Before the 2018 MLB season even began, the San Diego Padres were dismissed as a team destined for last place.
Sitting at a horrendous 11-22 record, that future seems set in stone, especially with the early season struggles of supposed franchise cornerstones such as Manuel Margot (.183/.227/.520) and Austin Hedges (.173/.235/.528). However, the team has refused to be a club overwhelmed in a rigorous National League West division.
To the contrary, San Diego has shown the potential to be a frightening future contender.
The credit for transforming the lowly Padres into a team oozing with talent rightfully goes to four dominating rookies; third baseman Christian Villanueva, outfielder Franchy Cordero, starting pitcher Joey Lucchesi, and reliever Adam Cimber. As of right now, each possesses a legitimate case for being the NL Rookie of the Year, as well as a future role player for the Friars.
However, there are a multitude of outstanding minor league players prepared to rise out of MLB’s best farm system and outshine their predecessors in the next few years. Some of these prospects are new revelations in 2018 and deserve to be honored because of their illustrious breakouts. As such, here will be a description of the best prospects at each stop of the Padres’ farm system:
El Paso Chihuahuas
Although second baseman and on-base machine Luis Urias is in El Paso and contributing at his normal terrific level, he has not been the most successful player for the Chihuahuas. To the surprise of many, that designation belongs to outfielder Franmil Reyes, who has been absolutely electric with the bat.
Signed as a 16-year-old power bat from the Dominican Republic, the 22-year-old has consistently shown why the organization valued his strength highly enough to compensate him as an amateur. After all, he swatted eleven homers as an 18-year-old and boosted that number to sixteen with a full season at San Antonio in 2016. Yet, what he’s been doing in Triple-A so far has been downright shocking as he has gathered eleven homers over 103 at-bats. Not only does that stat represent nearly half of his total from last year, when he logged five times as many plate appearances, but it also signifies the highest amount of round-trippers in the entire minors.
That being said, the pitcher-friendly confines of Petco Park should pose little threat to the hulking slugger. If he gets his shot in the big leagues, which should happen soon due to his amazing performance, he may pose a similar threat to Hunter Renfroe. Even though that may not sound like the most ideal outcome given Renfroe’s other shortcomings on offense, namely a propensity to strikeout and post lower batting averages, there is some hope for Reyes being a more well-rounded run producer. This is especially true with the progression of Reyes’ hit tool.
Before this season, the towering Dominican regularly posted batting averages in the mid-.200s. Yet, this year he has showcased a knack for making the most out of every at-bat and hitting for base hits. For example, he has dropped his strikeout rate from 23.7% to 21.7% this year while also increasing his walk percentage from 8.5% to 11.3%. In other words, Reyes has exhibited more patience and threatened opposing pitchers more often. He does not give up at-bats and knows how to contribute by drawing a free pass, a skill that Renfroe was never able to master in the minors as indicated by the fact that a ten percent walk rate was his highest, and it came in 2014 at the Double-A level.
Another mark that favors Reyes when comparing him to Renfroe is his modest BABIP results. Throughout his minor league tenure, Reyes consistently sat around an average .300 BABIP, whereas Renfroe normally exceeded expectations with an unsustainable .330 rate at the least. In short, Franmil Reyes could be a better overall hitter than the Padres’ right fielder because he is more patient, less of a strikeout risk, and less of a risk to regress.
Thus, his offensive prowess may be a huge boost to San Diego’s future lineups. Maybe he beats his current streak of three games with two home runs in the bigs one day. Either way, it will be up to his bat to get him to the majors as scouts have repeatedly graded the Chihuahua as mediocre at best in the field.
San Antonio Missions
There has been no limit of incredible stories for the Missions this year. The most celebrated ones have been Josh Naylor‘s and Austin Allen‘s hot starts to the season. Both players have put their excellent raw power to extreme usage in game action. They have combined for a total of sixteen home runs over 29 games played while also posting above .320 batting averages, thereby helping make San Antonio the most dangerous Double-A ball club in terms of OPS .
With this in mind, it may be nearly impossible to favor one or the other based on this year’s production alone.
However, based on the purpose of this piece, that difficult task will be attempted. When thinking about this work, I originally wanted to discuss Allen’s exploits, especially since he’s been proving himself as a more exciting hitter than current Padre catcher Austin Hedges. The results that Josh Naylor has posted since the beginning of the 2018 season outweighs the excitement I have over the backstop currently residing in San Antonio though.
He was drafted in 2015 as a somewhat questionable first-round pick (12th overall) with the assumption that he would generate tons of power for the Miami Marlins. While with them from 2015 to mid-2016, he proved to have a poor profile for first base with little strength and below-average fielding abilities. The only value he generated came from his contact ability.
That trend caused the Fish to trade him and San Diego to pick him up, hoping that a change of team would awaken his mighty stroke. Sadly, those dreams were futile until this season. In 117 at-bats, the Canadian prospect has swatted eight long balls, nearly as much as he smashed in 2017 when he gathered 300 more at-bats between High-A Lake Elsinore and Double-A San Antonio. Meanwhile, he has contributed additional extra base hits in the form of six doubles and a surprising triple.
These feats have transformed him into one of the most feared sluggers in Double-A as he ranks seventh throughout the entire level, which encompasses three separate leagues. On top of that, he’s continued his success as a great contact hitter, posting a batting average of .359. If that wasn’t enough, it seems like Naylor has taken a page out of Luis Urias’ book by walking more (17) than striking out (14), a rarity among first base players, and accumulating a .441 OBP in the process.
There is one concern looming over his head though; namely the amount of playing time that will be available at his home first base. Eric Hosmer is signed through 2026 at an annual average value of $18 million. As such, there is very little chance that Andy Green benches the former Royal in favor of the former Miami farmhand. To combat this problem, San Diego has started experimenting Naylor in left field, but there is no predicting how well he will do there given that he was a below-average defender even at first base. Also, he doesn’t have a particularly strong arm nor a set of fast wheels. Thus, scouting reports which define him as a poor defender in the outfield are probably the best estimate of how his glove will turn out. If he continues to rake, though, his fielding will not matter. He will simply out-slug his mistakes in left and might reach at least thirty home runs doing it.
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