The MLB draft is soon approaching. It will take place from Monday, June 8, through Wednesday, June 10. In preparation for the draft it is best to take a look at where the current minor league system's strengths and weaknesses lie. The strengths and weaknesses should not impact who the Padres take (at least early in the draft) since they need to select based on talent not need, but they are a good reference so as to see what sort of selections would have the biggest impact.
Instead of doing a deep dive like last year into every positional group I will just look at everything all at once here. This works out a little better this year after the system was thinned out by the various trades A.J. Preller has made. Some of the information from last year still may be useful so here is the link to last year's review, which includes links into the articles that took the deep dive. With that out of the way, let's begin:
Going into the season I liked both Robbie Erlin and James Needy and probably would have considered this unit a C+ or B-, but both have struggles in the difficult PCL. I'd almost give it a D or D+ if not for that difficulty and that Erlin has done better in previous major than he has done in the PCL this season. The other starters (Jason Lane, Bryce Morrow and Daniel McCutchen) are depth guys and aren't long term assets. The bullpen seemed set up to do well with guys ready or on the cusp of helping at the major league level, but hasn't really delivered. Nick Vincent, Cory Mazzoni, Leonel Campos, Stephen Kohlscheen, Marcos Mateo, Jerry Sullivan, Scott Elbert and Chris Rearick make up that staff.
This could have been an F, but I'll give it some credit for having Austin Hedges for a little bit. Rocky Gale has hit for average in the hitter friendly PCL, but is not someone that will likely ever have a major league impact.
AAA Corner Infield
I gave this unit a C+ last year and it's mostly the same this year except Tommy Medica is struggling. If he hadn't already proven he can hit at the major league level then this grade would be even lower. Cody Decker also factors in, but he gets overlooked constantly by the organization so I can't really count him as a future major league asset even if his bat seems to say he should be tried as one. At 3B Brett Wallace is basically the same filler as the team had last year with Alex Castellanos.
AAA Middle Infield
Same grade as last year. Journeyman Ramiro Pena mans SS and fallen prospect Taylor Lindsey mans 2B. That's a different group from last year, but the analysis is the same. Nothing to see here and Lindsey's former prospect status and Pena's mature hitting in the PCL are all that saves this group from getting an F.
Finally some good news at the most advanced level. There are useful assets at all 3 spots here. CF was fielded by Abraham Almonte, who is now providing depth for the big league club, but currently has the rehabbing Melvin Upton shagging flies. Rico Noel also provides depth at the position. RF has one of the clubs top prospects in Rymer Liriano. LF has Poway HS grad Alex Dickerson whose lefty bat has major league potential and his slugging over .500 for El Paso.
This is the strongest pitching unit of any of the organization's minor league levels. It makes up for the lack of a top prospect by having a lot of depth. Staring Pitchers Justin Hancock and Colin Rea have found their groove at this level both starting their seasons hot. Ryan Butler recently got promoted to this level, but is a good prospect who is being challenged at this level. Elliot Morris is another good prospect, but is working through some issues with walks so far this year. Bryan Rodriguez provides depth for the staff. The bullpen also has some good arms although it's not as deep as the starting staff. Tayron Guerrero headlines as the top relief prospect on the squad. Casey Kelly has worked mainly in relief for San Antonio, but is working up his stamina to become a starter again. Adam Cimber, Michael Dimock and Brandon Alger are good arms as well.
Jason Hagerty gets the bulk of the catching duty and is a former 5th round pick, but he that selection was back in 2009 and is 27 years old. Griff Erickson also handles the staff and is also 27, but after a good year in AAA last year he has taken a step back offensively at a lower level.
AA Corner Infield
There's close to nothing to talk about here. At 1B is converted OF and former bonus bay Luis Domoromo, but his bat can't play there. Casey McElroy was a 3B for a bit before getting called up to AAA to provide depth, but he's really a converted 2B who has probably gone as high as he can go in the minors. Duanel Jones got demoted from High A to A ball to start the season, but after hitting well for the Tin Caps is getting some time at 3B for the Missions. It's going somewhat okay and he's still just 22.
AA Middle Infield
Effectively, there is no SS on this team because their current one, Trea Turner, is promised to the Washington Nationals (as the player to be named later in the Wil Myers trade) and will be sent packing after the draft. At 2B is the plucky Diego Goris (and maybe SS once Turner has departed), whose bat hasn't shown up at AA yet, but looked to have some promise as a future Yangervis Solarte-esque utility guy before the season.
The top prospect here is RF Hunter Renfroe, who has struggled at the plate this season. There's still some pop in the bat, but he's needs to make better contact more consistently. At 23 he's still younger than average for the league, so there's time. Redeeming the OF is CF Travis Jankowski. The speedy 2012 supplemental first round pick missed most of 2014 with an injury, but his back and has one of the best batting averages in the Texas League. He also has 15 stolen bases already this year. LF has a couple of depth guys vying for time in Alberth Martinez and Yeison Asencio.
High A Pitching
This level suffers after the loss of Ryan Butler to promotion, but still has some good arms. 2014 3rd pick Zech Lemond leads the way with the best ERA and biggest innings total on the starting staff. Rafael DePaula, acquired in the Headley trade, has one of the best K/9 rates in the organization. Kyle Lloyd and Ronald Herrera are interesting sleeper prospects. Their closer Eric Yardley has been the most effective pitcher out of the bullpen. Former starting pitching prospect Walker Weickel is trying to learn a new trade in the 'pen. The Padres liked Kyle Bartsch when they acquired him for Reymond Fuentes this offseason, and while his ERA is bad his K:BB ratio still looks fine. Sometimes life in a California League bullpen can be rough.
High A Catching
Ryan Miller seems like a decent prospect after hitting for power with Fort Wayne last year. So far injuries have hurt his 2015 campaign, but when he has played he has hit. He's athletic and can handle the position.
High A Corner Infield
At times Gabriel Quintana has gotten some love around prospect circles, but he's struggling so far this season. At 22 there's time, but not much more if the bat doesn't come around since he's been stuck at this level for a while now. Marcus Davis is a college bat from the 2013 draft (24th round) who mashed in the Northwest league last year and you would expect to do well for the Storm, but he hasn't.
High A Middle Infield
Jose Rondon made some Padres top 10 prospect lists and is playing a capable SS for Lake Elsinore. The bat isn't playing as well as you'd hope in the hitter friendly Cal League, but it's not summer yet, you don't have to be a slugger to play SS and the his numbers aren't bad just not great. Chula Vistan Fernando Perez is hitting for a lot of power for a 2B and was already a decent prospect. Both are just 21 years old.
High A Outfield
CF Austin Bousfield was the Padres 2014 5th round pick and is hitting over .300 in Lake Elsinore. He also steals bases and has the range for CF. If Jankowski isn't a future major league CF, then perhaps Boufield will be right behind him to give it a try. LF/RFs Nick Schulz and Yale Rosen, like Marcus Davis, are two more college bats that mashed at a lower levels and haven't figured things out at this level. Kyle Gaedele plays a lot of DH and is mashing after an injury-plagued 2014, but the lack of position is worrisome. Former 3rd overall pick in 2009 Donavan Tate is also here, but not giving anyone any reason to talk about him more than that.
Low A Pitching
Thomas Dorminy has the best pedigree on the staff, he was a 10th round pick last year, pitched well at Eugene and had some sleeper prospect cred. He's done okay, but hard to see that sleeper status waking up anytime soon. Denilson Lamet certainly has an arsenal that produces whiffs, but the walk rate is high and he's a bit homer prone. Still, it's something to work with. Lefty Jose Castillo came to the Padres last offseason in the Myers trade. He's made just 2 starts with mixed results, but was considered an interesting prospect. Walker Lockett and Michael Kelly were former high draft picks, but hard to call them prospects anymore. 2013 3rd round pick Bryan Verbitsky was thought to be a starter when the Padres drafted him, but has since converted to relief with good results. As for the rest of the bullpen, lefty Kyle McGrath has gotten good results so far this year on top of an excellent 2014 while Jimmy Brasoban and T.J. Weir can get strikeouts, but need refinement.
Low A Catching
Jose Ruiz is a true glove only catcher in that he didn't crack the Mendoza line last year and hasn't this year. Miguel Del Castillo is a minor league veteran at 23 years old and is not a prospect.
Low A Corner Infield
Nick Vitter and Chase Jenson have split time at 3B with Duanel Jones off to AA and haven't hit. Jenson is 24 anyway and too old to be a prospect at this level. 1B Trae Santos has provided pop, but has a lot to prove at 22 years old and hitting well for the first time since joining the organization.
Low A Middle Infield
This is a ton of pressure to put on the 18 year old, but SS Ruddy Giron may be the most promising prospect currently in the Padres system. Being that he's in Low A he's obviously not as polished as a Rymer Liriano or a Hunter Renfroe, but he plays SS and has been hitting like crazy since he got called up 18 games ago. Error-prone Franchy Cordero started the season at SS, but has since moved to the OF. At that point Giron got the call and promptly went 6-for-6 with a homer and a stolen base. He's still hitting .397 with a .658 slugging percentage. 2B Felipe Blanco doesn't appear to be a prospect. 2013 5th round pick Josh VanMeter suffered a leg injury after 2 games and will likely miss the rest of the season.
Low A Outfield
2014 2nd round pick CF Michael Gettys is supposed to be the crown jewel here, but is struggling with high fastballs and hitting only .228. He's 19 and still has time to fulfill the promise that scouts claim he has. Franchy Cordero recently moved to LF, but his bat that makes scouts swoon in batting practice still isn't translating into Midwest League results. 6'5" Franmil Reyes is supposed to be able to a power threat, but it hasn't turned out that way the last two years with Fort Wayne. 2014 4th round pick Nick Torres out of Cal Poly SLO has had no problem getting his hits for the Tin Caps. He's hitting over .300 and probably making a push for a midseason promotion to Lake Elsinore.
At every level the Padres seem to have OFs and even though I know they'll add a few more at some point in the draft it sure doesn't seem like it should be a priority at the top of the draft. Then again, there's always the rule: Have bat, will travel. Especially since a few of the top OFs are speedy CFs who can never be middle of the order threats. A similar truth exists for pitching. The Padres have interesting pitching prospects at most levels, with a bit of an exception at AAA, but you can always have more. The team is certainly missing an elite prospect on the mound having trading their best and brightest (Matt Wisler, Max Fried, Joe Ross and Zach Eflin) this offseason.
Everywhere besides OF and P stand out as glaring weaknesses in the minor leagues. That being said, catching seems taken care of at the major league level for a while between Derek Norris and Austin Hedges, so you could probably place it behind pitching on the priority list. A big power bat would be great. Whether that's a 1B or a 3B (who might have to move to 1B) or some other position it doesn't matter. If he can hit the ball out of the ballpark, then the Padres should love him. And then, of course, there's the middle infield. You aren't going to find a power bat there, but the Padres need to look for something that can help the depth. Unfortunately it will do nothing to help the upper minors as the cupboard is completely bare there, but it will help avoid this situation in the future.