Summary: Worrying about where an AZL team finished in the standings at the end of the year has about the same relevance as keeping track of the OPS+ statistics in your kid’s Tee-Ball league; you must have a lot of time on your hands. But for those keeping score, the AZL Padres were 25-30.
What is relevant is the potential and tools of players just entering into professional baseball that were very much on display in the desert this summer.
With 11 of the Padres first 13 picks in this year’s draft pitchers, what guys did on the mound was going to be the big story. But Hudson Potts, nee Sanchez, a first round pick out of the Dallas/Fort Worth area proved to be a major find in the draft along with Fernando Tatis, Jr., who came over in the James Shields trade.
Overview: We use a simple formula for the awards. A player is eligible with whichever team he appeared for the most. For the top prospect, we took into account not just what the player did this year, but his age and potential impact in the major leagues.
Level: The Arizona League is the lowest level of the minor leagues in the states. Typically the players at this level are young Latin American players, high school draftees and second-tier college picks. If they play well, a few will get an opportunity to compete for a spot in Fort Wayne next spring.
This year there was quite a bit of talent on the Padres’ AZL team and we should see many advance to the Midwest League next spring.
Player of the Year: CF Dayon Olmo .288/.333/.485
Olmo, 19, a switch-hitting outfielder out of the Dominican Republic, got the slight nod over Potts and Tatis for me because while the on-base percentages were similar, he flashed a little more power and batting average while playing all three outfield positions, but seeing the majority of his time in center. He led the position players on the AZL Padres who played at least 30 games in slugging percentage, OPS and was second only to Potts in batting average.
Runners-Up: INFs Hudson Potts .295/.333/.399 & Fernando Tatis, Jr. .273/.312/.426
I thought Olmo had a better year than both Potts and Tatis, but both were so close it was impossible for me to separate them. Both had nearly identical overall numbers in total bases, hits, runs scored and are only 17 years old.
The Padres plan to keep both rotating among the three infield spots next year in Fort Wayne.
Player of the Year: Fernando Tatis, Jr.
Despite getting the late promotion to Tri-City, Tatis still tied with Potts for the team lead in games played. He finished tied for the team lead in home runs (4) and runs scored (35), led the team in stolen bases (14) and doubles (13), and finished second on the team in RBI (20) and hits (48). While his defensive ability left something to be desired (had nearly double the errors of everyone else on the team), he is just 17 and showed a lot of promise at the plate.
Runner-Up: Hudson Potts
Similar to Tatis, Potts was at or near the team lead in nearly every offensive category. What separated him from Olmo was his defensive ability. While Potts rotated between DH/2B/SS/3B he still committed just four errors on the season. The same number as Olmo (an outfielder). Like Tatis, Potts will probably settle in at either 2B or 3B but he looked comfortable both in the field and at the plate and showed why the Padres spent such a high pick on him.
Player of the Year: Hudson Potts
Potts played in 44 games for the AZL Padres and led the team in RBI. The 17-year-old was the top talent and the best performer for the AZL squad. He only homered once but was second on the team with 12 doubles and his eight steals were second to Fernando Tatis. On the defensive side, it remains to be seen if Potts can stick at short but he made several nice plays when he was promoted to Tri-City. Potts was the best player on a fairly talented squad.
Runner-Up: Dayon Olmo
Olmo came stateside for the first time and played well in the Arizona League. He was a relatively unheralded prospect but tied for the team lead with four home runs and paced the club with an .818 OPS. San Diego spent most of their early picks on pitchers so it wouldn’t be a stretch to see him jump to Fort Wayne next season.
Player of the Year: Dayon Olmo
While there are certainly red flags in his strikeout and walk rates during the year, Olmo’s first stateside campaign resulted in a team-best .485 slugging percentage while still showing some above-average speed. While he’s filled out significantly since signing for a small bonus in late 2013, the switch-hitting outfielder remains a solid defender and could continue to add strength to his frame. After being sidelined with a minor injury for 10 days, he finished the year on fire, including two four-hit games in his final four appearances. He’ll turn 20 this winter, so he might get a longer look at a full-season roster than others next spring.
Runner-Up: Fernando Tatis, Jr.
As noted by the others, Tatis and Potts had nearly identical offensive output on the year. Tatis showed a bit more power, got on base a bit less, and both struck out and walked slightly more than Potts. While it won’t likely remain part of his game long-term, for me, Tatis separated himself from Potts with his performance on the basepaths, where he swiped a team-best 14 bases while only getting caught twice. He also logged an extra 136 innings in the field for the AZL squad because Potts was held primarily to the DH role in the first few weeks of the season. Those small differentiators aside, both players were quality contributors and have the potential to impact the game as they advance through the system.
Others of Note: Tre Carter didn’t get onto the field until August after a health concern popped up right around the draft, but once the club’s 11th-rounder made it into action, it was easy to see his superior athleticism at the plate, on the bases and in the field. He will likely need a lot of minor league at-bats, but has some special talent. Jack Suwinski flew under the radar a bit more, but the above-slot signee flashed plus pull-side power in his work in the desert, though he struggled to bring it into games. Behind the plate, Jose Lezama and Bryant Aragon both offer plenty of building-block tools. Lezama is a better receiver at this point, but Aragon - still just 18 after two full seasons stateside - has the more potent bat and his throwing shoulder is finally healthy. Reinaldo Ilarraza went down with two different shin injuries during the year, limiting him on both sides of the ball, but the switch-hitting Venezuelan has the skills to be effective up the middle, and at just 17 years old, he’s still ahead of the experience curve even after the lost game time. Eguy Rosario drew attention by coming stateside a week before his 17th birthday, and hitting in all seven games he played. He is already pretty physically mature, so it will be interesting to see how aggressive the Padres are with him. Luis Anguizola played with Javier Guerra as a teenager in Panama before coming to the U.S. for college. After earning NAIA All-American honors as a first baseman, he struggled a bit with his transition to the pro game, in part because he was working on a conversion to catching. He’ll make the switch full-time during instructs this fall.
MadFriars’ 2016 AZL Player of the Year: Dayon Olmo
Top Prospect: Hudson Potts (Conniff, Davey, Charity)
Potts has a very advanced feel for hitting, which the team knew coming in, but the surprise was how good he is defensively. As a shortstop he hit .433/.460/.583 and the organization plans to keep giving him reps until he proves he can’t play there. Expect to see him also see time at second and third base next year in Fort Wayne at only 18.
Tatis has a better arm, but Potts is considered a better athlete. However both in the long run will probably end up somewhere other than shortstop.
Top Prospect: Fernando Tatis, Jr (Jay)
For me, Tatis has two key advantages over Potts looking ahead. One is that he has the arm action to stay at shortstop, while Potts probably doesn’t. The other is that I think he’ll have more in-game power in both the short and long term. Both are obviously quite a distance away from sniffing a big league roster and plenty could change over the next 2000 minor league plate appearances, but Tatis has the pedigree, tools and skill to emerge as a quality big league infielder.