The 2016 Minor League Baseball season kicks off tomorrow and the Padres AAA affiliate, the El Paso Chihuahuas, recently announced their roster. Ten of the players on the roster are also on the Padres' 40 man roster and could be called up at any time to replaced either an injured or ineffective player. A couple more are prospects to keep an eye that may even make their MLB debut this year either as September call ups or even earlier.
To see the entire roster, you can go here: 2016 El Paso Chihuahuas roster.
LHP Robbie Erlin, RHP Jeremy Guthrie, RHP Daniel McCutchen, RHP Carlos Pimentel, RHP Justin Hancock
Analysis: The rotation here is an interesting mix of things. Erlin just missed the Padres' Opening Day roster and is fighting to get his next shot. Guthrie has had a long major league career, but after putting up some ugly numbers with the 2015 champion Royals he is looking to bounce back the hard way by showing he's still got it in one of baseball's toughest leagues for a pitcher. McCutchen used to be like Erlin back in 2009/2010, but never quite stuck in the majors and has made his way as a AAA arm for the last 5 or so years. Pimentel is still quite young, but lost any prospect shine after years of struggling with control he seems to have working something out. Justin Hancock has steadily moved up the ranks in the Padres system and will now get his first full season taste of AAA.
Potential Callups: Erlin is the only guy here on the 40 man roster and will be the first man up should a need arise. Presumably Guthrie is here in case a couple of needs arise and the Padres need a veteran innings eater. Pimentel and Hancock have a chance to impress and force the club's hand if they look like the best candidate should a major league rotation spot open up.
Best Prospect: I think this is still Erlin. His next chance in the majors will be a big one for him since he has failed to really impress in his last few cups of coffee. He still has the stuff that some believe could make him a decent back of the rotation lefty. Technically, Erlin isn't really a prospect since he has already used up his rookie eligibility, so Hancock may be the real choice. His results have been good at each level, but he doesn't seem to have the stuff to stick in a major league rotation. Only one way to find out though.
RHP Leonel Campos, RHP Jose Dominguez, RHP Derek Eitel, LHP Frank Garces, RHP Tayron Guerrero, LHP Michael Kirkman, RHP Cory Mazzoni, LHP Daniel Moskos
Analysis: Another good mix here of experience and youth. Campos, Dominguez, Eitel, Garces, Kirkman, Mazzoni and Moskos are all AAA vets that should know what's required to succeed at this level. All but Eitel have also pitched in the major leagues to various extents. Guerrero is an arm with some upside that will try his hand at AAA on his way to potentially a becoming big leaguer. Campos, Mazzoni and Garces were important parts of the Chihuahuas 'pen last year whereas the others are newcomers.
Potential Callups: Guerrero, Mazzoni and Campos currently hold down spots on the 40 man roster and seem the most likely to be the first ones to get calls. Mazzoni struggled big time with the Padres last time, so I think he would need some pretty good numbers in AAA to get another chance. Campos was with the Padres in 2014, but got ignored in 2015. Dominguez got a Spring Training non-roster invite so he might be a little higher on the pecking order than the other non-40 man guys, but anybody that stands out could get a look if an extra arm is needed in San Diego.
Best Prospect: Guerrero played in the Futures Game last year and shows up on Padres prospects lists. The 6'8 righty owns a blazing fastball that he'll attempt to harness a little better than last year (i.e. less walks).
C Austin Hedges, C Jason Hagerty
Analysis: You've got the glove and you've got the bat. The 23-year-old Hedges' calling card comes from his defense and 28-year-old Hagerty has hung around because he can swing the lumber a little. That probably makes for one of the better catching tandems in AAA this year.
Potential Callups: Just like last year Hedges will start the year in AAA, but his defense and ability to handle a staff makes him tempting should one of the major catchers get hurt.
Best Prospect: Hedges actually used up his rookie eligibility last year, but he is still a prospect to me. He'll spend the year working on his hitting so that if he gets called up again he can do a little better than .168/.215/.248.
SS Alexi Amarista, 2B/3B Carlos Asuaje, 2B/3B/SS Nick Noonan, 3B/1B Mike Olt, 3B/2B Ryan Schimpf, 2B Jemile Weeks
Analysis: As with many AAA infields there is a lot of versatility here. A few players can be mixed and matched although it would see Amarista would be the club's SS and Olt by default is at 1B. The rest will split the 2B and 3B duties and perhaps plays some SS as needed.
Potential Callups: I suppose under the right circumstances any of these could find themselves getting a call, but Amarista is by far the most likely given his major league experience and current spot on the 40 man roster. Jemile Weeks had such a nice Spring that he almost forced the Padres to put him on the 25 man roster and he'll look to show them that his Cactus League stats weren't a fluke.
Best Prospect: Asuaje came over in the Craig Kimbrel trade as maybe a bit of an after thought to a couple others, but he still has major league potential. I kind of like to think of him as potentially being Solarte-esque in a year or so. He plays 2B and 3B and has a modest amount of pop in his bat. He'll make his AAA debut this season.
LF/RF/1B Alex Dickerson, CF Manuel Margot, LF/2B Jose Pirela, RF Hunter Renfroe
Analysis: Margot and Renfroe should be regulars out in the OF with Pirela manning the 3rd spot as well as playing an infield position or DH now and again. Dickerson and Pirela are both repeating AAA and both have had cups of coffee in the majors leagues. Margot and Renfroe will be playing their first full seasons in AAA with Margot getting his first taste of the level on Opening Day.
Potential Callups. It wouldn't surprise me if all 4 of these guys don Padres uniforms in 2016. Dickerson, Margot and Pirela, however, are already on the 40 man roster. Pirela seems like the guy that would be most likely to get selected should the Padres need another bench guy. Dickerson and Margot might have to wait for September. Renfroe isn't rostered, but a big year could force the team's hand. Margot could also make a push, but the club may be more conservative with him.
Best Prospect: Take your pick between Margot and Renfroe. If you like speed, contact hitting and defense, then Margot is your man. If you like power then Renfore is your guy. Both, should they develop, are projected to be average to above average major league regulars.