On Tuesday afternoon, the Padres purchased the contract of right-handed pitcher Luis Patiño, capping off his meteoric rise through the San Diego system, as he is on the verge of making his major league debut.
In 2016, the Padres signed 54 international free agents, including 10 players to seven-figure bonuses; Patiño was not one of them. The Colombian-born hurler was a converted shortstop but the Padres saw enough projection in his arm to sign him for $130,000.
What to expect on the mound
Coming into the 2020 season, Patiño ranked as the number two prospect in our preseason top-20 list. He featured three pitches: a fastball that can sits in the mid-90s but can touch the upper-90’s. He touched 99 mph in a couple of starts in Lake Elsinore last May and was routinely clocked in the high 90’s during his appearances in the SiriusXM All-Star Future’s Game. His slider is his best off-speed pitch and it is his best off-speed weapon. He also showed improvement in his changeup and it can be a real weapon for him, especially if he is used as a starter.
He struggled early last season with command but improved dramatically during the second half of the season. He has yet to throw 100 innings in a professional season but with an abbreviated big league season, that shouldn’t be a factor — at least this year.
From the beginning
He made his professional debut in 2017, pitching in four games for the DSL Padres before finishing the season stateside in the AZL, where he pitched to a 2.48 ERA in nine games (eight starts).
“Going back to last summer, we were very excited about [Patiño],” said Padres director of development Sam Geaney in a 2017 interview with MadFriars’ John Conniff. “He’s an athletic six foot one, has four very strong pitches and can get his fastball up to 95. In a way, he’s like MacKenzie [Gore] in that both are two of the more athletic pitchers that we have at the complex this summer.
Patiño broke out in 2018 while pitching in Fort Wayne. He made his season debut on May 10 and earned the win by allowing just one earned run in five innings. His fastball touched 96 mph in that start and flashed his slider that has racked up strikeouts at every level he has pitched at. Among Midwest League pitchers who threw at least 80 innings, Patiño led the league in K% (29.7%), K-BB% (22.4%) and WHIP (1.07). His swinging-strike percentage was second in the league at 16%.
“Luis was a guy who, not to say we are shocked by this because he’s a very talented guy who Chris [Kemp] and scouts loved,” Geaney told us in 2018. But he was 5-foot-9, 5-foot-10, 150 pounds when he signed out of Colombia, probably throwing 86-88 MPH.
“He’s probably added 35-40 pounds of good weight [since then], and he’s probably added 10 MPH in a very brief time. You can’t predict these things, but you can put in programs that are good for everyone and that are specific to him. A huge part of this is the kid.”
“Luis Patiño is one of the most charismatic players to come through Parkview Field,” said TinCaps broadcaster John Nolan, as part of our MadFriars Announcer Series in 2018. “His dominance was displayed in a joyful fashion. His personality shines whether he’s on the mound, in the dugout, or away from the field. In fact, watching him and his interactions with teammates in the dugout could be as entertaining as the game itself at times.”
Last season, Patiño opened the season in the Lake Elsinore rotation, pitching behind top prospect MacKenzie Gore. The righty pitched well in his first start but struggled mightily with his command in his next two outings, walking eight in four innings. Patiño was unfazed and quickly made an adjustment.
“I looked at the video and saw what I did badly,” said Patiño after an April start last year in which he threw five strong innings.
“When I attack the zone early, I have a [better] chance for a strikeout or early contact. So I have worked on these things [and have tried] to not throw a perfect pitch.”
After those two poor starts, Patiño walked two or less in nine consecutive starts but was somehow left off the Cal League all-star team, despite a 2.92 ERA at the break. Patiño did make an impression on the biggest stage in minor league baseball.
Patiño pitched in the 2019 SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game where he struck out two batters in the seventh inning to thwart a rally. He came back into the game in the eighth and retired the side, including a strikeout of Angels’ prospect Jo Adell, who was also promoted on Tuesday.
That performance helped propel his prospect status and his performance continued to back that up. He pitched to a 1.19 ERA in four July starts, which culminated in Patiño throwing 8.1 shutout innings against San Jose, where he struck out nine batters without a walk.
“His ability to control and limit big innings, I thought was huge for Luis,” said former Padres Director of Player Development Ben Sestanovich (now the assistant GM in Atlanta) in our level wrap-ups in late 2019. Also, the development of his changeup was a big step forward. But to me, the biggest step was the improvement in his mental approach of not letting the game speed up with traffic on the bases.”
Patiño was promoted to Double-A Amarillo on August 7 and made a couple of starts before being shut down for the season. Between the two levels, Patiño threw a career-high 94.2 innings, racking up 123 strikeouts to go with a 2.57 ERA.
The excellent results in 2019 led to a big league invitation for Patiño, although he was a long shot to make the big league roster. He was likely ticketed for a return to Double-A Amarillo. Then COVID-19 shut down baseball and players were left to train on their own as all baseball activities ceased.
Handling the shutdown
During Summer Camp, Patiño pitched as a starter, getting extra reps against big league hitters — an experience that he was able to take a lot away from.
“It was a really good experience,” said Patiño through an interpreter during a media Zoom call on Tuesday afternoon. That taught me a lot. Like I said before, the help that I received from [Jose] Quintana during the baseball shut down — we had nothing really going on when I went to work with him. That was really big for me. Learning from him, understanding how to pitch in the big leagues, and against big leaguers really helped prepare me.”
“When I came to summer camp, I felt better and more prepared to enter that environment and at the same time there were a lot of little things that weren’t necessarily on my mind at the time or things that I didn’t think were important when I got here and then you realize that these are the small details and the small things that make you or separate you at that level. It was a really good experience, it taught me a lot and I was able to work on all of those little things and I honestly feel ready. I feel like I have learned those lessons and done those things and it’s just a matter of putting them into practice.”
For now, Patiño is expected to help the bullpen that has struggled more than anticipated. The role will be a change of pace for the hard-throwing righty but he is ready to step in and fill any role that he can.
“I have very little experience pitching out of the bullpen but at the same time during summer camp and during my time with the taxi squad, I knew that my chance might come first out of the bullpen. During all these games I was pitched with the taxi squad, that was my mentality. I was starting in those games but I also tried to have a reliever’s mentality. Attacking [hitters], trying to finish the innings as quickly as possible, making good pitches, and trying to be on the aggressive side as much as possible and attack from the get-go.”