Any way you look at it, 2020 was a bad year. For MadFriars, it was the first time in 17 seasons we didn’t have minor league baseball to cover – an admittedly very small and insignificant problem in the greater scope of things. With the exception of minor tidbits on the draft and a few interviews, it was a lost year.
One of the few positives from baseball’s truncated 60-game schedule was that the promise of the Padres’ farm system finally bore fruit at the major league level. San Diego was a very good club for most of 2020, and many would argue that after the Dodgers, they were the class of the National League.
Yes, the Padres did pay $300 million for Manny Machado in 2019, and $144 million for Eric Hosmer the year before, but the team was largely built from within with players like superstar Fernando Tatis, Jr. and Dinelson Lamet, and the use of prospects within the deep San Diego system to trade for starters like Trent Grisham, Jake Cronenworth, and Zach Davies.
Mid-season, General Manager AJ Preller once again used his deep farm system to acquire premium starting pitcher Mike Clevenger and filled a big hole at catcher with Aaron Nola. Seven players in the MadFriars Top 20 from 2020 were traded, and players like Taylor Trammell and Gabriel Arias will likely be listed among the top 100 prospects in all of baseball.
Preller, now focused primarily on his big league roster, struck again this week, trading Luis Patiño, Cole Wilcox, Blake Hunt – each of whom was slated to land in the upper half of this list – and one-time Top 100 prospect Francisco Mejia to land Cy Young Award winner and presumed club ace, Blake Snell. Then hours later, Yu Darvish became the presumed club ace when Preller sent Davies and four more young prospects from the lowest levels of the organization to Chicago to bring the righty and his personal catcher into the organization. While Reggie Preciado, Yeison Santana, Owen Caissie, and Ismael Mena are all intriguing talents, three are unlikely to see full-season baseball until 2022.
Even with all the talent sent out, San Diego’s system still includes star-level talent at the top and a variety of intriguing players waiting in the wings. The club still retains MacKenzie Gore, CJ Abrams and Luis Campusano, and the loss of Wilcox and Caissie was possible because their creative approach to the draft still allowed them to come away with two other The Athletic’s Keith Law had as first-round talents in Robert Hassell III and Justin Lange.
The coming season will feature major changes in how the minor leagues will be run. From a Padres perspective, the club’s Double-A affiliate will move back to San Antonio after a year in the Texas Panhandle. The two Single-A affiliates will swap levels as Fort Wayne and the Midwest League move up to High-A, while Lake Elsinore and their Cal League opponents downgrade to Low-A. With MLB doing away with short-season leagues, the Padres also lose their Tri-City affiliate – though Pasco is included in a new High-A league with the Los Angeles Angels.
While leaving behind a new ballpark with first-class facilities in Amarillo for San Antonio’s aging Nelson Wolff Stadium has its drawbacks, the Alamo City provides a much fairer environment to develop and evaluate talent than the supercharged offensive environment of the Panhandle.
2021 Top 25 at a Glance
Our Process: Most years, each MadFriars contributor publishes their own individual Top 30 list before we come settle on a consensus Top 20. Because we have no first-hand coverage to draw on in the wake of COVID, we opted to skip past the individual lists and simply do one consolidated list for the site this winter. Then, AJ Preller decided to add a degree of difficulty by trading away seven players from our list in the 24 hours before we planned to publish. So, we shifted again and offer you our first – and probably only – MadFriars Top 25 list.
Players not on the 2020 Top 20: OF Robert Hassell III, INF Ha-Seong Kim, OF Jorge Oña, RHP Anderson Espinoza, LHP Luarbert Arias, RHP Gabriel Morales, INF Jordy Barley, LHP Osvaldo Hernandez, RHP Efrain Contreras, LHP Jagger Haynes, RHP Mason Thompson, INF Justin Lopez, OF/INF Esteury Ruiz, RHP Pedro Avila, and RHP Brayan Medina.
Traded: RHP Luis Patiño, OF Taylor Trammell, SS Gabriel Arias, LHP Joey Cantillo, OF Edward Olivares, INF Owen Miller, RHP Ronald Bolaños, 3B Hudson Potts and C Blake Hunt.
Synopsis: The biggest immediate strength of the system is the pitching, with two lefty starters among the top five prospects. CJ Abrams and Luis Campusano are potential up-the-middle stars, but the system has a lot of outfield depth with five in the top twenty.
Best Places to See Prospects
After most players missed a year of development – and even those who were at the Alternate Site got a very different level of exposure – projecting rosters is more difficult than typical. That said, here are some names to watch for at each level in 2021.
El Paso (Triple-A): There is a decent chance that Chihuahuas fans could see the Padres’ top prospects MacKenzie Gore and Luis Campusano for at least a while when the team returns to Southwest Park this spring. There is also a good chance that Jorge Oña could be roaming around left field as well.
Because trades have thinned the organization of much of its upper-level depth, look for San Diego to supplement the roster with more minor league free agents than in 2019.
San Antonio (Double-A): After a two-year absence the Padres return to the pitching-friendly confines of Nelson Wolff Stadium, which for every pitcher in the system will be the gift that keeps on giving. Double-A seems like a potential place for lefty Ryan Weathers, who hadn’t pitched above Low-A before coming into his playoff appearance, to open the year. Tucupita Marcano and Eguy Rosario will be regulars in the infield. After he finishes his Tommy John surgery rehab, Reggie Lawson should spend the second half of the season with the Missions.
Fort Wayne (High-A): CJ Abrams, who spent the entirety of 2020 at the Padres’ alternate site on campus at USD, could headline the first incarnation of Fort Wayne’s High-A roster, though the Padres’ penchant for aggressive promotions might make that a short-lived stay. There will be a group of familiar faces in the Summit City, including Efrain Contreras and Justin Lopez. How Tirso Ornelas looks – both in recovering from a broken bone and with his reworked swing – in spring training will determine whether he returns to High-A.
Lake Elsinore (Low-A): While the move to Low-A is step down the ladder for Lake Elsinore, they should field a very talented roster. Hudson Head, Robert Hassell, and Josh Mears could headline a high-profile outfield, though with Cristian Heredia and Angel Solarte in the mix, Head could conceivably be pushed higher for his first full season of games. The organization will have a bevy of young arms to mix between the two single-A affiliates, though Luarbert Arias, Carlos Guarate and Jesus Gonzalez are all interesting young options who could fill the rotation.
1. MacKenzie Gore, LHP/Starting Pitcher
Height/Weight: 6-3/195 Age: 21 Bats/Throws: L/L
Acquired: 2017 Draft, First Round (Third overall)
2020 Highlights: Gore spent the summer in the Padres’ 60-man player pool at the University of San Diego. Like everyone who didn’t reach the big leagues, he did not have any official stats.
If you had said that Luis Patiño and Ryan Weathers would make their big league debuts before MacKenzie Gore, we would have questioned your sanity or assumed there was a catastrophic injury. Gore didn’t get hurt, but that’s exactly what happened. 2020, man.
The game’s consensus top left-handed pitching prospect spent the entire 2020 season at the Padres’ alternate site. He was at least in the discussion for a big league promotion a few different times and the organization brought him into the postseason bubble in Arlington, but he was never activated. So, should Padres’ fans be worried about the prized left-hander? The Padres don’t think so.
We heard conflicting reports on the specific mechanical issues Gore worked on throughout the summer. Whether it was his stride foot, back leg, or something else, he reportedly turned a corner in September when he threw bullpens at Petco Park. While he didn’t have the benefit of going through a traditional minor league season, he was able to face the top prospects in the Padres’ system and former big leaguer Yonder Alonso was brought in specifically to provide a difficult veteran match-up.
When we last saw Gore compete in 2019, he thoroughly dominated the Cal League and – one poor start notwithstanding – pitched well in Amarillo. He features a mid-90s fastball, a changeup, along with a plus curve and a slider. In the Cal League, Gore could easily pitched off his fastball and generally only needed one of his offspeed pitches to dominate the competition. With the 2019 Storm, he never allowed more than two runs in any of his 15 starts, and his 1.02 ERA and 38% K-rate led the league.
Weaknesses: Gore threw 101 innings in 2019 and obviously came nowhere close to throwing that many last summer, so it remains to see how he will be utilized should the 2021 season run 162 games. Without a regular year of development, it’s difficult to gauge where Gore stands. Despite others getting opportunities first, Gore is still the best prospect in the system.
Projection: We still believe Gore can be a legitimate, top-of-the-rotation starter. He features four pitches, all of which have the potential to be above average, shows the athleticism to repeat his delivery, and the work ethic to make adjustments. He is still arguably the top pitching prospect in all of baseball.
MadFriars’ Assessment: None of us predicted a global pandemic so, we will give ourselves a pass on the prediction that Gore would log significant big league innings in 2020. Gore will come into the 2021 season with every chance to crack the Padres’ big league rotation. Whether or not he can pitch all season is anyone’s guess. (Kevin Charity)
2. CJ Abrams, Shortstop
Height/Weight: 6-3/180 Age: 20 Bats/Throws: L/R
Acquired: 2019 Draft, First Round (Sixth overall)
2020 Highlights: The 20-year-old Georgia native spent the summer in the Padres’ 60-man player pool working out with the top prospects in the system. The pandemic may have slowed down the timeline, but Abrams’ skill set could lead to him emerging as one of the top prospects in all of baseball in 2021.
Abrams started his professional career in the Arizona League with a 20-game hit streak which included 14 multi-hit games. His 9% K-rate was the lowest in the league and his 189 wRC+ was second in the circuit. He earned a late-season promotion to Fort Wayne but only had nine plate appearances before suffering a minor shoulder injury.
Abrams reported to Peoria early for minicamp last February and appeared ready for a big campaign. Instead, he spent the summer at USD, where his performance was, predictably, a bit inconsistent. The left-handed batter played in the Padres’ instructional league this fall and continued to draw rave reviews. He is the most talented position player in the system.
Negatives: At this point, it’s experience. In a normal season, Abrams may have played in High-A this season, with an eye on going to Double-A as a 20-year-old 2021. That path may still be attainable but the lost season doesn’t help a player who was poised to enter his first full professional season.
There is some concern about where Abrams will play once he makes it to the big leagues. The team will give him every opportunity to play shortstop but he may be better suited for second base or perhaps center field. Even if his arm were to work at shortstop, the Padres currently have someone they kind of like on the position.
Projection: Abrams possesses plus contact skills and found the gaps frequently in Arizona, where his plus-plus speed wreaked havoc. He has a chance to put on a little muscle and could hit 15-20 homers. With his contact ability and speed, he has a chance to be an all-star level player. The organization will push Abrams and it wouldn’t be shocking to see him in San Diego by late 2022.
MadFriars’ Assessment: The club will have to decide whether the environment at USD was enough to prepare Abrams for High-A, or if he will begin the year as part of Lake Elsinore’s first Low-A roster. The team has considerable infield depth at the big league level but if Abrams shows that his bat plays at a higher level, he will give the team a lot of flexibility going into 2022. (KC)
3. Ha-Seong Kim, Infield
Height/Weight: 5-9/165 Age: 25 Bats/Throws: R/R
Acquired: 2020 Free Agent
2020 Highlights: While the level of competition in the KBO roughly somewhere between the Double-A and Triple-A level, Kim has impressed ever since his debut as a teenager in 2014. he is considered a Top 100 prospect by both FanGraphs and Baseball America, and BA had him as the top player in Korea for this season. A natural shortstop, he has the ability to play all around the infield and offer both pop at the plate, and speed on the bases. Once an offensive haven, the KBO has made adjustments to the ball over the last few years to reduce hitters’ video game numbers. Even so, Kim has improved his production significantly as he began to come into the peak years of his mid-20s.
Negatives: Kim sometimes sells out to get to his power, doing most of his damage to the pull side. There is some risk that, against velocity he’s rarely seen before, he’ll need to rework that approach. Kim has often been the best athlete on the field in the past, and could be pushed adjusting to the big leagues.
Projection: The Padres appear more focused on getting Kim’s talent than having a concrete plan for where he’ll play in 2021. He can play anywhere on the infield, providing insurance in case of an injury to either of the superstars on the left side of the infield or the DH comes to the National League, and pairing as a righty complement to leverage Jake Cronenworth’s versatility. If Kim can match Dan Szymborski’s translated version of his 2020 KBO stats, he’ll be another premium offensive contributor in a lineup that just keeps getting deeper.
MadFriars’ Assessment: While there could be an adjustment period, the Padres landed a big-league ready player who still hasn’t reached his prime years. Kim adds to a core of reasonably-priced, high-ceiling options that extend the Padres’ window of contention. (John Conniff)
4. Luis Campusano, Catcher
Height/Weight: 5-10/215 Age: 22 Bats/Throws: R/R
Acquired: 2017 Draft, Second Round
2020 Highlights: The Padres started the year with Austin Hedges and Francisco Mejia behind the dish, traded for Austin Nola and Jason Castro, and still found a way to promote Campusano, who was arguably the Padres’ best hitter in minor league player pool.
The 22-year-old backstop homered in his big league debut in Oakland, then spent the rest of the regular season on the injured list with a sprained wrist. He was on the Padres’ playoff roster against the Dodgers and received one plate appearance.
The young backstop was the California League co-MVP in 2019, where he led the league in batting average while finishing second in the league with a wRC+ of 149. His 11.7% strikeout rate was also the lowest among qualifying hitters.
Behind the plate, Campusano has a chance to be at least an average receiver. Several members of the 2019 Lake Elsinore Storm praised him for his ability to handle the pitching staff and he has a good arm, although that is mitigated by his penchant for throwing from his knees too often. However, Campusano’s stock is mostly tied up in his big bat.
Negatives: Campusano was arrested on October 20 in his home state of Georgia, accused of felony marijuana possession. The crime is punishable by up to 10 years in prison, obviously casting some doubt on Campusano’s short- and long-term future.
Campusano still has work to do behind the plate but his bat and the possibility of the DH in the National League will help his case for 2021.
Projection: Assuming the legal troubles don’t ruin his promising career, Campusano has a chance to a special player and should play in the big leagues for a long time.
MadFriars’ Assessment: The Padres’ addition of Victor Caratini to supplement Nola behind the plate means that — legal issues pending — the club will have the luxury of letting Campusano develop at Triple-A to open the season. (KC)
5. Ryan Weathers, LHP/Starting Pitcher
Height/Weight: 6-1/200 Age: 21 Bats/Throws: L/L
Acquired: 2018 Draft, First Round (Seventh overall)
2020 Highlights: Weathers’ rapid ascension was one of the biggest Padres prospect developments of the year. While the lefty didn’t appear in the regular season, he pitched in Game One of the 2020 Division Series, recording four outs without allowing a run, striking out reigning National League MVP Cody Bellinger. Weathers’ emergence gives the Padres another young lefty with rotation upside.
All of this came even though Weathers had never pitched above Low-A. The 2018 first-rounder pitched very well in the first half of 2019 in Fort Wayne, with a fastball sitting between 90-94 mph. He experienced some dead-arm periods, perhaps exacerbated by conditioning issues, that resulted in a drop in velocity in the second half. Weathers pitched to a 3.00 ERA in his first ten starts and a 4.42 ERA in his last 12 starts, with a significant drop in his strikeout rate.
This summer, Weathers’ fastball played up and he was hitting 95-97 mph (according to the stadium gun and my binoculars from the Gallagher Square). That velocity makes the rest of Weathers’ repertoire play up – a wipeout slider that sits in the low-80s and a changeup that he didn’t throw much in Fort Wayne. Weathers locates his fastball to all quadrants of the plate and got lots of strikeouts with his slider which should be a plus offering.
Negatives: When we saw him in 2019, his velocity was down and he was very hittable. When his velocity sits in the mid-90s he generates poor contact and plenty of swing-throughs. In my look last spring, Weathers dominated a Seattle lineup that featured big leaguers like J.P. Crawford and Shed Long and top prospect Jarred Kelenic. If Weathers’ velocity is down, his upside diminishes greatly.
Projection: Weathers’ three-pitch mix gives him a fairly high floor. With the progress he made this year, he looks likely to grow into a mid-rotation starter.
MadFriars’ Assessment: While Weathers got to the big leagues first, his upside isn’t as high as Gore’s. Still, the young lefty got himself into better shape this season and his stuff played up. Weathers’ substantial growth gives the Padres another near big league-ready arm to serve as rotation depth for the 2021 club. If his velocity is consistent, Weathers at the very worst should open 2021 in Double-A. (KC)
6. Robert Hassell III, Outfield
Height/Weight: 6-2/195 Age: 19 Bats/Throws: L/L
Acquired: 2020 Draft, First round (Eighth overall)
2020 Highlights: Hassell was the Padres’ first pick in the abbreviated 2020 draft. San Diego had their pick of a variety of top prep hitters, but chose Hassell for a combination of projectability and feel for the game. Heading into his draft year, he was the International Player of the Year for Team USA after hitting .514/.548/.886. As has become their modus operandi, the Padres prioritized Hassell because of his advanced pure hitting skills from the left side of the plate.
He should start his career playing in center, but has the arm strength (he was up to 93 mph as a pitcher in high school) to move to right field.
Negatives: While Zac Veen and Hassell were far-and-away the top two high school bats in the draft, Veen was often given the edge due to Hassell’s lack of projectable power. The question leading up to the draft was whether enough of Hassell’s power would come. Only time and repetitions will answer that question.
Projections: The Padres see Hassell as a plus defender who will hit for a high average and develop more power with time. How his body develops and whether he has to give up some of his bat-to-ball ability to get to more power will ultimately determine his ceiling.
MadFriars’ Assessment: With Lake Elsinore now the Low A affiliate, there is a good chance that he opens 2021 a short drive up the I-15. The California League moving to Low A will actually be a gift for Hassell as it is a considerably better hitting environment without the cold of the Midwest League in April. (Ben Davey)
7. Hudson Head, Outfield
Height/Weight: 6-1/180 Age: 19 Bats/Throws: L/L
Acquired: 2019 Draft, Third Round
2020 Highlights After landing the highest signing bonus ever by a third-round pick, Head was hoping for a strong 2020. The Texas native generates extremely good bat speed, and despite limited exposure to other elite draft prospects in high school, has shown an advanced feel at the plate since he signed. The Padres envision him as someone who can spray the ball to all fields and develop more power as he fills out his 6-foot-1 frame. Head exclusively played center field in 2019, and his speed and arm strength should allow him to stay there.
Negatives: A big concern going into the draft was the level of competition Head had faced. Though he played in regional showcases, he bypassed the summer national circuit and played high school football in the fall. He put many of those questions to rest after hitting .283/.383/.417 in the AZL. A twitchy athlete, he’s already had a few minor muscle injuries. It will be comforting to see him play every day in 2021.
Projections Head was a big wildcard coming out of the 2019 draft, and the lost 2020 season means that still remains the case today. He has the tools to be a first-division regular, but has a long way to go to convert them into performance.
MadFriars’ Assessment: The Padres’ haven’t said much about his progress outside of the fact it was a great learning experience to see him battle against advanced pitchers. Head, who turns 20 just as the minor league season is supposed to open, will get his first taste of full-season ball in 2021. The club’s brain trust will need to decide whether he’s ready for High-A after a summer spent at USD, or if they want to see him work through the daily grind a bit at Lake Elsinore. With much of the depth now gone from the organization, converting on the heavy price they paid for Head would be an important win for player development. (BD)
8. Reggie Lawson: RHP
Height/Weight: 6-4/205 Age: 23 Bats/Throws: R/R
How acquired: 2016 Draft, Competitive Balance Round B
2020 Highlights Reggie Lawson has already thrown from the Petco Park mound more than some NL West starters, having appeared in the Don Welke Classic and its predecessor three times. We last saw the Southern California native in action in the 2019 edition, when he mowed down hitters before heading off for another strong stint to the Arizona Fall League. Over 11 innings in the desert, he allowed only one run while striking out 14.
Lawson received his first big league spring training invitation in 2020, but went down with an injury after only two official innings. The hard-throwing righty underwent Tommy John surgery in Mid-March. The lost 2020 season kept Lawson from falling too far behind the pack, and he should be ready to return to action at some point in the 2021 campaign. The Padres like him enough to have added him to the 40-man roster before the Rule 5 draft.
Negatives: The elbow injury was the latest in a series of injuries going back to high school. Despite his immense talent, Lawson sports a career ERA above 5.00, largely because of struggles with command. How much those struggles and injuries are related is hard to know.
Projection: Pre-surgery, Lawson’s fastball was sitting consistently 96-97, and Lawson has also always had a hammer of a breaking ball. The key to his long-term success will be the ability to integrate his new changeup.
MadFriars’ Assessment: We’ve been waiting for the year when everything clicks for Lawson. Now 23, Lawson ranks in the top ten because when he is locating his pitches, he can dominate. Recovering from Tommy John is a big task, so there are a lot of question marks. However, if he can make the comeback, 2021 could certainly be the year. (BD)
9. Tucupita Marcano, Infield
Height/Weight: 6-0/170 Age: 21 Bats/Throws: Left/Right
Acquired: 2016 International Free Agent
2020 Highlights: Only in the Padres farm system would a 21-year-old seem old, but Marcano already had two seasons of stateside ball under his belt coming into 2020. He was slated to open the year at Lake Elsinore, but instead spent the summer at the alternate site. While it would have been useful to see where the organization views him defensively (last year, he split time almost evenly between second and third base, along with shortstop), getting details from USD was a challenge.
Negatives: Marcano’s hit tool is his carrying tool, but if he can’t hit for power (he has a career .343 slugging percentage as a minor leaguer) it will be difficult for him to be anything more than a utilityman. He has some speed on the basepaths but needs to learn when to run after being thrown out 16 times in his 31 attempts last year.
Projection: He’s shown that he is a difficult player to whiff (he owns a stellar 8% career strikeout rate), but he’ll need to be able to unlock at least a little bit of power to become an impact player. As of now, he profiles as the first-guy-off-the-bench utilityman. With the current incarnation of the infield locked in for the foreseeable future, the Padres would be fine with that outcome.
MadFriars’ Assessment: Marcano, now on the 40-man roster, will likely begin the 2021 season in Double-A. The thought of him and CJ Abrams – maybe at some point in the year – playing up the middle would likely make for the most exciting double-play combo in the Padres farm system. (Marcus Pond)
10. Justin Lange, RHP/Starting Pitcher
Height/Weight: 6-4/220 Age: 19 Bats/Throws: Right/Right
Acquired: 2020 Draft, Competitive Balance Round A
2020 Highlights: Taken with the 34th overall pick in 2020, Lange is a prep product out of Llano, TX. Going from small-town central Texas to the Padres alternate training site at USD in September was a big jump for the 6-foot-4 righty with a fastball that has been clocked in the triple digits.
Negatives: Llano has a population of 3,600 people, and the Padres have been burned in recent drafts by prep upstarts from Texas and from smaller, remote areas. Lange is a twofer there. With a big fastball that he’s been able to blow by high school hitters, Lange will need to improve his secondaries (slider, changeup) and his control.
Projection: You can’t teach height, and to a certain extent, it’s difficult to teach an arm to throw 100 miles per hour (though there are things you can do to work up to it). Lange is raw, but he has the frame and the velocity that good coaching should be able to work with.
MadFriars’ Assessment: Lange seems like a prime candidate for the Low-A Lake Elsinore rotation in 2021. Like the majority of high school draftees, he will need plenty of minor league seasoning before realizing his goal of becoming a major league starter. (MP)
11. Jorge Oña, Outfield
Height/Weight: 6-0/235 Age: 23 Bats/Throws: Right/Right
Acquired: 2016 International Free Agent
2020 Highlights: Four years after signing with San Diego as a 19-year-old for $7 million, Oña made his MLB debut for the Padres on September 7. After underperforming heavily his first few years in the system due to nagging injuries, the young Cuban started out strong in 2019 before a serious shoulder injury ended his season after 25 games. While he made just 15 plate appearances in San Diego – and cracked his first big league homer – the reports out of the alternate site at USD were overwhelmingly positive for the powerful righty.
Negatives: Oña has struck out at a pretty high clip during his tenure in the Padres farm system and in his 15 major league plate appearances, he struck out in seven times. In the outfield, he doesn’t have the best routes and lacks the speed to track down extra-base hits.
Projection: Four of the six games Oña played for the Padres came as the designated hitter. If the DH returns to the NL in 2021, Oña would be competing for that spot in the lineup.
MadFriars’ Assessment: The Padres would love to see their big investment in the 2016 international signing pool pay off with Oña (and Morejón, Michel Báez, Marcano, Ornelas, etc.), but so far, Oña is a bit of a one-dimensional prospect. His power is what carried him to the majors last fall, and harnessing that power and building upon it is what will make or break him going forward. He will contend for a spot on the big league roster in the spring, and if he falls short, would likely be the first guy up from Triple-A in case of a slump or an injury.
If there is not a DH in the National League, San Diego will need to see substantial improvement in his defensive performance. (MP)
12. Tirso Ornelas, Outfield
Height/Weight: 6-5/220 Age: 20 Bats/Throws: Left/Right
Acquired: 2016 International Free Agent
2020 Highlights: After an impressive 2018 season in Fort Wayne, Ornelas struggled mightily at Lake Elsinore in 2019, leading to a 21-game stint in the Arizona League to help him get back on track. While he was part of the organization’s minicamp group this spring, he was never brought into the player pool. According to the San Diego Union-Tribune’s Jeff Sanders, Ornelas was progressing in the Mexican League this winter before he went down with a hand injury. He should be healthy in time for Spring Training.
Negatives: The Padres have been so aggressive with Ornelas (and other prospects) that you can miss a lot “scouting the stat line.” That said, the stat line for Ornelas was really rough in 2019; he struck out much more than he did in Fort Wayne and hit just one long ball. The big lefty worked hard to make some mechanical adjustments, but struggled to incorporate them at game speed. He’ll need to show he’s able to make changes faster going forward.
Projection: Although he was initially given reps in center field, Ornelas continues to fill out a frame that was already what you look for in a corner outfielder. When everything is right, he has a smooth, repeatable swing and a solid arm in right field. While he is still working on transferring batting practice power into more game situations, he is not a one-dimensional prospect and should also hit for average.
MadFriars’ Assessment: Ornelas was injured while playing for Mayos de Navojoa in the Mexican winter league, but should be ready to go come spring training. Ornelas is still just 20 years old until March, so it wouldn’t be surprising if he took another swing at High-A in 2021. The Padres new/old Double-A affiliate in San Antonio is a challenging place to hit, so Tirso will need to get things locked down at the plate before taking on that challenge. (MP)
13. Joshua Mears, Outfield
Height/Weight: 6-3/230 Age: 19 Bats/Throws: R/R
Acquired: 2019 Draft, Second Round
2020 Highlights: With an imposing frame and a powerful bat, Mears impressed in his limited spring training work with his ability to make contact, sending his stock rising in the Padres organization. It was an encouraging follow-up to his 2019 professional debut, hitting .253 with seven home runs in 166 at-bats in the Arizona League. His last month in Peoria, he gave an indication of what he can do, posting a .937 OPS. Notably, he also stole nine bases in ten attempts, showcasing the speed and athleticism he has at his size.
Negatives: Mears struck out 59 times in 195 plate appearances in 2019. Though the Padres are optimistic his approach and vision in the zone are improving, this will be an opportunity for improvement entering 2021.
Projection: Mears is a project, and is a player with a high ceiling based on his tools. With power and speed already in his skillset, if he can continue to develop the approach to the plate as the Padres hope, he could be a part of the lineup someday.
MadFriars’ Assessment: Mears wasn’t brought into the player pool during 2020 and wasn’t listed on the roster for instructs, so his showing in spring training will determine where Mears will play in 2021. Entering his age 19 season still relatively raw, he should be in the mix to join a very talented Lake Elsinore outfield. (MP)
14. Anderson Espinoza RHP
Height/Weight: 6-0/190 Age: 22 Bats/Throws: R/R
Acquired: 2016 Trade with Boston Red Sox for LHP Drew Pomeranz
2020 Highlights: Espinoza was just getting started with his throwing program in spring training when things were shut down. He continued to rehab in Peoria before eventually joining the player pool at the alternate site mid-year. It’s been a journey for the Venezuelan hurler, but even after two Tommy John surgeries, he was reportedly showing easy gas again during the summer.
Negatives: As Espinoza enters his age 22 season, it becomes more and more likely he takes on a relief role. While that’s a far cry from the elite starting pitching prospect he once was, it’s been more than four years since he pitched in an official game, so any return to form is a success.
Projection: It stands to reason to soften the expectations which were once placed upon the overall number 21 prospect in baseball, who drew comparisons to a young Pedro Martinez. Odds are Espinoza moves to the bullpen, but if his stuff is anything close to what it once was, he will be a factor there.
MadFriars’ Assessment: After being away from game action for so long, it is unclear where Espinoza will start the campaign and how long he will take to find a rhythm. He will exhaust his second option in 2021, so the clock is running to get him ready for the big leagues. (MP)
15. Luarbert Arias RHP/Starting Pitcher
Height/Weight: 6-2/176 Age: 19 Bats/Throws: R/R
Acquired: 2017 International Free Agent
2020 Highlights: Arias, after an impressive 2019 campaign that saw him make a cameo in the playoffs for Tri–City, was primed to headline the Fort Wayne rotation. The well-built Venezuelan features a low-90s fastball with an above-average changeup and an improving curveball. Unlike most July 2 international signees, Arias was already 17 when he inked a deal for $300,000 with the Padres. His natural ability was on display in fall instructs, striking out Rangers star Joey Gallo looking on a wicked breaking ball.
Negatives: A lost year of development doesn’t hurt all prospects equally, and it might matter more for Arias than the average player. Rule 5 eligible next December, there are mixed reviews of how much the fastball will play up as he ascends the ranks. His body is pretty filled out, so his path to unlock more velocity may have to come through better conditioning and nutrition.
Projection: If he‘s able to make some gains with the fastball, Arias could develop into a backend starter. His best secondary pitch is a changeup, which shows fading action and deception to opposing hitters. Improvements in his work ethic may ultimately determine his outcome.
MadFriars’ Assessment: With the minor league picture still very much unsorted, Arias is a candidate for what could be a loaded Lake Elsinore Storm roster, which is now the Padres Low-A affiliate. (Ryan Payne)
16. Gabriel Morales LHP/Starting Pitcher
Height/Weight: 6-3/175 Age: 21 Bats/Throws: L/L
Acquired: 2016 International Free Agent
2020 Highlights: Morales rode a dominant 2019 Arizona League campaign where he struck out nearly 31 percent of the batters he faced into a one outing stint for Tri-City. The projectable Venezuelan southpaw has made noticeable improvements in his approach, with a fastball that touches the mid-90s and an increased feel to spin the ball.
Negatives: Much like his countryman Arias, Morales is Rule 5 eligible next December and has yet to pitch in a full-season league. The secondary pitches will need to show improvement and he will need to continue to make strides on his control in 2021.
Projection: Morales is an interesting dilemma of talent and the ticking clock. He checks most of the boxes you would want to see in a pitcher, with a prototypical frame to add strength and above–average velocity. He turns 22 in April and will likely be tested out of the gates quickly. He projects as a back-end starter with a chance for more if everything clicks.
MadFriars’ Assessment: Morales will likely head to Low A Lake Elsinore for his full-season debut, with a chance to move quickly, given his age and organizational status. (RP)
17. Jordy Barley, SS/Infield
Height/Weight: 6-0/175 Age: 20 Bats/Throws: R/R
Acquired: 2016 International Free Agent
2020 Highlights: Barley‘s enigmatic talents saw him put up a respectable .254/.310/.423 for Tri-City in 2019, stealing 14 bases while showing off his raw power. A strong stint in the Australian Baseball League last winter against much older competition might be the switch that Barley needs to unlock the immense tools that earned him a million-dollar bonus in 2016 from the Dominican Republic.
Negatives: Inconsistencies on both sides of the diamond have plagued Barley, who hasn’t been able to translate high–level athleticism and plus raw power into actual production. The inability to make consistent contact, a 31 percent career strikeout rate, and issues with pitch recognition has hurt his offensive output. Defensively, while the arm is plenty good enough, the footwork and glovework have led to a plethora of errors, including 23 in 56 games as a Dust Devil in 2019.
Projection: Barley, who will be 20 all of next season, has the raw ability and talent to stick at a premium position. The hit tool catching up to the rest of his profile will determine his ceiling. Rule 5 eligible in next month‘s draft, the Padres left him unprotected.
MadFriars Assessment: Barley is almost certainly in line for his first taste of full-season ball in Lake Elsinore, where he will look to carve out a middle infield role with the Storm. San Diego has a lot of talent at shortstop at the A-ball level – CJ Abrams and Reginald Preciado are two of them – so he may see more time at second or third base, than shortstop. (RP)
18. Osvaldo Hernandez, LHP
Height/Weight: 6-0/181 Age: 22 Bats/Throws: L/L
Acquired: 2016 International Free Agent
2020 Highlights: Hernandez never really got the chance to perform in 2019, with shoulder inflammation submarining most of his season. Coming off a sparkling year as the Midwest League Pitcher of the Year, the Havana, Cuba native’s attempts to make an impact in Lake Elsinore were limited to short-burst outings, totalling just 32.1 innings.
Negatives: Hernandez isn’t blessed with premium measurables – six feet on a day when he is feeling extra stretchy – and he has thrown just 32.1 competitive innings since 2018. Relying on deception and the ability to keep hitters off-balance, the “crafty lefty” moniker is applicable here. The fastball likely will need to take a leap forward from its current standing, with durability concerns potentially creeping into the picture.
Projection: Undersized lefties, even athletic ones like Hernandez, are not typically a “bet on” profile. Complicating things further is the lost development time for the multi-million dollar signee. Hernandez turns 23 in May and has only logged 199 professional innings thus far. His ceiling is likely in a bullpen role, given his size and inability to miss bats at a high level.
MadFriars’ Assessment: Hernandez could be ticketed to Double-A in 2021, but it’s conceivable he could repeat High-A early on, depending on other organizational deployments. (RP)
19. Efrain Contreras RHP/Starting Pitcher
Height/Weight: 5-10/210 Age: 20 Bats/Throws: R/R
Acquired: 2017 International Free Agent
2020 Highlights: Contreras, owner of one of the sport’s best nicknames (dubbed “The Embalmer” because of his family’s mortuary business) he enjoyed a breakout campaign in his first full season stint in the Summit City for the Tin Caps.
The sturdy right-hander from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico posted a solid strikeout rate of nearly 27 percent, despite being one of the youngest pitchers on the circuit. Poised to be a member of the Storm roster in 2020, he’ll look to maintain momentum in 2021 behind above-average control and a quality changeup.
Negatives: Contreras is the epitome of projectionless. He’s maxed out physically, so improvements to his arsenal will need to come through unconventional methods. At just 5-foot-10 he’s more about polish than pure stuff, with a lot riding on his ability to remain durable as he ages.
Projection: Prospect guru Eric Longenhagen of FanGraphs summed Contreras up well, labelling him the leader of the subcategory “Crafty Arms Too Young to Drink” – Contreras will be 21, however, in January. His ceiling is a fringy backend starter type, with much of his outlook dependent on his plus changeup and his innate ability to throw strikes.
MadFriars’ Assessment: Contreras, with the announced minor league Class–A restructuring, is likely headed right back to where he blossomed in Fort Wayne. He will join an intriguing staff for the TinCaps and should be a stabilizing force with the ability to eat innings in 2021. (RP)
20. Jagger Haynes LHP
Height/Weight: 6-3/170 Age: 18 Bats/Throws:L/L
Acquired: 2020 Draft, Fifth Round
2020 Highlights: The Padres nabbed then 17-year-old Jagger Haynes in the fifth and final round of this year’s shortened draft, making him the youngest pitcher selected in the entire draft. It was a mild surprise to many in the game that Haynes was even drafted given that the pandemic hindered his ability to showcase his development as a senior.
As a junior, his fastball sat in the 86-90 mph range but jumped to 91-93 mph in his senior bullpens and single start. Haynes also sharpened his two secondary pitches, a slider and a changeup, which project to be at least average at this point.
Negatives: Despite the tantalizing growth and tools, Haynes is still incredibly raw and inexperienced, so it is difficult to project his development track, especially since he wasn’t given the opportunity to compete through his senior year of high school or get a taste of minor league action.
Projection: If not for the pandemic, it was quite possible that the young southpaw could have worked his way up to a selection in the top three rounds of the draft as a pitcher with plenty to dream on. The tools and frame indicated there could be a future starter in there, but he has a long way to go to get there.
MadFriars’ Assessment: With all the uncertainty surrounding the 2021 minor league season, it is safe to say the priority for the Padres will simply be giving him an extended look against tougher competition to continue identifying areas of growth. He’ll likely spend the year in Peoria. (Travis Barnett)
21. Mason Thompson, RHP
Height/Weight: 6-7/ 223 Age: 22 Bats/Throws:R/R
How Acquired: 2016 Draft, Third Round
2020 Highlights: There was a reasonable chance the big right-hander would be left unprotected in the upcoming Rule 5 Draft, but as Jeff Sanders reported, a brief look at Thompson as a reliever in instructs forced the Padres’ hand. His fastball played up to 98 mph and absolutely jumped on hitters, thanks to his large frame and long extension, while his power slider kept hitters off balance.
Negatives: Thompson was arguably a first-round talent back in 2016 but fell after needing to undergo Tommy John Surgery. He’s always been a prospect with plenty of projection. Unfortunately, Thompson has never been able to stay healthy to realize, logging only 159 professional innings.
Projection: The Texas native has a quality third pitch in his changeup, so even if the curveball, which has been anywhere from a low-70s curve to a mid-80s breaking ball that gets confused with his slider, is scrapped, he has the tools to be a strong option out of the pen.
MadFriars’ Assessment: Given his spot on the 40-man roster and injury history, Thompson is likely limited to the bullpen at this point. Thompson remains a very talented, high-risk arm. (TB)
22. Esteury Ruiz, Outfield
Height/Weight: 6-0/170 Age: 21 Bats/Throws: R/R
How Acquired: 2017 Trade with Royals with Matt Strahm and Travis Wood for Trevor Cahill, Brandon Maurer and Ryan Buchter
2020 Highlights: Unlike Thompson, Esteury Ruiz was one of the players San Diego left unprotected for the Rule 5 Draft; though, it is unlikely that the 21-year-old will be snagged by another team at this point. Little has been heard about Ruiz’ develop in the absence of a minor league season in 2020 outside of the notion that he remains a player without a position, lacking the glove to cover second base and not looking particularly comfortable in the outfield.
Negatives: Despite an all-star caliber performance for the Storm in the first half of 2019, Ruiz cratered in the second half, struggling with both pitch recognition and a tendency to chase pitches outside the zone.
Projection: Of all the bats that have come through Fort Wayne in the last four years, Ruiz arguably boasts the quickest and most explosive hands outside of Fernando Tatis Jr., Luis Campusano, and C.J. Abrams. It’s likely the comparisons to Alfonso Soriano will finally cease, but considering he swiped 83 bags between 2018-2019, he is still an intriguing offensive prospect in a still loaded system.
MadFriars’ Assessment: In all likelihood, Esteury Ruiz will pick up where he left off in 2019 and move to the Double-A level when the organization determines his defensive position, where he will continue to work on his ability to recognize offspeed pitches and find a home in the field. (TB)
23. Justin Lopez, Infield
Height/Weight: 6-2/195 Age: 20 Bats/Throws: S/R
Acquired: 2016 International Free Agent
2020 Highlights: Having spent the past two seasons at Fort Wayne, it was no surprise that Justin Lopez was left unprotected in the Rule 5 Draft and not added to the 40 man roster. Nevertheless, the young switch hitter is merely 20 years old and looked noticeably improved at the plate in Peoria this spring, exhibiting greater patience and extending at-bats.
Negatives: The power has been evident in his brief minor league career, but Lopez hasn’t produced better than an 87 wRC+ in any given season or stolen more than one base. It remains to be seen if he will ever be able to get on base at a high enough clip to justify a place in the big leagues.
Projection: Perhaps, the most encouraging aspect of Lopez’ upside other than his strong glove is that he has flashed power consistently again much older competition. In fact, Lopez was the youngest player in the Midwest League when he debuted with the TinCaps in 2018 and would have likely been hitting High-A as a 19-year-old.
MadFriars’ Assessment: Given his youth, there is no reason Lopez shouldn’t start of in Double-A in 2021, where he can showcase an improved approach at the plate, but there is little suggesting anything other than a full season in the minors. (TB)
24. Brayan Medina, RHP/Starting Pitcher
Height/Weight: 6-2/195 Age: 18 Bats/Throws: R/R
Acquired: 2019 International Free Agent
2020 Highlights: Medina was part of the Padres most heralded international signing class since 2016, with the Venezuelan righty joining Reggie Preciado and Ismael Mena among the Top 30 players in the international signing class. Padres international scouting director Chris Kemp told MLB.com, “He’s got the frame to be a real workhorse-type pitcher. He throws hard, and has a real athletic delivery and could really make an impact.”
Negatives: At this age, there really isn’t too much other than the standard he needs to work on his secondary pitches more against better competition.
Projection: Only 18 years old, athletic build and a mid-90s fastball. Everyone start dreaming.
MadFriars’ Assessment: Medina, like most young pitchers that sign for big money, has a big fastball and a long list of development goals. He will likely spend the year in Peoria and get his first taste of professional baseball in the AZL. (JC)
25. Pedro Avila RHP/Starting Pitcher
Height/Weight: 5-11/210 Age: 24 Bats/Throws: R/R
Acquired: 2016 Trade with Washington Nationals for Derek Norris
2020 Highlights: Pedro Avila has been around for awhile. How long? He came back from the Nationals in exchange for Derrick Norris to open up a spot for Austin Hedges in December of 2016. After a slow start in Lake Elsinore in 2017, he was dominant in Low-A Fort Wayne striking out 117 batters in 85.2 innings against only 29 walks and 74 hits.
Even before the pandemic, Avila wasn’t going to pitch in 2020. The righty, who was a surprise call-up in for one start in April 2019, blew out his elbow in mid-August in the Texas League. He’ll be back on the mound in spring and look to build back up after almost two full lost seasons.
Negatives: While his fastball/curve combination works well, Avila doesn’t really have a plus pitch. The burly hurler lives and dies on commanding the zone and keeping batters off-balance.
Projection: If everything goes right, Avila projects as a spot starter with the ability to eat up innings in long relief.
MadFriars’ Assessment: Soon to turn 24, Avila throws both a four-seamer and a two-seam fastball, a curve, and a change. When all four are working, he’s a tough matchup. Like most pitchers coming off of Tommy John surgery, the organization will take it slow with Avila. He could open the year in San Antonio or in El Paso. (JC)
Others of Note
Even after trading away a boatload of prospects in the last 12 months to build one of the game’s best big league rosters, the Padres have plenty of intriguing names beyond the list above. From young position players like Cristian Heredia, Charlie Aquino, and Angel Solarte who have yet to reach full-season ball, to relievers like Steven Wilson and Dauris Valdez who could wind up in the majors in 2021, the organization still has more depth than many. In all, 38 players still in the organization received votes from at least one MadFriars contributor. (DJ)
David Jay edited the Top 30 and John Conniff provided the introduction.