It’s the time of the year when baseball writers sort the game’s prospects using arbitrary methods and create rankings that have limited relationships with actual future performance. While these rankings hold little value beyond argument fodder, the discussions they trigger can provide insight into the potential that lies within the prospects that represent the future of the Padres organization. I’m going to attempt to gather some of these data here for your reference. First we’ll go over the respective lists, then I’ll compile some quotes on each of the top prospects in the organization.
Keith Law currently writes for ESPN and is a former Toronto Blue Jays front office member and Baseball America writer. He is highly respected in media circles for his analysis of current and future prospects. He released his Top 100 Prospects list January 30th (subscription required). Keith ranked the Padres’ system the third-best in all of baseball, after ranking them 20th just a year ago. What’s notable is that this ranking is due to the sheer volume of high-ceiling talent in the organization, when the top rankings typically go to top-heavy systems thick with near-MLB-ready talent. He also posted his Padres’ Prospect Report on February first (again, subscription required), which included a Top Ten list. He had the following to say about the prospects in the Padres’ pipeline:
You could make a compelling case for any of the top three teams on my list to be first overall. In San Diego’s case, the argument would be that they boast more upside potential, more guys with huge ceilings that are 10 percent likely to happen (or less) than any other system.
The Padres went very young in their rebuild, and they went big. Six of their top 10 guys were 20 or younger in 2016, and they signed a huge batch of teenagers on July 2, dominating the class among both pitchers and position players. Their draft similarly went for high-ceiling players, leading off with Cal Quantrill -- who in hindsight might have been the best prospect in the class -- with several other rolls of the dice on other pitchers coming off injuries who are showing positive early returns.
They’re third on this list because nearly all of that value is far from the majors, and there’s risk on every one of those guys -- every teenage pitcher is a risk because of the natural attrition rate of arms, and some of these hitters haven’t even sniffed full-season baseball yet. They’re also more pitching-heavy, which entails a little more risk but probably makes sense given the market price for pitching. The major-league team might be ugly this year, but their affiliates will be fascinating to watch.
That’s a lot of praise directed toward some keen scouting. There’s a lot of risk but there’s also a lot of talent. That’s exactly what GM A.J Preller said he’s been targeting all along.
Eric Longenhagen of Fangraphs listed the Top 32 Prospects in the Padres system last November. He went into great depth regarding the future value and scouting analyses for all 32 players listed, and it’s a great read. He followed that up with a long MLB Prospects chat a month later, with some supplemental discussion in answering some questions, which is also worth a browse. His summary at the conclusion of the list speaks strongly to the status of the system:
Well, I don’t know about you, but I need a cigarette after all that. This is one of baseball’s deepest systems. The club has beefed up the system through trades, aggressive Latin American signings and walking a high-upside tightrope in the draft. One evaluator told me the group of talent in San Diego’s instructional-league camp was the best he’d seen in a decade of scouting instrux. The attrition rate of the teenagers in the system is likely to be high, but there are so damn many of them that the Padres will almost certainly produce a homegrown star or two over the next five years. Despite tumult at the very top of the organization, the talent foundation for a strong future has been built.
Kyle Glaser is a native San Diegan who has been writing for Baseball America since last March. His Top Ten list contains gives some background to the “how did we get here?” topic as well as an in-depth analysis of each of the ten players listed. He followed that up with a marathon three-hour chat session devoted to the Padres prospects, for which deserves both our respect and our gratitude. In the conclusion of his Top Ten article, he defines the challenge that the organization now faces:
The injection of talent from all avenues turned the Padres system into one of the game’s deepest. Now, the team must develop it to end years of poor performance and reverse the entrenched skepticism in San Diego.
Finally, Baseball Prospectus posted their Top Ten list on January 23rd. As I’m not a paid subscriber to BP, I can’t share what analysis is contained in their article, but I’m including their list below. The work that goes into the ranking from each of these sources is the result of independent scouting and analysis. Since these four are the most predominant sources in prospect scouting, it only seems right that they get presented together for comparison and contrast. The only other major source that is absent here is MLB.com’s listing, which hasn’t been released at this time. Here are the aforementioned Top Ten Padres Prospects lists, along with the overall ranks for those that were placed in overall Top 100 lists where relevant:
Padres Top Ten Rankings
|Keith Law (ESPN)||Kyle Glaser (Baseball America)||Eric Longenhagen (Fangraphs)||Baseball Prospectus|
|Keith Law (ESPN)||Kyle Glaser (Baseball America)||Eric Longenhagen (Fangraphs)||Baseball Prospectus|
|Anderson Espinoza, RHP (Ranked No. 21)||Anderson Espinoza, RHP||Anderson Espinoza, RHP||Manuel Margot, OF|
|Cal Quantrill, RHP (Ranked No. 23)||Manuel Margot, OF||Manuel Margot, CF||Anderson Espinoza, RHP|
|Manuel Margot, CF (Ranked No. 24)||Hunter Renfroe, OF||Cal Quantrill, RHP||Cal Quantrill, RHP|
|Fernando Tatis Jr., SS (Ranked No. 47)||Cal Quantrill, RHP||Hunter Renfroe, OF||Hunter Renfroe, OF|
|Adrian Morejon, LHP (Ranked No. 80)||Adrian Morejon, LHP||Adrian Morejon, LHP||Adrian Morejon, LHP|
|Jacob Nix, RHP||Luis Urias, 2B/SS||Fernando Tatis Jr., 3B||Fernando Tatis Jr., 3B|
|Hunter Renfroe, OF||Jacob Nix, RHP||Jacob Nix, RHP||Jacob Nix, RHP|
|Javier Guerra, SS||Michael Gettys, OF||Josh Paddack, RHP||Logan Allen, LHP|
|Luis Urias, 2B||Dinelson Lamet, RHP||Jeisson Rosario, OF||Jorge Ona, OF|
|Mason Thompson, RHP||Josh Naylor, 1B||Logan Allen, LHP||Luis Urias, 2B|
Regarding Law’s listing, none of the five nationally-ranked players were in the Padres organization at the end of the 2015 season. Espinoza was traded to the Padres for surprise All-Star Drew Pomeranz. Quantrill was selected in the 2016 draft. Margot came to the organization with Carlos Asuaje, Javier Guerra, and Logan Allen for Craig Kimbrel. Tatis was an unknown international prospect involved in the James Shields trade. Morejon was the most sought-after pitching prospect of the 2016-2017 international sigining period. It’s pretty remarkable that the organization can assemble this kind of talent in such a short period of time.
While we’re on the topic of Top 100 lists, MLB.com released theirs, and the Padres are featured four times, as listed below. The Top 100 lists from Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus have yet to be released.
- 23: Manuel Margot
- 25: Anderson Espinoza
- 42: Hunter Renfroe
- 97: Cal Quantrill
Considered by some to be the best defensive centerfielder prospect in the game, Margot’s instincts and judgment are an even more valuable skill than his speed when it comes to defense. This was put on display at the All-Star Futures Game, when he ranged to his left with a very efficient route to snag a ball from over the right-center fence. From the quick first step, to the direct route with little need for adjustment, to the perfectly timed leap without needing to find the wall, it was clear that he was no ordinary fielder out there. Complimenting that defense is an excellent eye at the plate with bat control that should produce consistent contact, albeit with a lack of current power. The development of that power is the biggest question with Margot, and even if that doesn’t come, he still projects as an above-average centerfielder as shown in the “Likelihood of Outcomes” table in the Fangraphs article, predicting a greater than 25% chance of contributing 20+ WAR over his career.
Margot came to San Diego as part of the four-prospect package from Boston for Craig Kimbrel, and should be the Padres’ regular center fielder in 2017 over Travis Jankowski. Margot can really play center as an above-average runner with great instincts and the ability to cover all that ground at Petco, one of the more difficult center fields to play in the majors.
At the plate, he’s a high-contact hitter with quick hands and a short path to the ball, although I think he can get a little over-rotational when he tries to hit for power, which results in him getting on top of balls and hitting them into the ground. He’s at his best when he just tries to put the ball into the outfield, as he’s very unlikely to be a 10-plus homer guy, but could hit .280-.300 with some doubles and triples thanks to his speed, slugging in the low .400s in peak years.
Margot is ready now, and projects as a plus-10 runs or so defender in center. That, combined with his ability to put the ball in play, should make him an average regular now, with a little more than that to come when he reaches his physical peak.
The defense is big-league ready and projects to plus at maturity. Margot not only has excellent speed but terrific athleticism and feel for his routes and footwork in the outfield. He also has a plus arm. Center fielders across the majors produced a collective .316 wOBA in 2016 and Margot projects to hit better than that, perhaps immediately. He has plus bat speed, his barrel is quick into the zone and he has excellent hand-eye coordination. He projects as a plus hitter. While Margot has average raw power, his in-game swing prioritizes contact and he hits a lot of balls on the ground. It’s possible Margot may learn to elevate the ball more regularly as he matures, and if he does he’ll become a star-level player. ... Even if his game power never materializes beyond 8-12 homers per year, this is a plus defender in center field who provides near-leadoff-level contact and on-base ability. Margot is a relatively safe bet to provide above-average daily production.
From Glaser chat:
Terry (90210): What would you say Margots Ceiling & Floor is? Felt like he had more hype with the Red Sox vs Pads..why so?
Kyle Glaser: Wouldn’t agree with that. His highest BA Top 100 prospect ranking came with him as a Padre pre-2016, and its about to be even higher now. His ceiling is an All-Star center fielder playing Gold Glove defense and hitting .300 with a ton of XBHs and steals. His floor is an everyday CF hitting a light .270 playing really good defense and stealing 20-30 bases. He’s a regular CF either way, and one of the best CF prospects in baseball
The jewel plucked from Boston in the Drew Pomeranz trade, Espinoza’s easy velocity, developed secondary pitches, fluid motion, and general physical proportions have drawn comparisons from Pedro Martinez to Yordano Ventura. He has the electric stuff, projected command, and the alpha-dog personality to be a future Ace with a capital A.
Traded in a surprise deal in July for Drew Pomeranz, Espinoza was one of the youngest pitchers in any full-season league in 2016, and he won’t turn 19 until this March. Espinoza is way beyond his years in stuff, pitching at 94-95 mph with his four-seam fastball already, touching 99, while already showing feel for a curveball and a changeup. Neither offspeed pitch is consistently above-average yet, but the changeup is further along.
...He has a great body and his delivery works well, with the velocity coming fairly easy and with no real obstacles to command or to improving the breaking ball. Given how good his raw stuff is and that he throws strikes, it was a little surprising he didn’t have better results in low-A between Greenville and Fort Wayne, but again, he was just 18, so this was like a high school senior pitching in the Sally and Midwest Leagues.
Nevertheless, that kind of arsenal doesn’t often lead to a 4.50 ERA. That may be an indication that he’s not going to zip through the minors, and will need a full year or more at each level, but even that would have him in the Padres’ rotation at the age of 22, and the upside given all of the raw material here is at least that of a No. 2 starter with ace upside not out of the question, and minimal risk as a reliever, too.
The Future: Ventura is a common comparison for Espinoza in terms of size and raw stuff, but Espinoza does it easier and possesses superior makeup and maturity that should help him surpass the Royals righthander. He has all the tools to become a front-of-the-rotation ace and will look to solidify that profile atop high Class A Lake Elsinore’s rotation to begin 2017. If he stays healthy and all goes according to plan, Espinoza should be in line to make his Padres debut by 2018 as a 20-year-old.
Read more at http://www.baseballamerica.com/minors/2017-san-diego-padres-top-10-prospects/#YYouy6ZY4zzIuZuO.99
Espinoza’s size isn’t an issue for me. Yes, he’s short, but the delivery is easy, he’s athletic and strong and he creates plane and movement on his fastball despite his size. Some are concerned about where the body is going but I consider Espinoza athletic enough to maintain his delivery even if he does get big. He has shown three 70 offerings. If they all mature there, and I think there’s a chance they will, we’re talking about a top-of-the-rotation arm.
Hunter Renfroe announced his presence last fall with an impressive debut, making the best of 36 plate appearances with a .371/.389/.800 line, and he also did this ridiculous thing. The inclusion of Renfroe in MLB.com’s Top 100 list speaks to their preference for more developed talent, while Keith Law’s rankings lean toward a player’s long-term projectability. There’s an underlying assessment that Law has made, which echoes concerns from other scouts, but Law seems more critical than most. There’s concern in his ability to recognize off-speed pitches, in which case he would struggle to get on base consistently or hit for average. The power is indisputable, and he’s a rangy corner outfielder with an absolute cannon for an arm, but he needs to disprove the critics in the pitch recognition and plate discipline categories.
Hunter Renfroe has 70 raw power and can play right field, but he doesn’t pick up spin well at all and showed awful plate discipline in a great hitter’s environment in the PCL.
This is a traditional power-hitting, right-field profile and one that feels relatively safe given the career-long success Renfroe has had, including the unsustainable but impressive deluge of power he showed in his short big-league stint in 2016.
Glaser’s assessment is a little more complimentary:
The Future: Renfroe’s aggressiveness will keep his strikeouts high and his walks low, but the swing adjustments he has made give him a better chance to annually reach his 30-homer potential. He will be the Padres’ Opening Day right fielder in 2017.
From Glaser’s chat:
Wayne (Saskatchewan): Hunter Renfroe at 3? You mean the guy who walks less than paraplegics? I thought you said this system was good?
Kyle Glaser: You mean the guy who projects to hit .250-.260/30 HR/100 RBI while playing borderline gold glove defense in RF? Yeah, that’s a top 3 prospect in any system system and a top 50 prospect in baseball. Yes the walks are low, but Adam Jones is an example of a guy who never walks but still punishes baseballs and is an impact player. Truthfully, the offensive line Matt Kemp put up last year – .268/.304/.499, 35 HR, 108 RBI, 36 BB, 156 K – wouldn’t be out of line with Renfroe. The big difference being, Renfroe puts those up while playing sterling defense, unlike Kemp, which makes him an impact player on both sides of the ball, even with high Ks and low walks.
Doug (Sacramento): Will Renfroe hit and reach base enough to become an above average potential all-star? Or is he destined to be another big power guy with high K's and low OBP?
Kyle Glaser: That’s the million dollar question. After last year a lot more people are in the former camp, but there’s still a lot of people in the latter. I’m in the optimist camp and think you can end up the guy in the positive outcome, but a Jeff Francouer 2.0 scenario (some good years but largely bouncing around from team to team due to K issues) isn’t something we’re completely out of the woods from.
The Padres took a calculated risk in drafting the Stanford righty eighth overall. He was still recovering from Tommy John surgery and had yet to ramp back up to full speed. Had the injury and subsequent procedure never happened, he may have been the top overall selection in the draft. Now that he’s been impressing scouts all summer, it seems that the Padres made the right choice. The son of former MLB veteran (and short-time Padre) Paul Quantrill brings a poise and a maturity well beyond the typical draftee, and he has the physical tools to become a front-end starter.
The Padres, picking eighth, decided to roll the dice on getting the draft’s best talent at a discount.
So far, it seems to have worked out spectacularly. Quantrill was electric all summer, pitching often at 94-97 mph with a grade-70 changeup and a solid slider, with his command wobbly as you’d expect from a guy less than 18 months off the surgeon’s table. Quantrill is a plus athlete with a good delivery, coming from a high three-quarters slot that puts him on top of the ball well, and he maximizes his velocity with a big-step overstride to the plate. He still has to get his command back and be stretched out for longer outings, but right now the Padres’ bet on an ace the hard way appears to have hit.
Scouts saw fringe command during pro ball but Quantrill lived mostly in and around the zone and was was just barely working back from surgery. I’m comfortable projecting above-average command. He repeats his delivery, which is efficient and well paced. His arm slot creates plane on the fastball and the arm action is actually pretty compact for someone with such long levers. The body looked a little soft during AZL but Quantrill’s frame is good. He’s already been cut open once and the slider is a work in progress so there’s some risk here, but once that slider tightens up it shouldn’t be long before Quantrill’s ready for the upper levels of the minors.
Quantrill displayed no ill effects from surgery once he got into the Padres’ system, showing a 92-96 mph fastball and diving 81-84 mph changeup that was considered the best in the 2016 draft class. His slider showed vast improvement by sitting 83-84 mph with late bite to become an above-average offering. Quantrill’s command remains shaky post-surgery, but he was around the strike zone with all of his pitches during his pro debut. He possesses the poise and pitchability expected from the son of a former major leaguer, and his competitiveness earns raves.
From Glaser’s chat:
Robert (San Diego): Does Quantrill, if everything clicks, project as a #1/#2? Not a true ace but an occasional All-Star?
Kyle Glaser: If everything clicks he’s a really good No. 2. A Matt Cain to Anderson Espinoza’s Tim Lincecum in their primes. (Purely talking role here, not pitcher comps)
The Padres spent $11M to sign the Cuban Morejon, plus an additional $11M of penalty due to overshooting their allotted international signing bonus pool cap. The fact that he’s listed on both Keith Law’s and MLB’s Top 100 lists before making his professional debut should speak to the massive potential scouts see in him. His repertoire is similar to that of Anderson Espinoza, but with more variety and some even suggest that he has better command already. What’s holding him down on the rankings is a lack of data and experience, but if he progresses on a typical trajectory, he should shoot up next year’s lists.
Morejon is barely 6 feet tall, but he is strong, with a durable, wide frame, and he throws 93-97 mph right now with good angle to the fastball and a four-pitch mix led by a hard knuckle-change clocked in the mid-80s. He showed that he can really pitch to both sides with his fastball in instructional league, though to be fair, no player in history has ever looked bad in instructs.
Like Espinoza, Morejon doesn’t have prototypical height but possesses a sturdy, mature frame and a smooth, repeatable delivery (though Morejon’s is less electric). Reports on Morejon as an amateur almost always began with scouts glowing about how advanced he was, both in depth of repertoire and in command of it. We got to see a little of that during his instructional-league appearance, where all three of Morejon’s pitches were as advertised. Without seeing him navigate a lineup several times, though, it’s hard to have an idea where he might start next year and how fast he might move. I think there’s a chance for three above-average pitches and plus command which I think is a No. 2 or 3 type of arm. Risk is inherent in age and occupation.
Morejon throws a 91-93 mph fastball that touches 96 with an athletic, easy delivery that portends more velocity as the teen southpaw’s body matures. His ability to spin a future plus curveball draws the highest praise from scouts, and he throws two different changeups—one a knuckle-change with late diving action and the other a more traditional changeup with sink and run. Both project above-average. Morejon’s above-average command, stuff, arm action and feel for pitching are all advanced for his age and make few opposing evaluators doubt the wisdom of signing him, though some shied away from the price tag.
This recent outpouring of praise for the Padres’ collective organizational talent and the individuals who drive it have been a sight for sore eyes. After struggling through years of middling prospects that drew high organizational ranks at times but haven’t yielded a quality draft-to-MLB player since Khalil Greene, we are finally looking at a collection of talent worth getting excited over. The failed 2015 campaign was tough to endure, but it set the table for GM A.J. Preller to do what he was brought in to do. Now it’s up to the player development staff to keep these players healthy and growing, so they can mature into the future All-Stars that these evaluators are glimpsing in their crystal balls.
The Padres will field an interesting but challenged team at Petco, but don’t judge this organization by the MLB win-loss column this season. Take a look in El Paso, San Antonio, Lake Elsinore, Ft. Wayne, Tri-Cities, and the two teams they will be fielding in the Arizona Rookie League. The future starts with Wil Myers, Austin Hedges, and the rest on the MLB opening day roster, but the brightest talent is just starting to burn.