Synopsis: The TinCaps will join 11 other former Midwest League clubs in the new High-A Central League. In addition to the new level, the league will feature additional rules on shortening travel and longer home, with Fort Wayne residing in the Eastern Division.
The Padres system has been thinned out by significant trades in the past year, but some top talent will still hit the Summit City, led by former top prospect RHP Anderson Espinoza and outfielder Tirso Ornelas.
Experimental Rules for High-A: Pitchers will be required to be off the rubber completely before throwing to any base. The Atlantic League had used this rule previously and saw stolen base numbers go up. Baseball America reports that the rule was intended to go into place last year.
Three Strikes with Sam Geaney, the Padres Senior Director of Player Development:
What are some of the changes that Tirso has made in his game since the last time fans at Parkview saw him in 2018?
Sam Geaney: During the 2019 season when he was in Lake Elsinore we sent him back to the complex in Arizona to work with some swing mechanics; mainly to ingrain some of those moves when he stepped in the box and we think it started to stick.
This past year in the Mexican Winter League he broke his wrist sliding to make a catch but the silver lining was that he spent a lot of time with Oscar Bernard, one of our hitting instructors at the Complex, and that really helped him a lot.
This Spring he was completely healthy and still does a lot of things that he has always liked; particularly with his eye in the strike zone. The launch angle on his swing has improved, he’s always hit the ball hard, but now it’s not going into the ground.
What were the reasons behind returning Anderson Espinoza back as a starter instead of as a reliever?
Sam Geaney: Anderson is not coming back as a conventional starter, he’s probably going to have outings of around two innings at a time, but we thought this was the best way to get him consistent work after being out for so long.
Jonny Homza has always been a really interesting story. What are some of the improvements that you have seen with him during the Spring?
Sam Geaney: We have a lot of guys that we really like not only as players in our system but as people too. Jonny is one of them and we are really excited to send him to Fort Wayne with an opportunity to be the primary guy. His receiving and blocking have improved and offensively he has gotten stronger with his ability to drive the baseball. Additionally, he’s one of the better defensive infielders we have in the system and he’s going to get time at third and first base.
MadFriars’ Top 20 Prospects in Fort Wayne: OF Tirso Ornelas (#12) & Anderson Espinoza (#14) and Justin Lopez (#23)
Catch a Rising Star: Tirso Ornelas put up good numbers in limited action in 2018 while playing in Fort Wayne. After a forgettable 2019, and dealing with some injuries during the Winter Leagues in Mexico, he comes back a much bigger version than the 18-year old we saw last time in the Midwest League. At 6-foot-5, and 225 pounds at 21. The left-handed-hitting Tijuana native has the power and patience to dream on.
Starting Pitching: Anderson Espinoza, 22, was once one of the top pitching prospects in baseball and was the prize of the long-ago 2016 trade with the Boston Red Sox for then Padres all-star Drew Pomeranz who ironically is now back with San Diego. Espinoza has been through two Tommy John surgeries since then and as Sam Geaney stated in our interview, the plan is to get him regular work for the time being. .. Matt Waldron, 24, came over from the Cleveland Indians in the Mike Clevinger deal and posted a 2.96 ERA in 45.2 innings between short-season and Rookie League before being sent west. He was older than the competition, but the Padres staff likes the arm.
Pen: Mason Feole, 22, was picked in the 11th round of the 2019 by the Padres after a solid collegiate career with the University of Connecticut where he finished as the school’s all-time leader in strikeouts. After the draft, he underwent Tommy John surgery and was touching 97 mph. in off-season workouts. .. Canadian Carter Loewen, 22, was an undrafted free agent out of the University of Hawaii, who as we wrote about after the draft may have some serious upside.
Catching: Jonny Homza, 21, is one of the more interesting stories in the Padres system. Homza was the two-time player of the year as an Alaska prep as a shortstop but was drafted by San Diego in 2017 with the intention of converting him into a catcher, a position he had never played. Padres evaluators have been impressed with his progress and he should finally see regular action in a full-season league after an impressive stint in the Australian Winter League. ..Adam Kerner, 22, a minor league free agent signee by the Padres in last year’s draft out of the University of San Diego will be the primary backup.
Infield: Ethan Skender, 24, was one of the better stories in the system in 2019, coming back after multiple years of injuries to put together a very solid abbreviated season with the TinCaps at .275/.347/.366. He should anchor the infield at third. Justin Lopez seems like he has been around forever, especially since this will be his third time through the Padres’ Indiana affiliate but he is still only 20 years old. At 6-foot-2 and a very solid 200 pounds he has the tools to dream on and maybe this year they can turn into reality more consistently.
Outfield: Tirso Ornelas, 21, will be familiar to TinCap fans, just not at his present size. If his swing is where it should be, he’s going to park a lot of balls into the short right porch at Parkview Field. ..Michael Curry, 23 was out Player of the Year for Fort Wayne in 2019 and can really hit with a .285/.379/.437 slash line, the question is where will he play? This season look for him in the corner outfield or at first base. ..Dwaynya Williams-Sutton was a fifth-round pick out of East Carolina University in 2018 has some talent and utterly no fear at the plate as he set a Midwest League record in 2019 for being hit four times in one game.
On the Spot: Justin Lopez has a world of talent, but in two seasons with the TinCaps he has yet to put up consistent numbers.
Under the Radar: Relievers Lowen and Feole both have huge fastballs, and if they can command it, they could rise very quickly.