Padres top prospects knocking on Major League door

March 31st, 2022

PEORIA, Ariz. -- The rubber is about to meet the road for some of the top prospects on their routes to San Diego.

Three of the Padres’ four Top 100 prospects CJ Abrams, Luis Campusano and MacKenzie Gore are all at varying degrees of Major League readiness. The latter two, in particular, seem on the edge of either forcing the issue to make the big club for good or losing prospect relevance as they potentially repeat Triple-A.

“You're talking about some premium positions whether it's shortstop, catcher, center field in some cases, pitcher,” said Padres director of player development Ryley Westman. “There's a lot of responsibility that goes into that, rather than being a freak and going to play. ... It’s the finer intricacies of the game [that push the envelope].”

Campusano is the most experienced of that bunch, at least in terms of seeing the Majors. The 23-year-old catcher came up for one game in 2020 and homered before suffering a wrist strain that kept him out the rest of the way. He returned for 11 games last season but went just 3-for-34 (.088) with 11 strikeouts. Campusano’s Triple-A numbers (.295/.365/.541, 15 homers in 81 games) speak better to his overall offensive potential, but even with 55-grade hit and power tools, he’s still trying to crack a roster that already claims three catchers in Austin Nola, Victor Carratini and Jorge Alfaro.

Given Campusano’s ceiling, Westman believes it’s just a matter of time before he jumps the line.

“It's just every single catcher in that grouping just has more experience than him,” said the Padres farm director. “I'm not going to say that a single one of those guys is more talented than him, but he needs to continue to get reps and experience managing a big-league staff, getting ready to prepare for those games.”

Gore’s case is not as simple. The 23-year-old left-hander was the Minors’ most dominant pitcher in 2019 with a 1.69 ERA in 101 innings at Single-A and High-A, but in both 2020 and 2021, he struggled to establish repeatable mechanics and his command was inconsistent. He still flashed ace potential with four above-average to plus pitches but was even sent back to Arizona for a spell last summer to iron out his delivery and still looked a work in progress during the Arizona Fall League.

Gore still looks much better this spring -- striking out 11 while walking one in nine innings as of Wednesday -- and there are some rumblings he could be pitching his way into San Diego’s rotation discussion earlier than expected.

“All the kudos in the world,” Westman said. “We’ve all failed, but we kind of expect to do it, whereas this kid has come in and been a phenom from day one. He's human and he's going to face failures to varying degrees, but for him to stay positive, work through it, be back at a place where he's explosive down the mound, I think a ton of credit goes to the kid on that.”

Finally, we at MLB Pipeline put Abrams down as a 2023 ETA for a reason. The 21-year-old shortstop played only 42 games in Double-A last season before he suffered multiple leg injuries that ended his campaign in late June. It would stand to reason he would need maybe more Double-A looks and then some time at Triple-A before seeing San Diego.

Then again, little of Abrams’ ability stands to reason. The 2019 sixth overall pick was an 80-grade runner before the injury, and he’s looked every bit as athletic since his return by holding his own with a .304/.333/.565 line over 11 games on the MLB side this spring.

San Diego has an open infield spot with one week remaining in spring camp and, according to’s AJ Cassavell, that looks likely to be given to a non-member of the 40-man roster. It’s possible Abrams, who has played both middle infield spots in the spring and could see center at some point, might not just be proving his health, he could also be proving his MLB readiness or at least Triple-A readiness.

“We are super excited about how he's running, how he's throwing, how he's reaching,” Westman said. “Once he’s getting on the bases, we like how he's making those turns. Where's he gonna end up ultimately, he'll tell us. We're just happy to see him healthy.”

Whether it’s Opening Day, sometime in May or even a late-season call-up for all three promising prospects, the Padres have a set standard on when they will make those calls to The Show.

“One of the biggest differences between those Minor Leaguers and big leaguers is just the consistency and efficiency that you're able to repeat on a daily basis,” Westman said. “Physically it's probably not that much different than what these guys were when we drafted them. But as far as their abilities to command, repeat, add, subtract, process the game quickly, it’s going to come down to a lot of those lines.”

Camp standout: James Wood
Physically, Wood is a literal standout on the backfields of the Peoria Sports Complex. The 2021 second-rounder measures in at 6-foot-7, 240 pounds, and he brings the above-average power from the left side that comes with that. What might shock Westman and his fellow Padres staffers most is Wood’s speed at that size.

“He's such an impressive mover,” Westman said. “It's a 4.1 down the base path. He's a guy we're going to put in center field this year. Honestly, some people might think, ‘Oh, you're trying to create value.’ But we think the guy could play center field. He has long levers but it's short, it’s quick. He has had a tremendous spring.”

It’s worth noting that the Maryland native was considered a plus runner already coming out of the Draft, and he has the above-average arm for right field if needed. It might just come down to how much he hits. Wood was dinged for being a little too passive in his plate appearances at IMG Academy, and while he did hit .372/.465/.535 over 26 games in the ACL last year, he also struck out 31.7 percent of the time at the complex. If the hit tool comes around, Westman and the Padres’ excitement might jump a level.

Prospect we’ll be talking about in 2023: Euribiel Angeles
The 19-year-old infielder is already on the minds of some San Diego fans after he led the system with a .329 average over 105 games at Low-A and High-A in 2021. His .343 mark at Lake Elsinore was best among all Low-A qualifiers to boot. As a $300,000 signing from July 2018, Angeles wasn’t on many radars but certainly put himself on some with those numbers.

Anything close to a repeat in 2022 would only push his stock up further, and that’s possible because he makes a good amount of contact with a strikeout rate of just 15.7 percent last season. The Padres believe that’s a transferable skill and that Angeles’ quality of contact upon impact will only improve as he matures physically and in his approach.

“He has really good hand-eye [coordination],” Westman said. “But if you were to sit down and walk through his at-bat with him afterward, you’d hear a young kid tell you his process back on what he was thinking. … He's like, ‘What am I capable of? What am I looking for? Am I gonna stay disciplined to that?’ He's pretty far advanced in that way of thinking.”

Something to prove: MacKenzie Gore
Gore is a top-five member of the Something to Prove club in the Minors this season.

The left-hander dropped from the No. 3 overall ranking at the end of the 2020 season to his current spot at No. 86. He only held onto a Top 100 spot because the quality of stuff remains so good that it feels too early to give up on him yet. He’s rewarded that faith this spring, but three short bursts of results do not a full comeback make. More promising than the plentiful strikeouts and low walks are the velocity return and sharpness of the off-speed.