It was only a matter of time until the Padres, owners of one of baseball’s best farm systems, decided to promote one of their highly touted pitching prospects to the big leagues. But while the expectation has long been that left-hander MacKenzie Gore, MLB Pipeline’s top-ranked pitching prospect (No. 5
It was only a matter of time until the Padres, owners of one of baseball’s best farm systems, decided to promote one of their highly touted pitching prospects to the big leagues. But while the expectation has long been that left-hander MacKenzie Gore, MLB Pipeline’s top-ranked pitching prospect (No. 5 overall on the Top 100), would be the first to arrive, the Padres announced on Tuesday that they would promote righty Luis Patiño to the Major Leagues ahead of the team’s matchup against the Dodgers.
Ranked No. 27 on MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 Prospects list and No. 3 on the Padres’ Top 30, the 20-year-old Patiño, who reportedly has been dominating at the team’s alternate site, is expected to be used out of the bullpen in his first taste of the big leagues. However, it may not be long until he’s given a chance to start. What’s more, by delaying his promotion until now, the Padres ensured that Patiño would not accrue a full year of service time in 2020, thus delaying his free-agent eligibility until after the 2026 season.
An under-the-radar pitching prospect when San Diego signed him for $130,000 during its 2016-17 international spending spree, Patiño has quickly developed into one of the more exciting and promising young hurlers in the Minors, recording a 2.35 ERA, 10.7 K/9 and a .208 opponents’ average over his first three pro seasons.
He put himself on the map in 2018 by reaching full-season ball in his age-18 season and followed it in ‘19 with an outstanding campaign at Class A Advanced Lake Elsinore and Double-A Amarillo. Between the two stops, the then-19-year-old compiled a 2.57 ERA with 123 strikeouts and 38 walks in 94 2/3 innings, allowing more than two earned runs just twice in 19 starts. He also held opposing hitters to a paltry .198 average and gave up only four home runs.
While the Padres largely have remained steadfast in developing Patiño as a starting pitcher, the 6-foot-1, 192-pound righty does have a pair of relief appearances to his name in his Minor League career and offered a glimpse of his bullpen potential during an electric, high-leverage appearance in last year’s SiriusXM Futures Game.
Anticipating that they might use Patiño out of the bullpen in the shortened 2020 Major League season, the Padres deployed him in that role during Summer Camp and have continued to do so in the team’s intrasquad games.
Here's our breakdown of Patiño’s tools on the 20-80 scouting scale, where 50 represents big league average ability:
Fastball (65): Patiño has tacked on considerable strength to his wiry-athletic frame since signing and has had his stuff, especially his velocity, improve as a result. In 2019, the Colombia native sat in the mid 90s with his fastball and regularly touched 98-99 mph with his heater, all while holding that velocity deep into his starts. Patiño's lightning-quick arm gives his fastball explosive late life that causes it to jump on hitters, and he can also impart natural cutting action to the pitch without it detracting from his velocity.
Slider (60): Patiño's slider gives him a second plus pitch to go along with his fastball, and together the two offerings make it easy to envision him excelling in a bullpen role. Thrown in the upper 80s with tilt as well as late, sharp biting action, it’s a true swing-and-miss offering against hitters on both sides of the plate. The pitch is especially lethal against right-handed hitters, who collectively batted .163 and slugged .220 in 259 plate appearances against Patiño in ’19.
Curveball (50): Patiño’s ability to dominate with his fastball-slider pairing in short bursts makes it difficult to predict exactly how much he’ll use his curveball in a relief role. The young righty does have an average, low-80s bender at his disposal that he can land for strikes, though it’s served as more of change-of-pace offering than a put-away pitch for him so far.
Changeup (50): Evaluators believe that Patiño’s changeup could be an above-average big league pitch once it’s fully developed, but the fact that left-handed hitters fared far better (.262/.308/.443) than righties against him in ’19 underscores his room for improvement. Some of that should occur naturally, though, as Patiño continues to refine his delivery and gains experience against better hitters.
Control (55): While throwing strikes has never been an issue for Patiño, who issued 3.1 BB/9 in his Minor League career, the quality of his strikes at times can leave something to be desired. But that should be less of a concern now with the right-hander working out of the bullpen -- a role that could help to emphasize his natural bat-missing ability -- he posted a 15 percent swinging-strike rate and a 31.4 percent strikeout rate in ’19 -- since he’ll no longer have to worry about pacing himself or navigating a lineup multiple times like he would as a starter.
Mike Rosenbaum is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @GoldenSombrero.