Friars' depth key in handling prospect setbacks

No. 6-ranked Espinoza needs TJ surgery, but Padres have plenty of starting talent in ranks

July 29th, 2017

Bill Center, longtime sportswriter for U-T San Diego, is an employee of the Padres.

The news wasn't good.

Right-handed pitcher Anderson Espinoza, the Padres sixth-best prospect according to MLBPipeline, will have Tommy John surgery next week.

But this isn't the end of the world for the gifted Espinoza or the Padres' pitching prospects.

Truth is, one of the two pitching prospects rated higher than Espinoza is a Tommy John graduate named Cal Quantrill, who recently advanced to Double-A.

And nine of the Padres' top 15 prospects are healthy starting pitchers.

"You are going to have setbacks when it comes to pitching prospects," Padres general manager A.J. Preller said Friday after announcing Espinoza's pending surgery, which will be performed in Texas by Dr. Keith Meister.

"The idea is create a lot of depth. We think we're creating depth. and are already members of our rotation. We've seen a lot of upward mobility this season from highly regarded arms throughout the system."

Three of the Padres' top pitching prospects -- Quantrill, Eric Lauer (No. 8) and Joey Lucchesi (No. 9) -- earned midseason promotions from Class A Advanced Lake Elsinore to Double-A San Antonio, where they joined (No. 13).

The Padres' fifth-rated prospect and fourth-ranked pitcher Adrian Morejon was promoted from Class A Short Season Tri-City earlier this week to Class A Fort Wayne, where he joins fellow Cuban prospects Michel Baez (No. 7 on the Padres' prospect list) and Ronald Bolanos, and teenage top-30 prospects Mason Thompson (No. 19) and Reggie Lawson (No. 27).

The Padres currently have two top-30 prospects starting at Lake Elsinore -- No. 14 Logan Allen and No. 15 Jacob Nix -- and two more in the Arizona Rookie League.

Leading that list is left-hander MacKenzie Gore, who went from being the third overall pick in the June Draft to the Padres' No. 1 prospect, and the 29th-rated prospect in the Minor Leagues.

In fact, the Padres have six of's top 100 prospects, including four pitchers: Gore, Quantrill (No. 43), Morejon (No. 80) and Espinosa (No. 83).

Acquired from Boston last season in the trade that sent left-handed starter to the Red Sox, Espinoza was among the 100-plus quality prospects the Padres have acquired through the Draft, trades and international signings over the past 20 months.

Stockpiling quality prospects is the cornerstone of developing a successful organization.

"You need a quantity of quality," Preller said. "There are going to be losses to injuries. Some players won't develop as expected. But the more quality prospects you add over time, the more are going to reach the Major Leagues with you."

Among the young prospects who have reached the Major Leagues with the Padres over the past two-plus seasons are Perdomo, Lamet, , , , , , , , and .

"It's fun to see every night a quality starter at every level," Preller said. "And we think Espinoza will come back fine from this."

Again, the Padres have some recent examples of pitchers returning from Tommy John surgery.

Quantrill is progressing nicely.

And right-hander Chris Paddack the team's 27th-ranked prospect, will likely pitch in the Arizona Instructional League this fall after having Tommy John surgery last season.

"We've been very excited about Paddack's rehab," Preller said. "He's throwing bullpens right now in Arizona and looks good."

Espinoza, a 19-year-old from Venezuela, hasn't pitched in a game this year while rehabbing from continued elbow soreness. Each time he neared a return, the soreness returned.

His most recent round of throwing helped determine Espinoza suffered a tear to the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow.

He will miss the rest of this season and all of next, but will only be 21 when he completes rehab and the returns have been promising on players his age returning from Tommy John surgery.