The San Diego Padres’ farm system took a bit of a hit going into 2020, as players like Fernando Tatis Jr., Chris Paddack, and Francisco Mejía have exceeded prospect eligibility. However, the organization still has plenty of talent at the top and while the depth isn’t what it once was, there are plenty of interesting players throughout the system.
The 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 injury, and Ronald Bolaños added fastball velocity to reach the big leagues.
After looking at some sleeper hitters yesterday, we look deeper at pitchers who have some upside and promise. All the pitchers listed have a chance to eventually contribute in the big leagues even though they didn’t receive a vote in any of our individual Top 30 lists.
Potential Starting Pitchers
(Luarbert Arias, Pedro Avila, Efrain Contreras, Omar Cruz, Anderson Espinoza, Osvaldo Hernandez, Gabriel Morales, and Bodi Rason all received at least one Top 30 vote, so none are eligible here.)
RHP Elliot Ashbeck — At 26, Ashbeck is the oldest player on this list but he has generally been productive throughout his minor league career. Ashbeck had Tommy John surgery back in 2016 but has stayed healthy since then. The former Bradley hurler bounced back and forth between the bullpen and rotation for Lake Elsinore, excelling in whatever role he was handed. On June 15, Ashbeck struck out 15 batters in a game against Rancho Cucamonga, without walking a batter. Ashbeck may not have the upside as some of the guys on the list, given his age, but he is a versatile arm that could help out a major league team in 2020.
LHP Ethan Elliott — Elliott, 22, signed for just $5,000 after the Padres selected him as a senior in the tenth round last June. While the entire Tri-City staff was on an innings management plan, it was especially understandable for Elliott, who averaged nearly seven innings per start and threw 34.1 innings over his final four outings at Lincoln Memorial University. The lefty showed enough in that limited sample to get an invite to minicamp to start the spring. Elliott carved up the Northwest League, pitching to a 1.77 ERA in 35.2 innings. More impressively, Elliott walked just four batters all year while striking out 38 and allowed just one run in his final 22 innings. The lanky lefty, who could was a participant in this winter’s strength and conditioning camps in Peoria, had topped out in the low-90s, but his ability to throw strikes should serve him well if added strength translates into improved velocity.
RHP Carlos Guarate — The Padres bet on the rail-thin righty with a whippy fast arm during the 2017 international free agency period. Guarate hasn’t added much weight to his still-projectable frame as he approaches his 19th birthday, but the righty nonetheless impressed in his stateside debut last season. While his fastball still lives in the low-90s, there’s optimism that once he fills out, he’ll be a power arm who can draw on the pitchability he already demonstrated on his way to a 2.22 ERA in the AZL last year. His work was enough to get a late-season cameo with Fort Wayne, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him open the 2020 season there.
RHP Reiss Knehr — Knehr started the season in extended spring training, eventually finding his way into the Lake Elsinore rotation at the end of May. The righty showed a mid-90s fastball and touched 98 mph several times during the Cal League Championship Series. The former Fordham Ram struck out 10 batters twice for the Storm, including a July outing against Modesto where he threw eight shutout innings. Knehr pitched in the Arizona Fall League and struggled with his command but still managed to average better than a strikeout per inning. The righty struggled on the road in 2019, pitching to a ghastly 9.19 ERA away from The Diamond, which included a disastrous start in Stockton (8 ER in 1 IP) and a pair of clunkers in Lancaster. At home, Knehr pitched to a sub-2.00 ERA. Eventually, he may be ticketed for the bullpen but the New York native is another terrific arm that the organization found on day three of the MLB Draft.
High leverage relievers
(David Bednar, Javier Guerra, and Henry Henry appeared on top 30 lists.)
RHP Steven Wilson — Wilson, an eighth-rounder in 2018 took an unusual path to professional baseball. Thanks to Tommy John surgery late in his college career, Wilson was drafted as a rare six-year senior. The righty broke out in the Cal League in first half last season with 43 strikeouts in 29 innings while walking just four, all while pitching to a 0.93 ERA/2.21 FIP. That earned him a June promotion to El Paso where his walk rate jumped (22 walks in 35 innings) but he still managed to average more than a punchout per inning. He uses a fastball that touches 96 mph in addition to a very good cutter and a slider. The former Santa Clara star is in big league camp with the Padres but does not figure to make the club. He will provide the Padres with a very good option in Triple-A if there are any injuries.
RHP Evan Miller — Miller, 24, was a 22nd-rounder back in 2016. He was eligible for the Rule 5 draft this past winter, but the Padres lucked out on retaining his services. Like Wilson, Miller opened 2019 in the Lake Elsinore bullpen and served as their de-facto closer. Miller allowed just 11 hits in 31.1 innings — holding opposing batters to a .121 average while racking up 10 saves. He earned a promotion to Amarillo, where he pitched to a 4.39 ERA, although his 3.49 FIP indicates he was a bit unlucky. He finished the season in El Paso, where he struggled in four outings. The righty mostly sits between 91-93 mph with his fastball and flashed a good curve. Like Wilson, he is in big league camp this spring and should give the Chihuahuas another good arm in the ‘pen.
RHP Mason Fox — As of February, 2018, Mason Fox was an outfielder at Gardner-Webb University who had not pitched a game in his career. Could he envision a trajectory that would carry him to High-A while allowing just three earned runs over 32.2 innings at three levels in 2019? “No chance, wouldn’t have believed you!” Eight pitching appearances in his junior year were enough for the Padres – who have drafted several other late conversions in recent years – to take a chance on him in the 21st round in 2018. “It’s been about finding that routine. As a hitter, I had my routine. … When I moved over to the pitching side, I had to find it.” Whatever routine he’s found is working for the 23-year-old. After staying back in extended last spring, he blew through Tri-City and Fort Wayne and finished the year working high leverage innings in Lake Elsinore’s run to the Cal League Championship Series. Along the way, he struck out 56 batters in 32.2 frames. Fox can pump the fastball up into the high-90s with ease. Fox should be in the Lake Elsinore bullpen to start the year but with a good spring, he could slide into the Amarillo bullpen.
RHP Jordan Guerrero — Guerrero, a sixth-rounder in 2015, was part of A.J. Preller’s first draft as the Padres general manager. While his ascent through the system hasn’t been rapid by any means, he has a chance to contribute in the upper levels this season. The hard-throwing righty might have the largest body in the system. Listed at six-foot-five and 296 pounds, the Sarasota, Florida native throws a fastball – which generally sits in the upper-90s and has been clocked at 100 mph – worthy of his stature. Guerrero pitched to a 1.62 ERA in the second half with Lake Elsinore and struck out 38 batters in 31.1 innings. He finished the year pitching for Amarillo in the Texas League playoffs and should be back in the Texas Panhandle at the start of the 2020 season.