Lake Elsinore Storm
The easiest team to dissect is the Lake Elsinore Storm, simply due to the sheer brilliance of center fielder Buddy Reed this year.
Prior to 2018, he had struggled to translate his considerable raw tools from a past of hockey to the diamond. His best year came in 2016, the same year in which he was drafted. He posted a slash line of .254/.326/.663 and stole 15 bases. While his speed definitely looked good offensively from just that stat alone, one must also look at how Reed was caught stealing five times, thus representing reckless efficiency. Because of his inability to be an offensive threat, Reed not only suffered a drop from the Padres’ top-30 prospect list, but also dampened the hopes many fans had for him.
There was little projection left before Preller assigned him to Lake Elsinore for this season. With 27 games played so far, Buddy Reed has finally resembled the athlete that the Padres thought they were drafting in the 2nd round (48th overall) two years ago. In 114 at-bats, the center fielder has posted a triple slash line of .342/.370/.940 while also hitting five home runs and stealing fourteen bases out of the fifteen he’s attempted.
Combined with the same stellar defense that he’s always had, including a sixty-grade arm, Buddy Reed now looks like a potential five-tool talent. What scouts used to say about him needing more time than a college signee because of a newness to the game appears to be true and the Padres should be very excited that the future has arrived for him.
Thankfully, there shouldn’t be much deviation between his sensational play now and his stats at the end of the season. This is because he has a lot of room for a BABIP dive due to his high batting average as of right now. The .430 batting average on balls in play he has shouldn’t make him any less than a productive hitter even at such an incredibly high number. On top of that, he has been harder to strike out this year, lowering his K rate from 28% to 25.2% between last year and this one. More progression is not out of the question and Reed could limit the affect of a decrease in hit success. Lastly, Reed’s isolated power figure of .228 legitimizes his early-season power numbers. He will have some considerable raw power to work with as he advances.
Fort Wayne TinCaps
The Fort Wayne TincCaps have a team loaded with prospects from the 2016-2017 international class. Each one is as exciting as the next as center fielder Jeisson Rosario, second baseman Esteury Ruiz, right fielder Tirso Ornelas, and shortstop Gabriel Arias all have a chance at being stars at the highest level.
However, most impressive of the bunch has undeniably been Jeisson Rosario. A.J. Preller was surely enthralled by the young kid’s potential when he handed him $1,850,000 on July 2, 2016. He lived up to that contract in 2017 by combining a .299/.404/.733 slash line with eight stolen bases. Yet, 2018 has been a step up from those results.
Expected to be a leading producer for the TinCaps, Jeisson Rosario has contributed far more than his fair share, as a 150 wRC+ has been added to his name. To arrive at this stat, the Dominican-born player has hit for a .318 batting average, reached base safely at a shocking .474 clip, and slugged for a .388 rate. While that last number may be underwhelming, especially given his higher on-base percentage, it is important to note that this is an 18-year-old being evaluated. Plus, the fact that he represents the best offensive player on Fort Wayne’s team is incredible given that Rosario is on an aggressive assignment. Besides those metrics, the left-handed batter has been displaying some of the best patience and strike zone management in the entire Padres’ system.
He has walked in more than one-fifth of his 110 plate appearances (21.8%) and maintained a healthy strikeout habit of only 17.3%. His ability to take a walk has been three times as great as Luis Urias’ practice had been at the same level. This is astonishing since Urias’ was finally rewarded a 70 hit tool in the latest edition of MLB.com’s prospect lists and Rosario is someone who has exhibited an equally fascinating approach at the plate. The 55 scouts have placed on Rosario’s contact will quickly be destroyed and he will be more valued than as a 18th-best prospect if he maintains the same mentality. Not much in his peripherals speak to a journey away from this path or to him being a lucky hitter as the .381 BABIP he holds onto this year is more representative of a trend from last season, when he had a .362 in that category, instead of a precursor to struggles.
There are other factors to Rosario’s game which will make him relevant nonetheless. These include his speed and defense. In only 24 games, Rosario has matched his previous career record of eight, but this time with only one attempt stopped compared to five in 2017. On the other side of the ball, the 18-year-old ranks as an above-average fielder with an above-average arm. The latter tool is not always found in center fielders and is more of a plus asset at the position. With all this production and all these skills, the prospect is surely one whom every Padre fan should pay attention to. There is so much potential in him and he may have barely scratched the surface.
In summation, there are so many players exceeding expectations in the Friars’ farm system. The ones performing the best now are not the ones people thought of first. This should provide even more excitement over Preller’s design since not only are the most hyped prospects performing, or expected to, but so are undervalued ones. The most competitive teams have these kind of players who become great surprises after rising through some or all of a team’s farm system. Just ask the Houston Astros about Jose Altuve for proof. When he was a prospect, there was a very little hope of him becoming a power hitter. Nowadays, he’s the best second baseman in the game and a possible Hall of Famer of the future because power is a part of his diverse set of skills. In short, the NL West should look out for San Diego as the club has too many good prospects to not get into the playoffs in the next couple years.