Summary: The Padres’ Triple-A affiliate moved to El Paso before the 2014 season and, through their first seven campaigns, had only finished below .500 once in 2021. After last year’s dismal season, the Chihuahuas rebounded by having a winning record every month of the season. This stretch includes a 17-3 stretch in September that propelled them to the division title. After winning the division, El Paso lost the one-game playoff to end their season.
As is almost a norm in the Sun City, they once again led the league in runs with 974, 25 more than the second-place team. As good as the offense was, their 5.53 ERA was fourth from the bottom and the Chihuahuas finished with a +71 run differential.
Overview: We use a simple formula for the awards. Whichever team the player appeared for most is where he is eligible. For the top prospect, we take into account not just what the player did this year but his age and potential impact in the major leagues.
We lean toward more of a middle-of-the-road evaluation, relying on a couple of questions to filter through it: (1) how old is the prospect compared to the competition; (2) how raw or developed is the prospect heading into a full-season ball; and (3) is he making the necessary adjustments in terms of mechanics and approach?
Level: Triple-A is a unique crossroads in professional baseball, with rosters that often feature as many players looking to get one last shot as those hoping to get their first shot. After the Padres emptied much of their minor league depth in trades, only two of the ten players with the highest plate appearances were under 26. Eguy Rosario and Luis Campusano were the only players to appear in more than half the Triple-A games and be on our preseason Top 20 list.
After realizing their error in calling the 100-year-old Pacific Coast League, “Triple-A West” in 2021, the name was reinstated before the 2022 season. The PCL was comprised of two five-team divisions.
Player of the Year: INF Eguy Rosario (John Conniff, David Jay, Kevin Charity, Ben Davey & Mark Wilkens)
On August 21, Eguy Rosario hit home run number 20 and, in doing so, became the first player in team history to record a 20/20 season. A week later, Eguy turned that 20/20 season into his first major league call-up. What is interesting is that Rosario was a much better player in the second half after hitting .237/.328/.347 with three home runs and seven stolen bases in 12 attempts in his first 45 games, which Eguy attribued to not having the right routine. Once that changed, he went on a terror slashing .364/.449/.670 in June with a PCL leading eight home runs. Beginning on June 1, he posted a .990 OPS for the remained of the season, and in addition to his 18 home runs, he also stole 14 bases while only being caught three times.
A 20-home run season is not surprising for most players, given the hitter-friendly nature of the PCL and, in particular, El Paso’s home park; Southwest University Park. However, Rosario’s career-high 20 home runs came from a player who hit 18 home runs total over his first four seasons in the organization.
While Eguy spent most of his time at second base (54 games), he also played 37 games at shortstop and 35 at third base. His ability to play solid to above-average defense in the infield is one of the reasons why his stock has risen so much over the last 18 months.
Others of Note: Only three players played in at least 80% of the team’s games. Rosario, Taylor Kohlwey, and CJ Hinojosa. Kohlwey led the team in walks and was second on the club in RBI (82) and runs (87). Minor league free agent infielder CJ Hinojosa had a solid .291/.359/.482 season with the club and recently signed with the Miami Marlins. No one could have a higher OPS than Brandon Dixon, who almost single-handedly led the team on the 17-3 September stretch, hitting .371/.447/.866 with 13 home runs in 25 games and earning a call-up to San Diego. The team saw many power hitters come and go throughout the season. Outfielder Brent Rooker led the club with 19 home runs before being traded at the deadline and Aderlin Rodriguez was let go to pursue better opportunities in Japan despite posting a .879 OPS with El Paso. Kyle Martin was signed out of the Mexican League to replace Rodriguez at first base and hit a respectable .257/.352/.529 over the final three months with 17 home runs. Matthew Batten was the only player with double figures in home runs and stolen bases. The batter hit 12 HR and stole 18 bases despite missing nearly two months in San Diego, earning his first big league call-up.
Pitcher of the Year: RHP Pedro Avila (unanimous)
Avila led the team in strikeouts with 124 and was second to Ryan Weathers in innings pitched despite not being able to throw five innings until mid-June. In the extreme hitter-friendly environments of the Pacific Coast League, a 4.58 ERA for a starter is very respectable, and over the season’s final two months, he was 4-0, with a 3.44 ERA and a 10.3 K/9.
Avila did appear in two games for the Padres this year. His highlight of the year was arguably allowing just one hit to the Dodgers over a three-inning performance on April 24. He was designated for assignment in June but added to the 40-man roster in November. Depending on what other moves the Padres make this offseason, the 25-year-old should be given opportunities to earn a starting or relieving job with the big league club or, at worst, be very much an option in El Paso if an injury occurs in the big league rotation.
Others of Note: Ryan Weathers and Reiss Knehr spent ample time with the Padres over the last few years but struggled mightily in El Paso in 2022. Weathers (6.73 ERA) and Knehr (6.88 ERA) allowed a combined 49 home runs and 112 walks on the season. … Jesse Scholtens was effective (4.23 ERA, 9.94 K/9) despite bouncing around between the rotation and bullpen. … Lefty reliever Jose Castillo was the most dominating pitcher in the PCL for the season’s first few months after missing two years to injuries. Through July 4, he allowed just two earned runs after missing most of the past two seasons before having a tough September with a 7.04 ERA. … Another lefty reliever Tom Cosgrove earned a spot on the 40-man roster with a solid year at Double-A San Antonio and the Chihuahuas with 82 strikeouts against 28 walks in 55.2 innings between the two levels. … Aaron Leasher also seemed to turn the corner this year with a move from the rotation, where he was 2-4 with a 5.98 ERA, to the bullpen, where his record improved to 6-2 with a 2.70 ERA and, more importantly, 54 strikeouts in 46.2 relief innings against 20 walks.
Top Position Prospect: Catcher Luis Campusano (Conniff, Davey, Jay); INF Eguy Rosario (Charity, Wilkens)
Luis Campusano is one of the top-catching prospects in all minor league baseball. He has the talent, both offensively and defensively, to be not just an everyday major league player but an all-star behind the plate. The question continues to be the intangibles, primarily in his effort level at times and his ability to execute a major league game plan effectively. Offensively this season, he had one of his worst seasons of full-season ball, and he still hit .298/.363/.483 with a WRC+ of 110. With only one option year left, the question becomes, will this finally be the year he gets a shot, or will the Padres cut bait with the top 100 prospect?
Eguy Rosario doesn’t have nearly the prospect pedigree as Campy, but on a team devoid of many offensive prospects, Rosario does the little things right and works extremely hard with the signing of Xander Bogarts and numerous options at shortstop and second base, Rosario’s best options may be somewhere other than Petco Park.
Top Pitching Prospect: LHP Jay Groome (unanimous)
Jay Groome was acquired from the Boston Red Sox in the strange Eric Hosmer trade. The Padres were willing to eat virtually all of Hosmer’s contract to regain a player of his status, and he did not disappoint, pitching to a 3.16 ERA over 10 starts after the trade.
Groome was Boston’s 12th overall pick in 2016 before having Tommy John surgery in 2018. After missing three years due to recovery and COVID lockdown, Groome returned with a new arsenal. That led him to his best year since being drafted, as he struck out 140 in 144 innings with a 3.44 ERA between Double-A and Triple-A. At 6-foot-6, he throws a very good 90-93 mph two-seamer that he pairs with a solid changeup and slider. Before the surgery, his best pitch was his 1-7 curve, which has come back at times. The key is if he can add a few more ticks of velocity to throw his fastball up in the zone.
He will only be 24 this Spring, and he could be a solid option for the big league club after refining a few more things in Triple-A.