It can be both endlessly fun and very painful to prospect watch. For every prospect that works out and becomes a major league star, there is at least four or five that burn out at the lower levels of the minor leagues.
In recent years, the Padres have turned around what was a bottom-of-the-barrel farm system. Now sitting among the top five or so farm systems in all of baseball, the Padres have one of the most high-risk/high-reward systems in all of baseball. While there is a lot of potentially impactful minor league talent in the Padres organization, there is a significant risk that comes with that. Nowhere is this risk better seen than in the lower levels of the Padres’ system.
For how loaded the Padres are with lower level pitching, including the likes of Anderson Espinoza, Adrian Morejon, Eric Lauer, Cal Quantrill, Joey Lucchesi, Logan Allen, and on and on, there is a lot of risk in that profile. However, ironically enough, the riskiest players in the Padres’ farm system have been positional players, with a few specific ones in mind. Two players that come to mind when talking about risk and reward are Lake Elsinore Storm outfielder Michael Gettys, and Storm shortstop Javier Guerra. Between those two players, the frustration of waiting on prospects is perfectly summed up.
Both guys have quite a bit of pedigree, and have fallen quite significantly from where they once stood in terms of prospect status. Both still sit among the Padres’ top-30 prospects, but they have taken monumental steps backward already this season.
Drafted in the second round of the 2014 MLB draft by the Padres, Michael Gettys was considered to be a very toolsy player who was very raw in several aspects of his game. In his first taste of professional baseball during the Arizona Fall League, Gettys impressed, slashing .310/.353/.437 over 233 plate appearances. Gettys struck out in 28.3 percent of his trips to the plate, but he still maintained a strong offensive performance nonetheless, with a 124 wRC+ to show for it.
Despite his strong professional debut, Gettys took a rather significant step back in his first taste of full season ball with the Fort Wayne TinCaps, as the young outfielder slashed just .231/.271/.346 in just over 500 plate appearances, striking out over 30 percent of the time in the process and finishing with a wRC+ of just 77. The 2015 season was a prime example of the type of player Gettys would be if the tools didn’t manifest themselves at the plate. The speed, defense, and ability were all there, but the offensive success just didn’t follow.
However, Gettys responded to the adversity in 2016 with the best year of his professional career, which isn’t saying much considering how bad his first full season went. Even so, Gettys excelled at both Fort Wayne and Lake Elsinore, putting up a wRC+ of 134 in 289 plate appearances at Fort Wayne and 120 in 272 plate appearances to finish the year in Lake Elsinore. Gettys was still striking out in around 25 percent of his plate appearances at both levels, but it seemed like he was finally putting all his tools together into a solid, all-around prospect package.
Let’s look at some video to try to discern why Gettys had such different results from 2015 to 2016. First a look at Gettys’ swing during his first stint with Fort Wayne in 2015.
Now a look at Gettys’ swing from his time with Lake Elsinore in late 2016.
From these two videos, you can tell that Gettys made some changes to his swing. In 2016, Gettys not only held his hands higher prior to his swing, but he also added a more prominent rocking motion as a timing mechanism. Both things appear to have paid off as Gettys greatly improved his success at the plate in 2016. However, so far in 2017, Gettys has once again found himself taking a significant step backward.
The swing looks fairly similar to how it looked in 2016, but Gettys is having some trouble getting bat to ball, as the outfielder is striking out in just over 40 percent of his plate appearances this season. In just 117 plate appearances, Gettys has already struck out an astronomical 47 times, which puts him on pace for well over 200 strikeouts if he maintains that rate for an entire season. It seems like all the progress Gettys made at the plate has been completely undone in this bad stretch to start the season. With no sign of an end to this streak in sight, it’s apparent that Gettys’ confidence and discipline at the plate have been almost completely eroded.
If not for teammate Javier Guerra, Michael Gettys may very well be the Padres most maligned current prospect. Originally acquired in the deal that sent Craig Kimbrel to the Boston Red Sox, Guerra has continually fallen flat on his face since joining the Padres organization. Despite being considered the headliner of that trade, Guerra is now easily the worst of the four players the Padres acquired in the deal, with two of them, Manuel Margot and Carlos Asuaje, already finding their way to the big leagues.
After a bit of a breakout in 2015 with the Red Sox low-A affiliate, with a 119 wRC+, Guerra made the jump to High-A with the Lake Elsinore Storm upon entering the Padres organization. Despite lots of rave reviews of Guerra immediately following the trade, he instantly had monumental struggles with the Storm in 2016. Over the course of the season, Guerra slashed only .202/.264/.325 with a 33 percent strikeout rate and wRC+ of just 58. Going into 2017, there was hope that Guerra could turn it around and return to the form he showed in his final days in the Red Sox organization.
So far, it hasn’t worked out, as Guerra has slashed an even more pedestrian .178/.267/.278 in 102 plate appearances over his first 24 games of the year. Guerra has still maintained his strong defense, but it appears he has completely forgotten how to hit. At times at the plate, Guerra looks completely lost, feebly swinging at pitches that he looks like he has no chance of hitting. Whether psychological or whatever else, Guerra genuinely has lost all sense of confidence in his offensive abilities.
Here we have two very different stories that have sort of merged into the same discussion. Both Javier Guerra and Michael Gettys have similar problems, as both have some mechanical problems in their swings that have caused them to strike out much too frequently to have any sort of offensive value. Despite these problems, both guys are still only 21 years old, and still have many years of potentially productive baseball ahead of them. Prospect development curves are never linear, and guys like Gettys and Guerra show that for every Kris Bryant who rockets through the system, there are at least ten guys who have to struggle and work for many years to achieve their big league dream. Gettys and Guerra may have to wait just a little bit longer for theirs, but the hope is still there.