In an effort to keep their fanbase on the same page as ownership and management, the Padres began hosting events to get the Padres brass up close and personal with some of their most ardent fans. These have generally come by way of “Social Summit” events with fans selected from Twitter and “Town Hall” meetings with season ticket holders. On Friday they did both, with two “Padres On Deck” prospect showcases sandwiched in between. No major news was revealed, but it’s still nice to see the movers and shakers of the organization get down and dirty with the common folk and face some tough questions.
The Social Summit was hosted in the Ballast Point bar and was a very casual affair. Padres Director of Content Nicky Patriarca acted as host and translated for some of the Spanish-speaking players. Social Media Manager Madison Gritsch coordinated the event. The Padres reached out on Twitter and selected the invitees from those who replied. There were about thirty fans in attendance, ranging from bloggers to dedicated fans old and young. Guests were brought in one by one and the floor was opened up to questions, with Nicky filling in when the peanut gallery fell quiet.
Wayne Partello opened the show and quickly deferred to Ron Fowler. Ron noted that he had a meeting coming up soon but graciously took a peppering of questions. Here are some bullet points from his responses:
- Fernando Tatis, Jr could realistically be up to the majors by end of next year. He advanced quickly to AA, struggled at first after promotion, but adjusted and excelled at every level. Ron noted that he’s glad we got something for Shields.
- Is Josh Naylor the first baseman of future? Not if Wil Myers has anything to say about it. Andy Green believes in competitions at every position, each player must earn their job. This was later echoed by AJ Preller during the Town Hall, noting that as the talent at the upper levels gets richer, the sense of competition will keep players accountable and should drive each player to maximize his opportunities to earn and retain their job.
- The influx of talent via the international signings and draftees created a very deep talent pool, necessitating two Arizona Summer League teams.
- In the Padres On Deck showcase games, in general the younger guys would play Friday, while the older guys would play Saturday. From the players we saw Friday afternoon and the players who would come speak with us at the Social Summit, it was clear that they wanted to deploy the more “known” prospects in Saturday’s game.
- Will Andy Green learn Spanish this offseason? Ron Fowler wants more Spanish speakers in organization. They’re looking to add 4-5 more positions within the organization this offseason, but he didn’t specify their roles.
- The team is looking to improve at SS whether from within our outside. Both defense and offense are not up to desired performance levels.
- Regarding ranking the top pitching prospects in the organization, the top 4-5 slots constantly shuffle, with great talent at the top. Ron suggested that there are about ten players with potential to be top- to middle-rotation MLB pitchers.
- The team is not looking to move Brad Hand unless an impressive offer comes. He fits team, his family loves San Diego, he’s good with younger players, he sets an example through his work ethic and preparation. Craig Stammen has shown similar qualities.
- Will we see Luis Urias at shortstop next year? it’s under discussion. Carlos Asuaje surprised and impressed, so a near-term solution at second base seems to be in place. Urias was better than expected at SS in AA. Fowler really likes the approach at the plate of both Asuaje and Urias, noting that "We've had problems with people not exactly making contact." He would like to see an improved plate discipline and approach across the board, specifically noting a two-strike approach intended to put the bat on the ball and move runners rather than the big homer swing that results in so many strikeouts. The comment felt like it was targeted toward players like Wil Myers, Hunter Renfroe, and Yangervis Solarte.
- The Padres are now the only major league sports franchise in town. Ron Fowler embraces the organization’s role as "custodians of a city treasure". He sees the hiring of former Chargers PR Executive Bill Johnston as a big addition, and considering the PR gaffes the team has made in recent years, it was a prudent move. The Padres have taken over everything the Chargers did in the community, and they want to do more. As an example, he noted that they’re working with Rolf Benirschke to expand the blood drive.
- Local graphic artics Travis Peterson noted Ron's brown eyes and suggested that he would look good in brown. Ron stated that they will start a research project soon to include focus groups and quantitative data. Tony Gwynn loved brown, especially darker shades, not the “baby poop brown” (Tony used stronger language). The Moorad ownership group apparently did a study, and Ron noted that the data will soon become publicly available. Any change is two years away due to MLB’s policies in uniform changes.
- What’s the solution at third base? Cory Spangenberg impressed at third base. Fernando Tatis, Jr. may grow into the position. They’re looking to fill from within with several options. It was later noted that Christian Villanueva is making a strong argument to enter the discussion. His power has been particularly impressive.
- The organization is very proud of their player development system from summer league through AAA. Consistency across all levels is important and the right people are in place. When drafting and signing prospects, the scouts are diving deeper into their family and personal lives to identify character issues and prevent some of the issues that have plagued the organization in the past.
- Mackenzie Gore is here but he's been closed down for season only because of his age; he's healthy. They really wanted him over all other top draft prospects. He could be up in 2-3 years. He’s a competitor, he’s got “fire in his eyes”. He comes from a great family, one where a competitive spirit pervades throughout.
Ron bounced it back to Partello, who recognized the social media staff before heading out. Nicky Patriarca moderated the rest of sesson. The next phase was a parade of players who took questions from the crowd. Some players were comfortable in the setting, most were understandably shy or awkward. Here are the guys we got to meet:
- Luis Campusano, catcher who was drafted in the third round this year. Really personable kid who interacted well with the fans. He noted that Blake Hunt (another catcher who was drafted a spot behind him) has a shoulder issue, which would explain why Campusano caught in the second game of the day while Hunt DH’d.
- Mason House, outfielder, drafted this year. Soft-spoken kid from Texas. His favorite player growing up was Derek Jeter, and he was a Yankees fan. His favorite baseball movie is either Major league or The Sandlot. The book on him was that he never faced top competition in high school and wasn’t in many prospect showcases before the draft, so it’s hard to scout a kid when he doesn’t have a track record against quality competiton. He’s adjusted well to the elite velocity and breaking stuff he’s seen.
- Mackenzie Gore, third overall selection this year. His North Carolina drawl and generally laid-back demeanor made him seem comfortable yet reserved in front of a crowd. The questions he faced trended toward developing young pitchers. A question was raised about his increase in velocity his senior year, but he noted that it was a typical increase that he’s seen each year through his teens. He started throwing breaking pitches in high school under the guidance of his coaches. He didn’t pursue scouts or showcases, instead relying on hard work to build his resume for him.
- Adrian Morejon, top international signee of the 2016 period (Nicky translated). He will pitch in Saturday’s game. He’s very soft-spoken and seemed very humble. He’s grateful to have fellow Cubans Jorge Ona, Michel Baez, and Osvaldo Hernandez around, noting that the Padres have done a lot to help his transition to the American culture.
- Jacob Nix, drafted in 2015 and the projected starter Saturday. He handed the mic back to Nicky, saying he didn’t need it. He’s got the kind of charisma and confidence to be totally comfortable in front of a group. It’s easy to look past Nix when looking at guys like Gore, Morejon, Baez, Espinoza, but Jacob Nix has the makeup and the stuff to be a front-end starter, perhaps even an ace. Seeing how he commanded the room showed the kind of leadership potential he has as well. He was drafted by the Astros in 2014 but failed to sign with them, and he revealed to us that his dad had recently been in a motorcycle accident (he’s recovered) and so the process was a chaotic blur to him. He’s happy to be in the Padres organization and has been ecstatic with the coaches and trainers he’s worked with. I asked if he had a favorite catcher that he’s worked with, which he didn’t have a defnite response, but he’s eager to work with Austin Hedges, and hopefully sooner than later. Nix is one of the starting pitchers that should get a spring training invite and may be a legitimate candidate for major league service next season.
- Michel Baez, international signee from Cuba, will pitch in Saturday’s game (Nik translated). He’s TAAALLLL and not as wide as I expected. He’s clearly a shy guy but he stated that he has adapted to the change from Cuba to the USA lifestyle faster than he expected. His girlfriend is living with him, and he echoed Morejon’s gratutide in having fellow Cubans around as well as the efforts the Padres have made to make him comfortable in his new country.
- Fernando Tatis, Jr, acquired from the White Sox in the James Shields trade, was the final player guest of the session. He has a quiet, shy demeanor but it was clear that he has an inner confidence that drives him. It was also clear that his goal is focused on making the big leagues. He noted that it doesn’t matter what level he’s playing at, it’s all just preparation to getting him to where he really wants to be. He prefers shortstop, noting that he plays third base when he’s feeling lazy, but he really likes the plays he gets to make at shortstop. It’s crazy to think of what he’s already done on the field while being barely 18 years old. He brushes off comparisons to other players, wanting to be his own man. He’s soft-spoken but he has an inner confidence that shines through.
To conclude the session, we were joined by International Scouting Director Chris Kemp and Special Assignment Advisor of Scouting & Player Development Steve Lyons. Notes from their chat:
- Player to watch: Luis Patino, 17, pitches in the mid 90's. Also Tirso Ornelas, a 17 year old from Mexico who is starting to fill his frame out. He has a great hit tool and is developing power.
- What do they look for when scouting? Their body, their athleticism. They check out their family - are there athletes in the family, do they play other sports?
- Shohei Ohtani: he's a legit Ace talent, also could be an impact position player. A two way player could be a reality. Chris Kemp could imagine him hitting .280 with 25 homers and playing athletic defense in a corner outfield position, but the 98-101 fastball is legit with a fully developed repertoire of dominating pitches. It’s not these guys’ job to determine how to get him signed or how to manage him (P/OF/PH/DH) in game situations, but they’re dreamers who love his potential.
- Scouting internationally: a love of the game drives the flow of players. Kemp is mapping out ball parks in Cuba, dropping pins on Google Maps satellite images for the day that area opens up. They start scouting kids as early as 13, and Kemp noted that they watch the Little League World Series as an example. Bryce Harper was a phenom at that age.
- AJ Preller’s work ethic drives his people to work just as hard as he does. He challenges everyone to be better, he asks questions that motivate his people.
Padres On Deck Games
The second “Padres On Deck” game was well under way by the time we were done witht he Social Summit. A parade of players made appearances. It’s easy to take the major league game for granted. When we see these kids out there, they’re so much smaller than the men we usually seen on the field at Petco, and they’re much more raw in their mechanics, but you can still see the athleticism. The highlight of the game was a Tre Carter home run. The lefty drilled a hung breaking ball to the walkway in the rightfield bleachers, a shot that was estimated at 411 feet!
Town Hall Meeting
After the game concluded, the fans in attendance were ushered to the area behind the third base dugout. Dick Enberg, AJ Preller, and Ron Fowler took their seats and Enberg emceed a Q&A session using questions that had been prepared from submissions prior to the event. Much of the same information was repeated from the conversations at the Social Summit, but there was one bright spot of news. For the fans in the left field bleachers, the massive video board is out of view. The team plans to install a new smaller video board above the right field seats, in the location behind the gentlemen in the photo at the top of this article. The organization recognizes that the on-field product is the most imortant element of the franchise’s success, but continued investment in the facility and the community is also critical.
Overall the day was a huge success for the team. The players got a taste of what may lie in their future, giving them motivation to continue to work hard and smart. The fans got a glimpse of the talent that has been brought into the organization in the last few years. Ownership had a chance to get a pulse on the public’s perspective, and they seemed to be receptive to the comments they received. It’s sad to think that this is the last baseball that this park will see for several months, but it’s encouraging to know that the future is bright as the organization plants the seeds of success.