Yesterday the Padres made room to add seven prospect players to the 40-man roster, thereby sheltering them from the upcoming Rule 5 draft. If you’ve been watching the Padres minor league activity at all these guys should be familiar names, but for the more casual fans, here’s a briefing on each of these new Padres.
Austin Allen is a bat-first lefty-hitting catcher coming off a great year in AA San Antonio, hitting a remarkable .290.351.506 with 22 homers and 31 doubles. His hard work in the offseasons has helped quiet the critics who don’t think he can stick as a catcher. Prior to the acquisition of Francisco Mejia, an Austin Hedges - Austin Allen platoon was projected to be the plan for the 2019 Padres. Now the team has Hedges, Mejia, Allen, and Torrens all on the 40-man roster. With a relative depth at the position, these catchers will be mentioned in trade rumors all season, but depth at a premium position with a mix of skill sets is a great thing to have through a long season. Expect Allen to start the season in El Paso and get the call up early in the season.
Ty France was drafted out of San Diego State in 2015 and is the last player in the Padres organization with a direct tie to Tony Gwynn, as he played one season with Mr. Padre as his manager. France hits from the right side and can defend capably at both first and third base, but his balanced bat is what has pushed him up through the minors. He’s a contact-heavy hitter without a significant platoon split, never posting a K% above 18%. A strong 2018 campaign produced a combined slash line of .267/.355/.464 at both AA & AAA, and he finished strong with 25 games in El Paso hitting at a .287/.382/.532 clip. For those of you who love position players pitching, he’s logged six scoreless innings across five appearances! He’s never been considered a legit prospect, but he keeps hitting everywhere he goes and his defense continues to improve. He will be penciled in at third base in El Paso, and if the bat continues to progress he could see MLB action as a bench bat.
Edward Olivares came to the Padres in the Yangervis Solarte trade in the 2017-2018 offseason as a raw, toolsy outfielder. He spent all of 2018 with the advanced single-A Lake Elsinore Storm alongside Jorge Ona and Buddy Reed. He got off to a slow start as he worked through some mechanical changes, but he hit an impressive .289/.334/.451 from June 1 through end of the season. An athletic outfielder with impressive range and excellent instincts, Olivares projects as an average-to-better centerfielder at the MLB level. He’s still pretty raw, so don’t expect to see him with the big league team in 2019 outside of a September cup of coffee.
Pedro Avila came to the Padres from the Nationals for Derek Norris in December 2016. Since then, Norris a-holed his way out of affiliated baseball while Avila transformed from lottery ticket to legit prospect. Browsing his stat lines won’t blow you away, but the game logs are where he shows his promise. He registered double-digit strikeouts in five starts last year, repeating a feat he first acheived in 2017. He holds the Fort Wayne TinCaps single-game strikeout record with 17 in August of that year. He has a lifely fastball that sits in the mid- to upper-90’s along with a fully developed slider, curveball, and changeup. When he’s on, he’s nasty. His challenge is consistency. From inning to inning and from start to start he struggles to maintain his command, but the talent is unquestionable. If he can rein it in he should break through in short order.
Anderson Espinoza came from Boston in the Drew Pomeranz deal shortly after the 2016 All-Star game. At the time he was in the conversation for “Best Pitching Prospect” in all of baseball. Unfortunately, after eight starts for the Padres’ single-A affiliate he was shut down with elbow issues that eventually led to Tommy John surgery in June of 2017. He’s been on the slow path to recovery and has yet to make any public pitching appearances. It’s been reported that he was doing throwing drills throughout the 2018 season but he never made it back onto the mound. Expect him to ramp up his workload in 2019 with the minor league affiliates but the chances of him seeing any MLB time are slim to none. He was added to the roster to prevent another team from stashing him on the DL and delaying the required 90 days of MLB service time to retain a player selected in the Rule 5 draft.
Chris Paddack is far and away the best-known player in this group. Coming from the Marlins for Fernando Rodney in June 2016, the right-handed Texan is entering his year-23 season. He underwent Tommy John surgery shortly after the Padres acquired him and worked his way back onto the mound in 2018. To say he had a good season is a gross understatement. In 90 full innings of work, he posted a video-game 120:8 K:BB ratio, and one of the eight walks was intentional. He locates a high-90’s fastball with pinpoint precision and follows that up with one of the best changeups in the game. He’s added a curveball since learning it from Robbie Erlin while recovering in Arizona that is a work in progress but it’s good enough to be sprinkled in the third time through a lineup. He spent most of 2018 in advanced single-A Lake Elsinore but handled a mid-season promotion to AA San Antonio with ease. He might not make the cut for the opening day rotation, but he’s on a trajectory that should have him making double-digit starts with the Padres next year. He was limited to around 85 pitches per start and shut down at 90 innings in 17 starts in 2018 so he’ll get stretched out but still be limited as the team keeps a close eye on the health of that talented arm.
Gerardo Reyes was one of the “forgotten men” in the December 2014 Wil Myers trade along with Jose Castillo. The 25-year-old righty reliever split 2018 between Lake Elsinore and San Antonio just like Chris Paddack. He’s a fireballer who brings a fastball that can touch triple digits and a wipeout slider, and his sidearm release make the heater tail hard to arm side and gives the slider excellent depth. Typical to the profile, he struggles with his control on occasion, but with a spot on the 40-man you can expect that he’ll get a call to the majors at some point in the season.
Seven players, seven different paths to the majors, and seven guys that Padres fans should be excited about. At least a few of them are lined up to make an impact with the 2019 team, but all of them are valuable enough for the Padres to create roster space to retain their services. For guys like Anderson Espinoza and Edward Olivares, their slot on the roster might limit the team since they’re unlikely to contribute any time soon, but guys like Paddack and Austin Allen were making strong arguments for MLB promotion regardless of the Rule 5 draft implications. Next year the team will face a similar crunch with guys like Josh Naylor, Logan Allen, Cal Quantrill, Esteury Ruiz, Buddy Reed, and Andres Muñoz due to become eligible, so keep an eye out for those guys as the coming season progresses. This is a good problem to have. The waves of talent are starting to crash on the beaches of San Diego. It’s a great time to be a Padres fan!