A Breakdown of Padres’ Prospect Joey Cantillo

Credit: Jerry Espinoza/Clubhouse Corner

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Photo by Ken A. Bugajski / EVT Sports.

Here is a breakdown on Padres’ left-handed pitching prospect Joey Cantillo. 

When the San Diego Padres announced the signing of A.J. Preller as their general manager, who at the time was serving as the Texas Rangers assistant general manager, the organization was hoping to take a step in the right direction.

Preller made almost an immediate splash, dismantling a talented farm system and going all-in on the 2015 season. Unfortunately for the Padres, Preller’s master plan failed miserably, and the team found itself in baseball hell: poor contracts and little-to-no talent in the farm system.

Then the purge began.

The 37-year-old Preller began to sell off all his veterans and set his mind on building the team back from the ground up. A five-year plan that would include a massive fire sale of any player that had any sort of value, several finishes at the bottom of the National League West, and just mediocre baseball all-around.

Luckily for Ron Fowler and Peter Siedler, A.J. Preller’s plan worked to perfection. Preller acquired the likes of Fernando Tatis Jr., Chris Paddack, and Josh Naylor for disappointing veterans and made several big-time signings on the international market as well. A team with little-to-no direction just a few years earlier finally had the building blocks in place for a potential dynasty in the making.

Arguably his strongest suit was the draft, however. With the Padres picking towards the top nearly every single season, Preller had to hit on his high selections as well as his mid-round gems. Cal Quantrill, Eric Lauer, Joey Lucchesi, and MacKenzie Gore highlight a very long list of talented players drafted in the early rounds by Preller himself.

“The Sith Lord,” as some call him, makes his money in the middle rounds of the draft. Trey Wingenter, Ty France, Nick Margevicius, and several other prospects within the organization have all been selected in the middle rounds by Preller.

Joey Cantillo, a 16th-round pick in 2017 by the Padres, is yet another one of these picks that looks to be paying off for the Padres. Drafted as a high schooler out of Hawaii, the Padres gave Cantillo a $302,050 signing bonus to forgo his commitment to Kentucky.

Credit: TinCaps

As a 17-year-old, Cantillo spent most of the 2017 and 2018 season in the Arizona Rookie League before making his full-season debut with the Fort Wayne TinCaps at the end of the 2018 season. He pitched well enough in those brief stints to earn himself a spot in the TinCaps rotation to start the 2019 season, which he did not disappoint in one bit.

In 19 starts with Fort Wayne, Cantillo posted a 9-3 record with a 1.93 ERA with a 0.87 WHIP, 128 strikeouts, and only 27 walks in 98 innings pitched. He held opponents to a .178 batting average against and was arguably the most dominant pitcher in the entire Midwest League.

With Luis Patiño earning a promotion to the Texas League, the Padres felt that promoting Cantillo to Lake Elsinore to take his place was more than well deserved. At the age of 19, Cantillo has already put himself on a faster track to the big leagues than anyone could’ve imagined. He’s made one start with the Lake Elsinore Storm, where he tossed 4 1/3 innings and allowed three runs while striking out seven and walking four. His command was shaky, struggling in the first inning, but he battled back to turn in a somewhat respectable outing in his first start with the team.

Standing at 6-foot-4 and 220-pounds, the left-handed Cantillo has a highly projectable frame that has to have scouts drooling. There’s certainly more room for him to mature and fill into his build, especially with him being only 19 years old. He’s athletic on the mound and consistently repeats his delivery, even creating some deception with a slight crossfire arm action.

At the start of the 2019 season, Cantillo’s fastball sat primarily at 88-90 mph with some clear movement to it. His velocity has since then increased, as there have been multiple starts where he’s been sitting 90-92 mph and even touching 94 mph at times. For a pitcher that was once known as a crafty lefty, an uptick in fastball velocity only gives him a better bet to reaching the major leagues.

His best secondary offering is an above-average changeup that he throws with fastball arm speed. He has the confidence in the pitch to throw it at any point in the count. Cantillo’s breaking pitches were not where they needed to be entering 2019, but the development of his 12/6 curveball has been one of the biggest factors to his success this year.

As for Cantillo’s ascension through the farm system, his recent promotion to Lake Elsinore suggests that the Padres will be aggressive with him as long as he performs.

A handful of strong weeks to end this season may earn him a start with the Sod Poodles in 2020, but it’s more than likely he starts back in Lake Elsinore next season. If he handles himself well to start the 2020 campaign, a mid-season promotion to Amarillo is likely in the cards for the Hawaiian left-hander. With the Padres shying away from putting pitchers in Triple-A El Paso, a major league debut in 2021 is not out of the realm of possibility.

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His long-term fit with the organization is still rather unclear as the Padres have numerous amounts of young pitching prospects to choose from. It’s possible that Preller decides to sell high on Cantillo after this season and includes him in a trade for a top-of-the-rotation type of arm that can help the club win in 2020 and beyond. It’s also possible that he pitches his way into being one of the top arms in a loaded farm system and could potentially steal a rotation spot in a few years down the road.

Cantillo’s ceiling is likely a strong three, or a really solid four. He’s so projectable that, while it may seem outlandish to give him that high of a ceiling, it’s certainly not out of the realm of possibility. His floor, however, appears to be relatively safe, as a back-end starter or as a middle reliever.

It seems like each year the Padres have a pitching prospect that bursts onto the scene, with Joey Cantillo being that player in 2019. Only time will tell if Cantillo will pan out, but his 2019 season has certainly been a pleasant surprise.

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