Synopsis: The Chihuahuas will be the most exciting team for those who want to know who can come up to the big leagues and contribute immediately. The club opens the year with two of the organization’s top prospects, MacKenzie Gore and Luis Campusano, along with lefty Ryan Weathers, who exhausted his rookie eligibility last year. The staff also features Reiss Knehr, who got some big league spot starts in 2021 and could again this season.
Infielder Eguy Rosario could be the object of many potential trade talks as the well-built Dominican could continue to flash the power and speed he showed last year in Double-A.
Three Strikes with Mark Connor, the Padres Minor League Coordinator:
MacKenzie Gore had a great Spring and once again got a lot of Padres fans excited. What were the changes he made, and how is the organization ensuring that it will continue at El Paso?
Mark Conner: MacKenzie worked on smoothing out his delivery and arm action during the off-season, mainly something to make it cleaner. He worked on his timing a lot for his command.
When we start moving, it will be the constant monitoring of his and all of our pitcher’s arm action, delivery and timing with everyone. It’s a lot of video and communication to make sure that everyone is on the same page.
Mac is in a really good spot, and I’m excited to see what he can do this year.
The Athletic’s Eno Sarris has suggested that Ryan Weathers should be featuring his two-seam fastball more than his four-seamer and throw his slider more. Is there any type of change that the organization wants to see from Ryan in El Paso?
Mark Conner: I think with Ryan, he moved very fast through the organization, and when you accelerate from an amateur and through the minor leagues to the Alternate Site because of COVID – everything was different for his development.
This year, a big part of his development was getting him on the mound in El Paso and getting him built up for a starter workload. With the depth of the major league rotation right now and the time that we can utilize him in Triple-A to develop and utilize his entire arsenal, not just two-seamer or four-seamer, curveball or slider, but getting him the number of reps that he needs to be successful as a starter was the whole goal in having him go back to Triple-A.
Luis Campusano had a big year in El Paso at the plate, especially in the last three months. What is the organization looking for from Luis on both sides of the ball in Triple-A?
Mark Conner: He needs to continue cultivating relationships with his pitchers on the field. He has shown the ability to be a very good receiver at times. For him, it’s about him continuing to develop all parts of that game; his relationship with the pitchers, calling games and the consistency behind the plate.
Offensively the consistency in his approach. He has elite bat speed, elite power and a potential impact bat. For him, it will be approach-based and just fine-tuning things. So when he does get the chance to come up, everything will be in place.
2022 Projected Lineup:
2B Matt Batten CF Trayce Thompson
SS Eguy Rosario OF/DH Normar Mazara*
C Luis Campusano C/DH Brett Sullivan
* indicates left-handed or switch-hitter
SP/LHP MacKenzie Gore LHP/RP Ray Kerr
SP/LHP Ryan Weathers RHPP/RP Evan Miller
SP/RHP Reiss Knehr
SP/RHP Pedro Avila
SP/RHP Jesse Scholtens
SP/LPH Aaron Leasher
MadFriars’ Top 20 Prospects in El Paso: C Luis Campusano (#3), LHP MacKenzie Gore (#4) and INF Eguy Rosario (#12)
Catch a Rising Star: If Spring Training is any indicator, MacKenzie Gore, 23, should be much better than last year with the Chihuahuas, where he struggled with his mechanics and confidence in route to a 5.85 ERA in six forgettable starts. To his credit, he asked to be sent back down to Extended Spring to get his mechanics in place before making starts in the Arizona Complex League with the TinCaps and Missions. If Gore pitches anything like what we have just seen – he’ll be back in San Diego at the first opportunity.
Starting Pitching: Ryan Weathers was a first-round pick by San Diego in 2018 and had a good but not great season in then Low-A Fort Wayne in 2019. During the pandemic at the Alternate Site, Weathers impressed the Padres and made his major league debut during the team’s playoff run. Back in the big leagues last year Weathers, 22, struggled with his command and pitch selection and was in and out of the rotation with a 5.32 ERA. He is younger than Gore and Campusano and has already pitched 94.2 innings in the majors. The Padres will need another viable option for the starting staff other than Gore and need Weathers to be stretched out to be a starter rather than being a lefty specialist in a major league bullpen. … Reiss Knehr, 25, was the first minor league pitcher promoted last year as the former Fordham two-way star was 6-1 for the Missions with a 3.90 ERA. The difference in grip between baseballs at the major league level was one of the reasons for there not being as much separation between his fastball and changeup on the major league level. He pitched well for El Paso in limited innings (20.1) with a 2.66 ERA. To get back to where he wants to, he will need an improved slider to go along with his fastball/changeup combination. .. Jesse Scholtens, 28, led the Chihuahuas in innings pitched last year with a 101.2 and a 5.05 ERA in some challenging parks. He’s not going to light up any radar guns, but he will take the ball and has thrown over 100 innings since 2017. .. Pedro Avila, 25, came back from nearly two years of inactivity to throw 74.2 innings and put up some decent numbers as he was slowly stretched out. He throws a variety of pitches, and as his catcher Michael Cantu stated, he will throw anyone at any time. Lefty Aaron Leasher, 25, put up solid numbers in San Antonio before slowing down when he arrived in El Paso last season. He doesn’t have incredible velocity on his fastball but has exceptional command. His changeup is his best pitch, but he needs his breaking ball, particularly his slider, to be effective.
Pen: Ray Kerr, 27, who came over in the Adam Frazier trade, has electric stuff when it’s on. His fastball/slider combination led to 60 strikeouts in 39.2 innings against only 16 walks in Seattle’s upper minors last year, but he can struggle to command his 100 mph fastball. Evan Miller, 27, was with the Chihuahuas last year and can do many things for the staff. He threw 77.2 innings, made four starts and rode his sinker/slider combination to 85 strikeouts against 27 walks. He will always be in the conversation for a potential call-up with numbers like that in Triple-A.
Catching: Luis Campusano, 23, may have more raw talent than any catchers on the major league roster. Between June through August last year, he destroyed Triple-A West – thankfully renamed the Pacific Coast League. Defensively, he has all the physical tools. The 5-foot-11, 232-pound Campusano moves well behind the plate, excels at blocking pitches in the dirt and has a plus arm – it’s more of the intangibles of working with a pitcher and game-calling where the team wants to see more consistency. After Campusano, El Paso will also have Webster Rivas and the recently acquired Brett Sullivan. .. Rivas, 30, making his big league debut last year after 11 seasons in the minors, was one of the better stories in the organization. .. Brett Sullivan, 28, came over in the recent trade with Milwaukee for Victor Caratini and has also seen time in left field. He hit .223/.302/.375 in Triple-A Durham for the Rays before signing with Milwaukee this winter.
Infield: Eguy Rosario, 22, had a breakout season for San Antonio last year, when he posted an .815 OPS and was our Double-A player of the year. He is a capable defender at all three infield positions, though he is best suited for either second or third base. … Last season, Matt Batten, 26, was the Chihuahuas Swiss Army knife, playing seven different – even pitching a little – and providing a capable bat in the lineup. … C.J. Hinojosa, 27, joins the organization from the Astros system, where he hit .316/.351/.481 at Triple-A Round Rock. The former Longhorn played all around the infield. … Aderlin Rodriguez, 30, was signed out of the Detroit organization, where he hit .290/.362/.565 for Toledo in Triple-A. He’s mainly a first baseman but has also seen time at third and left field.
Outfield: The outfield will include a group with significant big-league experience in case the Padres have an injury. Trayce Thompson, 31, the brother of Klay, is in his twelfth season of professional baseball with parts of five in the big leagues. He can play all three outfield positions – and, as you can imagine, has always been considered athletic – and has some pop with a career .429 slugging percentage in 11 minor league seasons. .. Taylor Kohlwey, 27, had an excellent year for El Paso last year, hitting .319/.381/.456 and can play all three outfield spots. Still, his best position might be first base. .. Nomar Mazara, 26, played six years in the majors and hit 20 home runs for the Texas Rangers in 2018 and 19 in 2019 before struggling with Detroit last year .212/.276/.321. He’ll have an excellent opportunity to rebound in the hitter-friendly parks of the PCL. .. Brent Rooker, 27, came over from the Twins in the recent Chris Paddack trade with the Minnesota Twins and was caught in an outfield squeeze on the big club. The former first-round draft pick from Mississippi State has big-time right-handed power potential but struggled in 213 plate appearances with the Twins at .201/.291/.397.
On the Spot: Luis Campusano has all the tools to be much more than an average big league backstop. This year will go a long way to demonstrate that he can handle a pitching staff and manage a game. The bat is very real.
Under the Radar: After Gore and Weathers, the Chihuahuas have attractive big league options in Knehr and the bullpen with Ray Kerr and Evan Miller. San Diego seems extremely determined this season not to run into the same problem it had last year when it signed Jake Arrieta and Vince Velasquez to patch together a decimated pitching staff. This season, the Chihuahuas should provide the big club with much more pitching depth.