Synopsis: After two years, (and only one season,) in Amarillo, the Padres join the reorganized Double-A Central League by linking up with their old friends the San Antonio Missions, who were affiliated with the Padres from 2007-2018 prior to briefly joining the Pacific Coast League. The Missions join four other clubs in a Texas-only Southern Division of Double-A Central.
Experimental Rules for Double-A: In the upcoming season, Double-A will be working on mitigating shifting, beginning with a requirement that teams have at least four players on the infield during play,“completely in front of the outer boundary of the infield dirt.” In the second half, the league may add an additional requirement of at least two players being on each side of second base.
Three Strikes with Sam Geaney, the Padres Senior Director of Player Development:
CJ Abrams only had two games above Rookie ball at the end of 2019, but he’s starting the year in Double-A. What was the biggest improvement that you have seen from him from the end of 2019 season?
Sam Geaney: All sides of his game; he has an elite bat and hand-speed with a chance to be a total offensive player because he can do so many things. CJ’s always had a good approach at the plate but he’s become more discerning in recognizing what pitches he can turn on.
A big part of his growth occurred defensively – and he worked with Kevin Hooper, our infield coordinator – and the improvement in the past 24 months has been unreal. We wouldn’t send him out to this level if we didn’t think he could handle it defensively. You may occasionally see him at second base, but he will spend most of the season on the dirt at shortstop.
What is Reggie Lawson’s timetable to return?
Sam Geaney: If all goes as planned, probably early June with two innings per outing. Then we will look to add beyond that each month.
Reiss Knehr got some attention in Spring Training. What can you tell us about him?
Sam Geaney: There are a lot of things to like about Reiss. While we didn’t add him to the Alternate Site last year he ended up having a great showing during the Instructional League. He is a kid from the Northeast with a two-way background, vey athletic and has really blossomed as he has gotten more repetitions. He has a good fastball with carry, changeup is plus and the slider is good. He may have a chance to help the big club in the not so distant future.
MadFriars’ Top 25 Prospects in San Antonio: SS CJ Abrams (#2), LHP Osvaldo Hernandez (#18) Esteury Ruiz (#22) & Pedro Avila (#25)
Catch a Rising Star: CJ Abrams, 20, made quite the splash in 2021 spring training after last being seen by fans in 2019 at Rookie ball and for a few games in Fort Wayne. The 2019 first- round pick had 53 plate appearances in big league camp, and hit .240 with a .703 OPS. The glimpses of power he showed, combined with solid defensive versatility and the ability to cover ground at shortstop made him the talk of Padres camp for much of its duration. The Padres plan to continue to develop Abrams as a shortstop, but he has shown the ability to play second base, as well as the outfield.
Starting Pitching: The Padres continue to be careful with Pedro Avila, who is coming off Tommy John surgery in 2019 a few months after making his Major League debut. Now 24, Avila gets a chance to prove he’s recovered from missing nearly two full seasons, and can be counted on as depth for the big club in a swingman/spot starter role. Osvaldo Hernandez, another 2016 acquisition, enters his age 23 season with something to prove as well after missing most of 2019 due to shoulder injuries. Reiss Knehr will also join the San Antonio rotation after impressing the organization in the fall instructional league. Knehr was a two-way player at Fordham University and is turning into something more than a twentieth round selection in the 2018 draft.
Bullpen: Mason Fox enters his age 24 season with solid numbers in the minors, but has yet to pitch above High-A. Known for a plus curveball, the converted college outfielder appeared overmatched in spring training, albeit in a very small sample size. The 2018 21st-round pick should get every chance to showcase his stuff on a Missions team not especially deep in pitching.
Catching: Juan Fernandez, 22, got a short look in spring training and showed some power. He spent all of 2018 at Fort Wayne when he was 19, but he ended up repeating in Fort Wayne the next year. This was partly due to a logjam of catching prospects who have since been traded. Fernandez should get a long look this year at Double-A. Kyle Overstreet, who was with the Double-A Amarillo team in 2019 should also see some time behind the plate in addition to first and third base.
Infield: CJ Abrams will get most of the attention at shortstop for the Missions, where he begins his first full season of professional baseball, but Eguy Rosario has become an intriguing prospect in his own right. Fresh off a Venezuelan Winter League in which he his .327 with an .821 OPS, Rosario received an invitation to Major League spring training this year, where the 21 year-old saw a sizeable amount of action. Taylor Kohlwey had a strong camp and will get most of the starts at first base, but very tall first baseman Brad Zunica will also see time at first and DH.
Outfield: Esteury Ruiz, 22, figures to get the bulk of his at-bats in the outfield, although he’s also played second and third base. The prospect piece of the trade which netted Matt Strahm for the Padres, Ruiz could use a strong showing after an inconsistent season in Lake Elsinore which saw him strike out 101 times in 339 at-bats in 2019. Jack Suwinski will move up a level in 2021, after struggling mightily in High-A in 2019. The left-handed Suwinski has some pop but will need to make more contact, as his 29.9% K-rate was the 11th highest in the Cal League in 2019. He did post a 12% walk rate and should receive regular playing time with the Missions.
On The Spot: Statheads love the high RPMs on Mason Fox’s curveball, but at age 24, he’s getting close to being a finished product as far as player development is concerned. Fox posted a splendid 15.4 K/9 between three levels in 2019. This year is key for him.
Under the Radar: Taylor Kohlwey will be 27 this year, so time is of the essence, but the 2016 21st round pick out of Wisconsin-La Crosse showed a lot at the plate in 2019, slashing .302/.396/.424 in 339 plate appearances across three leagues, including a brief stint with El Paso.