Summary: The Missions spent most of the season on the periphery when it came to Padres prospect viewing, but the team on the field performed, thanks to a cast of veteran free agents and others in the organization who got a shot at playing time and helped contribute to a winning baseball team. San Antonio won the division in the first half but finished 68-68 after a 30-39 second half, thanks in large part to their best performers graduating to Triple-A El Paso.
Level: Although not the final stop for top prospects in quite the same fashion that the Padres used it for prior to the pandemic, Double-A still finds itself as the last long stint a future big leaguer may enjoy prior to their debut. For the first time, prospects regularly face players in their mid-to-late twenties and even players with big league experience. The diversity of ages, abilities, and backgrounds makes it one of the most interesting levels to watch and one of the most difficult to appraise play from.
Player of the Year: INF Connor Hollis (John Conniff, David Jay, Kevin Charity, Ben Davey, and Mark Wilkens)
One of a sizeable group of free-agent reinforcements added to shore up San Antonio’s roster, Hollis signed with the Padres in April of 2022 after coming up through the Tampa Bay Rays system. The former undrafted free agent showed what perseverance and hard work could do, winning his second professional batting title and first in a full-season league by batting .333 in 403 at-bats for the Missions.
The 28-year-old Hollis was primarily a third baseman for San Antonio, but as part of the team’s focus on versatility, he also saw action at second base and shortstop, as well as DH, while slashing .333/.432/.469 and tying a career-high with nine home runs. In a season of transition for the Missions, Hollis was their consistent performer as others were promoted and/or traded, spending the duration of the season in San Antonio save for a 24-game debut stint at Triple-A, where the University of Houston product slashed .310/.389/.440, making appearances at third base, second base, left field, and first base.
Hollis should begin 2023 at Triple-A, where his bat already plays. While part of his breakout has focused on contact over power, some more balls leaving the yard would go a long way for Hollis as a late-bloomer prospect.
Pitcher of the Year: RHP/Reliever Moises Lugo (Conniff, Jay, Charity, Davey, and Wilkens)
In his fifth season playing in the Padres organization, Lugo becomes a unanimous vote for the pitcher of the year. The 23-year-old righty was electric in San Antonio’s bullpen, putting up baseball card stats of a 6-0 record, 2.74 ERA, and struck out 85 batters in 62.1 innings while walking only 34.
This built upon 2021, in which Lugo was a bedrock for the Fort Wayne bullpen and found himself promoted to San Antonio late in the year; however, the righty struggled this season when promoted to El Paso, allowing seven earned runs and two home runs in 10.2 innings pitched for the Chihuahuas.
He rebounded in the Arizona Fall League, striking out 10 batters and walking two in 10 innings while posting a 3.60 ERA, but it wasn’t enough for the Padres to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft, making him arguably the most appealing player left available by San Diego, despite his lack of success above Double-A.
The last skill Lugo needs to show he can succeed at the top level is keeping the ball in the yard in Triple-A. He’s shown himself more than capable of striking out anyone; the problem has been the hard contact he’s allowed when he doesn’t.
Others of Note: Yorman Rodriguez hit .279 with a team-leading 15 home runs and a .750 OPS while splitting time between catching, first base, and DH. The 25-year-old Rodriguez was one of the most consistent contributors to the Missions and played all 122 of his games for San Antonio. … Any talk of the Missions season would be remiss without mentioning Esteury Ruiz, who went from a fringe prospect in the spring to the Padres roster in July before being traded at the deadline. In 180 at-bats for the Missions, Ruiz slashed .344/.474/.611 with nine home runs and stole an eye-popping 37 bases. … Chandler Seagle posted a career-high 239 at-bats and set a personal best with three home runs while contributing his usual solid defensive play behind the plate.
On the mound, former Gonzaga star and 2021 16th-round pick Alek Jacob shined in 23 appearances in Double-A, recording a 1.83 ERA in 23 appearances, striking out 43 and walking 10 in 34.1 innings prior to earning a promotion to El Paso. … Southpaw Fred Schlichtholz was frequently relied upon as an escape artist in late-inning jams, and his 49 strikeouts in 41.1 innings to go along with a 1.96 ERA showed why the 27-year-old reliever saw action with the big leaguers in spring training. … Kevin Kopps, a third-round selection in 2021, and the right-hander struck out 60 batters in 54.1 innings while earning a 4.14 ERA with his gyro-ball while working on his two-seam fastball.
Top Position Prospect: INF/OF Korry Howell (Conniff, Charity, Wilkens) OF Tirso Ornelas (Jay, Davey)
Howell, acquired from Milwaukee in the Victor Caratini trade, appeared on his way to Triple-A in his age-23 season with a .253/.390/.486 slash line and six home runs in 146 at-bats for the Missions. However, injuries cut short his season, and that small sample size was all we got. It was also noteworthy that prior to his season-ending in June, Howell posted a .922 OPS in May and .924 in June as he found his footing in the Padres organization.
The 22-year-old Ornelas has been in the San Diego organization for five seasons, and his .286/.352/.404 slash line in 2022 was his finest work since he played in the Arizona Complex League in 2017. The 6-foot-3 Tijuana native carries a prototypical power hitter frame, and his offense made strides this season, but the one thing Ornelas needs to take the next step is the power to match his size. The lefty-swinging outfielder got a taste of action in El Paso and played in the Arizona Fall League as he entered the “make or break” portion of his career.
Top Pitching Prospect: Moises Lugo (Conniff, Jay, Charity, Davey, and Wilkens)
A unanimous vote for the top pitcher, as well as the top prospect on the staff in 2022, Lugo will be 24 years old when camp breaks, and while it wouldn’t be a surprise at all to see him with an invite to big league spring training in Peoria, he has an outside chance of being selected in the Rule 5 Draft. If Triple-A and the Arizona Fall League were any indication, the best thing for Lugo’s development would be donning the familiar brown and gold come February.
2023 Outlook: After reaching the postseason with a mixed group of org prospects and outside free agents, the Missions may have to recapture that market with some veteran additions in 2023. The pipeline of high-level talent in the minors will mostly be moving from California League champion Lake Elsinore to Fort Wayne, at least to begin the season, leaving San Antonio another season to wait for elite reinforcements.