As the minor league season reaches the end of its first month, Mark Wilkens and Ben Davey take a look at the top performers of April. After two years disrupted by the pandemic, minor league ball is finally back to a more normal schedule this year, and the system got plenty of strong performances from key prospects. This list is not meant as a revision to our top prospects, but rather as a point-in-time snapshot of the top performers so far.
El Paso Chihuahuas (Pacific Coast League)
With one month in the books, the Chihuahuas land in third place in the PCL East at 13-11. It has been a nice rebound after posting their first-ever losing record last year (51-79).
The team has been carried all year by the offense. CF Trayce Thompson not only lead El Paso in home runs at the time of his promotion but was the minor league home run leader with nine. His .316/.385/.860 led the PCL in OPS by over 100 points before he fell below the plate appearance threshold.
April was a great month as well for a slew of other El Paso hitters. 2B Matthew Batten has reached base safely in 18 of 21 games this season, while leading the club with five stolen bases. RF Nomar Mazara joined the club late but has reached base 25 times in his first 12 games. Acquired in the Victor Caratini deal, C Brett Sullivan ended the month with a bang. Over his last six games, he has 10 hits, two home runs and 11 RBI. He finished the month hitting .327/.400/.519.
El Paso Chihuahuas Player of the Month: Trayce Thompson
El Paso Chihuahuas Pitcher of the Month: Jesse Scholtens
San Antonio Missions (Texas League)
The Missions are in a transition year, having graduated players like Eguy Rosario and CJ Abrams, but, partly due to trades taking out much of the talent between the very top and bottom levels of the system, San Antonio has yet to see much of the benefits from the most recent draft classes. Their veteran roster went 7-13 in April, good for last in the Texas League.
At the plate, Esteury Ruiz has had a fiery start to the season, batting .360 and slugging three home runs, good for a 1.110 OPS. Ruiz spent 2021 in San Antonio but was limited by injuries to 84 games, slashing .249/.328/.411 in something of a lost season for the outfielder. This year, he’s reworked his swing and is showing more patience at the plate, helping him to a 15.3% walk rate that’s more than double his career mark and a career-low 14.3% strikeout rate. He leads the upper minors with 15 stolen bases in 17 attempts.
San Diego native Brandon Dixon has added a veteran power bat to the lineup, hitting five home runs and driving in 23 runs. The 30-year-old corner infielder has a bit of MLB experience and joined the organization after a stint in Japan. He posted a 1.018 OPS before a promotion to Triple-A at the end of the month. Robbie Podorsky was even more productive, slashing .400/.455/.625 in 10 games before he was once again forced to the IL.
Augustin Ruiz got off to a solid start to the year, connecting on has a pair of home runs and a .779 OPS. He’s also leveraged an increased walk rate and lower strikeout rate to progress from batting .194 with a .599 OPS in 134 at-bats in San Antonio last year.
On the mound, Gabe Mosser was the only starter to muster an ERA below 4.00, checking in at 3.86, though he struck out just 11 in 18.2 innings across four starts. The 25-year-old righty threw 80 innings in Fort Wayne in 2021, posting a 4.39 ERA. Matt Waldron has a 17:6 K: BB, but a 5.05 ERA in four outings. The knuckleballer returns to San Antonio after making his final seven starts of 2021 in the Mission City.
The Missions bullpen had a few strong showings as they were called upon for plenty of work. Angel Felipe shined in his first month in the organization, posting 8.1 scoreless innings and striking out 11 across seven appearances. The 24-year-old righty signed as a minor league free agent out of the Rays organization. Carlos Belen had a 1.15 WHIP and 2.08 ERA in 8.2 relief innings, striking out 11 while lefty Tom Cosgrove added a 2.35 ERA in 7.2 innings. Key prospect Kevin Kopps posted a 2.57 ERA and 1.14 WHIP in seven innings, matching that with seven strikeouts.
San Antonio Missions Player of the Month: Esteury Ruiz
San Antonio Missions Pitcher of the Month: Angel Felipe
Fort Wayne TinCaps (Midwest League)
The TinCaps opened the season returning some of the exciting talent they received at the end of last summer from Lake Elsinore, and the star talent helped Fort Wayne to an 11-9 April record and second place in the East division of the Midwest League.
The team is led by Robert Hassell III, who at age 20, already appears to have mastered high-A pitching, slashing .388/.451/.613, showing some power with five home runs and stealing eight bases while providing strong defense in center field. Don’t expect Hassell to stay in Fort Wayne too much longer.
University of San Diego product Ripken Reyes is slashing .240/.377/.440, with a pair of homers to go with two doubles and a triple. Reyes begins the year with the TinCaps after spending last year split between Lake Elsinore and the TinCaps, with a rehab stint at the complex.
Joshua Mears joined Hassell on the Lake Elsinore to Fort Wayne pipeline. The big man crushed seven home runs and drove in 17 runs in April while posting a .859 OPS, but has struck out 36 times in 20 games, and hit just .197.
On the mound, Noel Vela has been electric in his return to Fort Wayne, earning a 0.59 ERA through four starts, while striking out 17 in 15.1 April innings. The only red flag for the lefty is 13 walks in the same span. Meanwhile, 2021 sixth-rounder Ryan Bergert has a 2.93 ERA to go along with a 24:4 K: BB in 15.1 innings, for a very strong showing in spite of an 0-2 record. Fellow 2021 draftee Jackson Wolf opened the year with a 1-1 record and 4.40 ERA across 14.1 April innings, striking out 21 and walking six.
Felix Minjarez headed the bullpen with a 2.70 ERA in 10 innings with a 21:3 K: BB in five appearances and Edwuin Bencomo went 1-0 with a 1.46 ERA, and nine strikeouts in 12.1 innings. Fellow righty Alek Jacob tossed nine scoreless innings with 16 strikeouts and allowed just four runners before a promotion to Double-A.
Fort Wayne TinCaps Player of the Month: Robert Hassell III
Fort Wayne TinCaps Pitcher of the Month: Felix Minjarez
Lake Elsinore Storm (California League)
After a few lean years, the Storm have started this season on fire. They finished the month with the best record in the league (15-6) and won nine of their final 10 games of the month. The success came in spite of only getting their two best players on the field together for four games.
Those two players were the Padres’ top two picks from last year’s draft. SS Jackson Merrill (.393/.452/518) reached base 28 times in 13 games before going down with an apparent wrist injury on April 24th. His .393 average currently leads the league, while his 12.7% K rate shows elite bat-to-ball skills.
Not to be outdone, CF James Wood – who missed over a week with a wrist injury himself – led the team with three home runs and a 1.085 OPS for the month. He also boasted 12 walks against only eight strikeouts, helping him to a lofty .491 OBP. Thus far, the two players have been everything the Padres could have hoped for when they’ve been on the field.
However, the Storm’s early success is fueled by other 2021 draft picks. Fifth-rounder 2B/CF Max Ferguson led the minors with 18 stolen bases in 19 attempts for the month, putting him on pace to swipe 126 bases this year. Eighth-round pick 3B Lucas Dunn drew a walk in 15 of 19 games and hit .288/.469/.525. He paced the team with 18 RBI in April.
The club got plenty of production on the mound as well, beginning RHP Garrett Hawkins who posted a 1.96 ERA. The ninth-rounder recorded a 0.76 WHIP and 26 strikeouts in 18.1 innings, leading the club in all three categories. Arguably most impressive, Hawkins allowed just one walk over his four starts. Fellow starters Jairo Iriarte, Victor Lizarraga and lefty Jesus Gonzalez all finished April with ERAs below 3.20 RHP Keegan Collett led the club with three saves and struck out 11 in 6.2 innings (1.35 ERA).
Lake Elsinore Storm Player of the Month: James Wood
Lake Elsinore Storm Pitcher of the Month: Garrett Hawkins
MadFriars Players of the Month:
James Wood and Robert Hassell III
Wood and Hassell are excelling at both their strengths and their perceived development areas so far, with Wood walking more than he’s struck out, and Hassell continuing to show more pop as time goes on. The duo both represent talents with tremendous upside who have quickly found their stride at each level and will likely headline the next wave of Padres prospects in coming years.
MadFriars Pitcher of the Month:
Garrett Hawkins, Lake Elsinore Storm
The 280th pick in the 2021 draft, Hawkins hails from Saskatoon, the Canadian town whose greatest sports hero is NHL Hall of Famer Gordie Howe. Western Canada remains a developing baseball market, and the Padres – who are very active in the region – may have found a gem late on the second day with Hawkins, a 6-foot-5 righty who has launched his professional career with 53 strikeouts and three walks in 33.2 innings.
His stuff sits in the mid-90s, he has prototypical size and obviously knows how to throw strikes. Hawkins may be a draft steal, flying under the radar because Canadian collegiate baseball completely shut down in the pandemic. The righty emerged throwing in the draft league last June.