During his first years as the general manager for the San Diego Padres, A. J. Preller filled the minor leagues with high-value prospects while the big league team floundered. In the past two seasons especially, the Padres have switched to high-value big leaguers and a relatively uninspiring minor league system. Very few teams excel at both at the same time.
Preller’s introductory trade fest in 2014 backfired. However, last year he built the first Padre team to flirt with a World Series trophy since 1998. Thus, the Padres have moved up the ranks in the power rankings. According to mlb.com, the early power rankings place the Padres in fourth place behind the Houston Astros, New York Mets, and Atlanta Braves. The 2022 World Series champion Astros stand out because they’ve reached the American League championship series six times in a row, winning two titles during that period.
Surprisingly, the New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies, and Los Angeles Dodgers come in behind the Padres. It’s a rare year when the Dodgers don’t land in the top five in power rankings.
In the meantime, the Padres’ farm system has plunged to 28th place. In order to add players like Juan Soto, Josh Hader, Josh Bell, and Brandon Drury, the Padres gave up C.J. Abrams, Mackenzie Gore, and Robert Hassell 111, among others. (Bell chose not to return and instead signed a two-year deal with the Cleveland guardians. That leaves San Diego with the 30-year-old Brandon Dixon as the only first baseman on the big league roster.)
This year, only the New York Mets, Los Angeles Dodgers, and Tampa Bay Rays have highly valued big league teams and equally strong minor league systems. The Dodgers had the best record in baseball last year, with 111 wins and 51 losses. And early bleacherreport.com rankings place the Dodgers in first with seven Tier 1 prospects.
In Preller’s tenure, the team has been up and down in both power and farm system rankings.
In 2015, his first full year in San Diego, the Padres ranked 18th in power rankings, according to Bleacher Report. But the farm system had fallen to 25th thanks to a flurry of trades in a win-now effort. Despite the revamped team, the Dodgers led the west at 92-70, and the Padres came in fourth with a record of 74-88.
The following year the team moved up to 16th in the power rankings but came in last in the National League West at 68-94, far behind L.A.’s 92-71 record. The farm system ranking stayed near the bottom at 25th again.
By 2017, the Padres’ minor leaguers had made a huge leap to 6th place. However, the big league team sunk to the very bottom. The front office spent less money on the active roster ($29 million) than on traded or released players. In 2018 San Diego’s farm system moved up the 4th place, and the major league team left the cellar and placed 24th in power rankings.
In 2019 Padres fell to 28th in the power rankings. However, Bleacher Report ranked the farm system number one. Shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. and pitcher MacKenzie Gore ranked in the top 25 in prospects expectations. Overall, San Diego had 10 prospects in the top 100.
In the pandemic-shortened season of 2020, the Padres had a winning record of 37-23 (the first since 2010), finished in second place in the National League West, and made it to the playoffs. In the National League Wild Cards Series against the St. Louis Cardinals, the Padres took two of three games. But L.A. swept San Diego in the National League Division Series. The farm system moved all the way up to second place behind the Tampa Bay Rays.
After making it to the playoffs the year before, a roster including Manny Machado, Fernando Tatis Jr. Yu Darvish, and Joe Musgrove fell to third place in the division with a 79-83 record in 2021. Before the season, San Diego ranked 10th in power and 8th in the farm systems.
The 2022 season began with the Dodgers in first in power rankings and the Padres in 9th place (in part because of their wealth in starting pitchers). The farm system ranked 16th and included shortstop CJ Abrams and outfielder Robert Hassell in the top tier and pitcher MacKenzie Gore in tier 2.
With Spring Training beginning next month, the Padres rank 9th in early power rankings. A lineup including Juan Soto, Manny Machado, and Fernando Tatis Jr. (when he returns) should vastly improve the offense that scuffled last year.
But the farm system has dropped to 28th place with the loss of top prospects like Abrams and Gore. The Padre’s top prospect, shortstop Jackson Merrill, ranks 83rd. He is currently in A ball with an eta of 2025. Other top prospects like pitcher Dylan Lesko (2027), pitcher Robby Snelling (2026), and outfielder Samuel Zavala (2025) probably won’t arrive until 2025 at the earliest.
Very few franchises can boast both a strong major team and farm system with highly valued prospects. Despite Preller’s eye for young talent, the farm system has little to offer this coming season in trade or big-league value.
Preller and company obviously have an eye for young talent. Building a winning Major League has proved to be much more challenging. However, according to the 2023 early power rankings, the San Diego Padres should be looking good going into the 2023 season.