Instructional league play is, by its very nature, a place for young players to learn. It's done away from the spotlight, with lots of individual time with coaches and typically without any intense competition even when playing a limited game schedule against other organizations' instructs rosters.Instructional league rostersA few years
Instructional league play is, by its very nature, a place for young players to learn. It's done away from the spotlight, with lots of individual time with coaches and typically without any intense competition even when playing a limited game schedule against other organizations' instructs rosters.
Instructional league rosters
A few years ago, the Padres decided to mix things up a little bit. First tested out in 2015, then opened up to the public, the Don Welke On Deck Classic at Petco Park has become an event folks in San Diego look forward to and gives the Padres a perfect way to end their instructs season.
This year's game is on Thursday and, once again, will put San Diego's instructs roster up against the Texas Rangers. And with all the talk about the organization's future, people are bound to show up. Current big leaguers like Eric Lauer, Jacob Nix and Luis Urias played in this game in years past, and the Padres are expecting a solid crowd to come and watch the next wave.
"With where we're at as an organization, we've placed a huge investment in acquiring talent," Padres farm director Sam Geaney said. "It's a very cool showcase to show our community and fans players maybe they've heard about, but perhaps not seen."
The Padres try to get as many of their instructs players involved in the trip as possible, but only a select group gets to play in the main event, slated to start at 6:10 p.m. local time on Thursday. It gives the player development staff an excellent motivation tool to keep players working hard in the month of September.
"It's a carrot," Geaney said. "There are a lot of players in camp, and not everyone will be able to play in the night showcase game. There will be a morning game, too, not open to the public, so it creates some good internal competition. We put who we think is our best group of players on the field for the one night.
"Some of the most fun we've had have been these On Deck games. Maybe it's the time of year, seeing all of our players playing together on our Major League field. Seeing how they take it, it can bring out the best in a lot of them."
• Padres instructional league roster and schedule
Geaney and his staff have plenty of talent to choose from. Just over half of the organization's Top 30 Prospects were at instructs this month. The top-ranked prospect participating has been Michel Baez, who is No. 60 on the overall Top 100 list. He's part of a group of nine higher-level players who are part of an advanced group that also includes Top 30 guys like right-hander Reggie Lawson and outfielder Edward Olivares. While these players are more advanced in terms of the level they played at compared to some of the teenagers at instructs, Geaney points out that they're very young and still have plenty to work on. All three will be at Petco Park on Thursday.
"We are very young at all of our levels," Geaney said. "It still makes sense for them to be a part of an instructs program. They're participants in most activities, but it looks a little different. For some of the more advanced guys, we're even more cognizant of reps and where their bodies are at and have an even finer focus on parts of their game."
One prospect Padres fans will have to wait a little longer to see is 2018 first-round Draft pick Ryan Weathers. The left-hander has been at instructs after a summer debut that saw him pitch briefly before being pushed to full-season ball, but he won't appear at Petco Park on Thursday. Instead, David Weathers' son will head home with a firm grasp of what he needs to work on to get ready for his first full season.
"We moved him quickly this summer because we wanted to see how he responded, and he looked at ease and comfortable pitching in full-season ball against guys much older," Geaney said. "Ryan's a very advanced pitcher -- he throws strikes and he has the chance to throw a plus changeup and maybe a plus breaking ball. There's an 'on-boarding' program for all of our draftees to see what our side sessions, our arm care, our conditioning are like. All that's happened with him.
"We view instructional league not so much a continuation of the 2018 season, but a start of the offseason. We hope to leave them with how the offseason can be a real weapon for them. His program has been directed with that goal in mind."
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB Pipeline. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMayo and Facebook, and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.