The quick observation is the Padres have sent a much better team to Double-A than they did last year. For prospects, the team is dominated by 19-year old infielder Luis Urias, whom the team is experimenting with having him play some shortstop in addition to second base.
The first question we receive from any Padres’ fan on San Antonio is can Urias play shortstop? Yes, and no. Yes, in the sense that he has the arm to play there, but no in that doesn’t have the plus lateral movement to make him an everyday big league starter.
As Missions’ broadcaster Mike Saeger noted, “He can play there, but he lacks the first step quickness you see from truly elite shortstops; particularly to the right side. However, at second base, he’s very good.”
If you want to know what an elite defensive shortstop looks like, take a trip up the I-15 to High-A Lake Elsinore and watch Javier Guerra pick a few. We’ll talk about his hitting later.
The good news is that defensively at second base he is a plus fielder, and his batting speaks for itself. Phillip Wellman, the Missions manager who has been coaching in the minors since 1988, spoke of his exceptional hand-eye-coordination, but he believes what will really separates Urias from everyone else is his exceptional approach.
In the four games that I saw he may have swung at one bad pitch.
Nick Schulz is a great example of how so much of prospect evaluation is about individual assessments than a type of linear projections. Schulz has improved as much as I have seen any player from where he was at High-A Lake Elsinore in 2015 to where he is now.
He has a disciplined approach at the plate and always seemed to have a pretty good idea of not only what the pitcher was doing, but what his strengths are. He not only didn’t give away any at-bats, he doesn’t give away pitches.His strikeouts are up, but so are his walks and he’s posting the best power numbers of his career. Defensively, he’s an emergency center fielder, but is a capable defender on the corners.
He has a slash line of .289/.421/588. He’s second in the Texas League in slugging percentage, first in extra-base hits, fourth in on-base percentage and second in walks.
It’s not bad for a player that signed with the Padres in 2014 as an undrafted free agent.
As we’ve know for awhile RHP Enyel De Los Santos has a very big fastball that will usually arrive in the mid to high 90s. The problem is it can occasionally be very straight and he sometimes struggles to stay on his line; that is have his front foot step down towards that plate on balance.
However, for the most part the velocity is real and he can locate very well for a pitcher that is only 21 and his secondary pitches - changeup and curve seemed better than advertised.
Of Nick Torres looked like he was still coming back from his rib injury in the first two games that I saw, but appeared looked much better in the last two, especially running in the field and on the bases. The Missions have a decent offense this year which should allow Torres to do what he does best, drive the ball to the gaps in right and left-center and not worry too much about home runs.
May and June were big months for Torres last year and hopefully as he gets more comfortable we will see the same thing again.
The Missions have a nice trio of right-handed pitchers that could develop into solid back of the rotation starters for the Padres in Brett Kennedy, Kyle Lloyd and Michael Kelly. Of the three Kelly has the best raw stuff, but needs to improve upon his fastball command. Lloyd, who the new regime initially saw more as a relief pitcher, has re-emerged as a starter thanks to an improved changeup and switching from a four-seam fastball to a sinker. However, his calling card is a devastating splitter. Kennedy, struggled early in the year with his command, which is essential for any pitcher, saw it return in his last two starts. When he’s on he can seemingly place the ball anywhere he wants.
The bullpen is strong and led by a pair of veteran right-handed sidearmers in Adam Cimber and Eric Yardley. Yardley, who we profiled last year for FoxSports San Diego is another undrafted free agent who has made his way up from the Independent Pecos League - which according to Eric is not quite at the level of some high schools.
Cimber, who throws a little harder than Yardley, has been particularly effective this season with a 1.26 ERA in 14.1 innings. He’s been better against left-handed hitters and utterly destroys righties.
One of the odder things out of the bullpen has been the struggle of six-foot-nine lefty Brad Wieck against lefties, who are hitting .333 against him as compared to .103 by right-handers. Why its strange is that Wieck throws from a three-quarters motion, so Wieck’s low 90s fastball looks like its coming straight at your head if you are hitting from the left side.
Both River Stevens and Fernando Perez seemed to be experiencing a lot of hard luck at the plate, but have hit better this month. Also, Alberth Martinez, who missed nearly all but 11 games last year, has also shown some pop in recent games.
Finally, the Missions might be this year’s version of last year’s 2016 PCL champion El Paso Chihuahuas.
If the Padres decide to keep Luis Urias in Double-A for the full year, combined with a strong outfield of Nick Schulz, Nick Torres and Alberth Martinez, it could be enough offense - especially if one of the infielders also come around.
What will make the Missions special is if the Padres do promote LHP Joey Lucchesi, RHP Cal Quantrill and LHP Eric Lauer to San Antonio from Lake Elsinore. A prospect laden rotation of Lucchesi, Quantrill, Lauer, De Los Santos - and whoever the team does not promote to Triple-A El Paso in Kelly, Lloyd or Kennedy would be as good as anyone in the Texas League where parks are more conducive to pitching than the PCL.
The Missions have some solid veteran bullpen arms, which also could be augmented by righties Zech Lemond and T.J. Weir, would be a decent team.
But as with anything in minor league baseball, things can change quickly.