Padres Minor Leagues at Mid-Season: AAA and A

We caught up with Randy Smith, the Padres’ Vice-President of Player Development, for his thoughts on San Diego’s system at mid-season. First up are the AAA affiliate in El Paso and the AA affiliate in San Antonio.

In their first season the El Paso Chihuahuas have set smashed previous minor league attendance marks with their beautiful new stadium, Southwest University Park.

The Chihuahuas are hitting .273 as a team to lead the organization while their pitching is dead last of the six affiliate teams with an ERA of 5.34 in the hitter friendly Pacific Coast League. El Paso is 54-58 and has some good prospects in pitcher Matt Wisler and outfielder Rymer Liriano along with infielder Jace Peterson and outfielder/first baseman Jake Goebbert who were up with San Diego earlier this year.

In San Antonio the pitching, as always, has been very good led by RHP James Needy, who is 8-3 with a 2.79 ERA. As a team, the Missions have an ERA of 3.25 and a won-loss record of 56-24. Offensively it’s been a struggle with at one point the Missions going over 40 innings without scoring and a batting average of .247.

What was thought to be a strong offensive team in the pre-season has been ravaged by injuries to CF Travis Jankowski and 2B Cory Spangenberg, who just returned after two and half months on the disabled list recovering from his second concussion. He’s come back in a strong with a .373/.408/.525 slash line in July.

One of the Padres’ best prospects C Austin Hedges is with the Missions, and while he has looked very good defensively still seems a ways away offensively.

What are your thoughts on some of the new talent that has come into the organization from the Huston Street and Chase Headley trades?

Randy Smith: From our standpoint it was like Christmas in July. I really like the talent that we got back in the deals.

Anyone stand out for you in particular?

Randy Smith: I just came back from San Antonio and saw R.J. Alverez, so I liked what I saw there quite a bit. I’ve had good reports on the rest of the guys too.

El Paso

Matt Wisler has been up and down this year. What has worked for him and where has he struggled?

Randy Smith: I think the most important thing for us all to remember is that he has just flown through the system and we are still talking about a guy that is just 21. Part of development is learning how to pitch in a tough environment, which is what he is doing now in the PCL.

Right now he is having more good outings than bad ones, so I think he is coming along.

You have been doing this a long time. Have you ever had a player quite like Jason Lane before? Not only the story on his age and changing positions but being a legitimate two-way threat?

Randy Smith: Jason is a really special person to all of us on the developmental side. I see him really as a triple threat because he is a great sounding board for so many of our young players on both sides of the ball.

But to answer your question, no I can’t recall having a player that was as much a threat on the mound or at the plate.

Cody Decker is maybe the best known player in the Padres’ minor leagues for what he does off the field. What have you seen on the field from him this year?

Randy Smith: I think he’s having a typical year that we expect from him. He’s putting up power numbers and taking his walks. Cody has always been a streak hitter but when you look at the final output at the end of the year it’s pretty good. This season he has made himself into a serviceable catcher and he can play a lot of positions.

The biggest thing Cody needs right now is a chance to show what he can do at the next level and all of us are really hoping he will get it.

San Antonio

Should fans be worried that Austin Hedges has hit below .250 in AA for most of the year?

Randy Smith: It’s kind of a similar situation to Matt Wisler in that he is only 21 [Hedges will turn 22 in August] and has moved up pretty quickly. When I saw him I thought his at-bats looked good although he can expand the zone a little sometimes. Also, remember that the Texas League is a very tough league to hit in and most guys’ numbers will move up once they are promoted.

I think this has been a good year for Austin’s bat to catch up a little too where his defensive game is. I still believe he is going to hit on a major league level for average and some power. He’s done a great job this year in working with the pitchers and controlling the running game.

James Needy has been one of the Missions’ best pitchers this season. What improvements have you seen with him in the past two years?

Randy Smith: For James I think the key is just being healthy. He’s been able to keep the ball down and in the yard. His secondary stuff has improved and right now he has a nice four-pitch mix.

Any idea when Casey Kelly will come back?

Randy Smith: No, right now he is working with the major league staff. He looked good when he was out here and hopefully he will be able to crank it up again soon.

Tomorrow we chat about the talent at the A-ball levels of Lake Elsinore and Fort Wayne.

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