The San Diego Padres are struggling under A.J. Preller in enjoying their own draft picks flourishing with the team. Perhaps Tom Cosgrove and Luis Campusano are signs of better days ahead.
A.J. Preller is good at several things. He has an eye for young talent. The man can see MLB traits in teenagers. His scouting prowess is beyond reproach. However, under his leadership, the Padres have very few of their draft picks making contributions to their roster.
Preller is a wheeler and dealer, anxious to deal away young talent for proven big leaguers elsewhere. His ability to construct a viable, consistent big-league roster is suspect.
This has led to them struggling to see homegrown talent through to the big leagues in a Padres uniform. This is regarding the amateur draft, not international signings. Preller has been better with international amateurs than drafting and developing talent from the United States.
Between 2015 and 2019, all the draft picks the Padres selected accounted for a total of 4.9 bWAR in a Padres uniform thus far. The top two contributors to that WAR are Joey Lucchesi and Eric Lauer, who are no longer with the organization. Of the 11 who have a positive WAR with the Padres, only four remain with the organization.
Cosgrove appears to be a beacon of hope that things are changing for the Padres regarding how they treat their homegrown talent. Beforehand, it seemed Preller only thought of draft picks by their trade value. None of the first-round picks from that timeframe remain with the Padres, as most were used in a package for trading.
Tom Cosgrove burst onto the scene in 2023 and quietly became a dominant reliever. The New York native, besides closer Josh Hader, became San Diego’s best lefty option out of the bullpen.
In 54 games, he posted an elite 1.75 ERA with a WHIP under 1.00, at 0.974.
His 234 ERA+ is historically good. Minimum of 40 games pitched in 2023, he ranked 11th in all baseball in ERA+. For context, Hall of Famer Trevor Hoffman only had one season higher than a 234 ERA+ in his entire career.
The 12th-round pick in 2017 was elite at inducing weak contact, ranking in the 100th percentile in both average exit velocity allowed and barrel rate allowed. His .186 expected batting average against ranked in the 98th percentile.
If those numbers hold over another season, the Padres might have one of baseball’s best non-closer relievers.
The Padres have been especially bad at developing position player draft picks. Guys like Trea Turner, Ty France, Jack Suwinski, and CJ Abrams were shipped off before they could realize their full potential in San Diego.
After toiling in the minors for five years, mixed with some injuries, Campusano finally got the majority of playing time at catcher for the Padres in the second half of 2023. The results are encouraging.
Over 49 games, he batted .319, which ranked sixth-best in all of baseball among hitters with at least 170 plate appearances. His 134 wRC+ ranked 25th in all MLB in that pool as well. He also pulled in a stellar .847 OPS.
This is after batting just .188 with a meager .510 OPS in his previous 28 games stretched over three seasons. It appears that Campusano is getting more comfortable at the plate. More than half the challenge for a young catcher is handling a pitching staff and opposing run game. Campusano still has work to do defensively, with below-average pop time to second base and blocking skills. However, if he can continue hitting like that, his less-than-stellar defense can be overlooked to an extent.
If Cosgrove and Campusano can both be major contributors for a contending Padres team in 2024, the arrow is pointing up for the Padres’ ability to develop their draft picks.
Native of Escondido, CA. Lived in San Diego area for 20 years. Padres fan since childhood (mid-90s). I have been writing since 2014. I currently live near Seattle, WA and am married to a Seattle sports girl. I wore #19 on my high school baseball team for Tony Gwynn. I am a stats and sports history nerd. I attended BYU on the Idaho campus. I also love Star Wars.