Sunday was a short day on the back fields of the Peoria Sports Complex, but there was still plenty of action as the Padres continue to work to get their minor leaguers ready for the start of the season in less than four weeks.
The morning opened with live batting practice on two fields. On one, Cubans Michael Baez, Adrian Morejon and Ramon Perez threw to batters, while 2016 high school draftees Dan Dallas, Reggie Lawson and Mason Thompson got their work in on the other field.
Baez, the oldest of the group at 20, is imposing on the mound and works with easy velocity, but the two lefties were the highlight on that field. While Morejon’s fastball was a step ahead of Perez’s, Perez showed a very impressive curve that he could work effectively at a range of velocities. The 17-year-old signed on with the Padres in December for a six-figure bonus.
There wasn’t a radar gun on the field, but it’s easy to see why Morejon excites the player development group as much as he did scouts across the game. He worked through his session displaying feel for all four of his pitches and showed solid movement on his fastball with an smooth delivery.
On the other field, the high schoolers impressed as well, with Lawson and Thompson both drawing rave reviews for how well they finish their pitches. The fact that all three are moving slowly through the ramp-up to throwing games may be an indication that the organization is leaning toward keeping them back in extended spring training when the Midwest league opens. But even if they don’t start in full-season ball, each is likely to log innings out there later in the year.
Game action was limited to two fields today with intrasquad matchups. In the first, Keith Hessler and Walker Lockett came over from the big league side to get some work in. Lockett worked three strong innings, striking out four with his mix of a two-seam fastball, change and the slider that came on for him again at the end of last season. His lone blemish was a homer by Ryan Miller, who went down and got one. Miller, of course, is quite familiar with Lockett’s stuff after catching him in both Elsinore and San Antonio last season.
Following Hessler’s tune-up inning, Anderson Espinoza was expected to be the highlight of the day, but the top pitching prospect in the system fought his command through three innings of work. While he characteristically lit up the radar gun, hitting the upper 90s a handful of times and working consistently around 94, his curve was much more erratic than we’d seen previously.
Other notables on that field included an inning from former Dodger shut-down reliever Hung-Chi Kuo, who made his big-league debut not long after Perez’s sixth birthday. The hard-throwing Taiwanese hurler last appeared in a game in the U.S. in 2011, and has continued to deal with a series of arm problems while on the roster of the Lions in the Chinese Professional Baseball League. His chances of making a roster at this point have to be considered fairly limited, but he does still have solid stuff.
Also getting in an inning each were Justin Hancock and Zech Lemond. For Hancock, it was his first game action since his second start of last season in El Paso. He appears on track to be ready when the campaign opens. Lemond put himself back in the mix with a strong effort in Australia this winter. The former third-round pick out of Rice had struggled as a starter in Elsinore over the last two seasons.
Over on Field 5, Pedro Avila worked three innings to open, a day after the Nationals put Derek Norris on waivers. The 20-year-old righty, who came over straight up in the deal for the Padres’ former starting catcher in December, showed a low-90s fastball and impressive curve. In his second frame, he left a fastball up to Jhonatan Peña who sent it into the wash beyond left field.
Jerry Keel followed him with two solid innings. The tall lefty gets impressive movement on all his pitches, doing best when he can live at the bottom of the zone with his lively two-seamer that tops out in the low-90s.
Walker Weickel and Corey Kimber both worked an inning of relief as well. The two, who with Lockett are the last remaining members of the vaunted group of high school pitchers in the Padres’ 2012 draft class, are both likely working for a spot in the Storm bullpen. Kimber continues to show impressive velocity, but struggles to control it.
The pool of talented young middle infielders in the organization is pretty amazing. Among those who started games today were Carlos Almanzar, who slid over to third to give Kelvin Melean the start at shortstop for the lineup that faced Avila and company. Opposite them, Jordy Barley who shows impressive range at shortstop, was flanked by Justin Lopez at second and Kelvin Alarcon at third. Alarcon is visibly bigger than last spring. With Luis Urias and Javier Guerra in big league camp, Daniel Bravo and minor league free agent signee Noah Perio are both getting looks at shortstop in the older player groups.
It’s easy to see why Alison Quintero gets plenty of attention for his work behind the plate. The Venezuelan, who won’t turn 17 until late next month, certainly has plenty to learn about working with his pitchers, but he threw out Buddy Reed handily in his second inning behind the plate. He and Gabriel Arias, who turned 17 a few weeks ago, are both very developed physically.
With Hancock back in game action, Travis Radke and Trevor Megill will be among the next few returners to see live activity again. Megill, who has yet to throw a pitch since the club took him in the seventh round in 2015, had a clean-up surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow late last year. Radke is almost exactly a year after his surgery.
Corey Mazzoni is getting ready for his first bullpen session and hopes to be facing live batters right about the time the season opens. That would put him in line to go out to one of the upper minors clubs in May. Mazzoni and Brad Wieck were acquired from the Mets in exchange for Alex Torres, who is not in camp anywhere this spring after stints in the Braves and Giants organizations last year.
Carlos Belen is limited to DH-ing only right now because of a shoulder issue. He could open the year on the disabled list to give him time to be completely ready. He will likely see time at both first and third base this year.
Hudson Potts has a minor nagging injury and is limited in activity right now. At this point, he still seems likely to be ready when camp breaks.
After missing virtually all of last season, Alberth Martinez is going without restriction in camp this year.
Ronald Bolaños is running a bit behind other pitchers because he felt something in his side during an early throwing session. The organization is still looking to stretch him out for starting work in Fort Wayne this year.