Down On The Farm: San Diego Padres

Posted on 08 August 2012 by Blake Murphy

It certainly must be exciting to be a San Diego Padres fan right now. While the team is struggling in its current incarnation, the organization ranked very highly on every preseason farm system list, and the big league squad is starting to see those returns now with the arrival of a pair of top prospects in The Show. Today, Down On The Farm looks at the Padres’ system in order to determine if their depth-over-upside approach should still have them ranked on the top of such lists.

Pre-Season Rank: #1 (ESPN), #1 (Baseball Prospectus), #3 (Baseball America)

The Top 4
1. Rymer Liriano
Overall Ranks: #40 (ESPN), #52 (BP), #49 (BA)
A season after struggling in the High-A Cal League, Liriano, still young for the league, impressed with a 112 wRC+, earning a promotion to Double-A San Antonio. He has continued to perform just above the league average at the plate, with a 105 wRC+ and a slash line of .256/.328/.405 showing some improved patience and pop. He strikes out far too often (22.0% in A+, 27.6% in AA) at this point, but at just 21 has plenty of time to improve. A partial repeat at Double-A is likely for 2013, but he could be on the fantasy radar as a three-category player as early as 2014, with a fourth emerging if the power develops further.

2. Yasmani Grandal
Overall Ranks: #65 (ESPN), #38 (BP), #53 (BA)
Grandal was one of the key pieces in the Mat Latos trade, and his recent promotion to San Diego is cause for excitement for the fanbase. After starting the year by dominating at Triple-A Tucson with a gaudy .330/.438/.515 slash line and a 147 wRC+, the 23-year old proved himself Major League ready. Upon getting the call, Grandal became the first player in history to homer from both sides of the plate for his first career hits in the same game, and also became just the seventh player since 1900 to homer for his first three MLB hits. In the six weeks since, the 6’2″ catcher has a .312/.349/.597 slash line for a 159 wRC+ and is leaving little doubt that his powerful frame and strong discipline are here to stay, making him a 2013 draft candidate for deeper or multi-catcher leagues.

3. Yonder Alonso
Overall Ranks: #69 (ESPN), #86 (BP), #33 (BA)
Alonso was another asset acquired in the Latos deal, and the Padres thought enough of him as a first base prospect that they dealt stud in the making Anthony Rizzo to open up the position for the future. Alonso has spent the entire season with the big league club and performed admirably as a rookie, working a 107 wRC+ while showing good discipline and fielding. With that said, Alonso lacks the ideal pop for the position and is quite a hindrance on the basepaths, so the Padres have to hope there is more development in the 25-year old’s bat to eventually make him anything more than a league-average first baseman.

4. Casey Kelly
Overall Ranks: #32 (ESPN), #78 (BP), #76 (BA)
Once a highly-touted two sport, hitting-and-pitching prospect, Kelly has taken a bit longer than hoped to move through the system, but was valued enough to be a key piece, along with Rizzo, in the Adrian Gonzalez trade from 2010. After a pretty good season at Double-A San Antonio in 2011, Kelly started just two games at Tucson before succumbing to elbow inflammation and only recently started pitching again at Rookie Ball. Currently 22, Kelly will not be too old for Triple-A next season, but the Padres will likely give him a look in spring training to see how he has developed without much of a minor league season. The injury likely pushed his MLB timeline back a full year.

Additions and Subtractions
All of the Padres’ key moves came in the offseason and were reflected in the preseason rankings. Top draft pick Max Fried is expected to rank high on the prospect lists for 2013. The Padres also had three supplemental round picks, all of whom signed, potentially giving the system some higher ceiling players to go with their impressive depth. Opting to extend Huston Street and Carlos Quentin rather than deal them for prospects probably does not hurt the farm much, given the market for such players now that they will not return a draft pick if they are not retained.

Other Interesting Names By Level
Triple-A Tucson – Beyond graduating Grandal and strikeout-machine Brad Boxberger, Tucson has also been home to star prospect Jedd Gyorko, a 23-year old power hitting third baseman with a .954 OPS since his early promotion from Double-A. Matt Clark is a bit old at 25 but has 22 home runs and an .897 OPS although it is his second year at the level. The pitching staff is basically devoid of strong stats due to the PCL hitting environment, but reliever Cory Burns has emerged as a future relief arm with 77 strikeouts in 65 innings and a 2.63 ERA.

Double-A San Antonio – The first base tandem of Cody Decker and Nathan Freiman are both too old for the level but have combined for 45 home runs and big OPSs, while 21-year old second baseman Jonathan Galvez has impressed with a .330 AVG and .873 OPS. 21-year old outfielder Reymond Fuentes has the legs for the Majors with 28 steals in 34 attempts, but his .299 OBP has a long way to go before he’s on the MLB radar. The pitching staff was expected to be the gem of the system, but Robbie Erlin threw just 33 innings before injury derailed his season, while top-10 prospect Keyvius Sampson has struggled to a 5.31 ERA thanks to 52 walks in 103.1 innings. Andrew Werner, a non-prospect, was the best of the bunch with a 3.23 ERA before a recent promotion to Tucson.

High-A Lake Elsinore – Catcher Tommy Medica has been a stud this year, with a 1.003 OPS across 68 games but at 24 should be expected to out-perform his peers at this level. Meanwhile, shortstop Casey McElroy and second baseman Justin Miller have also been short-season kings, with Miller especially impressing with 10 home runs, 14 steals and a .408 OBP in 266 at bats, although curiously neither performed well at Fort Wayne earlier in the year. Top prospect Cory Spangenberg has disappointed in his time with the Storm, hitting just a single home run and producing a .693 OPS, but he is still just 21. Donn Roach has been an ace for the team, posting a 1.94 ERA across 13 starts with two different teams, and he was recently given the bump to San Antonio for a greater challenge at just 21.

Low-A Fort Wayne – The TinCaps have been successful despite a pretty mediocre offense, leading one to look towards the staff for stars. However, catching prospect Austin Hedges has been above league average at age 20 with a .261/.322/.430 slash line. Dominican outfield prospect Yeison Ascencio has followed up a strong Arizona League season with a team-best .849 OPS, and with just 29 strikeouts in 260 at bats he may be ready for a more challenging level. Stud prospect Joseph Ross, like Casey Kelly and Robbie Erlin before him, succumbed to injury early in the year and is only now making his way back, leaving the staff to be lead by the impressive trio of Frank Garces (22, 2.41 ERA, 95:45 K:BB in 101 innings), Matthew Wisler (19, 2.68 ERA, 89:26 K:BB in 94 innings), and Adys Portillo (20, 1.87 ERA, 81:45 K:BB in 91 innings, recently promoted). Wisler, in particular, is exciting as a teenager with excellent command ratios.

It is difficult to not like the Padres system. They have enough depth and talent at each level to paint the picture of a steady pipeline in place, while their prospect types vary enough that they can play an attractive trade partner for just about anyone. The one concern the franchise likely has is the loss of a development year for three of their top arms, but while the pitching may be delayed in getting to the majors, a strong draft has kept the system stocked and primed for another #1 ranking next season.

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