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Padres add minor league depth including Johnny Hellweg and Jemile Weeks

It was no secret that the San Diego Padres’ farm system lacked depth after the 2015 season, especially in the upper levels of the minors. The El Paso Chihuahuas made the playoffs with a roster full of journeymen, but San Antonio and Lake Elsinore struggled mightily.

San Diego jettisoned a plethora of talent in a failed attempt to win immediately, including several prospects who would have been integral pieces in the system. As A.J. Preller further spins his yarn into what a winning Padres squad would look like, the Padres have been quite active in minor league free agency this offseason and also added four players in the major league portion of the Rule 5 Draft.

“I think the addition of those three relievers on major league deals, plus all of the Rule 5 gambles, indicates that the Padres think their prospect depth at the upper levels is shallow at the moment,” says Matt Eddy of Baseball America.

Here is a look at the players San Diego has signed to minor league deals this off-season:

RHP Juan Arias (resigned): Arias, 20, made his professional debut in the Padres’ Dominican Summer League team last summer and pitched to a 3.35 ERA out of the bullpen last season.  Arias is a bit older than most of the team’s Dominican squad but San Diego obviously saw enough to bring him back into the fold in 2016.

RHP Martires Arias: Arias turned 24 in November and has already spent parts of six seasons in professional baseball, although the 2015 season was the first time he reached full-season ball. Arias is a big man, standing at 6’7. He had a solid season for the Mets' South Atlantic League (Low-A) affiliate. Arias went 7-5, with a 2.43 ERA in 111 innings. More impressively, Arias averaged nearly a strikeout per inning. While he is older than the typical lower level prospect, he could be an interesting rotation candidate in Lake Elsinore next season.

LHP Buddy Baumann (Signed to Major League deal): Baumann, 28, has spent his entire professional career in the Kansas City system after being drafted in the seventh round way back in 2009. Baumann fits the mold of a prototypical LOOGY, armed with a low 90’s fastball and a slider. He has started here and there in the minors, but San Diego saw enough in him to award him a 40-man roster spot. Last season Baumann posted a 3.04 ERA in 77 innings while averaging a strikeout per inning. He will have options left, so at the very worst he provides a veteran bullpen arm with some upside in El Paso.

LHP Ramon Benjamin: Benjamin, 28, has been in professional baseball since 2006 when he debuted in the Dominican Summer League. He was originally signed by Miami but spent last season in Double-A Tulsa in the Dodgers’ organization. Benjamin works primarily as a reliever and pitched to a rather uninspiring 4.50 ERA while averaging 5.5 walks per nine innings. Benjamin should have a chance to stick in the upper minors with San Diego.

LHP Ryan Buchter (Placed on the 40-man roster): Buchter was once one of Atlanta’s top pitching prospects, but after pitching in just one game for Atlanta in 2014, he has bounced from Los Angeles to the Chicago Cubs. Buchter has a big, mid-90’s fastball with a slider to complement the heater. Between the Dodgers’ and Cubs’ Triple-A affiliates, the 28-year-old Buchter pitched to a sparkling 1.73 in 43 games, while averaging 11 strikeouts per nine innings. Buchter struggles with control and has averaged nearly six walks per nine innings in his professional career. Still, it is easy to see why the Padres were eager to add the hard-throwing lefty to the roster.

C Miguel Del Castillo (Resigned): Del Castillo, 24, has spent six seasons in the Padres’ organization and the organization thought enough of him to bring him back into the fiod. Del Castillo split the 2015 season between Fort Wayne and Lake Elsinore and hit a collective .250/.295/.351, with a career-high three home runs. Del Castillo isn’t a prospect and is regarded as a solid defensive option behind the plate. Del Castillo could hang out in Lake Elsinore and share time with Jose Ruiz, who was the primary catcher in Fort Wayne last season.

RHP Luis Diaz: Diaz, 23, has spent his entire career in the Red Sox’ chain, advancing to Double-A in 2015. Last season was not particularly kind to the Venezuelan–born hurler, as he pitched to 5.47 ERA in 27 starts for Portland. Diaz has been much sharper pitching in the Venezuelan Winter League, pitching to an impressive 1.56 ERA in 8 starts (40.1 innings). Diaz generally throws in the low 90’s and throws a slider as well. He should provide rotation depth in San Antonio.

RHP Jose Dominguez: Dominguez, 25, brings 18 games of big league experience to the San Diego system. He was originally signed by the Los Angeles Dodgers but spent last season in the Tampa Bay chain. He appeared in five games for Tampa Bay and did not allow a run in 5.2 innings of work, striking out five while walking two. Dominguez can touch the high-90’s with his fastball, although Fangraphs only had his heater averaging around 92 MPH –down about 6 MPH from his Dodgers debut in 2013. Dominguez also has a PED suspension under his belt. Still, Dominguez gives San Diego an intriguing power arm to stash in El Paso.

1B/OF Nick Evans: Evans, 30, brings a wealth of experience do the Padres’ organization. Evans has been in professional baseball since 2004 when he was drafted in the 5th round by the New York Mets. Evans spent all 2015 with Arizona’s Triple-A squad, where he hit a robust .310/.381/.479, with 17 HR’s and 94 RBI in Reno. Evans hasn’t appeared in the big leagues since 2014 when he received 23 plate appearances with the Diamondbacks. Evans can play first and the corner outfield. He should fill the Cody Decker role as the “designated slugger” for El Paso in 2016.  [Ed. Note: Evans has subsequently been released by the organization to allow him to sign a contract in Korea.]

RHP Johnny Hellweg: Hellweg, 27, was the 4th best prospect in the Milwaukee system as recently as two years ago. Unfortunately for the massive righty, he tore his UCL in 2014 and required Tommy John surgery.  Hellweg returned to action last season but struggled mightily, pitching to a 6.05 ERA between Brevard County (High-A) and Biloxi (Double-A) in the Brewers’ organization. His biggest issue was command, as evidenced by 52 walks in 61 innings. Hellweg pitched in the big leagues with Milwaukee in 2013 after coming over in the Zach Greinke deal. He has mostly worked as a starter, but a move to the bullpen could be in order. Hellweg, who could touch the upper 90’s before his elbow injury, could be a candidate to see time in San Antonio next season.

C Erik Kratz: Kratz, 35, has seen big league action in each of the last six seasons. He was Salvador Perez’s backup in 2014, when the Royals won the American League pennant. Last season was tumultuous to say the least for the veteran catcher, who played with the Royals and Phillies, along with three different Triple-A squads. The Padres seem set at catcher, but Kratz gives the club some veteran depth in the minors. Kratz has hit .266/.343/.473 in parts of 10 seasons at the Triple-A level.  

RHP Daniel McCutchen (resigned): McCutchen, 33, spent the entire 2015 season with El Paso and pitched quite well. In 32 games (22 starts) McCutchen went 9-8, with a 3.60 ERA in 132.1 innings for the Padres’ top affiliate. While the righty doesn’t possess overpowering stuff, he walked fewer than two batters per nine innings and finished in the top-ten in the PCL in ERA. McCutchen, at worst, is a veteran innings-eater who can help some of the young arms in minor league camp.

RHP Trey McNutt: Baseball America had McNutt, 26, ranked as the 48th best prospect in the game after his strong showing in Single A in 2010, but injuries and mediocre on-field performance since have sidetracked his career. The former Chicago Cubs prospect only logged eight innings in 2015 as he tried to come back from shoulder surgery, but never got out of the Arizona League. At one time, McNutt's devastating curveball and a mid-90s fastball had the Cubs front office so optimistic that they inserted Chris Archer into the Matt Garza trade rather than move the big righty from Alabama. Now, having thrown only 10 innings since mid-2013, McNutt has to show his health quickly if he's going to get a crack at El Paso.

RHP Carlos Pimentel: Pimentel, 26, had a very good 2015 campaign for the Triple-A Iowa Cubs. Pimentel finished second in the PCL with a 2.95 ERA. He has spent time in the Texas and Chicago organizations but has never played in the majors. Pimentel is 6’3, 190 lbs and throws a low-90’s fastball and a changeup. He gives the Padres a fairly young and intriguing option to start in the El Paso rotation.

RHP Adam Lopez: Lopez, 25, was drafted in the 21st round by the White Sox in the 2012 draft. Lopez topped out at the High-A level in the Sox organization before being released prior to last season.  In 2015, Lopez pitched for South Illinois of the Frontier League and dominated, going 10-0, with a sparkling 1.86 ERA in 16 starts. Lopez averaged more than a strikeout per inning and allowed only four home runs in 96.2 innings. Lopez could be a guy who could start for Lake Elsinore next season.

IF Nick Noonan: San Diego native and one-time Francis Parker star Noonan was the San Francisco Giants' supplemental round pick in 2007. The 26-year-old utility infielder has never found a way to make consisten solid contact as a professional, and he's spent the bulk of the last five seasons at Triple-A. Now 26 years old, Noonan has an anenmic 489 OPS in 135 big league plate appearances. He'll open the spring in the Major League camp, but is most likely competing for a utility role in El Paso.

RHP Greg Reynolds: Once the second overall pick by the Colorado Rockies in the 2007 draft, Reynolds' career has never been what observers thought it could be when he was an ace for Stanford. The 6'7" hurler spent 2014 in Japan and was sidelined in 2015, so the 30-year-old will need to quickly demonstrate during spring training that he's ready to go out and provide value in El Paso.

RHP Seth Rosin: Another massive pitcher brought into the Padres organization since A.J. Preller became general manager, Rosin has made brief cameo appearances in the big leagues in each of the last two seasons. A former Golden Gopher, Rosin, 27, spent most of the 2015 campaign with the Phillies' Triple-A affiliate after beginning his professional career with the Giants organization in 2010. At 6'6" and 265 pounds, Rosin fits in well with fellow righties Hellweg and Reynolds.

UTIL Ryan Schimpf: Schimpf, 27, brings versatility and a power bat to the Padres’ system. Schimpf saw time at second, third, the corner outfield and even pitched in a game last season. A 5th round pick out of LSU in 2009, he had spent his entire professional career in the Toronto chain. Between Double-A New Hampshire and Triple-A Buffalo Schimpf hit .250/.347/.508 with 23 home runs. The versatile slugger has hit 20 or more homers in four consecutive seasons. He should play all over the diamond for El Paso in 2016.

Util Skip Schumaker: The 36-year-old former Cardinals contributor hasn't put up a positive WAR in the big leagues since 2012. The left-handed hitter has seen most of his action in the outfield, but also has some experience at second base as well. While his veteran leadership is widely regarded around the big leagues, it's hard to see a job for him on the big league roster unless there are injuries during camp. 

RHP Cesar Vargas (signed to Major League deal): Vargas, 24, has spent his entire professional career in the Yankees’ organization and the Padres liked him enough to give him a 40-man roster spot. Last season, the Mexican-born righty pitched to a 3.08 ERA between Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton. This scouting report written last season describes Vargas as a solid pitcher who can hit 94 MPH with his fastball. He will be in the mix for a big league spot, but should be able to provide depth in the organization at the very least.

INF Jemile Weeks: Weeks, 29, looked like a promising young star a few short years ago with Oakland, but he has struggled since a solid 2011 campaign. Since then, Weeks has bounced around, spending time in the Baltimore and Boston organizations. In 2015, Weeks struggled mightily, hitting just .204/.297/.281 in 70 games with Pawtucket. When things are going well, Weeks brings versatility, speed, and solid on-base skills to the Padres’ organization. He should start with El Paso.

RHP Grant Zawadzki: The younger brother of one-time MadFriars favorite Lance, Zawadzki followed his brother to Bryan University of Tennessee, then began his professional career in the unaffiliated Atlantic League as a glove-first position player. He's never thrown a professional pitch, but the Padres announced him as a pitcher when they signed him just before big league camp opens. The right-hander will have his work cut out for him to earn a job out of spring training.

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