The TinCaps will have four of the San Diego Padres’ Top 20 prospects and easily have the system’s best outfield with Robert Hassell III, Joshua Mears and Corey Rosier. After Luis Campusano, Brandon Valenzuela is the system’s best catcher, and he will guide a college-heavy staff led by Robert Gasser.
Depending on how long everyone stays, this could be a very good club.
Three Strikes with Mark Conner, Padres Minor League Field Coordinator:
Coming out of the draft, some doubted Robert Hassell’s ability to stay in center field professionally, but he looked terrific out there last season. Can you describe what he offers defensively?
Mark Connor: Watching Robert this spring and over the years, he has shown the ability to be a complete baseball player. A lot of the conversation we had with him pre- and post-draft with him was can he play center, or does he have to move to a corner?
I think a few things led to that perception because he played right field on Team USA, and no one got to see him play a lot of center because his senior year was cut short by the pandemic. Many of the looks people got were when he was not in center field.
As he has transitioned and gotten into the system, he has shown us he can play there at a well above average clip. He gets good reads, good first step, smooth mover, good closing speed, above-average instincts, plus range and solid-average arm with plus accuracy.
The big thing for Robert is he can play all three outfield positions, but I think he fits best in center, and he’s just going to have to continue to work on doing some of the little things in his defensive game at the highest level.
Joshua Mears showed some glimpses of the player he could be last year with the Storm. Where do you see his biggest opportunity to improve this year?
Mark Connor: He is one of the players that I am really looking forward to seeing his development path. He has a high ceiling, and he showed flashes of it last year. Over the off-season and early camp, he definitely made some adjustments and improvements with his offensive swing – some more mechanical adjustments and his overall approach focus.
The combination of his hitability and staying within the strike zone has shown signs of his improvement and could get better too. One of the big things about Joshua is his strength and speed combination is extremely rare; it’s one of the best in minor league baseball, just a huge upside.
He’s also becoming a good defender, and there’s plenty of room to improve there. I think you will see him tracking down a lot of baseballs in both right and center field throughout the year.
Mark Connor: We definitely thought there was an opportunity for all three of them to start in High-A. All three can throw strikes and change speeds, and as we put the assignments together, we thought they were well prepared to go out and compete at that level.
2022 Projected Lineup:
1B Jack Stronach* OF Joshua Mears
2B Ripken Reyes# OF Robert Hassell III*
SS Jarryd Dale OF Corey Rosier*
3B Olivier Basabe OF/DH Angle Solarte
C Brandon Valenzuela#
* left-handed hitter, #switch hitter
SP/LHP Robert Gasser RP/RHP Brandon Komar
SP/LHP Jackson Wolf RP/RHP Seth Mayberry
SP/RHP Ryan Bergert
SP/LHP Noel Vela
SP/LHP Danny Denz
SP/RPH Adam Smith
MadFriars’ Top 20 Prospects in Fort Wayne: OF Robert Hassell III (#2), OF Joshua Mears (#6), C Brandon Valenzuela (#11) and LHP Robert Gasser (#14)
Catch a Rising Star
Robert Hassell III, 20, was the Padres’ top pick in the 2020 amateur draft and the eighth overall selection. He spent much of his draft year in the Alternate Site, where he found himself competing with major league players and the experience paid off last year with a breakout season in Low-A Lake Elsinore, where he slashed .323/.415/.482 with 31 stolen bases in 37 attempts. He had a brief cameo in the Summit City last year, but look for him to do more this season.
The staff will be led by three college arms taken in the 2021 draft, and all three could have a shot to move up rather quickly. Robert Gasser, 23, was a Competitive Balance B pick who rose as much as anyone in last year’s draft, mainly on a big jump in velocity. The big questions on Gasser will be if his newfound velocity can last over an entire professional season and how well his secondaries play. Ryan Bergert, 22, and 6-foot-7 Jackson Wolf, 23, were teammates at West Virginia University. Bergert didn’t pitch in his final year of college because of injury, but if he’s healthy has a high-spin four-seam fastball with a decent curve and slider. Wolf, was a senior pick whose strength is more about the movement on the ball that his size causes than the velocity. Noel Vela, 23, was drafted in the 28th round, signed for the maximum of $125,000 and pitched for three years in the Arizona Complex Leagues before getting an opportunity last year in Lake Elsinore and Fort Wayne. Despite a 1-11 record, he had a respectable 3.90 ERA in 21 starts. He has a fastball that can sit in the mid-90s and a plus curve – but his control is a work in progress. Danny Denz, 23, on the other hand, does not struggle with control. The 5-foot-9 Denz was an undrafted free agent out of Memphis, can start, throw middle innings and probably even close. He throws a fastball, change and curve anytime in the count. Denz will share the fifth spot with Adam Smith, 22, a former two-way player at UNC-Wilmington. He’s only been going out as a starter since last year and posted some quality numbers. As with anyone new to pitching, the secondaries and the changeup are his biggest potential areas for growth.
Pen: Brandon Komar, 23, spent time between San Antonio and Fort Wayne last season, toggling between the bullpen and some spot starts. This season he should be in the bullpen, where he had 85 strikeouts in 80.1 innings but struggled with free passes giving up 40. Seth Mayberry, 21, was a late pick in 2018 out of Dinwiddie High School in Virginia and got an early jump on his pro career. He has yet to pitch more than 28 innings in a season, but he has some interesting stuff and could be a factor this year.
Catching: Brandon Valenzuela, 21, was always thought of as a defense-first catcher due to his strong physical tools but more importantly, he is one of the best handlers of pitchers in the organization. Offensively, the switch-hitter has always had a strong eye at the plate with a career .390 on-base percentage in 869 plate appearances, but last year with the Storm, he started to drive the ball with a .307/.389/.444 slash line. Adam Kerner, 23, a former USD Torero, was with the TinCaps last year and is a quality defensive player who struggled to hit consistently.
Infield: The inclusion of Euribiel Angles in the Sean Manaea trade robbed the TinCaps of their top infield prospect but opened up opportunities for others. Jarryd Dale, 21, signed with the Padres out of Australia when he was just 16 and last year got his first taste of full-season ball at 20, where he hit .269/.330/.381 while playing seven different positions. He should continue on the same path this year but could see most of the time at shortstop this season. The switch-hitting Ripken Reyes, 25, was briefly in Fort Wayne in 2019 and 2021 and should see most of his time up the middle. Reinaldo Illarazza, another switch-hitter, is still only 23 but has been in Fort Wayne every season since 2017 when they were in Low-A. He can play about any position on the field defensively and has shown an ability to steal bases with 38 bags in 46 attempts, but struggles to make consistent contact or hit with power. Olivier Basabe spent most of 2021 in Double-A San Antonio, where he struggled at the plate, hitting .195/.272/.289 after starting the season with the TinCaps. Jack Stronach, 24, starred at UCLA before being drafted by San Diego in 2019. He has a smooth left-handed stroke but has yet to put up numbers as a professional. He should see time at first base and some time at third base this season.
Outfield: The outfield of Hassell, Mears and Corey Rosier will easily be the best in the system, both at the plate and in the field. All three will rotate in at center, but Hassell will get most of the time there with Mears in right and Rosier in left. Mears, 21, has truly frightening power, and at 6-foot-3 and a very strong 245 pounds, there is a lot he can do. Rosier, 22, came over in the Adam Frazier trade with the Mariners this winter. The 2021 12th-rounder out of UNC-Charlotte put up great numbers in Low-A Modesto, hitting .390/.461/.585 in 31 games and 131 plate appearances. Angel Solarte, 21, also got to Fort Wayne last year, hitting and should see some time in the corners and at DH. He put up solid numbers in 75 games and 302 plate appearances, with the Storm hitting .307/.351/.407.
Under the Radar: Corey Rosier will get an opportunity this season to do what he does best: make contact and get on base in front of some big hitters. He should be a plus defender in left and center when he gets an opportunity and look for his stolen base numbers to pick up.