Smith, Nix headline Padres prospects at instructs
Young right-handers joined by shortstop Giron, outfielder Torres
No team had a busier offseason than the San Diego Padres.
First-year general manager A.J. Preller ushered in a wave of change for the organization, essentially rebuilding the club at the Major League level through a series of high-profile trades.The Padres revamped their entire outfield, acquiring Justin Upton, Matt Kemp and Wil Myers in separate deals, added right-handed power behind the plate in Derek Norris and solidified the bullpen by landing an elite closer in Craig Kimbrel.
However, acquiring the aforementioned players forced the Padres to part with many of their top prospects -- particularly pitching prospects. By the start of the 2015 season, Preller and company had traded away a host of young arms that ranked among the team's Top 30 prospects, including Max Fried, Joe Ross, Matt Wisler, Burch Smith, Seth Streich, Zach Eflin and Joe Wieland.
However, that the Padres traded away such an impressive crop of pitching prospects was also reflective of the organization's confidence in its next wave of young arms, many of whom are participating this fall in instructional league.
Smith, Nix seeking consistency
Austin Smith and Jacob Nix, the Padres' first two picks in the 2015 Draft, were included on the team's instructional league roster after up-and-down professional debuts in the rookie-level Arizona League.
Smith, the Padres' No. 4 prospect, was the team's first pick in 2015, selected in the second round (No. 51 overall) out of Park Vista Community (Fla.) High School. At 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, Smith is a projectable right-hander who stands out for his plus fastball -- working consistently in the low 90s while topping out around 95-96 mph -- and there's reason to believe more velocity will come with further development. His secondary pitches, a curveball and changeup, lag behind his heater, although both offering projects as at least average at maturity.
The athletic 19-year-old's workload was limited during his professional debut, as he logged only 17 innings over nine starts in the Arizona League, while never working more than two innings in a given outing. Smith finished his inaugural campaign with a 7.94 ERA, a 2.12 WHIP and a .375 opponents' batting average.
Nix, San Diego's No. 7 prospect, was selected in the third round, one year after he opted not to sign with the Astros as a fifth-round pick. Like Smith, the 19-year-old right-hander impressed with his fastball during his professional debut in the Arizona League, sitting in the low 90s while frequently bumping 95 mph. However, the 6-foot-3, 200-pounder's inconsistent mechanics and fringy secondary offerings led to mixed results, as he struck out 19 batters in 19 2/3 innings, but also posted a 5.49 ERA and a 1.53 WHIP.
On the rise: Giron and Torres
No. 6 prospect Ruddy Giron's stock rose this season thanks to an eye-opening full-season debut. Playing in 96 games for Class A Fort Wayne, the 18-year-old shortstop batted .285/.335/.407 with 25 extra-base hits, 49 RBIs and 15 steals.
Though he's only 5-foot-11, 175 pounds, the right-handed hitter showed more power than expected this season, connecting on nine home runs for the Whitecaps, and he did so without striking out at an alarming rate. Giron's defense doesn't project as favorably as his bat, however, as his average range and slightly above-average arm strength might be a cleaner fit at second base in the long term.
Outfielder Nick Torres -- a 2014 fourth-rounder out of Cal Poly -- also had a breakout full-season debut, batting .305/.352/.439 with 53 extra-base hits (44 doubles) and 70 RBIs in 129 games between Class A Fort Wayne and Class A Advanced Lake Elsinore. Unranked headed into the season, Torres' impressive campaign saw him emerge as the Padres' No. 21 prospect by midseason.
At 6'1", 220 pounds, Torres' physicality suggests he has more over-the-fence power than he's shown in the early stages of his career, as it's easy to envision some of those doubles eventually translating to home runs. But even if he isn't able to become a legitimate power threat, the 22-year-old's natural hitting ability could enable him to serve as a viable fourth outfielder.