Padres Minor Leagues at Mid-Season: A-Ball

We caught up with Randy Smith, the Padres’ Vice-President of Player Development, for his thoughts on San Diego’s system at mid-season.

Yesterday we looked at AAA El Paso and San Antonio, today it’s High-A Lake Elsinore and Low-A Fort Wayne.

The Storm have been the organization’s best team and show no sign of letting up despite losing some of their best players, outfielder Hunter Renfroe, shortstop Diego Goris and RHP Joe Ross to San Antonio. However, they have had some solid additions in shortstop Jose Rondon, who came over in the Huston Street trade, and catcher Dane Phillips and most notably center fielder Mallex Smith.

Since being promoted from the TinCaps Smith is hitting .331/.406/.504 with 26 stolen bases in 30 games. Philips has solidified the catcher position 21 extra-base hits in 42 games for a .302/.374/.543.

The biggest surprise this year in Lake Elsinore has been how good the pitching is in a league that is not friendly to pitchers. The recently promoted Ross may have more ceiling than anyone on the Storm’s roster but both RHP Zach Eflin and RHP Colin Rea are not far behind. Eflin in particular is doing what he did last year, eating innings and being among the league leaders in ERA.

Out of the pen the Padres found two very solid bullpen arms late in RHP Brandon Alger, a twenty-sixth round pick in 2012, and RHP Adam Cimber, a ninth round pick out of the University of San Francisco in 2013. Cimber in 60 innings has an ERA of 2.70 and Alger has taken over the closer’s role with 10 saves in 14 opportunities and a 3.16 ERA.

This spring the Padres sent one of their youngest teams to Fort Wayne with five of the eight regulars under 20. The biggest problem the TinCaps have had this year is just catching the ball with a minor league leading 173 errors in 108 games although the numbers have been getting much better as the long winter in northeastern Indiana subsided.

Third baseman Dustin Peterson, 19, and first baseman Jake Bauers, 18, have been the offensive standouts this year with Peterson being among the league leaders in RBI and Bauers has been at the top or near the top of the Midwest League batting leaders since he arrived in late April. Fernando Perez, who has seen considerable time at first, second and third has also shown some pop with 30 extra-base hits and a a .286/.325/.426.

On the mound they don’t have the headline talent of LHP Max Fried and RHP Zach Eflin from last season, there has been some good performers led by RHP Kyle Lloyd, a late round pick in the 2013 draft. Lloyd has 110 strikeouts in 88.2 innings against only 25 walks in 21 starts.

Lake Elsinore

Mallex Smith can obviously run what other parts of his game should we be paying attention too?

Randy Smith: He has really improved his understanding of the game offensively. He obviously has some speed – when you are leading the minor leagues in stolen bases that tend to be the case – but he has been using it to open up more of the field for himself with his bunting.

Mallex can also drive the ball some as well, just a big improvement over where he was last year. As with everyone he can improve on his routes a little in the outfield and keep on learning about when is the right time to run. But the only way you are going to learn and get better is to run and Mallex is doing that now.

What makes Zach Eflin so effective?

Randy Smith: Zach is just an extremely competitive kid. He might not have received as much publicity as some of the other guys last year that we had in Fort Wayne, but in the end he led the Midwest League in ERA and he is pitching very well in a tough hitter’s league this season. On the mound, he mixes his stuff well and understands what the hitters are trying to do.

I know I am repeating myself a little, but he is one of the best competitors that we have in the organization.

How Has Dane Phillips been progressing defensively?

Randy Smith: He’s gotten better but still has some work to do. If he can improve on his throwing, then that is going to make his bat that much more interesting. Offensively we have seen some big jumps in RBI and power. He is swinging the bat as well as he ever has since we’ve had him.

Fort Wayne

Any reason why Trea Turner has hit so much better in Fort Wayne than in Eugene?

Randy Smith: We always thought he was going to hit and he just got off to a bit of a slow start in Eugene. He’s a very good athlete with some excellent hand-eye coordination and a very good defensive shortstop. It’s important for him to continue to fill out and get stronger to handle the long seasons.

What type of expectations did the organization have on Dustin Peterson going into the season and how has he done so far?

Randy Smith: It’s a very big jump from the Arizona League to the Midwest League. You start the season dealing with the cold and end up with the humidity in the summer. Dustin is only 19 and has done a good job in driving in runs. We think the plate discipline is going to improve as he goes forward and learns how to lay off some of the breaking balls.

Defensively, we’ve seen some improvement at third but at this age and at this level he is far from a finished product.

How has catcher Ryan Miller been developing defensively this season?

Randy Smith: Ryan had a really good Instructional League with us but he still hasn’t had that much experience as a catcher – but we like where he is heading. Offensively, he’s made progress as a hitter and put up some pretty good numbers as a hitter. He didn’t have a single home run in Eugene last year and has nine in Fort Wayne.

Again, he’s a very good athlete who is using his athleticism to get better at both his defense and offense.

Tomorrow in our final segment we talk about the short-season teams in Eugene and Arizona home to most of this year’s draft choices.

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