No. 3 prospect Lesko making good on 2024 goal

May 30th, 2024

This story was excerpted from AJ Cassavell’s Padres Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

In March, as he readied to pitch in the Padres’ Spring Breakout prospect showcase against the Mariners, 20-year-old right-hander laid out this goal for the 2024 season:

“Go out each start and get better,” Lesko said. “Maybe the results won’t be better every time. But personally, just work every day, get in a better spot and by the end of the year, be the best I can be.”

Through eight starts, the Padres’ No. 3 prospect, is on that trajectory. Which is to say, he’s getting better. After a slow start, Lesko, who is ranked No. 70 overall by MLB Pipeline, is coming off consecutive outings in which he pitched one-run ball over five innings. He’s struck out 13 in that span and has allowed only five hits.

“The evidence of his stuff and the weapons that he’s able to show each week, it’s been fun to see,” said Mike Daly, Lesko’s manager at High-A Fort Wayne and the Padres’ assistant director of player development. “As he’s continued to get more starts and outings and innings, the ability to be in zone has progressed. Of late, that’s been the real separator.”

It was just over two years ago that Lesko underwent Tommy John surgery, which cut short his senior season at Buford High School in Georgia. The Padres selected him in the first round that summer, knowing his recovery would be an extended one.

Lesko made his pro debut on July 21, but he was limited. He pitched only 33 innings. This year, for the first time, really, since 2021, Lesko is back to just pitching -- without a focus on the injury, without a focus on the recovery.

The early results have been mixed. He’s missed bats -- 35 strikeouts across 29 innings -- and he’s only allowed 15 hits. But he’s been undone by his control issues, with 30 walks -- more than one per inning.

Needless to say, that’s not sustainable. Lesko sports a 6.52 ERA, but his stuff -- his high-octane fastball, putaway changeup and two supplementary breaking pitches -- remains nasty. When Lesko is in the strike zone, recent evidence suggests his stuff clearly plays. That’s the next step.

“All the work that he’s putting in on a daily basis that gets him ready for Saturday is to continue to focus on the command,” Daly said. “Because his stuff, his natural talents, his abilities are evident. The repetition aspect -- the opportunity just to be able to do his work day in and day out -- we continue to see positive steps in the right direction.”

Two months into the season, here's a look around the rest of the Padres' system:

Triple-A El Paso: Graham Pauley (No. 6) turned in a monster effort over the weekend, homering twice on Saturday, and he notched three more hits on Wednesday night. On the mound, Nick Hernandez, who got his big league breakthrough last season, has struck out 10 in his last three outings (four innings) and has a 2.08 ERA over his 21 2/3 innings in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League.

Double-A San Antonio: No. 9 prospect Austin Krob pitched six scoreless frames May 19 to lower his ERA to 4.00. Ryan Bergert (No. 7) pitched six innings of two-run ball on Tuesday.

High-A Fort Wayne: In addition to Lesko's progress, Homer Bush Jr. (No. 8) is reaching at a .371 clip and has already swiped 26 bags in 43 games to lead the Midwest League. Meanwhile, Jay Beshears (No. 27) has continued to rake since his promotion, hitting .283/.389/.391 in his first 13 games.

Single-A Lake Elsinore: No. 19 prospect Isaiah Lowe was hit hard Saturday in his last outing, but he's still posted a 4.26 ERA across eight outings with 36 strikeouts in 25 1/3 innings.