On the other end of the spectrum, the organization has signed over 20 players to fill in gaps throughout the organization. Last season, the organization hit it big in minor league free agency, plucking infielder Ryan Schimpf and lefty reliever Ryan Buchter off of the scrap heap. In fact, last year’s off-season MILB free agents combined for 32% of the team’s total fWAR (h/t to David Jay for that tidbit). Players who appear with an asterisk next to their names are in big league camp as non-roster invitees. Baseball America's Minor League Free Agent Tracker has every player the Padres signed.
“Break-throughs like Schimpf are rare and they usually occur on second-division teams because they tend to have more major league opportunity. In fact, major league organizations tend to prefer minor league free agents who have previous Major League experience, or sometimes just 40-man time. So, as unexciting as the answer is, the Padres’ best minor league free agent bets are guys like (shortstop) Erick Aybar, (reliever) Craig Stammen, (catcher) Tony Cruz and (outfielders) Rafael Ortega and Colin Cowgill,” says Matt Eddy, associate editor with Baseball America.
Most of the players the organization signed who make it through spring training will fill out the roster in El Paso, and a few do have Major League experience. Here are the players that the organization has brought in as minor league free agents:
Tony Cruz*: Cruz, 30, brings 263 games of Major League experience to the organization. The former 26th-round pick has spent most of his career in the Cardinals’ organization, although last year he played in the Royals’ chain, appearing in four big league games. His career slash-line of .218/.260/.308 in the show doesn’t lead one to believe he has much upside, although he has hit considerably better in Triple-A. He should be in the mix with Hector Sanchez and Rocky Gale for playing time in El Paso.
Rocky Gale (resigned)*: Gale, 29, returns for his eighth season in the organization. Gale, known for his glove and work with the pitching staff went one-for-ten in a brief cameo with the Padres back in 2015.
Between San Antonio and El Paso, the former Portland Beaver hit .243/.321/.319, with a career-high five home runs. All of Gale’s value comes with the glove and he, at the very least, gives the organization a component backstop in the upper minors.
Stephen McGee*: McGee, 26, was one of several former Angels the Padres added to the organization this winter. McGee, 26, was a 9th-round pick out of Florida State by Los Angeles in the 2013 draft.
McGee played in 38 games for Double-A Arkansas and hit a paltry .165/.270/.256 before being released. He latched on with the Marlins’ organization and played one game for their Triple-A affiliate. McGee will be in the mix for a catcher gig in San Antonio or El Paso.
Webster Rivas: Rivas also played in the Angels’ organization a season ago, spending time in Low-A Burlington and High-A Rancho Cucamonga. The 26-year-old was originally signed by the Dodgers out of the Dominican Republic.
A season ago, Rivas hit just .215/.271/.280 and has a career line of .252/.309/.347 in his professional career. Rivas gives the Padres organizational depth, in case a guy like Austin Allen or Ryan Miller goes down with an injury. He was a participant in the Padres’ prospect mini-camp.
Hector Sanchez (resigned)*: San Diego resigned the veteran Sanchez, who has appeared in parts of six big league season. Sanchez, 27, was the Giants’ primary backup catcher from 2012-2014 and has appeared in the big leagues every year since he made his debut in 2011.
After being claimed by the Padres on waivers last season from the White Sox, Sanchez hit a healthy .286/.348/.524 and was designated for assignment by San Diego but he ultimately cleared waivers. In El Paso, Sanchez had an OPS north of 1.000 in 200 plate appearances.
The veteran doesn’t have a clear path to the big league roster but he is an excellent depth option at Triple-A to start the season.
Jason Adam: Adam, 25, was the Royals’ fifth-round pick in 2010 and signed for $800,000. The 6’4, 225 lb. hurler has missed the last two seasons with elbow issues. The Kansas-born righty was acquired by the Twins in the Josh Willingham trade.
Adam has worked mostly as a starter and reached Triple-A in 2014. He is participating in the Padres’ minicamp, so the organization clearly thinks highly of the oft-injured righty. Adam has a 4.39 ERA in 103 career minor league games (93 starts).
Logan Bawcom*: Bawcom, 28, had a very good season for the Dodgers’ top farm club in 2016. The 6’2, 220 lb. righty had a 1.93 ERA in 36 games (12 starts) last season. Bawcom is in big league camp this spring and should provide a veteran presence in the El Paso rotation or bullpen to start the year.
Justin De Fratus*: De Fratus, 29, has 191 games of big league experience, all with the Philadelphia Phillies. The veteran righty had a 2.39 ERA in 54 games for the Phillies in 2014 but struggled in 2015.
De Fratus bounced around in 2016, pitching in Triple-A for Tacoma (Seattle), Round Rock (Texas) and Syracuse (Nationals), pitching to a 3.72 ERA in 45 games. De Fratus has had some success in the big leagues and a big spring could put him in the mix for a gig in San Diego. At the very worst, he gives the organization an experienced arm in El Paso.
Gabe Encinas: Encinas, 25, was drafted by the Yankees in the sixth round of the 2010 draft, signing for $300,000. The righty spent his entire career in the Yankees chain through 2016.
The Whittier-born righty and Tommy John survivor was awful for High-A Tampa last season, pitching to a 6.21 ERA and 46 walks in 33.1 innings. He does feature a fastball that can touch 96 mph and a curve and slider. While his command is a concern, our colleagues at Pinstripes Plus had a very encouraging write-up on Encinas last season. He could be an option for a bullpen spot in Lake Elsinore.
Barry Enright*: From Tijuana to Petco Park?
Enright, 30, spent 2016 pitching for the Tijuana Toros in the Mexican League and pitched to a solid 3.19 ERA in 22 starts across the border. The righty doesn’t throw hard but does bring 10 years of professional experience to the organization.
The veteran did find some big league success in 2010, when he had a 3.91 ERA in 17 starts for the Diamondbacks, although his peripheral stats were not encouraging. Still, he gives the Padres an experienced arm in the upper levels of the minors.
Carlos Fisher*: Fisher, 34, has been playing professional since 2005, when he made his professional debut in Billings, Montana. Fisher appeared in 79 games with the Cincinnati Reds and compiled a 4.74 ERA between 2009-11.
Since his brief taste of big league ball, the righty has bounced around and pitched last year in Triple-A Round Rock and had 63 strikeouts in 47 innings of work. Fisher should find a role in the El Paso bullpen.
Matt Magill: Magill, 27, is another Southern California guy -- he is a graduate of Royal High School in Simi Valley. The 6’3 righty was originally drafted by the Dodgers in the 31st round in 2008 and was traded to Cincinnati in 2014 for outfielder Chris Heisey.
Magill made an appearance in the big leagues last season for the Reds, appearing in five games and averaged nearly 93 mph on his fastball. Magill is another veteran option for El Paso.
Francisco Mendoza: Mendoza, 28, has an obvious A.J. Preller connection, having signed with the Rangers as an international free agent in 2008. He has spent his entire career in the Rangers’ organization, pitching in Triple-A Round Rock a season ago.
Mendoza suffered a gruesome leg injury obtained in a motorcycle injury a few years ago but was able to continue his professional career. The righty struggled last season, pitching to a 6.20 ERA in 42 appearances. He is in minor league camp, so he should be in the mix for a job in El Paso.
Aroni Nina*: Nina, 26, has spent all eight of his professional seasons in the Royals’ organization. The righty has been a reliever and according to this scouting report (from 2014), he has a fastball that touches the mid-90’s and a curve and a change.
Last season, Nina had an impressive 1.05 ERA in 24 outings with Double-A NW Arkansas, with 39 strikeouts in 34 innings. He has averaged five-and-a-half walks per nine innings, which is a bit concerning. Still, he could be a valuable swingman in the upper minors.
Andre Rienzo*: Rienzo, 28, is a native of Brazil and has big league experience with the White Sox and Marlins. He was a top-ten prospect in the White Sox organization back in 2012 and also has a PED suspension to his name.
Rienzo has a 5.90 ERA in 42 Major League games but a much more serviceable 3.41 ERA in the minors. He sits in the low 90’s with his fastball, so he needs to be able to locate in order to be serviceable. He pitched out of the bullpen last season but does have experience starting. He figures to be a candidate for the El Paso rotation.
Craig Stammen*: Stammen, 32, was a very important cog in the Nationals’ bullpen until a series of forearm injuries derailed his career. Stammen had sub-3.00 ERA’s in 2012 and 2013 while pitching nearly 90 innings out of the ‘pen in both seasons.
After being non-tendered at the end of 2015 by Washington, Stammen made 20 appearances in the Indians’ organization. The righty has a track record of success and gives the Padres a veteran arm that can eat multiple innings, if healthy. While Stammen has had success, his wife might be the best athlete in the family.
Hung-Chih Kuo: Remember him? The Taiwanese lefty was once (albeit briefly) a dominant reliever for the Dodgers, making the All-Star team in 2010. In 2011, he struggled mightily and hasn’t pitched in the United States since.
He signed to pitch in Taiwan, although he didn’t throw a pitch last year. Kuo is 35 and does not have an invitation to spring training but perhaps the once dominant southpaw has something left in the tank.
Will Locante: Locante, 26, was released by the Diamondbacks in October and was scooped up quickly by the Padres. Locante can sling his fastball up in the mid-90’s but location has always been an issue.
Locante only appeared in 13 games in the D-Backs’ organization a year ago, after scuffling in 2015. He spent time on the Arizona 40-man roster as well. Locante has averaged over 10 strikeouts per nine innings pitched, although he has averaged over five walks as well.
Erick Aybar*: In 2014, Aybar was an All-Star and posted a WAR of four at a premium position. Three years later, he is in camp on a minor league deal for the shortstop-starved Friars.
With shortstops at a premium, Aybar could not find a team willing to give him a guaranteed deal. Between Atlanta and Detroit last season, Aybar hit a paltry .243/.303/.323 and was equally bad in the field.
Aybar will push incumbent Luis Sardinas for the starting shortstop gig in San Diego but he also needs to showcase himself, since he seems unlikely to accept an assignment to Triple-A (pure speculation on my account).
Dusty Coleman*: Coleman, 28, was originally drafted by Oakland but has been in the Royals’ organization since 2009, including a cup of coffee with the 2015 squad that won the World Series (he went hitless in five at-bats).
The shortstop has a reputation as a solid defender and does possess some impressive pop for a shortstop. The former Wichita State Shocker has hit at least 15 homers in three different professional seasons, including 18 with Double-A Midland in 2014 (he also struck out 200 times that year).
While it appears to be a depth signing, Coleman could be an outside-the-box candidate for a utility job with a good spring for the Padres.
Diego Goris (resigned): Goris, 26, returns for his fifth season in the Padres’ organization. Goris is allergic to walks and doesn’t possess a ton of pop but can play all over the infield and even caught a few games in Double-A last year.
While Goris probably won’t hit enough to become a regular, his versatility could get him to San Diego. Between San Antonio and El Paso, the utility-man hit .251/.286/.374 in 2016.
Noah Perio: Perio, 25, was once a well-regarded prospect in the Marlins organization before being released after hitting just .241 in High-A.
The Hayward, California native signed with Sioux City of the independent American Association and flat-out raked. He drew the attention of the Dodgers, who signed him to a minor league deal in the middle of last season.
The second baseman/shortstop hit .323/.396/.495 in the Dodgers chain, reaching Double-A. Perio could be a late bloomer and could find a job in Lake Elsinore or San Antonio this season.
Jamie Romak*: Romak, 31, brings a wealth of experience to the organization. The slugging first baseman/outfielder has 200 career home runs and has appeared in 27 big league games.
Last season, the veteran played in Japan and struggled badly. Romak will also suit up for Team Canada (along with Josh Naylor) in the World Baseball Classic, perhaps limiting his opportunities to make the big league roster.
Still, the veteran could give the Chihuahuas some thump in the middle of the order this season.
Christian Villanueva*: Villanueva, 25, was once a top prospect in the Cubs’ organization and even cracked Baseball America’s top-100 after the 2011 season. He was originally signed by Rangers and was traded to the Cubs with Kyle Hendricks in the Ryan Dempster deal.
“Successful organizations like the Cubs are successful precisely because they evaluate their own talent better than others," says Eddy. "Christian Villanueva spent time on the Cubs’ 40-man but got passed by Kris Bryant and Jeimer Candelario, then he missed 2016 with injury.
"Still, Villanueva offers the most upside potential among San Diego’s minor league free agents imports. He excelled defensively at third base when healthy, and he mixes power production with contact ability better than most prospects. Villanueva doesn’t contribute in any other area, such as hitting for average, speed or drawing walks, so he needs the right combination of players around him to have value.”
Villanueva seems to be penciled in as the opening day third baseman in El Paso.
Brett Wallace*(resigned): Wallace, 30, is the player that most Padres fans should be familiar with. The former first-rounder emerged as a solid bench option in 2015 and spent the entire 2016 season in San Diego.
Last season, Wallace hit just .189/.309/.318 in a career-high 119 games. He played mostly out of necessity and the organization non-tendered him after the season. Wallace has some pop and could make his way back to San Diego, should the need arise for a left-handed bench option or if Wil Myers spends some time on the disabled list.
Nick Buss*: The Padres signed three outfielders to minor league deals -- all of them have previously played for the Angels. Buss, 30, played in 36 games for Los Angeles last year and didn’t hit much.
The outfielder does have a better track record in Triple-A, where he has a career slash-line of .298/.358/.444. Buss could win a job in San Diego as a non-roster invitee, especially if the Padres stash Manuel Margot in Triple-A to start the season.
Collin Cowgill*: Cowgirl, 30, has appeared in 317 games in the big leagues with five different teams. He has also seen big league action in every season since 2013.
The outfielder can play all three positions and does have an .812 career OPS in the minors. Cowgill has carved out a career of being a light-hitting, versatile outfielder in the big leagues and he will attempt to do the same in San Diego.
Rafael Ortega*: Ortega, 25, made his pro debut in 2008, as a 17-year-old in the DSL. He was originally signed by the Rockies and spent some time with the Rangers and Cardinals organizations, before making his way to the Angels.
Last season Ortega got his first taste of big league action for the Angels and hit .232/.283/.292 in 66 games.
“Rafael Ortega doesn’t hit for power, so he doesn’t profile as an impact regular," says Eddy. "The things he has done well in the minors -- make contact, run and hit for a high average -- make him a suitable candidate for a fourth outfielder. Batting left-handed doesn’t hurt, though Ortega is not a player that you want claiming too much playing time.”
Ortega’s speed and versatility, like the two aforementioned outfielders, does give him a chance to crack the roster in San Diego.