The recent flurry of trades has seen talent come back to the organization in pitcher Chris Paddack and Anderson Espinoza, and equally as important has opened playing time for home grown products Travis Jankowski and local product Alex Dickerson on the big club.
But flying somewhat under the radar is outfielder Nick Torres, 23, in Double-A San Antonio, a fourth round pick of the Padres in 2014, who has been one of the few bright spots on a struggling Missions team.
Last year between Low-A Fort Wayne and High-A Lake Elsinore, he hit .305/.352/.439 with five home runs and 44 doubles, with the doubles total being good enough for second overall in the minor leagues. This season, after getting off to a bit of a slow start, Torres has been red-hot with a slash line of .327/.371/.458 in June and earned a spot on the Texas League All-Star team.
After a bit of a dip in July, he’ s gone six for eleven in his past three games for an overall slash line of .277/.316/.409.
“It was expected he was going to struggle at first,” said Missions manager Philip Wellman, a veteran of 19 years in Double-A, on Torres’ adjustment to higher levels.
“It is the first level where there is no limitation of age or years played in a league. Many are playing against guys that have had big league time and up until this point you are always playing with guys of similar experience and age.”
While the 44 doubles were impressive, Torres knows that he’ll need to get more of those balls over the wall if he is going to become a big league starter.
“Could I have come back this year and not made any changes from last? Sure, but how far is that going to take me?” said Torres before a recent game.
At 6 feet 1 inches tall and 225 pounds, he is a physical specimen but while much of the development in the lower minors is a separating of the more athletic from the least, at the upper levels the separators tend to be on the mental side – which many would argue is the strongest part of his game.
“Our hitting guys worked a lot with Nick in the spring with the main goal of trying to get him to incorporate he legs more into his swing to generate a little more power,” said Sam Geaney, the Padres Director of Player Development.
As players go higher in the minor leagues, the amount of information and resources available to them grows. Learning which tools and approaches work - and which don’t - can be as important in development as packing on extra pounds of muscle. That is why most successful players talk about the importance of developing a routine on and off the field.
“It’s good to have results as positive feedback, but you aren’t always going to get positive results from doing the correct process,” Torres said on how he measures his progress. “So when you have those bad days you have a tool to be able to fix it. If you don’t, you end up trying to do too many things which really messes you up.”
One of the critiques of Torres is that he sometimes has been a player who tries to take in too much information, which he has simplified this season.
“The coaches have brought that to my attention this year and I’ve kind of taken a step back. Now I want to know the velocity, the pitches that he may have and then just step in the box and compete.”
“You do not want to be having a conversation with yourself when there are 90 mile-per-hour fastballs coming by your head,” laughed Torres.
One of the buzz phrases around professional baseball, especially as players advance, is the ability to make adjustments by changing something in a player’s mechanics or approach to counter what the opposition is trying to do.
One of the recent changes Torres made was a simple adjustment to his back elbow in late May. Since then, he has seen his on-base plus slugging percentage surge by over 100 points.
“I’ve been working on my back elbow being the first thing that fires in my swing as opposed to my hands or my hips. That way the swing is flatter and longer through the zone.”
Torres was the Padres’ Minor League Player of the Year in 2015 and as Geaney said before the start of the year, he “embodies all that we want in a player, both on and off the field.” But the odds are still long and difficult for a player whose best position comes with big offensive expectations.
One thing that is a given is that if he doesn’t make it, it won’t be for lack of effort.
“I think every day I come out of the cage I am a better hitter than I was the day before, which is what I need to do.”