Summary: The ACL Padres got some excellent work from a number of international prospects and finished with a winning record of 29-25, finishing three games behind the ACL Rangers. Ruben Salinas and 17-year-old Rosman Verdugo paced the offense while Cuban-born southpaw Javier Chacon and Henry Baez led the pitching staff.

Overview: We used 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.

Level: Formerly the Arizona League, or AZL, the newly-renamed Arizona Complex League, or ACL, is the lowest stateside level of minor league baseball. Running from June until mid-September, it is now the only level in the United States that plays a short season, and is considered “Rookie” level, a level below Low-A. Games are played at the spring training complexes, typically on the back fields, though some games do take place in the stadiums. Games are open to the public, but if your gameday experience requires ample concessions, in-game entertainment, and the roar of the crowd, the ACL is not for you. Games aren’t staffed by anyone whose job is fan-related, there are no concessions, no entertainment, and, really, no cheering, as the majority of the small crowd is club staff, scouts, and media. The players are mostly freshly-drafted high school and college players, international players who are making their first appearances in the United States, and returning players who are looking to play their way into a promotion. The games themselves have a spring training feel, as pitch counts are highly restrictive, and teams aren’t pulling out all the stops to win, focusing instead on player development and minimizing risks.

Ruben Salinas was a top contributor in the desert. (Photo: Jerry Espinoza)

ACL Player of the Year: Player of the Year: OF Ruben Salinas (unanimous)

After appearing in just two games in 2021, Ruben Salinas  effectively made his pro debut in 2022 in the desert. Overall, the 19-year-old hit .318/.377/.500 with eight doubles, four homers and 31 RBI. The right-handed hitting Salinas’ .877 OPS was the highest of any player that played at least 20 games for the ACL Padres. Once signed with visions of being a two-way player – he’s a left-handed pitcher – the outfielder from Guerrero Negro, Mexico has only seen action as a position player thus far in his professional career.

Salinas’ excellence in the desert led to a promotion to Lake Elsinore, where he scuffled (.079/.167/.132) in eleven games. He is still very raw but he has a nice right-handed stroke and he’s amassed only 192 plate appearances in his brief career.

Pitcher of the Year:  LHP Javier Chacon (unanimous)

Javier Chacon made his professional debut in 2021 and his maiden voyage couldn’t have gone much worse. He faced six batters, giving up three hits and three walks without recording an out. He bounced back in 2022 in a big way. The Cuban-born left-hander went 1-1, with a 3.07 ERA in 11 games (six starts). In 41 innings pitched, he racked up 60 strikeouts. Opposing batters hit just .216 and he struck out a third of the batters he faced. His fastball sits in the low-90’s but he should have room to add a little more.

He will be 20 at the start of the 2023 season.

Rosman Verdugo at third base in Peoria. (Photo: Jerry Espinoza)

Others of Note: 17-year-old Rosman Verdugo led the ACL club in home runs with seven which ranked seventh in the circuit and his overall offensive output was 17% above league average. The teenager was signed as an international free agent in January of 2022 out of Ensenada, Mexico. His K-rate of 35.4% was a bit high but 2022 was a resounding success for the talented infielder.

Eddy Beltre’s speed makes him a weapon on the basepaths. (Photo: Jerry Espinoza)

18-year-old Eddy Beltre made his stateside debut after an encouraging debut in the DSL in 2021. The 18-year-old had a .394 on-base percentage in 104 plate appearances. Beltre has speed to burn (seven stolen bases) but will need to pick his spots better as he was caught eight times.

Catcher Colton Bender was one of the few non-teenagers on the opening ACL roster and he contributed at the plate before a late-season promotion to Lake Elsinore. The 23-year-old catcher out of Quinnipiac produced a .742 OPS with a pair of homers.

In a recurring theme throughout our write-ups, a player who was involved in the Juan Soto trade shined brightly before being moved. Big teenager Jarlin Susana pitched to a 2.45 ERA in his first 29.1 innings before being shipped to Washington.

Top Position Prospect: OF Juan Murillo  (John Conniff, David Jay, Ben Davey); Ruben Salinas (Kevin Charity and Mark Wilkens)

The 20-year-old Murillo made his professional debut last summer and made a compelling case to be named the MadFriars ACL Player of the Year. In 37 games, Morillo hit .308/.363/.481 with six doubles, four homers and 18 RBI. Murillo signed as a shortstop but played mostly left field and even contributed with a pair of scoreless innings in mop-up duty. Morillo should slot into the Lake Elsinore Storm roster this coming April.

As we mentioned earlier, Salinas raked in the desert but couldn’t make consistent contact down the stretch with the Storm. He will certainly get a chance to show that his offensive output in the desert was not a fluke.

Top Pitching Prospect: RHP Henry Baez (Conniff, Davey, Jay, Wilkens); Javier Chacon (Charity)

Right-hander Henry Baez made his stateside debut in 2022 and flashed plenty of potential. Armed with a fastball that can touch 97 mph, Baez went 1-4, with a 3.82 ERA in nine games (seven starts) in 30.2 innings. He racked up 41 strikeouts and walked 13. He will be one of the players to watch in the Cal League next summer.

Chacon showed a lot of growth last summer and he should be part of a very young, but talented pitching staff next season in Lake Elsinore.

2023 Outlook: It remains to be seen with international prospect Ethan Salas will make his professional debut in the desert next season. He is expected to sign with the Padres for $5.6 million. Some of the younger high school picks like Lamar King Jr. – another catcher – should also see time in the desert next year.

Posted by Kevin Charity

Kevin Charity has written for MadFriars since 2015 and has had work featured on Fox Sports San Diego. He is a lifelong San Diego native and is looking forward to seeing the current wave of prospects thrive in San Diego.

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