While a lot of the other guys on this list are older and pitching in the higher levels of the Padres’ minor league, 23-year-old David Bednar reached High-A after being drafted out of college in 2016. He had a very impressive start to the 2017 season in Fort Wayne, to the tune of a 1.87 ERA in 33 and two-thirds innings with 50 strikeouts and just 11 walks.
Bednar was not nearly as impressive upon being promoted to High-A, with a 3.58 ERA and 3.55 FIP, but Bednar maintained a pretty solid 26 percent strikeout rate with a walk rate of under eight percent. Bednar also joined fellow reliever Andres Munoz in the Arizona Fall League and had quite a bit of success, with one earned run, zero walks, and seven strikeouts in eight innings with the Peoria Javelinas. Bednar is still probably a few years away from potentially reaching the big leagues, but he has done all he’s had to do so far.
A little more under the radar than a lot of other guys on this list, Dauris Valdez had a bit of an odd year. After throwing 23 innings in short-season ball, with an impressive 33 percent strikeout rate to just five percent walk rate, but less impressive 4.30 ERA, Valdez made the jump to full-season ball in Fort Wayne where he had a much worse strikeout to walk ratio, but a better ERA (2.38) in 11.1 innings pitched. It’s a small sample size, but an almost tripling of his walk rate with a small decrease in his strikeout rate is kind of concerning. Even so, Valdez is still just 22 years old and going into his third season of professional ball, so there’s time to work out those kinks.
Probably the most exciting name on this list given his performance in the Arizona Fall League, Andres Munoz is one of the hardest throwing pitchers in all of minor league baseball, if not the hardest thrower. The big concern here is obviously command and control, as Munoz is sometimes unable to fully control his hard fastball and heavy slider, as demonstrated by his 15 percent walk rate in short season ball and 18 percent walk rate in Low-A. However, Munoz showed much better command and control in the Arizona Fall League, as he walked just two batters while striking out 11 in eight and two-thirds innings. If he can continue to show improved command and work to more fully develop a second pitch, Munoz could be one of the best relief pitching prospects in baseball. He is still just 18 years old and years away from potential big league relevance, but he is definitely an exciting one to watch at the least.
If not for Andres Munoz, a real argument could be made that right-hander Hansel Rodriguez was the most impressive Padres’ relief pitching prospect in 2017. After having a disastrous start through the first three months of the season, Rodriguez was nearly unhittable over the last two-plus months of the season.
From July 6 through the end of the season on September 3, Rodriguez gave up just one earned run in 26 innings while striking out 44 batters and walking just five. From failed starter to dominant reliever, Rodriguez did just about everything the Padres wanted with his transition to the bullpen. Going forward, the Padres still could try Rodriguez as a starter again, but it seems that Rodriguez has shown himself to be a better fit in the bullpen long-term.
Not a reliever by choice, Austin Smith had a rather disastrous debut after being selected with the Padres’ first selection in the 2015 MLB Draft. His strikeout rates have been pretty solid throughout his professional career, but his walk rates have not been as solid. After beginning this year still doing some starting, Smith was fully converted to a reliever upon his demotion to short-season ball in mid-June. From June 15 through the end of the season in Tri-City, Smith found some success, with 24 strikeouts, but he also still sported an ERA over 5.00 in 21 innings pitched. Long term it’s really unclear where Smith ends up, but he still has talent and the draft pedigree.
In just over 80 innings split between Double-A and Triple-A, Adam Cimber struck out 65 batters to just 10 walks. While not overly impressive in the strikeout department, Cimber did a very good job of commanding his pitches and limiting walks. He should get a chance at the big league bullpen in 2017.
Despite starting the season injured and struggling when he was on the mound, right-hander Yimmi Brasoban is still an interesting relief prospect given his 60-grade fastball and potential 60-grade slider. The fact that his walk rate and strikeout rate were even this year is definitely discouraging (both sat at 14.7 percent), but his prior success is still in recent memory.