Each month, MadFriars looks at the top performers at every level of the system. While we certainly work to provide context on the long-term significance of the production, this list is not an update to our Top 25 Prospects list, but rather a point-in-time check-in on players. Mark Wilkens and Marcus Pond co-author this monthly feature.
El Paso Chihuahuas (Triple-A West)
It’s been an understandably rough month for the Chihuahuas, whose roster has been significantly depleted by injuries, high bullpen usage, and a minor COVID-19 situation in San Diego. Despite these challenges, there are some bright spots for El Paso at the plate. Outfielder Brian O’Grady slashed .300/.343/.667 in nine games with the Chihuahuas to bookend his time with the Padres in mid-May. Robbie Podorsky tore up Triple-A pitching in the time between his callup on May 12 and landing on the IL on May 21, batting .429 with a 1.143 OPS, a home run, and two RBI. Outfielder/first baseman Patrick Kivlehan leads the team with six home runs, a .557 slugging percentage, and 15 RBI.
On the mound, right-hander Jesse Scholtens took a no-hitter into the seventh against Albuquerque and has posted a 1.11 WHIP to go along with a 2-1 record, 3.32 ERA, and 18 strikeouts across 19 innings. Relievers Jordan Guerrero and Evan Miller posted ERAs of 1.38 and 1.84 respectively, and have combined to strike out 27 batters in 27.2 innings.
All eyes have been on top prospect MacKenzie Gore, and while averaging 1.6 strikeouts per walk and posting a 5.94 ERA aren’t thrilling, the left-hander’s shown progress in working out of jams and bringing his command to a better standard than we saw earlier.
El Paso Chihuahuas Player of the Month: Jesse Scholtens
San Antonio Missions (Double-A Central)
After a month of play, the Missions (11-13) find themselves near the bottom of the division, but only 3.5 games back of Frisco (14-9). Their offense has scuffled a bit, averaging 3.7 runs a game, but has benefited from contributions from experienced players like 1B/3B Kyle Overstreet and outfielder Jose Azocar, who lead the team in hits.
A few of the youngsters on the offensive side have been pulling their weight as well. Before he missed six games with an injury, top prospect CJ Abrams lived up to the hype surrounding him, playing stellar shortstop and a little second base. Even after missing a week of action, he ranks among the league leaders in doubles (5) and is slashing .286/.367/.443. He’s played solid defense at short and hit a pair of homers while swiping three bases. Outfielder Jack Suwinski has swung an even hotter bat than Abrams, knocking 11 extra-base hits (five homers, two triples, and four doubles) and posting a .962 OPS, good for fifth in the league. He wasn’t drafted until the 15th round in 2017, when his raw power earned him an over-slot contract, but the 22-year-old has shown improved results and could be a name to watch moving forward.
The Missions have struggled on the pitching side, but starter Reiss Knehr has been the most solid, posting a 3-1 record with a 4.32 ERA across five starts. The former Fordham University righthander’s 7.2 K/9 has taken a dip from his strong 11.3 rate for Lake Elsinore in 2019, but he’s gotten good buzz from some in the organization. Lefty Aaron Leasher only logged 15.1 innings across his four starts, but posted a 2.93 ERA with 16 strikeouts. Texas Tech alum Jose Quezada shined in the bullpen, notching four saves and a 1.74 ERA, striking out 15 in 10.1 innings while James Reeves, who is on the 40-man, posted a 1.35 in 13.1 innings spread across eight outings.
San Antonio Missions Player of the Month: Jack Suwinski
Fort Wayne TinCaps (High-A Central)
It’s been a so-so start for Fort Wayne, where the offense ranks in the bottom three in the league for many categories. Agustin Ruiz leads the team with 6 home runs and is also slugging .481. Jonny Homza leads the way with 15 runs scored, and also has five doubles, a triple, and three home runs while spending time behind the plate and on the corners. Tijuana native outfielder Tirso Ornelas‘s nine doubles are tops for the TinCaps thus far.
While the pitching staff has a league-high 5.35 ERA as a unit, several pitchers have had great success – none more than lefthander Ethan Elliott. The 24-year-old’s 1.46 ERA and 38 strikeouts in 24.2 innings are both team highs. Edwuin Bencomo has also been a highlight for Fort Wayne, posting a 1.59 ERA and 25 strikeouts to go with only three walks in 17 innings of work. Brandon Komar is sporting a 2.70 ERA in six appearances, including one start.
Former top prospect Anderson Espinoza has finally made his return to competition in Fort Wayne, and though the sample size is very small, the progress has been good to see. In three starts, he’s struck out seven and walked two.
Fort Wayne TinCaps Player of the Month: Ethan Elliott
Lake Elsinore Storm (Low-A West)
After starting off the season with five consecutive wins, the Storm finished up May on a 6-13 run, finding themselves a game and a half behind Rancho Cucamonga. The Achilles heel for Lake Elsinore – like many other teams in what was formerly known as the California League – is pitching. Their starters managed to last five innings or more just five times as the organization tries to get young arms into the rhythm of a long minor league season. Right-hander Dwayne Matos has been on the best run of anybody in the rotation, posting a 2.08 ERA across his first four starts of the season, though his 5.2 K/9 numbers aren’t as gaudy as some of his teammates (Levi Thomas‘ 12.2 and Noel Vela‘s 13.2).
Robert Hassell III, the Padres’ first-rounder and eighth overall pick from last year’s draft, started his first year of professional ball on a tear. The 19-year-old is slashing .268/.392/.463, hitting a pair of homers and swiping seven bags in seven attempts, while walking an eye-popping 18 times. Defensively he’s mainly been in center field with a little time in right as well. He and shortstop/infielder Euribiel Angeles have 18 RBI apiece, tied for fifth in the league.
In the month of May, Jordy Barley was able to lead the team in hits (25) despite being second on the team with 29 strikeouts in 102 plate appearances, but also had a team-leading 10 errors in 16 games. University of San Diego alum infielder Ripken Reyes posted a 1.139 OPS in nine games before going on the 7-day Injured List. Catcher Brandon Valenzuela, a 20-year-old out of Hermosillo, Mexico, has emerged as a prospect to watch, posting a .921 OPS the first dozen games of the season, though he has slowed down a bit (.740 OPS overall) since then.
Lake Elsinore Storm Player of the Month: Robert Hassell III
MadFriars Player of the Month: Ethan Elliott
While there have been other noteworthy first months throughout the system, Elliott is most notable for his sheer dominance. A member of the 2019 draft class who saw his first full year of development fall by the wayside in the pandemic, Elliott has gone from potential sleeper to must-watch in a short time.