Tacoma Rainiers 3, Chihuahuas 2 (10 innings)
Key Statistics: DH Patrick Kivlehan, 4-for-5, 2B, R, HR (1), 2 RBI; SS Ivan Castillo, 3-for-4 SB (1); RF Ben Ruta, 2-for-3, BB, 2 SB (2); LHP Nick Ramirez, 1.2 IP, 2 H; RHP Steven Wilson, 2.1 IP, 2 H, ER, 2 K; RHP James Norwood, 2 IP, 2 H, ER, BB, 4 K; RHP Aaron Northcraft (L, 0-1) IP, 2 H, R, K.
Prospect Watch: The Chihuahuas let a late lead slip away and lost in extra innings against Tacoma. It was a dismal night for the Chihuahuas’ offense, as they went 0-for-13 with runners in scoring position and struck out 16 times. … All of El Paso’s runs were supplied by veteran Patrick Kivlehan, who hit a two-run homer as part of a four-hit night. The 31-year-old played in the big leagues with the Padres way back in 2016, hitting .250/.368/.438 in 16 plate appearances. He hasn’t seen the big leagues since the 2018 season but has generally been a productive hitter at the Triple-A level, where he sports a career .801 OPS in 454 games played. … Ivan Castillo had three more hits and is 9-for-18 to start the season. Eight of his nine hits have been singles. The switch-hitting utility man plays all over the diamond and has good speed as well. … The Chihuahuas essentially had a bullpen game after Nick Ramirez record five outs without allowing a run. … James Norwood pitched two innings and allowed the tying run to score in the eighth. Norwood, 27, was acquired by the Padres back in April in exchange for RHP Dauris Valdez. The righty has a big fastball that averaged 97.3 miles per hour with the Cubs last season, in addition to a slider and a splitter. Norwood is a bullpen option, should the Padres need to dip back into the minors in the short term. He has 23 games of big-league experience.
With the new scheduling format in minor league baseball, every league except the Triple-A West League has Mondays off. So with the light schedule, we will do a week-in-review every Monday for the other affiliates to get you caught up on what is going on. We will look at the top prospects at each level and the players who deserve attention and recognition.
San Antonio Missions (went 4-2 last week at Corpus Christi)
Top Prospects: For the Double-A Missions, the headlines start with 20-year-old CJ Abrams. Abrams started all six games last week and hit a collective .320/.414/560 – good for a wRC+ of 189 in the season’s opening series. The fleet-footed infielder was also successful on both of his stolen base attempts. Abrams’ best day came on Sunday, went he went 3-for-5 at the plate with his first homer of the year, an opposite-field blast to right-center. If there is something to critique, it is Abrams’ strikeout rate. He punched out nine times in 29 plate appearances in the six-game set and his 30% K-rate could be a concern if it continues. Abrams did manage to make contact in all plate appearances Sunday. … LHP Osvaldo Hernandez made the start Friday night and allowed just one run in four innings of work. The left-hander was the #18 prospect on our preseason list. Hernandez struggled with some arm issues in 2019 with Lake Elsinore but he posted a sub-2.00 ERA in the Midwest League back in 2018. Hernandez was a part of the Padres’ splurge in the international market back in 2016 and is still just 22. … Infielder/outfielder Esteury Ruiz played in all six games and went 3-for-21 overall with no extra-base hits but he did still three bases in four attempts. Ruiz did draw five walks but struck out nine times in the series. Ruiz missed most of the second half in Lake Elsinore in 2019 and hit .239/.300/.357 with six homers. He won the AZL batting title way back in 2017 and has some easy power. Like many prospects, the contact issues need to be addressed for him to have a viable chance to fulfill his potential. Still, his tools are easy to dream on. He split the series between the outfield and designated hitter
Keep an eye on: OF Robbie Podorsky. The 26-year-old outfielder has always hit in his time in the system but his bat doesn’t exactly profile at a corner position. However, the former McNeese State star deserves your attention. Podorsky went 10-for-23 last week, with a double, two triples, and four walks while striking out just twice in the series. He is a career .331 hitter in the minors with well over 600 plate appearances. Will that translate to the majors? Who knows. But his production should keep him in professional baseball for years to come. He’s definitely more than an organizational player.
Fort Wayne TinCaps (Went 3-2 last week at home against West Michigan)
Top Prospects: The TinCaps won three-of-five from West Michigan before being rained out Sunday. The game will be made up on the road later in the season. … Tijuana native Tirso Ornelas was the highest-ranked player on our MadFriars Top-25 preseason prospect list, checking at #12 overall. The left-handed swinging outfielder went hitless in the series with five punchouts in 14 plate appearances. Ornelas, still just 21, is repeating the level after struggling in Lake Elsinore in 2019. Ornelas managed some hard contact in the series but most of it was on the ground. He started three of the five games and should continue to receive regular at-bats going forward. … RHP Anderson Espinoza was the talk of the system Friday night when he made his first appearance in an official game since 2016. Espinoza threw two innings and struck out three, without allowing a run. He talked with us after the game, recounting some of the lessons he has learned along the way back from two Tommy John surgeries. Espinoza will work in shorter spurts every five days for the foreseeable future. … Infielder Justin Lopez homered on opening night and had a solid first series overall. The switch-hitter hit .278/.350/.500 in five games. The infielder has a good arm at short and can play all over the infield. His biggest flaw has been his inability to get on base; he’s never posted a .300 on-base percentage in any of his previous three professional seasons. Lopez had a 10% walk rate in his first five games and if he can continue to make more contact, he’s a legitimate prospect who could give the Padres more ammunition as the trade deadline approaches.
Keep an eye on: OF Agustin Ruiz. The 21-year-old outfielder only had three hits in four starts, but two of them left the yard. Ruiz played with the Low-A TinCaps and struggled overall, producing just a .654 OPS. At six-foot-two and 215 pounds, he has the build of someone who can hit for power. While his countryman Tirso Ornelas is a more known name amongst Padres fans, Ruiz could be poised for a breakout in the Summit City. … LHP Ethan Elliott is also a name that deserves some consideration. He’s 24 and tops out at 90 mph, but his first start on opening night was dominant. Elliott stuck out nine in four innings, including an immaculate inning where he toyed with a very talented West Michigan lineup. Elliott, a 10th-rounder in 2019, signed for $5,000 after playing collegiately at Division II Lincoln Memorial University in Tennessee. He walked just four batters while striking out 38 in 35.2 innings in short-season ball in 2019. The lack of velocity and his advanced age doesn’t scream prospect but he has done nothing but dominate since turning pro.
Lake Elsinore Storm (went 5-1 against the Visalia Rawhide on the road).
Top Prospects: The Storm played some wild games in the Central Valley and were very close to sweeping the six-game series against the team that beat them in the 2019 California League Championship Series. … After a hitless debut on Tuesday, Robert Hassell III was an on-base machine for the rest of the series, just like the Padres envisioned when they selected him eighth overall in last year’s draft. Overall, Hassell hit .292/.469/.708 in the opening series, scoring ten runs and drawing eight walks from the top of the order. Hassell also had five extra-base hits, including a pair of homers. The outfielder doesn’t turn 20 until August. The Padres believed he was the best pure hitter in the draft and Hassell III sure looked like it last week. He also got some national love from Baseball America. … Outfielder Joshua Mears played in five games and went 4-for-17 with a pair of doubles. Mears was hit by a pitch Thursday night and left the game but was back in the lineup by Saturday. The 6-foot-3 outfielder is a physical specimen with his ability to make loud contact. Like many young hitters, he needs to make more consistent contact – he struck out nine times in 20 plate appearances. Mears will see time at all three outfield positions this season, as the organization seems keen on moving guys around the diamond.
Keep an eye on: Catcher Brandon Valenzuela. The 20-year-old catcher had a monstrous series in Visalia, hitting an absurd .417/.533/.792 while playing in all six games. The switch-hitting catcher hit three homers in the series and drove in five runs. Coming into the season, Valenzuela had just one career homer to his name. The native of Hermosillo, Mexico is an excellent receiver behind the dish and has always been able to get on-base in the complex leagues. If Valenzuela can show the ability to hit 10-15 homers, he will be a top-ten prospect in the system by the season’s end.