Just after the Padres' start their home opener tomorrow against the San Francisco Giants, the San Antonio Missions will take the field for their 2015 debut. AA clubs can be one of the best proving grounds in baseball, as it is full of prospect that have already conquered the lower minors and need to be tested against more skilled competition. It often separates the wheat from the chaff. Here's a full list of players for the Texas League ballclub along with some notes:
RHP Justin Hancock, RHP Elliot Morris, RHP Bryce Morrow, RHP Colin Rea, RHP Bryan Rodriguez
Analysis: Compared to what could have been, this group is a little shy on the talent. The Padres traded Joe Ross and Zach Eflin this offseason and both guys were highly regarded prospects that would have headlined this staff. In the past it has also boasted some more intriguing prospects like Matt Wisler, Jesse Hahn, Donn Roach, Burch Smith, Keyvius Sampson, Matt Andriese, Juan Oramas, Casey Kelly, Joe Wieland and Robbie Erlin. That doesn't make this staff chopped liver though. Hancock and Morris definitely have major league upside. Bryce Morrow posted good numbers for San Antonio last year after a midseason promotion and looks to repeat that. Rea had a solid year a Lake Elsinore last year and should be a rotation stalwart for the Missions this season. Rodriguez survived the Cal League as well and looks to impress with what might be an aggressive promotion.
Best Prospect: Has to be Elliot Morris. The 2013 4th round pick by the Angels who came to the Padres in the Huston Street deal is moving fast. He was blowing away people in the Midwest League early last year and got a midseason promotion to High A. Now he'll start in AA in only his second full season in the minors. He has major league 4th starter potential with the bullpen a fallback option if he can't reach that ceiling.
LHP Brandon Alger, RHP Adam Cimber, RHP Luis De La Cruz, RHP Michael Dimock, RHP Tayron Guerrero, RHP Jay Jackson, LHP Chris Nunn, RHP Dennis O'Grady, RHP Jerry Sullivan
Analysis: It looks to me like 6'7" tall drink of water Tayron Guerrero will anchor this staff as its closer. Along with him are much the core of the 2014 Lake Elsinore Storm bullpen in Alger, Cimber and Nunn who look to prove themselves at a new level. De La Cruz, Dimock, O'Grady and Sullivan all return to the Missions 'pen after good years in 2014. Sullivan might have been the best of the bunch and spent some time in the AAA bullpen. The 2009 3rd round might have a future in the major leagues, but he's already 27 years old. 28 year old Jay Jackson joins the staff as a minor league free agent.
Best Prospect: Definitely Tayron Guerrero. After years of struggling with his command, the hard throwing right hander broke out in 2014. He has near unhittable with Fort Wayne and was excellent in 13.2 IP with Lake Elsinore. This will be his AA debut. The Padres believe in the breakout and added him to the 40 man roster this offseason to protect him from the rule 5 draft. There's a chance he could see time in San Diego this year if things go well.
C Griff Erickson, C Jason Hagerty, C Robert Kral
Analysis: San Diegan Griff Erickson comes over from the Dodgers organization after a good year knocking around the ball in the Pacific Coast League. AA is a bit of a demotion, but might get him more playing time than he would in AAA with top prospect Hedges there. Hagerty has been hanging around AA for the last few years. He played more 1B last year than catcher and seems like a depth guy. Robert Kral showed a knack for getting on base in lower levels, but struggled in 2014 backing up Hedges.
Best Prospect: None are really prospects. If Erickson works hard and his bat stays useful, then maybe he can become a major league backup in his 30s.
1B/OF Luis Domoromo, 2B/OF Benji Gonzalez, 2B/SS/3B Diego Goris, SS/3B Jake Lemmerman, 2B/3B Casey McElroy, SS Trea Turner
Analysis: I would expect this group to be pretty flexible with its positioning. With the exception of Trea Turner the rest have bounced around to various positions. I can only guess what the regular alignment would be. Perhaps: 1B Domoromo, 2B McElroy, 3B Goris, SS Turner. However, I know Lemmerman and Gonzalez will get ample playing time.
Best Prospect: Trea Turner, but in a weird scenario it is already known that he's the player-to-be-named later in the offseason's Wil Myers trade and will head to the Nationals in June. He was the Padres 1st round pick last June and has a ceiling as a major league SS and leadoff hitter who burns up the bases with stellar speed. Diego Goris might be the best prospect of the group outside of Turner. Maybe he can be Solarte-esque if things go well for him. Padres gave him a decent look in Spring Training having him play the last few innings in a number of games.
RF Yeison Asencio, CF Tyson Gillies, CF Travis Jankowski, LF Alberth Martinez, RF Hunter Renfroe
Analysis: This is probably the best unit on the club. Asencio started slow last year, but picked up steam as the year went on and even got a AAA promotion for a bit where he also raked. Gillies is a former prospect who was key to a Mariners-Phillies Cliff Lee swap a bunch of years back. He provides depth. Jankowski battled injuries last year, but he was a 2012 supplemental 1st round pick whose speed makes him a plus defender and a threat on the bases. Alberth Martinez started hot with Lake Elsinore, but tapered off. Padres have challenged him here with a promotion. And then there's....
Best Prospect: Hunter Renfore. Finally a top prospect for the Missions that wasn't traded. He has legit power and a strong arm in RF. His debut in AA didn't go so well after a midseason promotion last year, so there's still much to learn at this level. For one, he needs to limit the swing-and-miss that comes with his swing-and-slug. Hopefully he dominates this level and knocks on the AAA door by the end of the year. Then he'd be at the major league doorstep come 2016.