Ivan Pierre Aguirre

MadFriars' Top 30 - Conniff Edition

We start off with the first of our four Top 30 rankings on the top prospects in the San Diego Padres system for 2017. John Conniff will go first, followed by Kevin Charity next week, then Ben Davey with David Jay rounding out the rankings.

This season the San Diego Padres added more talent to their minor league system than ever before in their nearly fifty-year history.  General Manager A.J. Preller used a three-pronged approach, with the consent of a much more generous ownership group, to acquire highly talented players through the amateur draft, spending a team-record amount in the International Market and peddling veterans for high impact prospects.

Twelve of the top thirty prospects are in their first year in the organization and eight are in their second.  The strength of the system is starting pitching and center fielders, but this season Padres’ fans should see the beginning of the rebuilding movement in the outfield with Hunter Renfroe, Travis Jankowski, Manuel Margot and Alex Dickerson - all of whom were either drafted or acquired in trades and have spent substantial time in their minor league system.

With my usual caveat, the Top 30 rankings are far from a perfect hierarchy. This is not an apples-to-apples comparison because the minor leagues generally have three different levels, each of which has different value points.

The short-season leagues (AZL and Tri-City) the emphasis is on ability/potential as opposed to consistency.  The A-ball levels (Fort Wayne and Lake Elsinore) are always the toughest to gauge because performance is wrapped into full-season statistics with the age of the player being as big a factor as the performance. Double-A and above are (San Antonio and El Paso), is in a way, the easiest and most deceiving.  At this level, while we find many players have the capability of playing in the major leagues their ability to perform consistently is the separator.  

We all love potential, but the true value is the ability to be a consistent or star performer in the major leagues.  The best indicator of this ability is putting up numbers at the higher levels of the minor leagues, thus, that is why the most valuable prospects usually carry the moniker “major league ready.”

So I put more weight on players that are performing at the Double-A level and above than on pure potential or “ceiling”.

For prospects we used the same grading criteria as Baseball America for eligibility, no more than 130 at-bats, 50 innings pitched or 30 relief appearances which eliminated catcher Austin Hedges, who spent the  majority of the year in Triple-El Paso this season after an ill-advised promotion last year.  If Hedges had been eligible, he would have been my choice as the top prospect.

Before we begin on the Top 30 prospects for this year, let take a look at what I wrote last year; where I was right and where I was an idiot.

Top 30 for 2015 - Conniff Edition

Where I was right:  I had Travis Jankowski as my second best prospect because I liked the defensive skills he brought to center field and his ability as a leadoff hitter.  I not only had RHP Walker Lockett higher than any of my colleagues at #14, but I was the only one who ranked him and he ended up being the MadFriars Pitcher of the Year.  I still liked where I had Colin Rea with the caveat that he gave the big club a legitimate option as a backend starter over Ian Kennedy or some other overpriced pitcher on the free agent market.  Also, Alex Dickerson was better than most of the other pundits thought he would be,

Where I wrong:  Asuaje, Asuaje, and Asuaje.  Carlos is a great reason why it’s always a better idea to see someone before ranking them. The reason he wasn’t ranked was the belief at the time that he was not an everyday second baseman and profiled as a small utility infielder that couldn’t play shortstop.

After watching him in spring training it quickly became apparent that he was a lot more than that and he went on to have one of the best years of anyone in the system.  I’m not sure if I was “wrong” on Javier Guerra - all those tools are still there - but he came nowhere close to the performance that I and nearly everyone else envisioned that he would have in High-A Lake Elsinore this season.

Below, are my top prospects for 2017.

1) Manuel Margot CF

Margot simply has the highest amount of potential and performance of anyone in the Padres’ organization.  Only 21, he was five years younger than the league average in the Pacific Coast League this summer and was second in the league to only teammate Carlos Asuaje in runs scored, third in hits and among the top five in stolen bases. He finished the year hitting .304/.351/.426 with 39 extra-base hits to go along with 30 stolen bases in 41 attempts.

The scary thing is the Padres still think there is a lot of room to grow, particularly as he begins to  increase his baseball knowledge and understand which pitches he can turn on.  

2017: Depending on what the Padres do with Jon Jay, Margot could end up back in El Paso for half a season for a little more seasoning because the one thing that is certain is that he will not be on the bench.  Travis Jankowski may still be the best defensive center fielder the Padres have, but Margot is four years younger and is closing the gap fast. Offensively, he may have surpassed him.

2) Hunter Renfroe RF

While not everything completely came together for Renfroe this season, it was pretty close.  He led the organization in home runs and RBI and was fourth in batting average at .306 and was the  MadFriars Player of the Year.  The downside is that he has some pretty severe home (.365) and road (.247) splits and a .336 on-base percentage is not great for the PCL, but there are too many good things he did this year to get caught up in some details.

The biggest takeaway from this season has been the development on the mental side of the game by Renfroe which should continue to unlock his massive physical gifts.

2017:  Renfroe is done with the minor leagues and San Diego is in a position with the trade of Matt Kemp this year to play him every day next season in right field. Is he probably going to average a strikeout a game and be a streaky hitter?  Yes, but he will also go on some streaks on both sides of the ball where fans will wonder if there is anything that he can’t do on a baseball field.   

3) Anderson Espinoza RHP/SP

With all that A.J. Preller went through with the medical report controversy during the year being able to acquire Espinoza, 18, may have been worth it.  Many draft evaluators believed that both Espinoza and Adrian Morejon, who the Padres signed from Cuba, would have easily been among the top selections in the 2017 draft if they were eligible. 

What gets everyone’s attention about him is that he throws a very easy mid-90s fastball to go along with a plus change; the only thing missing is consistency.  If develops a better breaking pitch, he’s the top prospect on this list and in all of baseball.

2017: The Padres will be loaded for starting pitching at the A-ball level next year and Espinoza could be part of an unbelievable staff next year in Lake Elsinore of Cal Quantrill, Eric Lauer, Joey Lucchesi and Jacob Nix.  He’s very young so there is a good chance he will be there for the full season as his body begins to fill out and his breaking ball catches up with his fastball and changeup.

4) Luis Urias 2B/SS

Urias led the Cal League in batting average at .330 while playing what was universally considered a nearly flawless second base at 19; he was nearly five years younger than the Cal League average.  While he is well known for his  ability to put the barrel of the bat on the ball his other offensive skill of not expanding the zone with only 36 strikeouts in 506 plate appearances is nearly as impressive.

Urias had a good year last season in Fort Wayne but came in from the off-season with about ten pounds more of added muscle.

2017:  The Padres plan to challenge Urias and give him more than the 22 games he saw this season at shortstop, particularly with all the talent the organization has at second base.  He has the arm to play there, not sure about the lateral movement.  One thing that is fairly certain, he will hit. 

5) Michael Gettys CF

Gettys, 20, is simply one of the most talented players in baseball with his five-tool ability that can shine on both sides of the ball - he has more upside then Renfroe with his ability in center field and his speed.  The big question with him has always been if he could make enough contact at the plate to fully display them.

Repeating Low-A Fort Wayne, he saw his on-base percentage rise by 101 points and finished the year at .305/.363/.442 between the TinCaps and High-A Lake Elsinore with 40 extra-base hits and 33 stolen bases.  

He may have put up even better overall numbers if a variety of nagging injuries hadn’t slowed him down. As with Renfroe, his biggest growth this year came on the mental side of the ball as he learned to relax more at the plate and made some mechanical adjustments in his swing.

2017:  Gettys is still very much a work in progress, but he is on the right path.  He should begin the year with the Storm and if he can continue to refine his plate approach a little more look for more power numbers to start appearing on his stat sheet.

6) Cal Quantrill RHP/SP

After not having pitched in nearly two years because of Tommy John surgery, Quantrill, the Padres’ top draft pick in 2016, showed reasons why San Diego   believed going into the draft he was completely back to where he was, if not a little bit more.  The organization believes that Quantrill has one of the best  changeups in their system and he flashed enough mid-90s velocity to convince everyone that he has potential top of the rotation stuff.

2017:  Quantrill should begin the year in Lake Elsinore but if he is producing by mid-season look for a promotion to San Antonio. He could be in San Diego by 2018.

7) Carlos Asuaje 2B/3B

Boy, was I wrong. Initially, Asuaje was advertised as a utility infielder that couldn’t play shortstop but he ended up leading the PCL with 172 hits, posted a .378 on-base percentage and only made 12 errors in 134 games.  The left-handed hitting Floridian hit .321 at home and .322 on the road and may have been the most consistent performer of all the Padres’ minor leaguers this season.

2017:  Asuaje will be in the mix for the opening job with the big club next year between Corey Spangenberg and Ryan Schimpf.  He’s the best defensively of the three and may even provide the most consistency at the plate.  Asuaje is currently playing winter ball and the Padres have him playing more third base to increase his versatility.

8) Eric Lauer LHP/SP

Lauer posted the lowest ERA in the NCAA since 1979 and may be the first among this year’s draft class to reach the major leagues.  While he will not blow anyone away with his velocity, but he consistently sits in the low 90s his calling card is his exceptional fastball command.  Additionally, he can also sink and subtract with his fastball to go along with a plus slider and solid changeup and curveball.

2017:  He should begin the year with the Storm on an aforementioned exceptional staff.  The Padres want to see him incorporate his curveball more, which he used more in college, to give him more of a four-pitch mix.

9) Adrian Morejon LHP/SP

I, along with nearly every other media person - with the notable exception of  Baseball America Ben Badler - know very little about the 17-year old Cuban that the Padres signed for $11 million dollars; $22 million when including the penalty for going over budget.  

What I do know is that after watching Morejon warm-up, the Padres Director of International Scouting Chris Kemp called everyone in the top Padres’ brass to discuss that they needed to do whatever it takes to get him signed.

2017:  Morejon represents nearly one-third of the estimated $65 million that San Diego spent on the international draft and is slated to begin the year in Fort Wayne.  If Morejon was in the US he would be a high school senior that would be projected as a top five overall pick by many draft pundits.  

10) Hudson Potts SS/INF

Potts, who was drafted as “Sanchez” but changed to his stepfather’s shortly after signing, was considered by many a surprise pick on draft day but he hit .295/.333/.399 in the AZL while only 17.  The Padres were able to sign Potts for an under-slot amount, which they used on pitchers Mason Thompson and Reggie Lawson later in the draft, and get a player who probably would have been selected in the upper parts of the first round next year.

Potts showed a unique feel for hitting and performed better in the field than many believed he would.

2017: Along with Fernando Tatis, Jr., San Diego will keep both of them in the middle of the field as long as they can with the TinCaps. Look for Potts to also log in nearly as much time at second and third as well as shortstop.

11) Mason Thompson RHP/SP

Thompson is a prime example of much San Diego believes in the extended scouting process.  He was considered one of the best pitchers in the nation as a sophomore threw a grand total of one inning in his junior and senior seasons.  However, the Padres saw enough of the six-foot-six Texan in that year and were impressed enough in his side sessions before the draft to lay down $1.75 million in the third round.

2017: Thompson should begin the year in Fort Wayne with his fellow teenage draft members Reggie Lawson and Dan Dallas.  As the organization was with Jacob Nix, Austin Smith and Logan Allen, San Diego will be careful with their innings but we should see some flashes of dominance reminiscent of a potential top-of-the-rotation starter.

12) Dinelson Lamet RHP/SP

Lamet will enter the year as the Padres’ top pitching prospect at the Double-A level and above.  The six-foot-four Dominican flashes a very good fastball and slider combination - the key for him like many young pitchers will be to continue to develop a more consistent changeup.  He pitched most of the year in San Antonio where he struck out 91 batters in 74.1 innings against 31 walks.

2017:  Lamet will be entering only his third professional season and has come a very long way in a very short time.  He profiles more as a mid-rotation starter and should begin the year in El Paso.  The keys for him will be to continue to refine his fastball command and, as referenced above, continue with the changeup.

13) Jacob Nix RHP/SP

Of all the young pitching talent in Fort Wayne this summer, Nix had the most impressive year with 90 strikeouts against only 20 walks in 105.1 innings -- good for a 3.93 ERA.  He throws a lot of two-seam fastballs and features a pretty good spike curve. The big right-hander had some of the highest average velocity of anyone in the system and when he has all three of his pitches working he is as good as anyone in the system.

2017:  The native Californian will return home this season and after throwing a 100 innings last year San Diego may push him a little bit more.  He’s only twenty years old and will be another one of the Padres’ young starters that will garner a lot of attention.

14) Joey Lucchesi LHP/SP

It’s really hard to understand how Lucchesi was not even drafted in the 2015 draft, despite some extensive scouting.  He made up for it this year leading the NCAA in strikeouts and striking out 53 batters against only two walks in 40 innings with Tri-City.  To say the least, he has an unusual delivery that not only makes it difficult for batters to see the ball but severely disrupts their timing.

He throws a pair of two-seam fastballs, a few different curves, and a circle change.  His velocity sits in the low to mid-90s - and to say the least, he really enjoys pitching.

2017: All five of next year’s Storm starters have already been listed but Lucchesi is definitely the sleeper.  He will be 24 next year, should finish the season in Double-A and is better than a lot of people think.

15) Reggie Lawson RHP/SP

Between the three teenagers that were featured in the AZL by the Padres, Thompson, Dallas and Lawson - Reggie has not only the biggest fastball but may be the best athlete.  He is also the furthest away with consistency with his secondary pitches after only starting to throw a changeup a year ago.  San Diego was able to lure him away from a scholarship to Arizona State with a near $2 million bonus.

2017: Lawson will get the opportunity to work with Burt Hooten, one of the Padres’ best pitching coaches, next year in Fort Wayne.  While he is probably the furthest away, one can also make a good argument that the six-foot-four, 210 lb. 19-year old may have the biggest upside.

16) Phil Maton RHP/RP

Maton is the type of player that makes Scouting Directors stick out their chests.  A twentieth round pick out of Louisiana Tech, Maton had a good, but not great collegiate career, as a starter.  But as a professional, he has been something else.  

Since moving to the bullpen he has seen his velocity tick up - helped out by a quality spin rate which makes his four-seam fastball appear to be rinsing - and a plus slider.  Maton started the year in Fort Wayne, dominated in Lake Elsinore and helped to propel El Paso to the PCL championship. 

He has 136 strikeouts against only 16 walks in 84 professional innings and is  a good bet to be the first last year’s draft class to reach San Diego.

2017:  He should begin next year with the Chihuahuas but has an outside chance to make the big club out of Spring Training.

17) Ruddy Giron SS/INF

After setting the Padres blogosphere on fire with his debut last season, Giron endured a prolonged slump into the Midwest League All-Star break. After posting a .180 batting average in the first half, he saw it rise to .268 in the second half before hitting .426 in 14 games with the Storm.

The Padres attributed  the turn around to some mechanical changes at the plate, mainly in getting his left shoulder not to fly open which was making him vulnerable to the outside pitch.

2017:  Giron will stay at Lake Elsinore next season but expect to see him log a little more time at second and third base with Javier Guerra returning, who is considered the better defender at shortstop.  If either Guerra or Giron gets hot early one of them could be on their way to San Antonio, which will begin the year without a true shortstop. 

18) Fernando Tatis, Jr. SS/INF

Tatis was the best part of the Padres sending James Shields and $27 million to the White Sox.  The son of a former big leaguer is a lot like his teammate Potts in his ability to play multiple infield positions, his feel for hitting and only turning 18 in the offseason. In 44 plate appearances in Tri-Cities he hit .273/.306/.455 and for the year the six-foot-three Dominican hit .273/.311/.432 with 15 stolen bases in 18 attempts. 

2017: He may outgrow the shortstop position but like Potts, he is going to see time at shortstop in Fort Wayne next season along with other parts of the infield.

19) Nick Torres LF/RF

Torres throughout his career has always been a “glue” player on any team he was on. He 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. Torres 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 had a solid season with 50 extra-base hits between San Antonio and El Paso but has some stiff competition for available outfield spots on the big league club.

2017:  Torres will begin the year on El Paso on what should be a better club than San Antonio was at the start of 2016.  When Torres is on a better club he tends to focus more on taking his walks and doubles, and is a better player overall.  When he is on a bad club he can sometimes take on too much of the responsibility and try to do too much.

20) Chris Baker SS/INF

Baker, 21, put up the best numbers of any position player in the draft this year as a seventeenth round pick from the University of Washington. Despite playing mostly third in college, he showed that he could play shortstop while leading the Dust Devils in batting average, on-base and slugging percentage and finishing second in stolen bases.  A lot of credit goes to the Dust Devils’ staff for getting him to stand more upright in the batter’s box which gave him more power.

He was promoted at the end of the year to Fort Wayne where he hit .286 with nine extra-base hits in 17 games.  The versatile Baker is comfortable at second and third base and it could be his ticket upward.

2017:  Baker could begin the year in Fort Wayne or Lake Elsinore, which could be determined by what the organization wants to do with Carlos Belen. If he is with the TinCaps he will be part of an interesting infield rotation between second, third and shortstop with Tatis and Potts.  If he is in Lake Elsinore, look for him to also rotate into all of the infield positions with Guerra and Giron.

21) Logan Allen LHP/SP

Allen battled injuries for most of the year but when he was healthy showed an ability to throw three quality pitches for strikes. He can touch 95 mph and San Diego is working on getting him to have a shorter and tighter breaking ball.  He is one of the four prospects that came over in the Craig Kimbrel deal, which right now looks very good for San Diego and A.J. Preller.

2017: He’s only going to be twenty next year and if he’s healthy should round out the Storm rotation.  Allen profiles as a “crafty lefty” only he can bring the heat too.

22) Franchy Cordero CF

After struggling mightily in the field and in the plate Cordero finally found a home in center field that allowed his plus athletic tools to flourish hitting .286/.339/.444 between Lake Elsinore and San Antonio.  He had 23 stolen bases in 37 attempts and 51 extra-base hits including 16 doubles.  At a lean six-foot three and 195 pounds he is still leaning routes but gets to many balls just by his sheer speed.

2017:  Cordero should begin the year in San Antonio where his slashing style of play flourished in the leadoff role.  He has quite a few talented players in front of him in center but his raw athleticism is as good as anyone in the organization.

23) Austin Allen C

Despite only hitting .240 in his pro debut in Tri-Cities last year, most people have always believed in Allen’s bat and he rewarded that confidence by finishing among the Midwest League leaders in batting average at .320.  The main reason he stayed in Low-A for all but three games this year was to continue his progress defensively behind the plate, where he showed  significant growth in his ability to block pitches, throw and run a game.

2017:  Allen and his bat are clearly ready for the next level and how much his defensive skills pick up will determine how quick he moves into Double-A.  The power and patience are real at the plate and he is one of the few good hitting catchers that really likes to squat.

24) Walker Lockett RHP/SP

Lockett was the best starter on the Dust Devils a season ago before an off the field incident caused him to be suspended.  He needed a bounce-back year and he had it as the MadFriars Pitcher of the Year as he saw action at four different levels. He finished the year with a career-high 164 innings with a 2.96 ERA.  

2017:  At six-foot-five and a very solid 225 pounds Lockett is a sinkerball pitcher whose calling card is his ability to eat innings and pound the zone.  He should return to El Paso next year to begin the year but by mid-year, he should be in line for a call-up to the big club.

25) Carlos Belen 3B

“Whenever Carlos steps on the field, he’s usually the most talented guy on the field,” said Sam Geaney, the Padres Director of Player Development.  After posting a .597 OPS in the second half he moved up to .725 in the second at only 20 years old.  He still has a long way to go in terms of plate discipline but the second half saw him put up 26 extra-base hits in 64 games along with the ability to make some exceptional plays on defense.

2017:  How things go in the off-season will go a long way in determining on whether he ends up in Fort Wayne or Lake Elsinore to begin the year.  The guess is he starts at Fort Wayne as the Padres believe he could follow the trajectory of Gettys last season.  Belen is very young, but as Sam Geaney stated, a player of immense talent who needs to refine his mental approach to fully show the talent that he has.

26) Franmil Reyes RF

In the second half of the year, Franmil hit .320/.386/.522 and ended up leading the team in doubles, home runs, RBI and total bases.  At six-foot-five and easily 245 pounds he looks even bigger in person. 

He is only 21, but this was already his fifth season in professional baseball and is the one that many in the organization have been waiting on.  As with many of the players on this list, there wasn’t so much of a specific mechanical change that was made just a jump in his mental approach to the game - mainly on learning how to deal better with success and failure.

2017: If he shows the gains in the second half were sustainable in Double-A, this ranking is far too low. 

27) Dan Dallas LHP/SP

Dallas is one of the three young high school arms that San Diego took in the first ten rounds of the draft.  The Padres think that Dallas may be the most polished between himself, Lawson and Thompson and flashed some ability with 16 strikeouts in a limited 11.2 innings in the AZL.

Dallas throws a four-seam fastball that can appear more like a two-seamer because of its left tail, curve, and a change-up.  He sits in the low 90’s so he relies on hitting his spots more than blowing guys away with velocity.

2017:  Dallas should join his fellow draftees in Fort Wayne and should greatly benefit from an off-season out of the cold weather of Buffalo, New York.  The organization believes he is a solid athlete with a good feel for pitching. Of the three Dallas is the most polished and should have the most initial success.

28) Jorge Oña RF/LF

The Padres’ pair of Cuban signees Oña and Morejon represent over half of the $65 million that San Diego spent in the International Market.  He will be twenty years old when he begins his career in the states and the six-foot-two right-handed hitter, who according to Baseball America, has plus power potential and strong outfield arm.

2017: Oña should begin the year in Fort Wayne’s outfield as San Diego will probably take their usual cautious approach of putting prospects in a place to succeed first and then challenge them based on performance.

29) Javier Guerra SS

Last year Guerra was our top prospect as we raved about his rare blend of athleticism and power which was on display in 2015 in Low-A Greenville of the Red Sox organization.  All of the tools that we liked so much are still there, the problem is the performance wasn’t as he hit .202/.266/.325 in 105 games in the Cal League.

2017: Defensively he is still the best defensive shortstop and San Diego believes that they have made the necessary mechanical adjustments to his swing to unleash his talent.  The problems we saw seemed to be based on our approach than mechanics, but he is too talented to write off after a bad year.  However, with Giron in Lake Elsinore, San Diego will have a few more options.

30) Josh VanMeter 3B/2B

VanMeter came back from a broken fibula in 2015 to have one of his best years as a professional in Lake Elsinore, particularly in terms of walks and extra-base hits before struggling in his final 29 games in Double-A.  On a per-plate appearance basis, VanMeter led the club in homers and total bases, and he drew more walks in 95 games than anyone else on the Storm.

He saw the majority of his time defensively shift from second to third and the Padres thought he looked very comfortable in the transition.

2017:  He will open the season again in San Antonio and we should see better results.  The left-handed hitting VanMeter is a well-rounded player that is comfortable defensively at pretty much anywhere on the field and provides a quality at-bat at the plate. In the Arizona Fall League (as of press-time) he is hitting .275/.456/.350.

Just Missed

31) Buddy Reed CF

Although he didn’t have the greatest offensive numbers at the University of Florida, Reed was still considered one of the best athletes in the draft.  He was a three-sport star in high school - soccer, hockey, and baseball - the switch-hitter chose baseball and showed some glimpses of what he could do particularly in August when he hit .275/.365/.385 with seven stolen bases.

2017:  The organization believes that they can improve Reed’s swing to get him to fully utilize his talent. A big part of him improvement was getting him to be “on-time”. He should be patrolling the middle of Parkview field in Fort Wayne next season.

Next week Kevin Charity is up with his Top 30.

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