The 2022 minor league baseball season kicks off this week without the threat of COVID looming over the season for the first time in three years. Last season, the Padres’ lack of depth in the upper minors – especially on the pitching side of things – was exposed and the team limped to a 79-83 record after a hot start.
Heading into the year, the Padres’ farm system ranked in the middle of the pack, with a few elite talents like CJ Abrams and Robert Hassell III ranking among the best prospects in baseball. Beyond those two, the Padres have some interesting players that could see time in San Diego season and others who are further away but should give fans reasons to be optimistic for future years.
We take a look at the Padres organizational depth, including top prospects, recent draftees, and veteran minor leaguers who could impact the team as soon as this season. Today, we take a look at catchers and infielders.
Top Prospect: Luis Campusano
Campusano started the 2021 season in the big leagues with the Padres and struggled in a very small sample before being returned to El Paso. In his final 61 games with the Chihuahuas, the Georgia native hit .320/.386/.613 with a sub-20% K-rate. While there are some questions about his defense behind the dish, his bat is big-league ready. The Padres currently have three other catchers on the 40-man roster so the Padres seem likely to make a deal from their depth.
Top 20 prospects: Brandon Valenzuela
Valenzuela, 21, came into 2021 with just one homer in his first two professional seasons. In 2019, he posted an impressive .399 on-base percentage but slugged just .290 in the complex league, but his 2021 breakout completely changed the narrative on the Mexican-born receiver. He hit .307/.389/.444 in his first taste of full-season ball with Lake Elsinore before earning a late promotion to Fort Wayne. He doesn’t project to have a bat like Campusano’s, but switch-hitting catchers with the ability to get on base aren’t plentiful throughout the game. Valenzuela will be eligible for the Rule 5 draft next winter and is still at least two years away from the big league level, but he is a solid prospect.
A veteran who can help: Webster Rivas
Rivas, 31, signed with the Dodgers as an amateur free agent and spent parts of 11 seasons in the minors before finally making his big league debut with the Padres last year. Rivas performed admirably in limited duty but is a depth option who is best suited as the third catcher on the depth chart. If the Padres do make a move with one of their catchers, Rivas has proven he can be serviceable in a limited capacity. The club outrighted him from the 40-man roster early in the offseason but re-signed soon after.
In the wings: Jonny Homza
If last season ended in July, Homza would have been the Fort Wayne Player of the Year. After a two-hit night on July 6, Homza’s slash-line stood at an impressive .282/.413/.500. After that, as he dealt with a shoulder injury, Homza struggled mightily, hitting just .141/.219/.169 with a hideous 33% K-rate. Despite the struggles, Homza is a strong athlete who can play third, short, first, and perhaps a bit in the outfield. He is better than last year’s final numbers and an interesting name to watch. Unfortunately, he suffered a neck injury while mountain biking this winter and his 2022 season is very much in doubt.
Others to watch: Mexicali native Gilberto Vizcarra conceded a lot of playing time to Valenzuela in Lake Elsinore, but he hit .390/.429/.559 in September. He’s a bat-first prospect who has shown the ability to make consistent contact. … Chandler Seagle, the Appalachian State alum, produced a paltry .523 OPS with the Missions but is the best defensive catcher in the system. If his bat picks up, he will have a chance to make the big leagues. … The Padres will have an especially talented young group of receivers in the desert, including switch-hitting Carlos Rodriguez and Oswaldo Linares.
Top Prospect: CJ Abrams
Abrams, the consensus number one prospect in the Padres’ organization, got off to a good start last year in San Antonio before breaking his leg in a freak collision with Eguy Rosario. In a small, 42-game sample, Abrams hit a solid .296/.363/.420 with a pair of homers. Thanks to the injury and the cancellation of the 2020 season, the 21-year-old has played in just 76 games since being drafted in 2019. Even with that limited track record, his strong performance this spring and Fernando Tatis, Jr.’s injury have put him on the verge of his big league debut. Even if he doesn’t start the year in the Majors, he will likely get a chance to contribute this year.
Top 20 prospects:
Rosario, 22, earned our 2021 Double-A Player of the Year with his best season as a professional. Rosario clubbed a career-high 12 homers and produced a wRC+ of 118. Defensively, Rosario bounced back-and-forth between second base and shortstop, but he also has experience at third and first base. At the plate, Rosario made strides in his selectivity and produced a solid 10.2% walk rate. Rosario was added to the 40-man roster this winter and will open the year anchoring the El Paso infield.
Acosta,17, was the prize of the Padres’ international class of 2021, signing for $1.8 million. The switch-hitting shortstop made his professional debut in the DSL last summer and produced outstanding results. He hit .285/.431/.484 with five homers, 31 RBI, and 26 stolen bases. Acosta has tremendous upside and will make his stateside debut when the Arizona Complex League gets underway this summer.
Merrill, the Padres’ first-rounder in 2021 had a solid pro debut after being selected out of high school in Maryland. The left-handed-hitting infielder faded down the stretch, finishing with a .280/.339/.383 line. Having added weight during his first professional offseason, Merrill will open the year at short for Lake Elsinore.
Veterans who could help:
The Padres signed 26-year-old Domingo Leyba to a minor league pact early in the off-season. The veteran has 55 games of big-league experience, including 34 last season for Arizona and Baltimore. He hasn’t had much success at the big league level but he hit a robust .313/.335/.577 at Triple-A. … Veteran infielder C.J. Hinojosa signed with the Padres after spending last year with the Astros’ Triple-A affiliate (RIP Skeeters). The 27-year-old infielder bounced around the infield for the Skeeters and hit .316/.351/.481 with 14 homers. He was a Cal League All-Star back in 2016 when he was with the Giants’ organization. He doesn’t have any big league experience but he should help El Paso win games in 2022.
In the wings: Jarryd Dale is a versatile infielder who showed some promise with the Storm last season, displaying outstanding athleticism, versatility, and growing power potential. He is still fairly raw but he is a guy to watch in Fort Wayne this season. … Justin Lopez has some intriguing power potential and has great hands defensively but has yet to demonstrate consistent offense. He did hit 10 homers with the TinCaps last season and produced a career-high .313 on-base percentage. … Ripken Reyes was hurt for most of last season but he attended college at USD and has a .424 career on-base percentage in 94 games. … Max Ferguson, the Padres’ fifth-rounder last year, has excellent speed. He hit 12 homers during his final year at the University of Tennessee. He played second base and some outfield for Elsinore in 2021 and will get the opportunity to do so again this spring.
The Padres have rarely deployed traditional first basemen in their system, preferring to focus on up-the-middle youngsters who might shift down the defensive spectrum at later dates. While no player in our top 20 is currently a full-time corner infielder, Merrill and Rosario might ultimately wind up at third. For now, the corners include a mix of veterans who could see big league time and younger players who could end up as utility players.
In the Wings: 1B/OF Taylor Kohlwey
Kohlwey, 27, might be a tad too old to be considered a prospect, but he is a versatile player who hit well in 2021. The Wisconsin-La Crosse product hit .311/.383/.445 with a double-digit walk rate while splitting the season between San Antonio and El Paso last year. He doesn’t possess the power typical of a corner spot, but he could contribute in a pinch.
A veteran who could help: 1B Aderlin Rodriguez
Rodriguez, 30, is back in the organization for his second stint. The first baseman posted an OPS of .997 in 75 games for El Paso in 2019 and parlayed his success into a contract in Japan but struggled in 2020. Last season, he returned stateside and clobbered 29 homers with AAA Toledo. He has never reached the majors, but his power will always make him an interesting player to watch.
Others to watch: Infielder Cole Cummings hit .311/.426/.563 in 36 games between the ACL Padres and Lake Elsinore after signing with the Padres as an undrafted free agent. He spent time at both corner positions. … 19-year-old Nerwilian Cedeno hit .241/.354/.537 with three homers with the ACL Padres. He bounced around the infield for the ACL Padres but he could be a candidate for a corner spot in Lake Elsinore in 2022.