Underrated Prospects the Padres Should Target

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Credit: Baseball America

Nicky Lopez

Lately there have been trade rumors about the Royals going after Brad Hand. Yet with their terrible farm system and need to patch up a weak rotation, such an acquisition will be hard to come by. As a result, the Royals could focus on grabbing any of the Padres’ free agent-to-be starters.  Such an acquisition could be deemed necessary for the win-now club as it tries to build up a starting staff that has 2/5 of its members posting above 5.00 ERA’s.

In return for a player such as Trevor Cahill, Clayton Richard, or Jhoulys Chacin, the Padres could steal a solid shortstop named Nicky Lopez. Lopez was drafted in the fifth round of the 2016 draft after attending Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska. During his debut, he led the Rookie Appalachian League in runs scored (54) and shortstop fielding percentage (.981), while also drawing more walks (35) than strikeouts (30). Such on-base ability has continued this year as the Royal has walked 42 times in comparison to striking out 34 times while advancing to the Double-A Northwest Arkansas Naturals. He’s also hit to a .295/.374/.771. In this way, he is a safer prospect than most and very similar to Padres prospect Luis Urias, as both have an advanced understanding of the strike zone and know how to get on base at a high clip. While his career OBP. of .382 is lower than Urias’ mark of .397, the Creighton alumni has better fielding ability and speed.

On defense, Lopez has the tools to stay at short long-term as he combines plus arm strength with soft hands and consistently strong glove work. In 293 chances this year, the young shortstop has only made seven errors and has accumulated 100 put-outs, 186 assists, and 45 double plays. Overall, he has the skills needed to be an above-average defender at shortstop or a plus defender in a utility role. Meanwhile, his speed, which helps on defense, allows him to be aggressive on the base paths. In 86 games this year, he has stolen 19 bases while being caught 8 times for a 70.37 successful stolen base percent. Obviously, there is room for improvement given these numbers, but the fact that Lopez can steal plenty of bases is a good sign for a shortstop without much power. Lastly, the Creighton product is described as a hard worker and a good clubhouse presence. Those traits combined with the fact that he’s a left-handed hitter, something that the Padres need more of in their farm system, are enticing.

Lucius Fox

Another shortstop, Lucius Fox, not the Batman character, has a high ceiling. Signed by the San Francisco Giants for six million dollars during the 2015-2016 international period, Fox has a chance at developing four-plus skills. Although last season was a lost year for the native Bahamian as he posted a slash line of .207/.357/.582 for Single-A Augusta GreenJackets, he has bounced back nicely in 2017. In 73 games played, Fox has brought his slash line up to .275/.357/.709. To get there, the young switch-hitter has recovered from a nagging foot injury he suffered through as a Giant. His smooth line drive stroke also helps.

Credit: Tamp Bay Times

While his BABIP of .369 means regression is coming, his speed will always push his number above the league average. Also, he was regarded as an advanced hitter before signing, he’s playing his first season without any nagging injuries, and he’s young enough to make huge strides in development. Thus, his hitting this year should be seen as a positive. While his plus-plus speed allows him to get on base more than slower players, it also enables Fox to steal plenty of bases. In 34 attempts, the 20-year-old has stolen 26 bases. This equates to a solid 76.47% success rate that has room to improve. Either way, he will intimidate opposing pitchers and run wild on the field, giving run producers more opportunities to put a team on top.

Besides the hitting ability and speed, Fox’s skills with the glove are also noteworthy. He profiles at short for the long-term due to great athleticism, good hands, and a strong arm. Although he has trouble with errors, 13 in 573.12 innings for a .951 fielding percentage, his range factor per nine of 4.00 is enough to keep him at position six. For Fox, I would expect the Rays to make calls on any reliever on the Padres. Most likely, Ryan Buchter will be the one Tampa wants, as the team doesn’t have a reliable lefty. Instead, the Rays have Adam Kolarek, who has pitched five innings, and Xavier Cedeno, who has pitched two and a third innings this season. Besides, they are both mediocre options at best. Thus, the Friars could get a stellar offensive and defensive shortstop in a bargain deal.

Daniel Johnson

With the Washington Nationals acquiring relievers Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson on Sunday, one would expect them to be done with their shopping. However they aren’t, and shouldn’t be, as a win-now ball club with holes left to shore up. As of right now, the Nats’ biggest problem is the back-end of their starting rotation. With Tanner Roark pitching to a 4.98 ERA in 18 games started and another in relief, and Joe Ross being lost for this season and possibly next due to Tommy John surgery, expect the team to take flyers on veterans that can eat innings. The veterans they could be looking at include Trevor Cahill, Jhoulys Chacin, and Clayton Richard, and they might be searching for a package.

In exchange, Preller should ask about outfielder Daniel Johnson. Johnson was drafted in the fifth round of the 2015 MLB Draft and has shown the potential for being a five-tool talent. This season is proof as he has hit to the tune of a .305/.365/.902 while also hitting 16 home runs and  36 total extra base hits as well as stealing ten bases. His defensive is superb as well. MLB.com has credited him with the athleticism required to be a plus defender in center and with a right-fielder’s arm (65). The reason why Johnson is underrated is because he has yet to turn his skills into production. During his two years of minor league ball, the National has been unable to walk at a rate of at least six percent, limiting how much he gets on base and restricting the effectiveness of his raw speed. Also, while the 2016 draftee has stolen 23 bases in his career and registers as a 70-grade burner he has been caught stealing 12 times.

Lastly, he projects as a long-term center fielder but has yet to maintain above a .943 fielding percentage during his 114 innings in center. This has caused the Nationals to shift him to the corners for 500 innings where he has less value. Yet, San Diego should try to get him since he has all five tools and hit for a high .288 batting average throughout his young career and has struck out less than 20% of the time. This will no doubt help him harness his raw skills.

Overall, the Padres can get valuable prospects even with their lesser players. A move similar to the James Shields one could impact the future of San Diego for years to come.

5 thoughts on “Underrated Prospects the Padres Should Target

  1. Well Preller doesn’t need to deal Hand right now so it’s great that he keeps the asking price high even though such a move stalls the market. Besides hand could increase his value even more if the padres dealt him in the offseason. The lefty would have a longer track record and thus be more valuable.

    1. Middle relievers don’t fetch all that much in the off season. They are most valuable at the trade deadline and Hand’s value will never be higher, with his performance and 2 1/2 years of control. Now’s the time to trade him, but I do agree, don’t do it unless the return is a good one.

    2. It is possible, but HIGHLY unlikely that Hand (or any other non-closer-reliever) can/will increase his value. And we all agree he should get the best deal, but it is becoming more and more likely that Padre fans will be greatly disappointed in the outcome of the trade deadline. And, to my earlier supposition, how much of this will be due to AJ’s past transgressions. Furthermore, and at the risk of being a conspiracy theorist, is there some level of collusion among GM’s not to trade with him … and to what degree is there distrust (or even disdain) of him warranted?

      1. Perhaps we can revisit this topic come August 1st? There is still time to gain prospects via trade. Interesting thoughts though…

  2. It is becoming increasing unlikely that AJ will get much in trades … that is, if he can make a trade.

    Did he overplay his hand (no pun intended) and demand too much? Is it that there is a glut of players (especially relievers)? Is it that other GM’s are freezing him out due to his past sins? Did the Quintana trade distort expectations? Maybe he will be able to flip a starter or two … but only for a really-lower level player or two.

    Yikes! Sad.

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