Ivan Pierre Aguirre

MadFriars 2017 El Paso Chihuahuas Season Preview

A year after several top prospects carried the Chihuahuas to the PCL championship, an older roster will take the field in El Paso this year.

Synopsis: El Paso will feature a much more veteran-laden lineup this season, but there are some solid pitching prospects in Dinelson Lamet, Walker Lockett and Phil Maton. Carlos Asuaje, Cory Spangenberg and Franchy Cordero, the top position players, reflect the priorities being pushed throughout the system; players who can play up the middle.

Three Strikes with Sam Geaney, the Padres Director of Player Development:

1) You alluded to this in your interview earlier with us, you seemed to make a conscious effort to field a more veteran team in Triple-A this year.

Sam Geaney: I think it was more of just kind of what we had in the system. Last year we had the first big wave, and we thought it was natural to go out [this year] and find some guys with some major-league experience.

2) How far away is Dinelson Lamet?

Sam Geaney: He’s getting very close. He had some success at the Double-A level and a strong spring. Our goal is that we want him to be ready when the opportunity is there in the big leagues.

3) Zach Lee used to be a big-time prospect, and put up some numbers in the Dodgers’ organization. How did he look this spring?

Sam Geaney: He had a good spring and changed some things mechanically. What we were encouraged by was how receptive he was to coaching and willing to make changes. Hopefully he will have turned a corner.

2017 Projected Lineup:

1B/DH Jamie Romak SP Dinelson Lamet – RHP (#12)
2B Carlos Asuaje* (#10) SP Walker Lockett – RHP (JM)
3B Cory Spangenberg* SP Bryan Rodriguez - RHP
SS Dusty Coleman SP Matt Magill - RHP
C Rocky Gale/Tony Cruz SP Zach Lee- RHP
OF Jabari Blash RP Phil Maton – RHP (#19)
CF Franchy Cordero* (JM) RP Kevin Quackenbush - RHP
OF Colin Cowgill RP Tyrell Jenkins - RHP

 * indicates left-handed or switch-hitter

MadFriars’ Top 20 Prospects in El Paso: Carlos Asuaje, Dinelson Lamet, Phil Maton, Walker Lockett and Franchy Cordero.

Catch a Rising Star: Dinelson Lamet rose all the way to Triple-A in only his second year in full-season ball. He got there largely on the back of a big mid-90s fastball. If he can accomplish two things - a better change-up for his third pitch and more consistent command of his fastball - he will be in San Diego before midseason.

Starting Pitching: Lamet and Walker Lockett, who built on a very good 2016 this spring, will be the two leaders of the staff. When Lockett is on, his sinker can eat up a lot of innings. Zach Lee was a former two-sport start and scored a big-time bonus with the Dodgers in 2010. In 2015 he put up numbers in Triple-A Oklahoma City 2.70 ERA with an 81/19 strikeout-to-base-on-balls ratio in 113.1 innings. For some reason, he fell off last year with the Dodgers and the Mariners. The Padres will hope that they found something. System veteran Bryan Rodriguez and minor league free agent Matt Magill should provide stability and plenty of innings through much of the season.

Pen: As always, the Chihuahuas pen is going to be pretty good with Quackenbush, Maton and Jenkins. Maton, who was in big-league camp all spring, and his riding fastball/slider combination will be the one to watch a year after he opened in the Midwest League. Keith Hessler will be the only left-hander in the pen to open the year.

Catching: Rocky Gale is the last of the Padres’ 2010 draft class left and is a close second to Austin Hedges in defensive ability. There are very few, if any, catchers who can get as low as Gale can to receive the ball. Offensively he has developed into a serviceable hitter who makes contact, but his calling card is his defense. Tony Cruz, 30, spent four seasons as Yadier Molina’s back-up in St. Louis before working in the Royals system last year. He’ll team with Gale to provide a strong tandem to work with the pitching staff.

Infield: Asuaje and the surprising demotion of Spangenberg should give El Paso some speed and slashing power at the top of the order. Spangenberg needs at-bats after spending most of last year on the disabled list, and the Padres may want to see him get a few more repetitions at third. Asuaje led the PCL in hits and posted a .378 on-base percentage. While the personnel numbers didn’t work in his favor on the big club to open the year, that could change in a few months. Romak, 31, is a classic minor league slugger with 200 career home runs who had a big year with Reno in the D-Backs organization before struggling in Japan last year. Coleman is a defense-first shortstop who is a veteran of the A’s and Royals organizations.

Outfield: At the beginning of last year, Franchy Cordero’s career was at a crossroads. After moving from shortstop to center field full time, he responded with his best season since he lit up the AZL in 2013. Between three different levels he had 51 extra-base hits and 23 stolen bases, and his superior athleticism began to show itself on the field. Blash had a huge spring with a revamped swing which the organization hopes will translate into a better contact rate. Collin Cowgill and Rafael Ortega, both minor league free agents signees who have reached the majors as fourth outfielders in the past, will join Jose Pirela in logging innings throughout the year.

On the Spot: Jabari Blash nearly hit his way onto the big-league club this spring. To please his sizable Twitter fan base with another big-league appearance, he must show that he is more than the Three True Outcomes (home run, walk and strikeout) and make more consistent contact.

Under the Radar: Walker Lockett, like Cordero, has risen very far and very fast since the beginning of last spring. He doesn’t have the ceiling of Lamet, but he has a higher floor and is the closest on the staff that is ready for a big league start.


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