The past 18 months have seen a massive remake of the San Diego Padres organization. Only 16 members of the 40-man roster were in the organization when General Manager A.J. Preller took over. On the back fields, nearly half of the players in minor league camp have been acquired by Preller’s front office.
While the club’s on-field success in 2016 will rely heavily on the performances of high-profile veterans like Tyson Ross and Wil Myers as well as recent system graduate Cory Spangenberg, the roster churn also means that the big league team will need contributions from a number of players who still have rookie eligibility.
Here is a look at the prospects who are most likely to have an impact on the Padres this year.
Colin Rea, RHP
The big righty shot through the system last year, going from High-A Lake Elsinore at the end of 2014 to the Padres' rotation in August. A relatively late bloomer after San Diego used a mid-round pick to draft him out of Indiana State in 2011, Rea is well-positioned to take a spot in the Padres' rotation in 2016. The arm soreness that ended his campaign last year appears to be behind him and the Iowa native came in to spring training with more muscle mass than we've seen before. Rea has the tools to be an innings eater, he's big-league ready, and he's making a league minimum salary. That makes him likely to provide the most value in 2016 of any Padres prospect.
Travis Jankowski, CF
With the big league outfield situation still unsettled, speedy centerfielder Travis Jankowski is the prospect best positioned to contribute to the club in 2016. While he could very well start the season in Triple-A, his defense in center is already a carrying tool, and his minor league campaign last year showed what he can do at the plate now that his wrist is healthy. If Jankowski breaks camp with the Padres, he could see plenty of playing time as part of a platoon in the outfield. Especially after last year's disastrous experiment with Wil Myers in center, having a plus defender next to Matt Kemp could be quite appealing to rookie manager Andy Green.
Jabari Blash, OF
The massive slugger from the Virgin Islands will be given every opportunity to make the roster out of spring training as a Rule 5 pick because he'd have to be put through waivers and offered back to the Mariners before he could go to the minors. Blash is an all-or-nothing pick here, both because he'll either be useful on the big league team or out of the organization, and because he will contribute a ton of strikeouts along with plenty of walks and homers. It's easy to see one scenario where he gets early playing time and blasts a few homers that set the tone for a productive season. It's just as easy to envision him busting quickly and joining the likes of Marc Newfield in the annals of Padres history.
Hunter Renfroe, OF
The team's first-round pick in 2013 has always had undeniable power and the skills to be a plus defender, but he was much more raw coming out of Mississippi State than many SEC baseball products. The big man got off to a rough start last year, but really turned it on for about eight weeks in Double-A, then finished the year on a tear in El Paso. While it's hard to envision him joining the big league roster until June at the earliest, if he shows that he's able to keep his strike-out rate under 25 percent in the Pacific Coast League and is mentally ready every day, he'll be well-positioned if the Padres want to move any of their veteran outfielders on the mid-year trade market.
Tayron Guerrero, RHRP
The long-armed flamethrower is already in his second year on the 40-man roster and has the best raw fastball and most devastating slider in the system. Of course, there are also days when he has no idea what's happening with either of them. As is so common with pitchers as tall as the Columbian hurler (he's every bit of his listed 6'8"), repeating his mechanics can by a mystery for the 25-year-old. While he certainly won't be in San Diego in April, if he can show some consistency working at the back of the El Paso bullpen, he'll certainly be in line for the shuttle to the big leagues when the Padres need arms later in the summer. In a best-case scenario, he'll harness his elite stuff enough to provide value in 2016 and show the club that he's ready to work important innings in 2017.
Alex Dickerson, LF/1B
While Dickerson is solid in many aspects of the game, he doesn't have one standout tool in his arsenal. That means he's going to need to be in the right place at the right time to get a real chance in the majors. Given the Padres' lack of depth at first base and Wil Myers' injury history, that could very well happen this year for the Poway High product. Should things line up for him to grab significant playing time, Dickerson could provide decent offensive production and a little versatility at first and the corner outfield positions.
Jose Pirela, Util
The former Yankee farmhand is in competition with Jemile Weeks to make the Padres as a right-handed utility player off the bench this spring. Whether he starts the year in the Majors or not, he'll likely get some big league at-bats for the third straight year. Though he logged time at shortstop in the low minors, he's more viable at second and third, and has also been deployed at all three outfield positions and even first as the Yankees have tried to build him into a super-utility type. He has more than enough bat to be viable in that role, and if either Cory Spangenberg or Yangervis Solarte falter in their first cracks at every-day positions, he could be given the opportunity to step in and contribute this season.
Justin Hancock, RHP
Renfroe is the only other guy on this list who is not currently on the 40-man roster. But with the El Paso rotation shaping up to include a number of older arms who have already used up their rookie eligibility, the 25-year-old from Ohio is the one product of the system who could conceivably answer the bell if the club needs a starter late in the season. While his strikeout and walk rates have been uninspiring at every level, Hancock's results have been solid all along. It's certainly possible he'll be ready to make a late-season cameo this year much like his former roommate Rea did last year.