives: His velocity still never found its way back to where he sat in his first full stateside season in 2017, and when he jumped to the big leagues after just two months, the game’s best hitters were often able to wait him out.

Projection: Baez has the tools to be a beast out of the bullpen – though a guy who’s looked as stiff and rigid as he often has might struggle to get loose quickly with frequent use – and his profile doesn’t offer as much to dream on in the rotation as his younger countrymate’s.

MadFriars’ Assessment: As with Morejon, San Diego’s offseason splurge on bullpen arms means there is no need to have Baez open the year in the big leagues. If they send him out to the minors, letting him work in longer stretches out of the rotation or in a hybrid multi-inning opener role makes sense developmentally. He should join his countryman Morejon in anchoring a solid El Paso staff.

10. Ryan Weathers LHP/Starting Pitcher
Height/Weight: 6-1/200  Age: 20  Bats/Throws: L/L
How Acquired: First Round 2018 draft

Team      W-L    IP    ERA    GS    K/BB    Hits    Runs/Earned Runs
TinCaps   3-7    96    4.22     22     90/18    101     45/41

Ryan Weathers had a strong first half in Fort Wayne. Photo: Jeff Nycz)

2019 Highlights: Weathers, the son of former major league pitcher David Weathers and the Padres’ first-round pick in 2018, got off to a red-hot start with the TinCaps before fading in the second half. Despite a 4.42 ERA in the second half, compared to a 3.00 in the first, the organization was happy with the progress of the Tennessee native, who a spring earlier was competing at the lowest rung of his state’s high school ranks. 

The seventh overall pick posted a 3.17 FIP across almost 100 innings as a teenager in full-season ball. Now 20, Weathers has done best in higher profile settings, including two strong innings in the Don Welke Classic. If his velocity is somewhere between what we saw in April and what he had in July for the year, he is going to quickly move his way back up national rankings and get many more opportunities in the spotlight.

When all is going right, Weathers locates his fastball well while throwing a slider that functions as a strikeout pitch. He also has a change-up, but he didn’t need it too often in the Midwest League. 

Negatives: When his fastball only sits 90-91, the lefty struggles to make the rest of his repertoire work. While he came into his first professional camp with better conditioning than he had in high school, he still needs to be in better shape to make the most of his talent.

Projection:  Keith Law told MadFriars that Weathers had the highest floor of any high-ceiling high school picks in the 2018 draft.  With three solid pitches, he has an opportunity to be a middle of the rotation big league starter.

MadFriars’ Assessment: Weathers will inevitably be compared to Gore because they were both high school lefties drafted in the first round. Weathers repertoire isn’t as dominant as Gore’s, but Weathers has the stuff to function as a very good starter with mid-rotation upside or better. If he can consistently keep his velocity in the 93-94 mph range, he could dominate the Cal League this year.

11. Reggie Lawson RHP/Starting Pitcher
Height/Weight: 6-5/210 Age: 22  Bats/Throws: R/R
How Acquired: Second Round 2016 draft

Team           W-L    IP     ERA    GS    K/BB     Hits    Runs/Earned Runs
SodPoodles 3-1     27.2  5.20     6      36/13     28       16/16

Reggie Lawson in action with the Sod Poodles. (Photo: John Moore)

2019 Highlights: If you are looking for a sleeper in the Padres’ system, Reggie is your man. He is blessed with plus stuff. He may have made an appearance in San Diego last summer if not for injuries cutting his season short in Amarillo. Before the big righty underwent PRP therapy and was shut down for the summer, he took a big step forward in his mental preparation for each of his starts, which yielded strong early results. Despite a high walk rate, his 5.20 ERA was more than a run and a half above his xFIP in his six starts.

Lawson features a mid-90s fastball that rides up, a solid curve and as his manager, Phillip Wellman stressed with him, a changeup he needs to trust more which changes the batter’s eye level.

Negatives: He had to shelve his slider after his elbow injury last year, and having it as a weapon that can sit low in the zone is important. Even more key is that Lawson is able to go to the post the way he did in his first two years in the organization.

Projection: The club thought of him as a first-round talent when they drafted him in 2016, and if his changeup continues to develop, he could certainly prove that evaluation right and this ranking will seem low.

MadFriars’ Assessment: Lawson should begin the year with a return to Amarillo where he will be forced to rely on the changeup to keep the ball down in HODGETOWN. If he is fully healthy and his pitches are working, he has too much talent for the minors.

12. Hudson Head  CF
Height/Weight: 6-1/180  Age: 19  Bats/Throws: L/L
How Acquired: Third Round 2019 draft

Team             AVG    OBP    SLG    PA    K/BB    Hits    XBH/HR
AZL Padres   .283    .383     .383    141     29/15    34      10/1

Hudson Head in Spring Training this year with the Padres. (Photo: David Jay)

2019 Highlights: The Padres gave Head three million reasons to forgo a scholarship to the University of Oklahoma, and so far it looks like a good decision for both parties. While he wasn’t widely heralded in publications before the draft and his football commitments limited his national showcase visibility, Head was very much on the Padres’ radar all year. A premium athlete even though he’s not as physically imposing as most top outfield prospects, so far, the early return on that investment is looking good.

Defensively, he played a solid center field and should be able to stick there going forward. Although Head is a true lefthander, as the well-repeated stories about his high school quarterback career say, he is viably ambidextrous.

Negatives: Hanging much significance on AZL numbers is risky. While the organization is excited by his elite bate speed, let’s see what happens in full-season ball.

Projection: Head showed some power to the gaps, an advanced ability to get on base and a sweet, left-handed swing at the plate. He has above-average speed and fits the mold of a guy who will hit at the top of the order. Outside of CJ Abrams, he is the most exciting player the Padres drafted in June.

MadFriars’ Assessment:  It’s hard not to see the Padres starting Head in Fort Wayne to kick off the season but competing in the Midwest League is going to be a far greater challenge than the Big 12 would have been. He’s a good athlete and it will be interesting to see how he used his first pro offseason to add strength and prepare for the grind.

13. Edward Olivares  OF
Height/Weight: 6-2/190  Age: 24  Bats/Throws: R/R
How Acquired:  Trade with Toronto Blue Jays for INF Yangervis Solarte

Team                AVG    OBP    SLG    PA    K/BB    Hits    XBH/HR
Sod Poodles    .283     .349     .453    551    98/43   138     45/18

Amarillo Sod Poodles outfielder Edward Olivares hits a home run against the MidlandRockhounds during the Texas League Playoffs. [Photo by John Moore/Amarillo Sod Poodles]

2019 Highlights: Last season was a coming-out party as Olivares was one of the key components in the Sod Poodles’ Texas League title run. He can play all three outfield positions, but profiles best in right field.

He was a bit streaky in 2019 but he also made strides in his approach at the plate. In his first two months, Olivares hit under .260 with a 23.5% K-rate. Over the next three months, Olivares struck out in just 14.7% of his plate appearances. Despite the reduction in his strikeouts, he still displayed plenty of power and finished seventh in the Texas League in slugging percentage. His 123 wRC+ finished eighth in the league, just behind teammates Luis Torrens and Ivan Castillo.

Olivares also was a menace on the basepaths and finished third in the league with 35 stolen bases. He is a strong defensive outfielder with enough arm for right field, where he played 105 of his 121 games. He can play center but probably profiles best at a corner.

At the end of 2018, then Storm manager  Edwin Rodriguez praised his talent while predicting that once he got stronger you could see this type of performance. Olivares did just that and also improved his approach at the plate to post a .349 on-base percentage, his highest since he was running around the Gulf Coast League.

Negatives: If there is a red flag on Olivares, it would be how his production cratered away from Amarillo. He hit 13 of his 17 homers at HODGETOWN and his OPS was just .697 on the road.

Projection: Olivares improved greatly as a hitter and his increase in contact was encouraging. He may never be a superstar, but Olivares has shown enough with the bat to enter the outfield conversation later in 2020. With changes in the depth chart ahead of him, his right-handed bat is now a plus in his effort to get a shot in the big leagues. He could develop into an everyday outfielder if he reaches his ceiling.

MadFriars’ Assessment: He should be in Triple-A El Paso to begin the year. Olivares has a well-balanced skillset and depending on where Trammell ends up, he could even see more time in center.

14. Owen Miller INF
Height/Weight: 6/190  Age: 23  Bats/Throws: R/R
How Acquired: Third Round 2018 draft

Team              AVG    OBP    SLG    PA    K/BB    Hits    XBH/HR
Sod Poodles  .290     .355    .430     560    86/46   147     43/13

Owen Miller will play a variety of infield positions going forward. Photo: Grant Wickes.

2019 Highlights: Miller was the rare draftee to spend his first full professional season in Double-A after blowing through the lower levels in 2018. Last year with Amarillo he played in the middle of the field and hit in the middle of the lineup. He spent most of the season at shortstop, but profiles better as a second baseman with the ability to play third base. At the plate, he has a loose, handsy swing more geared to producing line drives in the gap than putting the ball over the wall.

His 122 wRC+ was ninth in the Texas League and his strikeout rate was the sixth-lowest. Miller wasn’t a force offensively but was good and consistent. He doesn’t have tremendous range but makes the plays you need him to.

Negatives: As with most of the Sod Poodles, he crushed the ball in HODGETOWN with a .328/.390/.520 slash line but struggled to .255/.323/.346 on the road. He’ll need to show that his swing works against elite velocity.

Projection: Miller’s most likely outcome is as a productive utility infielder. But the bat-to-ball skill is enough that, if the right opportunity presents itself, he could shine. The most optimistic parallel is to fellow Illinois State product Paul DeJong – who slots right between Trea Turner and Carlos Correa for total production among shortstops over the last three years – with slightly better action at shortstop.

MadFriars’ Assessment: Miller should start the year in El Paso and if there is a need could easily be in San Diego to fill a variety of positions. The Padres like his ability to play multiple positions, provide a quality at-bat and his sneaky athleticism.

15. Ronald Bolaños RHP/Starting Pitcher
Height/Weight: 6-3/220  Age: 23  Bats/Throws: R/R
How Acquired: 2016 International Free Agent Signee – Cuba

Team            W-L     IP     ERA     GS    K/BB     Hits    Runs/Earned Runs
Storm            5-2    53.2    2.85     10      54/23      37     13/13
Sod Poodles 8-5    76.2    4.23      13     88/30      71      39/36
Padres          0-2    19.2    5.95        3     19/12      17      24/17

Ronald Bolaños Padres prospect pitches for Amarillo Sod Poodles

Ronald Bolaños showed flashes of dominance in the Texas League. (Photo: Eddie Kelly)

2019 Highlights: Bolaños had a significant uptick to his velocity last season and it earned the 2016 Cuban J2 signee a trip to the big leagues. The Padres credited his more consistent velocity to him understanding how much more effective he is when throwing his fastball with more intent, rather than throwing it at multiple velocities. Statcast registered six different pitch types from the Cuban hurler in his 19.2 innings with the Padres, and Bolaños actually has several others in his back pocket. 

Bolaños’s strikeout rate climbed significantly last year, as he averaged over 10 per nine innings in 15 appearances with the Sod Poodles. However, he also issued too many walks and hit 10 batters in 76.2 Double-A innings, so he will need to avoid self-inflicted damage to be successful at the next level. He did do a good job of limiting the long ball, which is why he was able to post a solid 3.75 FIP.

Negatives: He’s going to have to lower his walk rate going forward but still asserted himself with a very strong year.

Projection: The righty throws a pretty good curveball that can dance to the plate in the low-70s and a changeup. While neither pitch has shown to be elite, his curveball is his best secondary. He could use a little more refinement in the minors but there’s no reason why Bolaños can’t develop into a viable starter.

MadFriars’ Assessment: Bolaños will probably land with the Chihuahuas to open the year, but he’ll be in line to join the big league staff at some point in the year.

16. Hudson Potts  3B
Height/Weight: 6-3/220  Age: 21 Bats/Throws: R/R
How Acquired: First round 2016 draft

Team              AVG    OBP    SLG    PA    K/BB    Hits   XBH/HR
Sod Poodles .227      .290     .406    448   128/32   93     40/16

Hudson Potts struggled in the Texas League in 2019. Photo: Eddie Kelly.

2019 Highlights: Hudson Potts was essentially the age of a high school junior when he was drafted, a high school senior in the Midwest League and a college freshman in the California League. In 2019, he was one of the youngest players in the Texas League and the competition caught up with him.

His numbers picked up a little in the second half, but after 128 strikeouts in 441 plate appearances, he must improve his bat-to-ball skills, especially against velocity. Defensively, the former middle infielder continued to improve at third base and also saw time at second.

Negatives: While Potts improved on the 37% strikeout rate he posted in 22 games with the Missions in 2018, it still hovered at a 28.6% clip this year. His walk rate was about average, but he definitely needs to be more selective at the plate.

Projection: With Manny Machado entrenched at third base, the organization has tried Potts at second but that’s probably not a realistic option going forward. He’s a decent fielder at third but probably will never be a strong defender. The pop in his bat is real, and if he could cut down on the strikeouts (28.6% rate in his career), he’d offer an intriguing corner option. The right-handed slugger will need a second go-around in the Texas League, where he’ll still be among the youngest players on the circuit because the Padres have been very aggressive with his placements.

MadFriars’ Assessment: The Padres will send Potts back to the Panhandle and the 21-year old will seek to make the adjustments to put up the numbers he showed he’s capable of in the Cal League in 2018. People in and outside the organization believe in the bat.

17. Tucupita Marcano  INF
Height/Weight: 6-0/170  Age: 20  Bats/Throws: L/R
How Acquired: 2016 International Free Agent Signee – Venezuela

Team      AVG    OBP    SLG    PA    K/BB    Hits    XBH/HR
TinCaps .270    .323      .337    504    45/35   124     24/2

Tucupita Marcano was the most versatile infielder on the TinCaps. Photo: jeff Nycz.

2019 Highlights: After a huge year in the short-season leagues in 2018, Marcano slowed down a little in Fort Wayne but still showed many of the raw tools that excited the organization previously. He shows a smooth, quick left-handed swing and the ability to play several positions in the infield. 

Negatives: His listed weight of 170 seems remarkably generous, and he simply doesn’t impact the ball on his frequent contact. Marcano hit just two homers and his ISO of .067 was the fifth-lowest among Midwest League hitters who qualified for the batting title and he scuffled in the second half, posting a .641 OPS. Even though he was often physically outmatched, the Venezuelan named for his father’s hometown was nearly a league-average hitter as a teenager for Fort Wayne last season.

Projection: His best position defensively going forward is probably either second or third base, but he is a capable shortstop. If he can add some strength to his narrow frame, his bat control and already solid defense on the left side of the infield could make him a threat on both sides of the game. 

MadFriars’ Assessment:  Marcano will be in the everyday lineup in Lake Elsinore somewhere in the infield. If he comes into the 2020 campaign with more muscle on his frame, his elite bat-to-ball skill could translate into strong offensive production.

18. Tirso Ornelas OF
Height/Weight: 6-4/220  Age: 20  Bats/Throws: L/R
How Acquired: 2016 International Free Agent Signee – Mexico

Team    AVG    OBP    SLG    PA    K/BB    Hits   XBH/HR
Storm   .220    .309     .292     379    91/44   73     17/1

Tirso Ornelas still has one of the higher ceilings n the Padres’ organization. Photo: Jerry Espinoza

2019 Highlights: There’s no way around it; the 2019 season was a disaster for the Tijuana native. After making loud contact through his first two professional seasons, Ornelas got beat by fastballs, breaking balls, strikes and balls through the first half of the 2019 campaign. He pulled off balls and rolled over a ton of weak grounders. And yet… after a month reworking his swing in the desert, he finished the year with a solid August, striking out in just 12% of his plate appearances and looking more comfortable at the plate. Even in the throes of his disastrous campaign, he kept his walk rate in double digits, and he won’t turn 20 until next week.

Negatives: From the outside, it seemed that Ornelas had some issues with his mechanics. After limping through the Cal League, the organization sent him all the way back to the Arizona League, where he took 200 swings a day trying to remedy his offensive game.  After he returned to the Cal League, over 16 games in August, Ornelas hit .308/.357/.431 with five walks, five extra-base hits and only seven strikeouts and he and put together a five-game hitting streak in the Cal League playoffs.  By contrast, in 71 games before the demotion, Ornelas had only 12 extra-base hits and struck out 82 times.

Projection: Ornelas still has a good approach at the plate and walked in nearly 11.6% of his plate appearances. The outfielder is still young and even repeating, he will be younger than much of his competition this year. While there should be some concern in Ornelas’ development, he still has the tools to deliver on the potential he showed previously.

MadFriars’ Assessment: Ornelas should return to a crowded outfield competition in Elsinore to open the year. His ability to maintain the swing changes he made last summer will define his trajectory from there.

19. Joshua Mears OF
Height/Weight: 6-3/241  Age: 19  Bats/Throws: R/R
How Acquired: Second Round 2019 Draft

Team            AVG    OBP    SLG    PA    K/BB   Hits   XBH/HR
AZL Padres .253     .354     .440    195    59/23   42      14/7

Josh Mears cuts an imposing figure in the batter’s box. (Photo: David Jay)

2019 Highlights: While the slugger from the Pacific Northwest is undeniably already big, he’s got plenty of athleticism on his XXL frame. Mears has premium raw power though his swing path can get long, leading to strikeouts in a third of his AZL plate appearances. Slight mechanical refinements should help him cut his strikeout rate and make him a candidate for one of the higher ISO rates in the system. 

Negatives: There’s some reason to be concerned about how his body will develop over the next few years, but more than one scout talked about his quiet competitiveness being a driver of his success.

Projection: While he struck out in over a third of his plate appearances in the desert, he showed the ability to make adjustments in both approach and swing mechanics, a positive indicator for the future.

MadFriars’ Assessment: It wouldn’t be at all unreasonable to have Mears spend the spring at the complex and then head up to Tri-City this summer. But while the organization talks about each player being an individual, they’ve also sent every high school position player drafted as early as Mears straight to Fort Wayne the following spring. The outfield at the Single-A clubs will be an especially crowded competition, but we’ll lay odds Mears will be enjoying the beautiful winter wonderland of Fort Wayne in April.

20. Blake Hunt  C
Height/Weight: 6-4/230  Age: 21  Bats/Throws: R/R
How Acquired: Second Round 2017 Draft

Team       AVG     OBP    SLG    PA    K/BB    Hits    XBH/HR
TinCaps  .255      .331     .381    376   67/35    85       29/5

Blake Hunt was one of the TinCaps hottest hitters in the second half. Photo: Jeff Nycz.

2019 Highlights:  Like Campusano, Hunt was a late-rising catcher the Padres drafted early in 2017. Unlike Campusano, he didn’t reach full-season ball until 2019.

Playing as a 20-year-old in the Midwest League, Hunt worked through a rough start to the year before putting together a strong summer. Despite a mediocre statline in April and May, in the second half of the Midwest League, the Southern Californian showed the offensive production the Padres have always thought him capable of. Hunt produced a .291/.356/.426 slash line in the second half while making significant gains as a catcher, both in his receiving and blocking abilities and in his game-planning. He had just five passed balls behind the plate and showed the ability to smother pitches in the dirt to help out the pitching staff and threw out 33% of opposing base stealers.

Negatives: The Orange County native is already near the upper range of catchers’ size, so there are some risks about his long-term ability to stay behind the plate. So far though, he’s shown the work ethic to serve as a strong receiver.

Projection: Hunt will work on getting his offensive game caught up in 2020. Now 21, he lowered his strikeout rate from 22.9% in 2018 to 17.8% in 2019 while flashing some gap power. He has a ways to go, but Hunt has put up above-league average offense over the last two years during a promising start to his professional career.

MadFriars’ Assessment: As good as Hunt was in the second half, he would be the first to tell you that he is capable of more. Hunt is a good athlete for his size and constantly looking for ways to improve. An easy bet for the upcoming season is to expect a significant increase on the five home runs that Hunt hit in Fort Wayne as he transitions to the more friendly hitting environment of the Diamond in Lake Elsinore.

 

The MadFriars staff of John Conniff, David Jay, Kevin Charity, Ben Davey, and Marcus Pond compiled the list.

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Posted by John Conniff

John grew up in Poway and has written for MadFriars since 2004. He has written articles for Baseball America, FoxSports San Diego, the El Paso Times, San Antonio Express-News, Amarillo Globe-News, Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette and Pacific Daily News in addition to appearing on numerous radio programs and podcasts. He can also break down the best places to eat for all five of the affiliates. There is no best place to eat in Peoria, Arizona.

2 Comments

  1. […] 2019 draft brought in CJ Abrams, Hudson Head and Joshua Mears, who all found a place in our MadFriars Top 20 Prospects list. Beyond that, Jorge Oña improved his stock despite missing most of the season with a shoulder […]

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  2. […] a month ago, we published our first coverage from Peoria as minor league minicamp opened. Our Top 20 prospects list went live at the start of March. Four of us were scheduled to be at Spring Training this week […]

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