Summary: After a season sojourn in Amarillo and a year lost to the pandemic, the San Diego Padres’ Double-A affiliate returned to San Antonio, where they were from 2007 to 2018.
Why would would a club leave a brand new park to return to Nelson Wolff Stadium which is over 25 years old? There are several reasons, but the most prominent is playing in the winds of the Wolff is a far better way to evaluate players, even if it does lean toward pitching, than the elevation of the Panhandle.
At various times in the season, the club featured some of the organization’s top prospects, most notably CJ Abrams, yet still finished six games under .500. The team’s 57-63 was still the best record in the system.
Overview: We use a simple formula for the awards. Whichever team the player appeared for most is where he is eligible. For the top prospect, we take into account not just what the player did this year, but his age and potential impact in the major leagues.
Level: Double-A is where things start getting pretty real for prospects. It’s not unheard of for players to show enough at this level and earn promotions to the majors while skipping past Triple-A, as with Reiss Knehr and Pedro Avila this season.
Double-A-Central, which used to be and still should be known as the Texas League, plays relatively neutral overall, though San Antonio is a pitcher’s park, so it’s not uncommon to see pitcher production improve upon promotion, while many hitters struggle to adjust to facing advanced pitching.
MadFriars’ San Antonio Missions Player of the Year for 2021
Infielder Eugy Rosario (Unanimous)
.281/.360/.455; 46 extra-base hits, 12 home runs, 191 total bases; 30 stolen bases in 44 attempts
Though Rosario has been playing stateside since 2016, he just turned 22 at the end of this season. He is only 5-foot-9, but a very solid 185 to 190 pounds and looks more like a strong safety than a middle infielder.
When Abrams went down in late June with a broken fibia, Rosario took over as the everyday shortstop. Over his last 55 games he posted a slash-line of .297/.359/.459.
This season he posted career-highs in extra-base hits, home runs and had his highest on-base percentage since his Rookie League days. He profiles much more as a second baseman than a shortstop and with San Diego’s depth at that position he could emerge as an attractive trade chip.
Runner-Up: OF Jose Azocar .276/.360/.432; 23 extra-base hits, 9 home runs, 15 stolen bases in 26 attempts
Azocar, 25, was one of the best moves of the Padres’ front office in the off-season as a minor league free agent signee from the Detroit Tigers. He plays a very athletic centerfield but the key for him offensively this season was buying into becoming more selective at the plate. Promoted in early August he a combined .281/.341/.438 with the Missions and Chihuahuas and even ended up leading Triple-A west in triples with eight despite playing only 49 games there.
His on-base percentage to a bit of a dip as he moved up, from .360 to .308, but his stolen base percentage improved with 17 steals in 20 attempts. Azocar probably needs a few more months in the minors to solidify the gains that he made this season, but he could make a push for the big league roster with his position versatility.
Other Players of Note: OF Jack Suwinski, 22, was off to his best season in the organization, showing significant improvements in patience and power with a .269/.398/551 slash line before being included in the Adam Frazier deal with the Pittsburgh Pirates. After a bit of an adjustment period, he finished strong with the Pirates’ Double-A affiliate the Altoona Curve in September with a .327/.435/.481 line. .. Esteury Ruiz, 22, had an up-and-down season at .249/.328/.411, but finished second in Double-A Central in stolen bases with 36 in 42 attempts. He is no longer a prospect in the infield, but did log more time this season in all three outfield spots, including center. Despite his slight 6-foot, 170 pound frame he is a lot stronger than he looks. .. Allen Cordoba was once being developed as a shortstop or even a super-utility guy, but has settled into mainly third base with occasional starts at first. In 74 games he put up a very solid .299/.392/.446 line at 25 in already his seventh minor league season. He is eligible for minor league free agency this off-season so San Diego will have to put him on the 40-man or sign him as a minor league free agent.
2021 Top Prospect
CJ Abrams (Anonymous)
.296/.363/.420; 14 doubles, 2 home runs , 13 stolen bases in 15 attempts in 42 games
Abrams was the Padres top draft pick in the 2019 draft and sixth overall. In his draft year he destroyed the Arizona Rookie League slashing .401/.442/.662 and was at the Alternate Site for all of 2020. He impressed the organization in Spring Training they made the aggressive decision to place him at Double-A despite only having two games at the A-ball level.
In the 42 games he played the majority were at shortstop where he showed improvement in his arm strength and accuracy. Offensively, the left-handed hitting Abrams makes anything hit on the ground a close play and he has the best speed in the organization since Trea Turner in 2015. He’s filled out to close to 200 pounds but there is still some questions on his power, particularly to his pull side.
Injuries and the Pandemic have limited him to only 348 career plate appearances, so a brief return to the Alamo City might not be out of the question in 2022.