Synopsis: The Padres are expected to have a deep talent pool to open the 2022 Arizona Complex League season, featuring top signees from the 2021 and 2022 international free agent classes. A year after their Dominican squad was among the league’s top offensive performers, many of the key contributors from that squad will be among the at-bat leaders in Peoria. Because the Padres went college-heavy in last year’s draft, the opening day roster will largely feature international signees.
Level: The complex leagues are the lowest level in the domestic minor leagues, representing the first stop stateside for international signees and where many draft selections will arrive in July. Games are generally played on the back fields of team’s spring training facilities in front of more team staff than fans. Even more than most levels, professional development is much more of a focus than winning at this level as pitchers begin to develop their throwing schedules and build up innings early, and then draftees come in late in the season. This year, teams will have every Sunday and Wednesday off.
Three Strikes with Mark Connor, Padres Minor League Field Coordinator
MadFriars: You had a deep group in the DSL last year. Who from that group do you expect to take on lead roles in Peoria this summer?
Mark Conner: Some of the ones that stand out include Sam Zavala. It’s a really good swing. He’s got some feel to fit, he’s got some power potential coming, and can really play defense. Victor Acosta is going to be at shortstop, where he’s got good actions. The makeup is tremendous. He continues to grow and mature and show some leadership ability that’s fun to see. He’s swinging the bat really well and is going to be a stabilizer there in the middle of the infield. Eddy Beltre is a good-looking athlete who can run and really play defense. He’s got an aggressive demeanor on the field and has some feel for the bat with some real bat speed and power potential.
There’s an interesting group of catchers at the complex right now. How do you see workload shaping up for them?
Mark Conner: There’s four guys that are going to be back there with Colton Bender, Alejandro Hernandez, Mattias Polanco and Carlos Rodriguez. They all have ability and talent, they’re all continuing to grow in their ability to call a game and deal with game management. I think it’s going to be a rotation of trying to get these guys as much opportunity as possible, but also to develop on the side through all the work they’ll do in the pens and working with the pitching staff.
While Jarlin Susana just signed in January, he’s already 18 and physically very mature. What do you look for from him in his professional debut this summer?
Mark Conner: The goal is to make sure he has a good routine, that he’s continuing to grow into being a professional. He’s a big, physical, strong-bodied right-handed pitcher with a power fastball who shows the ability to spin a slider. He’s got some real arm talent that we’re excited to see. It’s just teaching him how to manage the day-to-day between starts. We’ll monitor the innings and the workload.
MadFriars‘ Top 20 Prospects in the ACL: #11 SS Victor Acosta
Pitching: Susana, who wasn’t eligible for our preseason Top 20 as a 2022 signee but should slot in comfortably this winter, is the clear headliner here. The recently-turned 18-year-old already works with a fastball in the upper-90s and has flashed a slider with good life that could be a true weapon. There’s some thought he could be in full-season ball before the end of the season. Henry Baez, 19, showed good life in his right arm in the Dominican last year and at the complex this spring. The 2019 signee struck out 37 in 36 innings of work. Cuban lefty Javier Chacon made just one official appearance in Peoria last year after signing as an 18-year-old in January, but his mix of stuff and savvy make him an arm to watch on the staff. While 20-year-old righty Manuel Castro is still undersized, he struck out 25 in 17.1 DSL innings last year. Australian righty Riley Yeatman, who originally signed early in 2021, will make his professional debut as an 18-year-old with big projectability from the right side. Lefty Jagger Haynes, who the Padres drafted out of high school in 2020 and had Tommy John surgery last spring, should make his professional debut later in the summer. Justin Lopez, who has collected over 1,500 plate appearances as an infielder in the system since 2017, will be making the conversion to the mound this summer.
Catching: Alejandro Hernandez may spend a few more days with Lake Elsinore as they navigate roster challenges, but once he’s back, he will join a deep group at the complex. The 22-year-old native of Venezuela saw limited action int he Dominican and Arizona after signing last January. Switch-hitting 19-year-old Carlos Rodriguez may be the most complete of the four receivers, offering solid building blocks for receiving and coming off a DSL campaign in which he walked almost as much as he struck out. Colton Bender, the Padres’ 10th-round pick out of Quinnipiac is a polished receiver behind the plate.
Infield: Rosman Verdugo, who signed from the Mexico City Diablos Rojos in January and turned 17 in February, will anchor the infield alongside Victor Acosta. The right-handed batter has an advanced feel for the barrel at a young age and will get plenty of opportunities as one of the youngest players in the Valley. Acosta impressed in his professional debut in the Dominican Republic last summer after earning the largest bonus the Padres gave out during the 2021 international free agency period. A switch-hitter, Acosta already shows strong game instincts on both sides of the game and has difference-making speed on the bases. They’ll be flanked by Jake Perez, whose .986 OPS in the Dominican last summer was better than his more heralded teammates. Originally signed as a middle infielder, one of the few Costa Rican players in the game will see action around the field. Cuban infielder Juan Murillo was a late signee in this year’s international class. The 19-year-old is expected to offer top-of-the-scale speed. System veterans Rafael Fermin, Josttin Diaz, and Willmert Paula will all also contribute around the infield.
Outfield: Zavala and Beltre headline a strong outfield class. Zavala is the most advanced hitter on the roster even though he won’t turn 18 until July. The Venezuela native leveraged very good bat speed from the left side for a .487 slugging percentage last year. Beltre, another member of the 2021 international class, shows well-rounded skills that will play in both center and the corner outfield spots. They’ll be joined in the outfield by Baja California native Ruben Salinas, who initially signed as a two-way player in 2019. A rare right-handed hitter/left-handed thrower, the 19-year-old missed almost all of last season with an injury. Edwin Rojas, one of the headliners of the 2018 international class, will return to join them this year.