Of the four full-season teams this one started out as the weakest, mainly in starting pitching as the Padres brought in four minor league free agents to start the season. Cesar Vargas is now in the big league rotation, Johnny Helwig was sent to Extended Spring with Luis Diaz and Fabio Castillo remaining in the rotation along with holdover Bryan Rodriquez.
For the position players the two top prospects on the field are shortstop Jose Rondon and outfielder Nick Torres. Catcher Ryan Miller and centerfielder Auston Bousfield also came into the season with some attention.
The strongest part of the team may be the bullpen with relievers Jason Jester and submariners Eric Yardley and Adam Cimber all having a chance to show up in the bullpen in San Diego some time soon.
Jester’s compact build is reminiscent of a converted middle infielder in that he is able to pound the strike zone with a sinking fastball and a better than average slider. The Texas A&M alum got a brief taste of big league camp in the spring and may be the most reliable arm in the pen in both Triple-A and Double-A.
Yardley and Cimber have come a long way since last year in their ability to throw inside to left-handed hitters. As Missions’ manager Philip Wellman told MadFriars the key for both of them is to be label to pitch inside to lefties.
Cimber throws a little harder than Yardley but the bullpen catchers note that Yardley has more of a “frisbee” slider that when its on is nearly impossible to hit.
The recent reinforcements from Lake Elsinore, Jimmy Brasoban and Jose Torres will also greatly help the pen.
Rondon is an interesting prospect but after three days of watching him play I still have trouble seeing him as an everyday big league shortstop because of his lack of lateral quickness. He is in better shape than last year and does have the arm to play there, just have difficulty seeing him play in the big leagues.
At the plate he has shown more ability to drive the ball but again as Wellman noted, he is going to have to improve at small ball to have a shot.
Two pleasant surprises in the rotation have been Kyle Lloyd and Michael Kelly. Lloyd, after a big year in Fort Wayne in 2014 was moved to the bullpen in Lake Elsinore where most of the organization believes his fastball/splitter combination has a better chance of playing.
However, because of the Padres dearth of starting pitching he was moved back to the rotation and is performing well there with an improved change-up. The organization still believes his future lies in the pen, but Lloyd again is going to get an opportunity to show that he can start.
Additionally, since his big year with the TinCaps he has lost about twenty-five pounds and now looks more like a pitcher than a linebacker.
Kelly, a former first round draft pick in 2011, has always had the talent, but with him its always been about confidence. After a so-so performance and a somewhat surprising call-up to San Antonio from Lake Elsinore the 6’5” Floridian has shown in his past five starts what the organization saw in him when they drafted him.
If Kelly can put together a solid year it will put him back on the prospect map. After so many starts, look for the organization to be extra cautious in promoting Kelly further this season.
Nick Torres has spent the past year trying to add more loft to his swing to turn a few more of his doubles into home runs [Torres finished second in the minors last year with 44]. While the results of the transformation are still a work in progress, he has made adjustments to cut down on the number of strikeouts he was accruing which helped turn him into the player of the week in the Texas League.
His most recent adjustment was lowering his back elbow a little earlier to have his bat stay in the zone longer.
I am not sure Torres will ever become the type of hitter that will put 30 to 40 out of the park in a year, but I do believe he is capable of hitting 20 to go along with quite a few hard doubles. He is at his best when his line drive stroke occasionally lifts the ball up and he focuses on making solid contact.
Since he was drafted in 2013 Auston Bousfield has been one of the more consistent performers in the organization with his quick, simple stroke - but right now he has been struggling to get above a .200 batting average. His biggest problem appears that he is just beating himself up too much mentally when he sees his batting average on the board as he is missing pitches that he would have hit a year ago and some of his offensive struggles appear to be seeping into his defense.
Ryan Miller’s bat is ready for Double-A and his defense, particularly his throwing, is coming along. Its important to keep in mind that Miller is still relatively new to catching, a position he only really began his junior year of high school. When Austin Hedges comes back off of the DL in El Paso look for Rocky Gale to return to San Antonio to continue playing everyday.
Second baseman Nelson Ward, who was acquired from the Mariners in the Joaquin Benoit trade in the winter, looks to be a better player than his numbers indicate. He has a short left-handed stroke and once he begins to relax more in a new organization his numbers should pick up He leads the Missions in stolen bases with 15 and has been solid defensively at second base.
Finally, it was nice to see Nick Schulz putting together solid at-bats in Double-A after being brought up from Lake Elsinore in May. The un-drafted free agent from San Jose State has had to fight for everything that he has ever received and looked much more controlled in his at-bats, particularly with runners in scoring position and two outs.