Synopsis: The San Antonio Missions got off to a hot start last year, winning the first-half title with a 38-29 record. The club benefited from Esteury Ruiz‘s breakout, but after his promotion to Triple-A, the club struggled to replace his productivity. San Antonio struggled in the second half and finished with a 68-68 record before losing in the Texas League playoffs. The 2023 edition of the club will rely heavily on minor league free-agent signees in the rotation and feature a number of returning players.
Three Strikes with Mike Daly, Padres Assistant Director of Player Development
How has Korry Howell looked, and where do you see him getting most of his time in the field?
Mike Daly: We expect him to hit at the top of the lineup and be in center field. We had a lot of great communication with him in the offseason and at camp. He is the fastest runner that we have in the minor league system – a 6.3 runner –, and we think there will be more opportunities to steal bases, and that’s something that both Korry and we are focused on.
His biggest thing is to continue to get on base at a high rate and then utilize his speed and instincts to steal many bases. He also has some pop, a great body on him, and some snap in the bat – but his calling card will be his ability to get on base and use his speed, but we also like his ability to put the ball out of the park and hit it into the gaps.
A fascinating player.
One strength of the organization has been its ability to find quality players in the independent leagues. What can you tell us about Duncan Snider and Jose Espada?
Mike Daly: Duncan is a great story and real credit to A.J. Ellis, who is one of our special assistants because he was the one who first saw him in with Lake Country in the American Association. We were looking for some players, and he and Jose helped us.
The big thing about Duncan is it’s just a different look. He is 6-foot-7 with a plus-breaking ball, and his fastball jumps on people at 91 to 92. He is a big guy, and repeatability will be critical to get his pitches into the zone. He is a very hard worker, and we were a little aggressive in jumping him over the High-A level. Still, we kept him in Lake Elsinore last year because he was doing great there with that championship team, but we felt good about jumping him to Double-A, which is a more age-appropriate level for him, and he has the weapons to compete and have success.
Jose is a guy that throws a ton of strikes and can flip his offspeed pitches in at any point, which is a real weapon. In winter ball, he pitched outstanding, and he was on the Puerto Rican team’s auxiliary roster and pitched for Team Puerto Rico in early March. He is a pitcher in how he can throw a variety of pitches.
Jackson Wolf was the most consistent pitcher in Fort Wayne last season. What has been his most significant improvement?
Mike Daly: He’s another guy similar to Moises Lugo that invested in getting into the best shape of his life. We outlined some stuff to do for him going into the offseason, and he matched and exceeded our expectations. We worked with him to create more explosiveness in his body and strength in his frame; we believe it worked. He came into camp with a fastball that is up to 94, which is the highest it has ever been, which goes along with his slider and changeup, which he has an excellent feel for.
Projected Starters and Key Relievers
RHSP Efraín Contreras RHP Jose Espada
MadFriars’ Top 20 Prospects in San Antonio: #14 LHP Jackson Wolf, #16 OF Korry Howell
Catch a Rising Star: Korry Howell is the top position prospect on the Missions’ roster. The former Brewers farmhand was acquired last spring in exchange for Victor Caratini and El Paso catcher Brett Sullivan. Howell, 24, showed impressive speed and some intriguing power in his first season in the organization. He hit .253/.390/.486 with six homers in 48 games before he suffered a wrist ligament injury in June that required surgery and ended his season. The Chicago native showed impressive versatility, playing all three outfield positions, second base, and shortstop, last season.
Starting Pitching: In terms of homegrown pitching, southpaw Jackson Wolf is the top prospect on the squad after a very good trek through the Midwest League. The former West Virginia lefty piled up 134 strikeouts in 119 innings with Fort Wayne before being roughed up in a pair of starts with the Missions down the stretch. The 6-foot-7 Wolf didn’t throw much harder than 90 mph last year but used a funky delivery which helps his stuff play up. Although, according to reports this spring, the fastball velocity has picked up. … Righty Henry Henry is back for his seventh season as a Padres’ farmhand. The hurler with the 80-grade name elected free agency at the end of the 2022 season, but the organization brought him back into the fold. After struggling mightily as a reliever (6.57 ERA in 24 outings), he was moved into the rotation. Once there, he looked like a different pitcher. In 10 starts, he pitched to a 3.92 ERA and struck out 49 batters in 41 innings. His best work came in a September 7 outing in which he didn’t allow a hit in five innings. … Young Efraín Contreras was outrighted off of the Padres’ 40-man roster last October, but the organization re-signed him to a new minor league transaction. The 23-year-old righty had Tommy John surgery in late 2020 and made his return to the mound last year in Fort Wayne. He struggled at times with command, but he still managed to strike out 64 batters in 53.1 innings.
The Missions will rely on a group of minor league free agents to start the season. That group is headlined by righthander Duncan Snider who pitched well after the Padres plucked him from the American Association. The 6-foot-7 righty from Muscatine, Iowa, went 6-1 with a 4.31 ERA in 11 games (six starts) with the Storm. He struck out 57 batters in 48 innings. … Righthander Jose Espada – like Snider – began the 2022 season in the American Association. The Padres signed Espada and assigned him to Fort Wayne, where he appeared in 11 games, including six starts. In 40 innings with the TinCaps, he held opposing batters to a paltry .201 average while striking out 58 batters. … Righty Nolan Watson returns for his second voyage with the Missions. The former first-rounder and Indianapolis native had a very uneven 2022 season and, at times, pitched much better than his 5.84 ERA would indicate. He had a 2.84 ERA in five June outings and finished the year with a pair of solid starts in September. He was signed prior to last year after spending six years in the Royals’ system. … Lefty Jared Koenig saw action in the big leagues for Oakland last year and made 18 starts for Triple-A Las Vegas before signing with the Padres this offseason. The 29-year-old’s MLB debut capped an improbable journey that covered five different independent leagues and a stint in New Zealand before getting his first opportunity in affiliated baseball in 2021.
Bullpen: The Missions’ bullpen will be headlined by former Golden Spikes Award winner Kevin Kopps. Kopps, 26, struggled to adjust to the pro game last season as advanced hitters quickly learned they could lay off his gyroball offering. After enduring a brutal June and July, Kopps pitched much better down the stretch. The former third-rounder’s cutter can still be a weapon if he can get it to land in the strike zone more frequently in 2023. … Justin Lopez was initially slated to begin the 2022 season with the Missions as an infielder but was sent back to Fort Wayne just before the season began. After struggling offensively in the Summit City, the organization sent him back to Arizona and began the process of converting him to a pitcher. The initial results were impressive; Lopez went 4-0 with a 0.87 ERA in nine games between the ACL and Lake Elsinore. In action with the Storm, he touched 97 mph with his fastball and threw an impressive slider. … Edwuin Bencomo has been a bit of an unsung player the last few years, but the 23-year-old has found success as a reliever capable of working multiple innings. In 20.2 innings with the Missions last year, opposing batters hit just .219 against him. … 28-year-old C.D. Pelham got a cup of coffee in 2018 with the Texas Rangers, pitching in 10 games with the big league club. After struggling in the minors in 2019, Pelham didn’t pitch in 2020 because of the pandemic and missed 2021 with an injury. He threw in the Cubs’ system in 2022 and had a former prospect pedigree.
Catchers: Chandler Seagle returns to San Antonio for a third season after hitting a career-high three home runs in 239 at-bats in 2022. A premium defender at his position, Seagle has played in the Arizona Fall League as well as seeing time in Major League spring training games. … Juan Fernandez also returns to the Missions after spending time behind the plate as well as third base and second base in 2022, garnering attention, particularly for his defensive play at third. … the Former University of San Diego Torero Adam Kerner joins the Missions after spending the bulk of 2022 with Fort Wayne. An undrafted signing in 2020, Kerner has played all but two of his professional games with the TinCaps, with the other pair coming from a brief promotion to El Paso last year.
Infielders: The infield is led by the returning Connor Hollis, who led Texas Leaguers with a .333 average in 403 at-bats in 2022. The 28-year-old Hollis also slashed .310/.389/.440 in 84 at-bats for El Paso, so depending on what happens with the infield logjam on the Chihuahuas roster, Hollis may not be long for San Antonio this season. … Ripken Reyes also returns to the Alamo City, where he slashed .241/.376/.288 in 191 at-bats in 2022 while playing second base and all three outfield positions. The University of San Diego product was drafted in the 30th round in 2019, the last draft to run that deep. … Journeyman infielder Luis Aviles Jr. joins the Padres organization in 2023 after splitting 2022 between the Marlins’ Double-A and Triple-A affiliates, batting a combined .256 with 14 home runs in 363 at-bats. Aviles, a Miami native, was drafted by the Brewers in the 30th round in 2013 and has spent time in the Angels organization as well. … Like Brandon Dixon before him, Brantley Bell plans to make a return to affiliated baseball with the Missions, hoping to show a similar transition into a capable professional hitter. Unlike Dixon, Bell hasn’t cracked the big leagues in the past, nor has he seen much success at the plate, returning from independent ball with a career-high of seven home runs in High-A in 2018 and a career-best OPS of .715 in rookie ball in 2015. … The youngest member of the infield is Pedro Castellanos, a 6-foot-3 righty from Carora, Venezuela. The 25-year-old Castellanos, a first baseman by trade, hit .274 with 13 home runs and 71 RBIs in 467 at-bats split between the Red Sox Double-A and Triple-A affiliates in 2022. … Evan Mendoza, selected from the Cardinals organization in the minor league phase of this winter’s Rule 5 draft, hit .247 with a .673 OPS for Triple-A Memphis in 2022, his second consecutive season with the Redbirds.
Outfielders: The outfield will be led by Korry Howell, who will look to put together a healthy season after only 146 at-bats in 2022 and will look to build upon a .308/.386/.538 slash line in June, his final month of the season. … Jorge Oña returns to San Antonio after spending all of 2022 with the Missions, batting .220 with eight home runs and a .653 OPS in 250 at-bats. The 26-year-old Cuba native is still working his way back from injuries that took away nearly his entire 2021 season and sent him back to Peoria for rehab after making his MLB debut with the Padres in 2020. … Also returning will be Tirso Ornelas, who slashed .288/.355/.408 in 441 at-bats for San Antonio in 2022 before a brief, 14 at-bat debut in El Paso at the end of the season. Power will be the name of the game for Ornelas in 2023, who will need to improve upon his total of seven home runs to continue his rise in the organization as hoped. … Vallejo native Daniel Johnson played for six different teams in 2022, including the Triple-A affiliates of the Guardians, Mets, and Nationals. The 27-year-old New Mexico State alum hit a combined .219 with a .615 OPS in 251 at-bats.
On the Spot: Despite his 6-foot-4, 230-plus pound frame, Tirso Ornelas has 26 home runs in 1,763 at-bats in his minor league career to go along with a .711 OPS. His bat-to-ball skills improved in 2022, with a career-high .286 batting average and a .352 OBP that marked his highest since rookie ball, but a .404 slugging percentage could use some work for Ornelas to separate himself in the system.
Under the Radar: Even with the bulk of veteran talent at El Paso, it was surprising Connor Hollis is making his season debut on the San Antonio roster. A batting champion with the versatility to play all over the infield, Hollis possesses several tools that play at the big league level, and after a successful Triple-A debut last season, it feels like Hollis could be seen in a utility role in the bigs at some point.