Every Spring Training, prospects get a chance to show what they can do as they prepare for the upcoming season. Some compete for jobs in big league camp, while others vie for spots on Minor League affiliates. MLB Pipeline will visit all 30 camps this spring, and today we check
Every Spring Training, prospects get a chance to show what they can do as they prepare for the upcoming season. Some compete for jobs in big league camp, while others vie for spots on Minor League affiliates. MLB Pipeline will visit all 30 camps this spring, and today we check in on the Padres.
PEORIA, Ariz. - It's the player development equivalent of "With great power comes great responsibility." The Padres have the best farm system in baseball, and with that ranking comes a bar that has been raised quite a bit.
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"A lot had to go right last year and with that comes expectations for this next year," Padres farm director Sam Geaney said. "We very much have to continue to push forward."
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Not that he or anyone in the Padres' front office is complaining. The Padres are just getting their official Minor League Spring Training going, but even during their mini-camp of about 50 players, there was a certain kid-in-a-candy-store mentality.
"It is fun," Geaney said. "You end up missing a few things over the course of the day just because you have to make some hard decisions about what you watch. I have to make these terrible choices: Do I go watch Gabriel Arias take ground balls or do I watch MacKenzie Gore throw a bullpen? It's a nice problem to have."
It's also been nice to see a group of players perform in big league camp. Top prospect Fernando Tatis Jr., No. 3 Luis Urias, No. 4 Cal Quantrill, No. 9 Joey Lucchesi, No. 13 Eric Lauer, No. 14 Jacob Nix and No. 15 Josh Naylor were among those getting Cactus League action while the guys at the lower levels were being put through the paces in mini-camp.
"For the first time, we have that group over in big league camp," Geaney said. "In the last couple of years, our mini-camp dominated our stuff. Now we can also watch our Minor League players playing regularly in big league games. That's been fun."
While it's rare everything goes according to plan in player development, it largely has for the Padres after they started the rebuilding process. It's led to a deep system at pretty much every stage of development.
"[General Manager A.J. Preller] always talks about waves of talent," Geaney said. "We have that group getting to Major League camp, then we have this second group of guys who are going to play full-season ball for the first time. Then, even being in the penalty, I still feel we've added some international guys. The Yangervis Solarte trade brought us an interesting player in Edward Olivares. We're continuing to layer on top of the guys who probably make us ranked where we are."
That will eventually lead to a logjam of players as they reach the upper levels and the big leagues. Again, it's a good problem to have and Geaney is looking forward to being afforded more time to develop all of this talent.
"The first couple of years, we've been able to move guys as aggressively as their talent has allowed them and we've probably had some aggressive assignments," Geaney said. "I think it's natural that will slow down. Hopefully that lines up with a finer focus on finishing off pieces for some of these players. We definitely want to make sure that when we graduate them, they are very much prepared."
Tatis Jr. a special development case
Tatis went from the Midwest League to the Double-A Texas League at age 18 and more than held his own, finishing off a 20-30 season that led to him being ranked No. 8 on the overall Top 100 list. So if things get slowed down with development plans in a couple of years, that would mean the double-jump Tatis made in 2017 wouldn't happen, right?
"He is special," Geaney said. "I've been told there's not a lot to be learned from his 2017 season and what his developmental path is and is going to be because it's a special talent and those guys don't always follow conventional paths."
The Padres knew they were getting a special player when they acquired Tatis. But it would be understandable if even they were surprised by what he was able to accomplish. They wouldn't have predicted a finish in Double-A, but there wasn't a lot of shock in the front office when he got there.
"We knew he was very, very talented," Geaney said. "I do remember when we had him in extended in 2016 and the AZL, it's the same player. He's always had this raw, loose athleticism to his game and that's still there. He's tightened his swing up, his actions on defense have gotten better.
"I would think as far as being surprised by last year, by the time he got to instructs in 2016, it was pretty clear to all of us we were looking at a guy who had the chance to be our top prospect by the end of the year. Then he went out and we were pleasantly surprised with how well he progressed offensively, but it wasn't out of left field."
Tatis wasn't the only young middle infielder in the system who advanced in 2017. The Padres signed Justin Lopez for $1.2 million during their aggressive foray into the international market in July 2016. The teenager (he doesn't turn 18 until May) spent the regular season in the short-season Northwest League, but he got promoted to the full-season Midwest League for the postseason. He hit .246/.291/.324 with Tri-City last summer -- the promotion had more to do with his ability to defend at shortstop and second -- but based on his mini-camp, he looks ready to make the next step.
"He is physically starting to mature," Geaney said of the switch-hitting infielder. "He's very gifted defensively and showed up looking very strong. He had a very good offseason."
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB Pipeline. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMayo and Facebook, and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.