Baseball America has been a staple in the baseball media since 1981. They cover all levels of baseball in both print and digital media formats, publishing a bi-weekly magazine as well as annual reference publications including such titles as the Baseball America Almanac, Baseball America Prospect Handbook, Baseball America Directory and the Super Register. Their articles are also published on their website which contains a paywall but is well worth the cost for anyone interested in the finer points of the game. Their coverage of amateur and minor league baseball has no peer in the industry, and their Top 100 Prospects listings are always must-read articles for fans who want to keep a pulse on the game’s brightest future talent. Their first list of 2019 is due to be published this week, and the Padres organization has never contained as much talent as it does right now. With this list due to drop in a couple of days, we can take a look at which Padres farmhands might be mentioned.
The new list should be a minor shuffling of the most recent update which was published last September, and we have some data that can help narrow it down. The most recent update to their listings was released last September, when Padres players occupied nine slots. Those players, along with their rankings, were: #2 Fernando Tatis Jr., #20 Mackenzie Gore, #23 Francisco Mejia, #24 Adrian Morejon, #29 Luis Urias, #67 Logan Allen, #70 Michel Baez, and #78 Josh Naylor. The Top 100 list is compiled using input from every member of their editorial staff who are scattered around the baseball landscape compiling scouting reports and conducting interviews with everyone in the industry from General Managers down to international scouts. Among those writers is Kyle Glaser, who is the resident expert on the Padres organization. He published an organizational Top 10 list earlier this month, and he was kind enough to defend it both in a lengthy chat session as well as a podcast, both of which are well worth the time of any fan of Padres prospects. His list doesn’t quite line up with the September Top 100 rankings when you look closely. Tatis and Gore are #1-2 just like in most lists around the industry, but he now has Luis Urias at #3, ahead of #4 Francisco Mejia and #5 Adrian Morejon. It may be a little nitpicky, but that order is different form the Mejia-Morejon-Urias order in the Top 100. He lists Chris Paddack at #6 followed by Luis Patino, who didn’t appear on the MLB Top 100 list at all. Logan Allen comes in at #8, followed by Josh Naylor at #9, and Cal Quantrill at #10. Quantrill didn’t make the Top 100 list but Michel Baez did, and Glaser left Baez off.
Prospect ranking is a tricky and nebulous thing. Evaluators tend to sort players into groups by their perceived “future value” and then order the players from there. At the top, players like Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Eloy Jimenez tend to be grouped with Fernando Tatis Jr., and their relative merits and weaknesses can be argued against each other. The most elite talents are rare, so those groups at the top are small. Most evaluators agree that Tatis is an elite-level prospect, and his performance through the AA level last year has cemented his reputation as one of the game’s top prospects. When you see a player like Mackenzie Gore ranked #20 while Francisco Mejia is at #22 (from the September listing) it’s a case of apples and oranges where you have to compare a precocious 19-year-old pitcher struggling with his first season in pro ball but the talent that could make him an Ace one day against a catcher with a half-decade’s track record in the minors plus some major league appearances that establish a reliable floor. Nobody grades players the same, everyone disagrees on things like injury risk and long-term projections, and in the end a bunch of great articles are written to allow a reader to form their own opinion. It really is a great time to be a baseball fan. With all that said, here’s this writer’s take on who will make the cut and why:
The Chosen One
Fernando Tatis Jr. (SS) is one of the top prospects in all of baseball. The only question here is going to be the number next to his name. He burst onto the scene in 2017 by dominating the single-A Midwest League and showed the talent and poise that gave Padres player development staff confidence to skip Advanced Single-A Lake Elsinore altogether. As a 19-year-old shortstop in the AA Texas League in 2018, he recovered from a rough April to hit .327/.400/.572 with 13 home runs and 16 stolen bases in only 64 games against competition that was on average five years older than him. His 2018 season was cut short by a thumb injury that required surgery, but he’s looking just fine in the Dominican Winter League, winning the MVP of the Round Robin round of their postseason while doing ridiculous things in a heated environment and against veteran competition. The brilliance with the bat was met with consistently excellent defense at shortstop, one of the game’s most challenging posts. His ability to excel and adapt so quickly and at such a high level leaves little doubt that he will develop into a star player with the potential to be a perennial All-Star. The only question with Tatis is going to be the spot on the rankings. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. has established himself as one of the best-hitting prospects the game has seen in quite some time. Eloy Jimenez has light-tower power that will make him an immediate impact hitter in the majors. Tatis is younger than both and hasn’t reached AAA like the others, but the speed and defense that he brings, along with all the intangibles, can build a strong argument to carry him to the top of any list.
The Sure Things
Mackenzie Gore (LHP) has the stuff that scouts dream of. He commands four pitches that all grade out as plus, he has the frame and mechanics to support a delivery that should be repeatable and durable, and he has the makeup of an unflappable gamer. What he hasn’t developed yet is a track record of performance and durability on the field. Hampered by finger issues, Gore spent significant time on the disabled list in 2018, and the innings he logged were rarely at 100% health. The good news is that his elbow and shoulder appear to be just fine, and finger issues can be mitigated through various means. Gore is likely to start his age-20 season in Advanced Single-A Lake Elsinore, in the hitter-friendly California League. A strong and healthy start to his season could line him up for a promotion quickly given his mature repertoire and advanced command. Most organizational rankings list Gore #2 in the Padres system, and his #20 ranking in Baseball America’s latest update should rise a few slots due to graduations and other players slipping.
Luis Urias (2B/SS) burst onto the scene as an undersized second baseman who could hit like few others had seen, riding a .330/.397/.440 line to the California League’s Rookie of the Year and MVP Awards in 2016. Since then, he’s shown that his glove is good enough for consideration at shortstop even at the MLB level and he’s started to grow into a little more pop than most expected. His MLB debut was cut short last fall by a hamstring injury that has kept him limited through this winter but all indications suggest that he should be ready to start 2019 as a starter somewhere in the middle of the Padres infield. He combines elite pitch recognition, plate discipline, and bat handling with a stellar glove that gives him the floor of a starting second baseman and the ceiling to contend for batting titles and Gold Glove awards. Most rankings place Urias #3 in the Padres system, and it appears that he’s passed Mejia due to his consistency and lack of current weaknesses.
Francisco Mejia (C) came to the Padres in a midseason trade that sent All-Star closer Brad Hand and reliever Adam Cimber to the Indians. He possesses bat speed and plate coverage that allows him to barrel up anything within reach, and his 50-game hitting streak back in 2016 is the long in the minors since 1954. He’s hit for high average and OBP at every level of the minors and nobody doubts his ability to do so in the majors as well. What people do cast doubt upon is whether he can handle the duties of the catcher position. The Indians gave him an audition at third base and an extended look as an outfielder, but his insistence on the catcher position apparently caused a rift with the Indians. The Padres are giving him every opportunity to develop his skills, and 2018 should be a big season for him with a timeshare at the MLB level lined up for him. Mejia has been considered a Top-30 MLB prospect and one of the best at his position for a couple of years now and we should expect to see him in the upper quarter of the rankings to start this season.
Chris Paddack (RHP) posted some of the craziest numbers of the 2018 season. In 90 innings spread across Advanced Single-A and AA, he struck out 120 batters and only issued seven unintentional walks, posting a combined 2.10 ERA and 0.822 WHIP. His electric fastball with late movement and plus-plus wipeout changeup, both with excellent command, already have evaluators considering him a solid back-end MLB rotation candidate. His two-pitch mix seems to limit his ceiling at the moment, but he’s been working to add a curveball to his repertoire since working through recovery from the Tommy John surgery that ended his 2016 season. He will be on some kind of workload limit in 2019 but he was added to the Padres 40-man roster so he will factor into the big league team in one way or another this season. He’s been steadily climbing the rankings as he’s demonstrated his health with one dominating performance after another. As he stands on the MLB’s doorstep, expect September’s #56 ranking to improve quite a bit.
The Solid Bets
Adrian Morejon (LHP) tends to get overlooked in a system that’s stacked with pitching talent, but in most systems he could be a #1 organizational prospect. Signed for $11M in the 2016 international signing period, the solidly-built Cuban commands a full four-pitch arsenal with advanced understanding of sequencing and has the competitive fire for the biggest moments. Morejon’s greatest challenges in his career so far have been managing his health and his emotions on the mound. Minor injuries have kept him from the field at times, and evaluators would like to see a healthy season to add some legitimacy to his reputation. Still a teenager, Morejon has struggled to maintain an even keel throughout games, but that should improve with time and maturity. His potential ceiling has been suggested to be every bit as high as Gore’s, so a solid 2019 season could see him shooting up the rankings. Baseball America listed him at #24 back in September and while he hasn’t done anything to raise his stock, he hasn’t done anything to lower it either. Taking a look at other industry rankings, the opinions differ on Morejon. Baseball America was the highest on him, but Eric Longenhagen of Fangraphs had him at #109 on their most recent update.
Michel Baez (RHP) blew away Midwest League competition in 2017, and it’s easy to stand out when you stand 6’8” with a high-90’s fastball and a changeup that nobody can hit. A back injury gave Baez a slow start in Lake Elsinore in 2018 and may have hampered him throughout the year. It was noted that his mechanics struggled, which was alarming considering that his remarkably repeatable motion was one of the aspects that elevated his profile the year prior. He is working to add breaking pitches to his repertoire but many writers consider his future to be in the bullpen if the secondaries don’t catch up. At age 23 (HAPPY BIRTHDAY!) he’s older than most of his classmates from the 2016 international signing bonanza, so as an older prospect he might not be given as much time to develop, meaning that the team might fast-track him once he shows that he’s healthy. Baseball America listed him at #70 last fall, MLB Pipeline currently has him at #57, and Fangraphs listed him at #63. Expect to see him somewhere in the middle of Baseball America’s new list, but he may slip a little due to a 2018 that could have gone better..
Luis Patino (RHP) is a relative newcomer to this group. When he was signed in 2016 as a lanky converted shortstop who could touch 90mph he didn’t draw much attention. An offseason of work in the Padres facility in Peoria added bulk and cleaned his mechanics up to the point that he was a key feature in the Single-A Fort Wayne rotation this season. He added a leg kick that appears to mirror the mechanics of roommate Mackenzie Gore and now his four-pitch arsenal contains a fastball that reaches well into the upper 90’s with a changeup and two breaking pitches that both project to be above-average pitches. His limiting factor right now is a lack of an extended track record and a perceived injury risk not due to his mechanics but due to his spike in velocity in the last couple of years. Again, continued performance will push him up the lists as his floor rises and the doubters find less reasons to doubt the effervescent 19-year-old. Baseball America didn’t list him on their Top-100 list last September, but BA’s Kyle Glaser ranked him ahead of three guys who were on that Top-100 list. He’s currently #83 on the MLB Pipeline Top 100 and Fangraphs lists him at #60 on their BOARD.
The Long Shots
Logan Allen (LHP) is the closest to MLB service out of all of the pitchers on this list. The 21-year-old has steadily worked his way up through the Padres organization since coming to the team from the Boston Red Sox in the Craig Kimbrel trade. He commands four pitches with mature sequencing and mound composure and is a candidate to break camp with the Opening Day rotation for the Padres. Baseball America listed him at #67 last fall, presumably due to his high floor and proximity to MLB action. MLB Pipeline listed him at 76, presumably for the same reasons. Fangraphs’ writers aren’t as favorable, currently listing him at #123, which is likely due to a lack of ceiling. Allen doesn’t have the dominant stuff to match others on these lists, but he makes up for it with durability and command.
Josh Naylor (1B/OF) has bounced around the back end of Top 100 listings throughout his career. When he came to the Padres from the Marlins in the Andrew Cashner trade he was still listed on MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 list, but doubts about his body as well as his character dropped him from consideration for many writers. A solid 2017 and an excellent 2018 have now brought him back into the picture. Kyle Glaser described him by saying that he “has a heavyset frame at 5-foot-11, 250 pounds with a protruding belly, but he crushes baseballs.” Nobody doubts whether Naylor can hit (he absolutely can and the bat will carry him to the Majors) but the questions surrounding him focus on his defensive position and long-term conditioning. In AA San Antonio in 2018, the longtime first baseman spent the majority of the season manning leftfield, and he showed progress at the position throughout the year. He’s surprisingly agile given his bulk, but most consider him a 1B/DH prospect. With Eric Hosmer signed long-term, Naylor’s path to the majors appears to be blocked. Regardless, the talent with the bat cannot be ignored, as he posted a .297/.383/.447 for an .830 OPS with a very nice 69:64 K:BB ratio as a 21-year-old, still young for the level in AA. Baseball America listed Naylor at #78 in September, but other sites still left him outside their Top 100’s. His 2018 season was full of health and success, so there’s no reason that he should drop, but there are plenty of doubters left for him to convince.
Cal Quantrill (RHP) came to the Padres with a heavy burden of expectations after being drafted eighth overall in the 2016 draft. The Stanford alum has pedigree (his father Paul had a 14-year MLB career, including a season in San Diego) and he came to the Padres with a reputation for a lively fastball, a devastating change, and quality breaking pitches, but he also came with a fresh scar on his elbow from Tommy John surgery. While he’s been building his workload up ever since, the results haven’t been anything special when looking at the stat lines. Even so, Padres player development staff have seen enough promise and maturity to push him all the way up to AAA ball last season. At times he can look dominant, but often he struggles to finish batters off, and he’s particularly vulnerable to left-handed hitters. Evaluators maintain confidence in Cal’s ability, citing concerns with sequencing and reserving judgment until he appears to be fully recovered and strong. Baseball America did not rank him last September, but Kyle Glaser listed him at #10 on his organizational list, ahead of the unranked Michel Baez. Cal ended the season with a respectable stretch in El Paso, so perhaps the strong finish can bump his stock up a little bit.
Anderson Espinoza (RHP) was once considered one of the best pitching prospects in the game, so when the Boston Red Sox’s Dave Dombrowski traded him to the Padres for Drew Pomeranz shortly after the 2016 All-Star Game, many Sox fans were upset with the trade. Unfortunately Espinoza needed Tommy John surgery shortly after coming into the organization and has now gone two full seasons without throwing a pitch in game action. But even with two years of development time essentially lost, many still believe in the electric stuff that drew comparisons to Yordano Ventura and even Pedro Martinez. He’s reported to be healthy and has been on a throwing program since late last year, so let’s hope that 2019 is a season of resurgence for Anderson Espinoza. Fangraphs lists him at 75 overall, so he might creep back onto the back end of Baseball America’s Top 100 just on reputation and projection alone.
Ryan Weathers (LHP) carries many parallel to Cal Quantrill as the son of another MLB veteran, David Weathers. While Ryan is not even a year removed from high school, he did enough in his first year of professional baseball to quiet many who thought he was selected too early at seventh overall. It’s remarkable for anyone to make it up to full-season ball in their first season, and it’s even more remarkable for a kid straight out of high school. He has a long way to go, but with a mid-90’s fastball and three secondaries that show promise to be MLB-caliber soon, Weathers is drawing some attention already. MLB Pipeline has him listed at #92, and if Baseball America’s staff saw something they liked in him it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to see him on their Top 100 as well.
So who’s going to make the cut?
As noted above, Baseball America had nine Padres prospects listed on their Top 100 list last September. The thirteen players discussed above all have arguments for making the list, and while there are still others like Hudson Potts, Xavier Edwards, Jacob Nix, etc. that could enter the conversation, it’s unlikely that the publication would devote such a large slice to one organization. But it’s fun to prognosticate! I’m not a betting man, but if I had to wager a guess at who we’ll see on their new list, here’s who I would expect to see, and in this order:
- Fernando Tatis Jr. - Probably #2 but he’s #1 in my heart.
- Mackenzie Gore - A ceiling as high as any pitcher in baseball
- Luis Urias - He would be the #1 prospect for at least half the teams in the league
- Francisco Mejia - Loud tools waiting for an opportunity to break through
- Chris Paddack - Dominant performance that should continue to dominate at the highest level
- Adrian Morejon - Would be the top pitching prospect for most organizations
- Luis Patino - Breakout kid on the way way-up
- Logan Allen - Ready to make his MLB debut and stay there for a long time
- Josh Naylor - Can’t ignore a bat that won’t stop hitting
So I have Michel Baez slipping due to a disappointing season but I believe he’ll be back with a solid and healthy start. Cal Quantrill might work his way onto the MLB rotation this year if things go right. We’re all keeping our fingers crossed for Anderson Espinoza to work his way back this season. So who do you think will make the list and why?
The folks at SB Nation received some “insider info” on the upcoming list. We have learned that the Padres will have eight players listed on their Top 100, which is due to be released tomorrow, Wednesday January 23rd. In light of that information, I’ll revise my guess above and remove Josh Naylor from the list, leaving these eight players: Fernando Tatis Jr., Mackenzie Gore, Luis Urias, Francisco Mejia, Chris Paddack, Adrian Morejon, Luis Patino, and Logan Allen. To be honest I’m surprised that there is one less Padre than there was in September considering that none of the players mentioned in this article have done anything to lower their status, but like I said, rankings are an arbitrary and nebulous thing. It’s still quite an accomplishment for one team to hold 9% of the names on a list when there are 30 teams in the pool.
UPDATE: As of about 1pm Tuesday afternoon we received new information from Baseball America. After some last-minute editing of the list by BA's writers, there will in fact be NINE Padres prospects in the Top 100 after all.