PEORIA, Ariz. -- From 2018 to 2019, the Padres improved by just four games at the big league level while generally getting credit for having baseball's best farm system.
Exhibit A, of course, was Fernando Tatis Jr., who finished third in National League Rookie of the Year Award voting in 2019, but it also includes major contributors like Chris Paddack. In the past two years, the Padres have seen others at least reach the Majors, like Joey Lucchesi, Cal Quantrill and the since-traded Eric Lauer. That’s just part of a wave hitting the big leagues.
“It was probably in 2018 when we first started seeing our first group of guys, some from our 2016 Draft when we had a lot of picks, start to be a presence in Major League camp and touch the big leagues,” Padres farm director Sam Geaney said. “This year, we saw the initial group of our more recent Drafts and our 2016 July 2 international class, a guy like Gabriel Arias, being in big league camp. We think it’s going to be that group, along with some of the Major League acquisitions over the last couple of years, who are going to lead to more exciting and competitive baseball this year and going forward.”
The going forward part is the trick, of course. Many teams have had a wave of players come through that have helped the big league team become competitive, with the Cubs and Braves coming to mind immediately. Behind Tatis and Paddack are top pitching prospects like MacKenzie Gore and Luis Patiño. Being able to win and keep that pipeline going, like the Dodgers have been able to do? That’s a different issue, even when you have the No. 2-ranked system in baseball.
“We try not to get too into where we’re ranked prospect-wise,” Geaney said. “I think we have a lot of good young players, but I think the challenge for our next group of young guys is, as some of these guys graduate, can we maintain a very high-caliber farm system, like some other organizations have been able to do?
“It’s not just one singular wave of players. Can we build a layer behind as we graduate the other guys? Do we have a next group of players? I think we do, but ultimately, it’s on our staff and players to prove that it’s not just a one- or two-year thing. Hopefully it’s a longer window for us.”
One of the potential leaders for that next wave of talent could very well be Gabriel Arias. The young shortstop is currently at No. 8 on the Padres’ Top 30 list and was part of a huge Padres haul during the 2016-17 international signing period. Some of the pitchers from that crop, Adrian Morejon and Michel Baez, have reached San Diego. Arias, who just recently turned 20, is starting to stand out as the best hitter from the class, and he certainly opened some eyes by hitting .308 in 13 at-bats in Cactus League action while more than holding his own defensively.
“He spent his entire offseason with us here,” Geaney said. “He really dove into continuing to develop as an offensive player -- a lot of really good work with our group here on his body. He made a tremendous impression, made highlight-reel plays in big league camp. He took a lot of work he did in the offseason on his bat into games. It was a very impressive look and he positioned himself to be right there top 100 wise in the future.”
Prospect we'll be talking about in 2021
When talking about left-handed pitching prospects and the Padres, most understandably think about top prospect MacKenzie Gore, and with good reason. But there are many other southpaws worth discussing in this system. And in another year, the Padres think a lot more people will know about Joey Cantillo.
A 16th-round pick in the 2017 Draft out of the Hawaii high school ranks, Cantillo is coming off of a very strong first real taste of full-season ball that saw him dominate the Midwest League and finish in the California League. Currently, he’s No. 10 on the Padres’ Top 30, but could be on the move as he moves up the organizational ladder.
“I think he’s ready to go to high-A, since he touched there last year,” Geaney said. “We have a lot of good left-handed pitching prospects, some who have already touched the big leagues. And we have the most talented one in the Minors. Joey potentially is a guy who’s starting to get to the point in the system where he’s going to some offensive environments, but he has makeup, size, left-handedness, he’s continued to get better. He’s still so young. We have a chance to look up and he’ll be on a lot more people’s radars.”
Something to prove
In many ways, lefty Adrian Morejon has done exactly what was hoped when the Padres signed him for $11 million in July 2016. He did, after all, make his Major League debut in 2019 at age 20. But he’s had trouble staying healthy with a series of issues (flexor, triceps, shoulder) and had amassed only 164 1/3 innings in the Minors. So as good as his stuff is, it’s still hard to know exactly what kind of big league pitcher he is.
“I think Adrian is as talented a left-handed pitching prospect as there is in the game, and I’m including Mac,” Geaney said. “It’s weird because he’s gotten to the big leagues, but he’s still a prospect and he’s only 21.
“The question is, is he a frontline Major League starter because he definitely has that kind of ceiling? Can he stay on the field and take the ball? Or does he end up with a different role?”