PEORIA, AZ - Today the lower level squads returned to the back fields and again a pitching performance by Padres’ uber prospect Anderson Espinoza brought out the scouts, brass and the baseball punditry.
The Padres also sent down RHP Jared Weaver and LHP Brad Hand for some extra work.
RHP Anderson Espinoza is either the number one or two prospect on nearly Padres’ ranking list looked good. As ESPN’s Keith Law notes - who was kind enough to provide us with radar gun readings - was 93 to 96 in three innings of work. His command was not quite on the same level of Adrian Morejon’s on Wednesday, but as - Padres Director of Player Development Sam Geaney stated in a post-season interview - “Espinoza throws one of the easiest mid- to upper 90s fastballs you will ever see.”
Espinoza throws a fastball, curve and changeup and should be a part of a Lake Elsinore staff this season which will probably be not only the best in the Padres’ system, but, according to JJ Cooper of Baseball America, one of the better staffs in all of minor league baseball. Cal Quantrill, Eric Lauer, Jacob Nix, Espinoza and Joey Lucchesi should start the year for the Storm, and even if three of them are promoted by mid-season the replacements coming up from Fort Wayne will nearly be as good.
OF Jorge Ona was hit on the hand during yesterday’s game and had to leave the field. Today the swelling on the hand was down and Ona is expected to only be out of action for a few days.
Usually in the Spring we watch giant man-child Franmil Reyes destroy baseballs in batting practice, literally and physically with his bat. Last year after hitting .233/.290/.379 in the first half with the Storm he rebounded to hit .320/.386/.522.
The big reason for the change is that he has become much “quiter” at the plate, with fewer moving parts and a more controlled swing. The big corner outfielder is six-foot-five and a solid 240 pounds and could be a sleeper in the system particularly with his new found plate discipline carries over from last summer.
He will be in Double-A San Antonio and it is a difficult jump for any player, but the twenty-one year old is giving himself a better chance to succeed than at any of the previous four springs since he’s been stateside.
LHP Will Headean, who had an up-and-down season last year with Tri-City showed much better command of his secondary pitches - curve and change-up - particularly his changeup, which was his focal point with the Dust Devils.
The lefty has always had a good, firm fastball - he was in the 91 to 94 MPH range today - but was also able to drop a few changeups on hitters who had been feasting on Spring Training fastballs and make a couple of batters look silly. With the Padres stated belief that they are seeking to control the innings of many of their younger pitchers -Headean should get an opportunity to start again with the TinCaps in 2017.
Catcher Marcus Greene, who came over in the Will Venable trade in 2015, was impressive in early morning workouts both at the plate and behind the dish. This winter he hit .307/.333/.457 for the Adelaide Bite of the Australian Baseball League and looked significantly better with the bat than he did last year at Fort Wayne (.218) and Lake Elsinore (.143).
Greene has a somewhat unique approach. He begins with a compact open stance, holding the bat low by his waist. He then steps toward the pitcher with his front foot landing as the pitcher is preparing to release the ball which generates a substantial amount of power. A big focus of the Padres in the past few years has been to be “on-time” and being in a strong hitting position before the ball is delivered. Greene is a poster-child for this approach.
He says that he has been using this approach since 2015, but it looked much more refined from last year. Greene should return to either Fort Wayne or Lake Elsinore, but a big determinant of where he lands will be his ability to be given consistent playing time. Right now, that appears to be the TinCaps - but I would be surprised if he spends the whole season there.
A huge part of the game is the relationship between the pitcher and catcher and a term that is frequently heard is ‘being on the same page”. “I want my catchers to be good receivers,” said Storm pitching coach Glendon Rusch on what he looks for in a catcher, “ but the main thing to me is that I want them to be good game-callers.”
“What you don’t want is a catcher that isn’t really aware of what the pitcher is trying to do because then it’s up to him to not only execute the pitch but the call game too.”
John Nester, the Padres’ catching coordinator, was a more succinct. “It’s pretty simple from a catching standpoint; don’t be a selfish player. If you aren’t putting the pitcher first when you are back there, you aren’t going to last. Selfish catchers don’t make it.”
“On most staffs you are going to have 13 guys, and you have to know each and every one of them. In the minor leagues guys come up and go down; usually they are all different and it’s a lot of work.”
“Then again, that’s why catchers are always the most valuable and smartest guys out there,” laughed Nester, a former minor league catcher.
Next week we will feature our Spring Training interviews with players and Padres’ executives, including A.J. Preller on how he went about building one of baseball’s top minor league systems.