Lake Elsinore Storm
Obviously the talent on the Storm’s roster begins with its starters; thus here’s one of the best. A 4th-round draft pick by the Padres in 2016, Joey Lucchesi went from being undrafted as a junior college student in 2015 to being a high pick the next year. He has outperformed all expectations throughout his early career and is now one of the Padres’ premier pitching prospects. Rather than surviving on one pitch, the Southeast Missouri State graduate has three above-average pitches, including a plus 92-94 mph fastball with late movement, and great command, showcased by the 56-to-3 K/BB rate he had as a first-year pro player. This year, the player has become of the best starters in the league. He has a 2.39 ERA and a .98 WHIP in addition to 89 strikeouts over 71.2 innings and only 18 walks in that time. While his FIP of 3.58 means that there will most likely be some regression, he remains second in the California league in strikeouts. Also, the fact that he’s done so well in a hitter’s league means that he’s ready for another challenge. Therefore, he is staring down a promotion sooner rather than later. Hopefully, he keeps this pace and advances to the big leagues by early 2019 at the latest. If he does, the Friars might have something special, and at worst the lefty profiles as a solid back-end starter.
The other Storm lefty who’s been dominating hitters, Lauer is as or even more impressive as Lucchesi. Originally drafted in round one of the 2016 draft, Lauer was taken by the Padres because he was projected as a for sure starter, albeit a back-end guy, who would get to the majors in a hurry. However, draft reports failed to realize that Lauer may be something more. Sure he’ll never be an ace since he’s more consistent than flashy, but he can become a No. 3 or No. 4 starter if he continues to show results similar to the ones he’s had this year. That said, in 2017, Lauer has used his above-average pairing of a low-90s cut fastball and slicing slider to lead the league in ERA (2.15). Although he doesn’t have the K rate nor the command ability Lucchesi has, Lauer has been a better run stopper. By maintaining a 79.7LOB%, the former Kent State star has arguably been the best pitcher in all of Advanced A ball, even his ERA doesn’t do him justice as his BABIP is at a lofty .340. This is somewhat mitigated by his FIP of 2.88, but Lauer has upped his K/9 rate from 10.08 for the Tri-City Dust Devils to 10.91 this year in Lake Elsinore and lowered his BB/9 from 2.52 to 2.30. Thus, Lauer has stayed consistently good, but has become better. His ascent through the minors could use another challenge via better opposing hitters and he could be a valuable addition to San Diego by late 2018.
One of my favorite relievers in the Padres’ system, Colby Blueberg has been a high performer since being drafted in the 24th round of the 2014 draft. The 24-year-old has been a member of the Lake Elsinore Storm since getting one appearance in 2015, but has stayed there throughout 2016 and now 2017. In those two years, he has never pitched below a 3.20 ERA. This year, the Carson City born player has upped his game. Starting with a 1.66 ERA that helped him get to the Cal League All-Star game, Blueberg has turned into a good strikeout artist. In 38 innings, he has 48 strikeouts due to a powerful low-80s, downward-biting slider. With it, he has gotten nine save opportunities in which he has locked down seven. While he may not get these save opportunities at the highest level, he can become a good reliever for San Diego when he’s ready. Otherwise, his second go-around at High-A and second All-Star game at the level should be enough to propel him up the ranks.
Drafted out of Rice University in the 3rd round of the 2014 draft, Lemond tried to make a career for himself as a starting pitcher. However, after three years of failing, the Padres decided to shift his attention to the bullpen to begin the year. This shift has allowed him to take off in Lake Elsinore. In his 37.2 innings pitched, he hasn’t been a major strikeout artist (9.32 K/9), but he has been exceptional in his command (1.19 B/9) Due to such command, the former Rice player has dropped his WHIP from 1.60 last year to 1.17 this year. He gets the most out of his starter’s arsenal, including his plus fastball and above-average curveball. As a result, he has provided a pleasant surprise for the team and could continue to improve if he focuses his attention on the bullpen. This focus on pen work should continue in San Antonio. He may not have a huge ceiling because of his low strikeouts, but he could stand to surprise.
Others of note:
Cal Quantrill-a potential future ace who needs to do better than his 3.69 ERA and 3.73 FIP
Josh Naylor– a masher who has a slash line of .299/.363/.463 but is only 19
Fort Wayne TinCaps
One of the most exciting pitchers in the Friars’ system, Logan Allen has come a long way since being drafted in the eighth round of the 2015 draft. Acquired along with Manny Margot and others in the Craig Kimbrel trade later that year, Allen has improved every season he’s played in the minors. While his first year in Fort Wayne was great (3.33 ERA and 3.60 FIP), his second go-around has been even better. In 2017, he has truly broken out. For starters, the IMG Academy grad has an outstanding 2.02 ERA and 2.78 FIP. Also, he has struck out an exciting 10.83 batters per nine. The result of such work is a Midwest All-Star. However, there are chinks in his armor. He has a control issue evidenced by his 3.47 BB/9 which is concerning as he was signed as a player who could get better at locating his pitches. Yet, the Storm will need more starters once Lucchesi and Lauer graduate and who better to replace them than the dominant force of Allen.
A star reliever for the Tincaps, Bednar is ready to perform in the Cal League. Taken out of Lafayette College in New York, Bednar has been a steal since the Padres drafted him in the 35th round of the 2016 draft. He is the present closer in Fort Wayne and has saved eight games in nine opportunities. Flashing a 96 mph fastball to go along with an above-average to plus slider, Bednar has been an extremely successful reliever. While he does walk too many batters (3.16/9) he makes up for it with an excellent amount of strikeouts (13.21 K/9). As a result, Bednar has maintained a WHIP of .93 and a FIP of 2.16. Overall, his ERA of 2.01 shows how he needs to be challenged once again by being sent to California.
Marcus Greene Jr.
Once drafted in the 16th round of the 2013 draft, Greene was lost among the dearth of talent in the Rangers’ farm system. Yet, his athleticism and promising catching ability caused the Padres to trade Will Venable for him in August 2015. His best tool, his arm, is a solid weapon behind the dish even though he has only thrown out 25% of base runners. This is evidenced by the fact that he carried a 32% caught stealing rate in the winter Australian League. There are facets of his defensive game that need work though. For example, he needs to become better at blocking pitches as he has allowed six passed balls in 42 games played. Overall, the Tincap is solid behind the dish as he has a shiny .993 fielding percentage.
However, it’s his offensive game that stands out. Even though he hasn’t hit for above a .220 average since 2014, Greene broke out in the winter Australian Baseball League. While playing for the Adelaide Bite, the backstop led the league in home runs (6) and was second in RBIs (23). Now back in the states, Greene has succeeded for the Fort Wayne Tincaps. While a slash line of .282/.372/.474 is impressive for a prospect who dealt with a tear in his ulnar collateral ligament in 2015, the best thing about Greene is his patience at the plate. Whereas most young players strike out at ridiculous rates, up to 40%, like Michael Gettys, he has only struck out at a 17.8% clip while also walking at a 10.6% rate. This patience will help him realize his full potential at the plate, which looks great already when you consider his batting average, OBP., and the fact that he’s hit six home runs in 47 games. While his .319 BABIP is high for a player with below-average speed like Greene, it’s not terrible enough to guarantee a huge amount of regression. Thus, Greene could be the Padres’ top catching prospect and a huge riser in prospect rankings. Now is the time to see what he can do at High-A since he’s already done incredible things at Fort Wayne.
Others of note:
Fernando Tatis Jr.- A possible All-Star in the future who needs to lower his 26.5% strikeout rate and improve upon his .929 fielding percentage before advancing
Jorge Ona– a power-hitting outfielder who needs to a little bit more seasoning at the level to prove his early season success isn’t a fluke