Switch-hitting catchers are special. Ones that can actually swing the bat and perform are rare. At the age of 21, Valenzuela is showing a plus bat and the ability to stick behind the plate. The Padres have plenty of young catchers gaining momentum in the minor leagues, and Valenzuela could be the most exciting. The 6-foot-0, 170 lb catcher put up a .299/.393/.429 batting line and a .821 OPS in 97 games last year in the minors. He started in Lake Elsinore and was promoted to Fort Wayne late in the year.
The young Mexican catcher is highly regarded behind the plate. Pitchers often rave about his game-calling abilities and his presence behind the dish. Most consider him a near-lock to make it to the major league on his defense alone. However, the bat flourished in 2021, and there are signs that he could be a decent hitter when it is all said and done. The power in his bat is slowly developing, but his age could be the main reason he hasn’t fully unlocked that potential. Valenzuela will start in Fort Wayne and could make it to Texas before the 2023 season. He is close, but catchers traditionally take a little more time to develop at the upper minor league level.
It feels like Agustin Ruiz has been in the system for a long time. The 2016-17 international signing period gave the Padres several relevant players, and Ruiz is one of the late developers. At 22, the left-handed hitter made it to the Double-A level in 2021 after hitting .343 for the TinCaps in 72 games. Ruiz also slugged 15 homers in 281 at-bats showing excellent power potential. There is thunder in his bat, but there is also a lot of swing and miss. Ruiz will need to develop a two-strike approach to continue his growth.
For 2022, the Texas League pitchers will challenge this young hitter. He should show even more power as he gets older and gains strength. Can he shorten his swing and make contact more? That will be the key for him. Defensively, he is capable of playing centerfield as he has a plus arm. The footspeed is not exceptional, but he makes up for it by recognizing the ball well in the air. Ruiz has the potential to unlock his swing and become a relevant prospect. He is close, and the 2022 season could be the year where he breaks out and gains momentum towards a potential major league career.
Flying under the radar is this left-handed California kid with a high baseball IQ. Acosta was selected out of USC with a 12th round pick in 2019 and gained momentum in his career this past year. It was learned that Acosta was dealing with a knee injury in 2021. A knee injury that resulted in immediate surgery as the minor league season ended. There were no reports of this fact, and the outfielder was still able to play in 81 games. That is because he is a gamer. Acosta recorded a .786 OPS and put up a .264/.372/.414 batting line while driving in 33 runs and stealing nine bases.
Acosta gets on base. Plain and simple. The left-handed swing is showing developing power (six homers), though he will never be a huge home run threat. He can spray the ball around the field and, most importantly, shows a plus eye at the plate. Acosta walked 47 times for the Storm. In 2021, he played first base and corner outfield for the Padres, displaying a plus arm. There is a lot of arm strength on this young man, and he could probably be effective as a two-way player throwing bullets out of the pen (He has pitched before at USC). In 2022, Acosta should be fully healthy and will turn heads.
The man with the unique name is close to major league action. Henry has been on the radar for many years as he always showed a plus fastball with lots of movement. In 2021, the former starter was used exclusively out of the pen. However, he showed some great versatility and could go back into the rotation if the Padres want to go that route. Last year, Henry went 3-0 with a 3.90 ERA and a 1.313 WHIP in the Texas League, which is very respectable for a 22-year-old. The Dominican struck out 59 batters in 67 innings but did allow 31 walks as control is a continued concern.
Expect Henry to further his development and possibly take it to a whole new level. If he can gain control of his mechanics, then the pitcher has a nice upside of a potential starting pitcher in the majors. His ceiling is a Triple-A arm as control problems do not go over well at the upper minor league levels. If Henry excels with his mechanics, then he will surely make it to the major leagues. His arm is that special.
There were whispers that this Golden Spikes Award winner and 2021 draftee out of Arkansas would debut for the Padres in 2021. Unfortunately, that did not happen, as the Padres took it easy on the right-handed pitcher. At 24, Kopps has the maturity to pitch in the majors right now. He does not have a big fastball, sitting around the 90-91 mph mark, but he does mix his pitches extremely well. His cut-fastball is his best pitch, where he gets excellent action on the selection.
Last season, Kopps went 1-0 with a 0.61 ERA and a 0.75 WHIP in 14.2 innings between three teams. He made it all the way to the Missions at the Double-A level, throwing two scoreless innings. In 2022, Kopps will have an opportunity to pitch with the major leaguers in spring camp. However, he may never throw another pitch in the minors if things break well for him in March.
Lugo is 22 and enjoyed a great year last year, going 4-4 with a 3.19 ERA and a 1.140 WHIP in 23 games and 19 starts between Fort Wayne and San Antonio. The right-handed pitcher from the Dominican Republic struck out 115 batters in that time and walked 40. Lugo owns a career 3.24 ERA in 197.1 innings pitched at the minor league level. There is a ton of upside with this young pitcher who is really flying under the radar.
Lugo was promoted to Double-A in 2021 and was actually better in six games, recording a 1.80 ERA and striking out 22 batters in 15 innings pitched. Control is an issue for this pitcher, but he manages to get out of problem innings with his high K potential. In 2022, Lugo should begin the year in San Antonio and is likely only a phone call away from a promotion to the major league level. Expect Lugo’s name to finally be discussed as “scouts” finally begin to find him within the Padres system.