Summary: Through the first half, the Missions not just the Padres’ worst minor league affiliate this season, but they were on track to be historically bad. They finished 22-48. However, with a revamped roster in the second half, they improved to 36-34 largely on the back of an improved pitching staff - which we will talk about tomorrow.
While we’ve frequently mentioned that Nelson Wolff Stadium in San Antonio is a tough place to hit, the Texas League as a whole played especially tight for offensive numbers this year. How tough? First baseman/DH Luke Voit of the Springfield Cardinals led the league in hitting at .297.
The Missions’ strength offensively this year was the outfield, led by the two Nicks - Schulz and Torres - who both posted identical batting averages. They were joined midseason by centerfielder Franchy Cordero, who added some much needed offensive firepower.
Approach: 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 take into account not just what the player did this year, but his age and potential impact in the major leagues.
Level: Double-A baseball is where the rubber meets the road and you find out who can really play. Anyone who succeeds at this level has the talent to play in the major leagues. Those who can replicate their top performances frequently and make adjustments effectively keep advancing from here. The 2016 Missions’ struggles owe in large part to A.J. Preller’s decision to trade away many of the draftees from 2012 and 2013 he inherited, most of whom would have been contributors during this season.
Player of the Year: OF Nick Schulz .282/.366/.422
Nick Schulz is a great story of perseverance. He was signed by San Diego as an undrafted free agent in 2014 and after hitting .238 in the Cal League at 24 last year he could have easily have been released at the end of spring.
But the Padres saw something in Nick, and after 13 games with Lake Elsinore to open the season, he was promoted to San Antonio and ended up leading the Missions in hits, on-base percentage and OPS among players that were there for over 75 games.
The biggest improvement I saw in Schulz this year as opposed to years past - and I know it’s a cliche - but he really does try to “play the game the right way.” He has a much better two-strike approach and with runners on base, he seemed more focused on getting the run across than attempting to take “hero” swings. With runners in scoring position and two outs he hit .320/.370/.560 for the Missions.
Runner-up: OF Nick Torres .282/321/.416
Nick Torres has always been one of my favorite players in the system mainly because of the amount of time he tortures himself mentally trying to get better every waking moment of the day. He tied for fourth, along with Schulz, for the Texas League leaders in batting average and at times this year in Double-A provided a glimpse of what he can accomplish with a .327/.371/.458 slash line in June. He finished the year with 36 doubles between San Antonio and Triple-A El Paso with an overall line of .288/.326/.439.
Player of the Year: OF Nick Torres
Let’s be honest, the 2016 San Antonio Mission’s team did not have the greatest year. They struggled to score runs from day one, and really did not start to turn things around until Franchy Cordero showed up and lit the league on fire (Cordero doesn’t qualify as he played more games with the Storm). Nick Torres was the best of the bunch. At the time of his promotion to Triple-A he was leading the club in most offensive categories including doubles, batting average, and RBI. Torres is a player that does a lot of little things well, but does not have that one overall skill that pushes him up the prospect list (almost like a Yonder Alonso).
Runner-up: SS Jose Rondon .279/.310/.386
From a statistical standpoint RF Nick Schultz might have had a better overall season. However, I wanted to give the runner up to Rondon because he plays a more difficult position, and remained consistent throughout the year. Rondon was second on the team in stolen bases, third in runs, third in RBI, lead the team in fewest strikeouts per plate appearance, and at the time of his call-up by the Padres, was second on the club in doubles. The MadFriars staff tends to rank Rondon lower than any other publication (and for good reason). However he is a solid defender, who makes good contact, with a little speed. He is not someone who is going to make fans jump for joy, but he is capable of being a light-hitting starting shortstop in the majors.
Player of the Year: OF Nick Schulz
Schulz, a former undrafted free agent, started the year as a spare part in the outfield for the Lake Elsinore Storm. We was promoted to San Antonio, seemingly to occupy a roster spot. Instead, Schulz finished fourth in the Texas League in batting average and on-base percentage and hit .286/.366/.422 overall. Schulz may not be a big-time prospect but he has performed everywhere he has been. He was easily the best hitter on the squad all season.
Runner-up: 3B/OF Gabriel Quintana .241/.282/.443, 20 HR’s, 73 RBI.
Quintana has been incredibly consistent throughout his career -- a .250-ish average with little plate discipline and mid-teens pop. In 2016 Quintana finished with a career-high 20 homers -- good for sixth in the Texas League. Quintana led the team with 202 total bases and fifty extra-base hits. He only walked 20 times this season and his lack of discipline at the plate prevents him from being a prospect or from a 40-man roster spot. Quintana will be eligible for free agency after this season so he may have played his last game in the organization.
Player of the Year: Nick Schulz
It’s not hard to see how Schulz went undrafted as a guy who was old for his class out of a mediocre program with questions about his athleticism, but the Bay Area product has done everything he’s needed to do since joining the organization in 2014. For me, he gets the nod here over Torres because of his better strikeout and walk rates, and slightly better power production. He’s going to have to continue to improve, and hope that the timing works when he’s ready if he’s going to get a crack in the big leagues, but Schulz has plenty to be proud of from his 2016 season.
Runner-up: Nick Torres
The Cal Poly product continues to strike out too often and walk too infrequently, but the 23-year-old was a producer in the middle of the Missions’ lineup while offering defensive value as well. Torres works as hard as anyone in the system - sometimes, perhaps to his own detriment - one reason that he turned in strong defense in left while turning a few more balls into homers this year even as his played at a higher level that’s a lot less offense-happy.
Others of note: The four players we’ve already covered and Franchy Cordero provided the bulk of the offense for the Missions this year. After starting his fourth straight year in the Midwest League, Luis Tejada ultimately settled in playing first base and both corner outfield spots in San Antonio, providing solid offense by controlling the strike zone well. Nelson Ward, the other half of the return in the Joaquin Benoit trade, provided speed, but both he and Auston Bousfield struggled to put the bat on the ball consistently at the top of the lineup.
2016 MadFriars’ San Antonio Missions Player of the Year: Nick Schulz
Top Prospect: Nick Torres
Torres certainly isn’t in the same conversation as the outfielders who populated the El Paso outfielder this season, but he still has a chance to be a contributor at the big league level. He reworked his swing heading into this year to unlock a bit more of his power, and in the process, cost himself a fair amount in bat-to-ball skill. Next year is going to be his chance to see if he can put the two elements together. If he can hit with enough power while keeping the strikeouts in check, he’ll get a chance to play in the majors.
Jose Rondon (Jay)
This should not be taken as a sign that I think Rondon is ever going to be a starting shortstop in the Majors. But on a roster without many clear big leaguers, Rondon is the guy whose toolset will get him the most opportunities. I see him as a below-average hitter with just enough glove to be a utility player who can cover short, but it’s certainly possible that things will click enough for him one spring that he’ll wind up staying in a lineup as a second baseman for a little while at some point.