Padres reshuffle farm system with eye to '22

October 19th, 2021

SAN DIEGO -- The 2021 Minor League season was defined by major changes for the Padres. Before the year began, San Diego saw an overhaul of its farm system, as general manager A.J. Preller went on an offseason spending spree to acquire a trove of big league-caliber talent.

Then, after a disheartening 2021 season, the Padres reshuffled some of their leadership on the player development and scouting end. Sam Geaney was let go after seven seasons as farm director, replaced by Ryley Westman. Meanwhile, Mark Conner moved to a special assistant role after his seven seasons as scouting director, with Chris Kemp assuming control of all scouting duties. (He had previoulsy served exclusively in an international scouting capacity.)

After all the shakeups, changes and trades, the Padres will still enter the 2022 season with reasons to be optimistic about their Minor League talent, even if they no longer boast one of the consensus top farm systems in the sport. They're hopeful to get a bit more out of their players from a development standpoint. Perhaps that portends a re-evaluation of their development methods this winter. But the players themselves feature serious upside.

That’s true well beyond just top prospect CJ Abrams, who could be in line for a big league breakthrough next season. Here's a breakdown of the Padres’ Minor League season that was, and what comes next:

3 players who forced their way onto the radar

Sure, Hassell was already on the radar before the 2021 season. But after the Padres selected him in the first round of the 2020 Draft, he exceeded those lofty expectations in his first full pro season.

Hassell batted .302/.393/.470 with 11 homers, splitting time between a couple different levels. He's even played a serviceable center field. It might be a bit too much to ask for a big league breakthrough for the 20-year-old Hassell in '22. But his development is one of the brightest aspects of the Padres' farm system.

The Padres’ 2019 second-round Draft pick, Mears batted .244/.368/.529 in his first full professional season at Class A Lake Elsinore. There are still question marks about Mears' defense and whether his swing has too many holes. But the upside is legit.

Mears has the type of raw power that is impossible to ignore, as evidenced by his 117.3 mph missile of a home run in Spring Training. He also has enough plate discipline to make that power play (though he'll almost certainly always have swing-and-miss in his game).

Elliott was tabbed as the Padres' Minor League Pitcher of the Year by MLB Pipeline after an unexpected breakout 2021 campaign. A 10th-round pick out of Division II Lincoln Memorial in '19, Elliott led all Padres Minor Leaguers with at least 70 innings pitched with a 3.06 ERA and 1.10 WHIP between High-A and Double-A.

2 breakout players to watch in 2022

No Padres prospect turned more heads in a shorter period of time than Wood. A second-round pick in the 2021 Draft, Wood posted a .372/.465/.535 slash line in the Arizona Complex League.

Wood boasts plenty of athleticism to go along with his hulking 6-foot-7, 240-pound frame. He's held his own defensively, and his swing certainly doesn't appear to be too long (which was originally the biggest concern coming out of the Draft). Wood made a big-time first impression in 2021, as much for his makeup as his talents. If he continues to progress at this rate, he could be a Top-100 Prospect in no time.

One of the most intriguing picks on Day 2 of the 2021 Draft, Kopps is expected to move quickly through the Padres' system. After he won the Golden Spikes Award as the top player in college baseball, Kopps pitched only 14 2/3 professional innings this season. The Padres were wary of his workload after an intensive college season at Arkansas.

Kopps will be pushed harder in his first full pro season. With an excellent cutter and a putaway curveball, Kopps doesn't boast big-time velocity. But he induces plenty of swings and misses. He might be a candidate for a big league breakthrough in 2022 if the Padres find themselves in need of bullpen arms.

1 big question for next season

This one should be obvious enough: Can MacKenzie Gore take the next step and become an impactful front-of-the-rotation big leaguer?

Gore's 2021 season was marred by stops and starts. He was shut down midseason with blister issues, then he remained at the team's training complex in Peoria, Ariz., where he worked to hone his mechanics.

The numbers were encouraging after his late-August return to the mound. He posted a 2.67 ERA in six starts, mostly against lower-level competition. But many of the same command issues lingered.

The ceiling remains indelibly high for Gore, once the sport's top overall pitching prospect. If he were to reach that ceiling, it would be a huge boost for the Padres. It was, after all, a lack of organizational pitching depth that came back to bite them in 2021.