With Austin Hedges behind the dish, the San Diego Padres are not really in need of catching depth at the minor league level.
The young Hedges should be a force behind the dish for the Friars for quite a few years, but in 2017 the Padres did much to fortify the position for the franchise. Prior to that year, the system did not have much in terms of a future in the minors. So what exactly did A.J. Preller do?
He selected a catcher in the MLB Rule-5 Draft and then drafted three catchers with his first handful of picks in the June Major League Baseball Draft.
Here is a current review of the position:
1- Luis Torrens
I am well aware that he is no longer considered a prospect due to his service time with the team in 2017, but the 21-year-old Venezuelan is very raw and should spend the entire 2018 season in the minors. He has a decent future and the major league experience he gained is invaluable. Torrens is a right-handed hitter with gap power. He uses the opposite field well with his approach, but it was obvious he was in over his head at the major league level. Torrens should blossom into a decent catching option in time. He is adequate receiving the ball with a decent throwing arm. The backstop should eventually be back up with the team, but because of his young age, there will be no rush.
2- Austin Allen
The man can hit. There will never be a debate about whether or not he can swing the bat. The issue is, and always will be, with his defense. He must be tired of hearing about it as that is what everyone first talks about when discussing the young backstop. He tore up the hitter-friendly California League, but never got the promotion to Double-A. With a potentially young, dominant rotation in the minors, you have to wonder how concerned the team is about getting defensive-minded catchers behind the dish. At 23, Allen should be promoted to Double-A and Triple-A soon. The team might eventually give him more at bats at first base in an effort to keep his bat in the lineup. This spring, Allen showed up to camp in really good shape. He noticeably lost some weight and even looked better behind the dish. Allen could take off in 2018 with improved defense. His stock could be on the rise.
The Padres had no immediate need for a catcher as Austin Hedges is young and now establishing himself in the league. That did not stop A.J. Preller, as the team selected the best catcher in the 2017 draft. Campusano is the son of a minor league prospect and has a high pedigree. He has excellent receiving skills and a strong throwing arm. He has a polished right-handed-hitting bat and should have no problem advancing with his offensive skill set. He has reportedly worked well with pitchers early as he has the ability to communicate fluently in English and Spanish. Campusano has been taking some ground balls at first this spring, as his bat is a plus tool. It will be interesting to see what the Padres do with him long term. He has plus catching skills and could be a real contributor one day for the Friars.
4- Marcus Greene Jr.
Acquired from the Texas Rangers for Will Venable, this backstop really took off in 2017. He has a very productive bat, but there are some concerns about his ability to play the catcher position moving forward. Greene has decent skills receiving the ball and threw out 32% of would-be base stealers this past season for the TinCaps, so I’m not sure where the concerns are. He is 23 and still hasn’t made it past Single-A, so there are some reasons to be cautious with overall expectations. The right-handed hitter should start in Lake Elsinore, and could have a great offensive year in the hitter-friendly California League.
5- Blake Hunt
Hunt was drafted by the Padres with the #69 pick in the 2017 draft. The defensive-minded catcher has developing power recently as he has tinkered with his approach. Hunt has great intangibles to succeed and should really help the vast amount of young pitchers within the Padres’ system. He might start in the AZL again this season, but that will depend on his health and how he adjusts in the spring. He reported to me that his shoulder is 100 percent and I witnessed him behind the plate often in Peoria this month. Hunt could take a little time to develop with the bat, as he is a little pull happy, but he should have no issues making adjustments in time.
Drafted during the 2016 international spending spree, this young backstop comes with a reputation of being a decent receiver. The Venezuelan native is short and stocky and has the looks of a solid catcher. He has a developing right-handed swing, but still has trouble with off-speed pitches. He played the whole season in the DSL and might have to repeat the level again, but he is a decent option for the team down the road. Quintero can hit. I saw him taking BP in Peoria, and he could develop in time with some seasoning.
The Padres are currently converting Alaskan prep Johnny Homza into a catcher. He has an excellent arm and has reportedly taken well to the move. Blake Hunt and Luis Campusano are both working with him on his craft. We will have to see where this goes. The young man has a plus hit tool. He barrels up baseballs continually despite a lack of real power. He is still 18, so there is the thought that the power will come in time. This spring, Homza added around 20 lbs of muscle to his frame and is working hard behind the dish. He has a line drive swing and is a bit undersized for a catcher, but he is a gamer. He could climb this list quickly if he can pick up the position quickly.
This backstop caught my eye with an impressive DSL performance this summer. He also gained acknowledgement from the Padres, as they promoted him to Arizona, where he got some at-bats in the States. The Venezuelan native hit .202 as a 17-year-old in 2016 in the DSL, but managed to improve in 2017. It has yet to be determined if he remains behind the dish, as he has seen action at first base as well. He has a decent approach and makes contact most of the time. In his 263 career minor league at-bats, Blinger has K’d 53 times, while walking 37 times. He will probably start the 2018 season in the AZL. I looked for him this spring, but failed to see anything from this young man. He is one to keep an eye on for the future.