Padres reach terms with top pick Abrams

June 9th, 2019

SAN DIEGO -- CJ Abrams arrived at Petco Park on Saturday afternoon, sporting a fresh brown Padres polo to his introductory press conference. Afterward, he strolled through the home clubhouse, watched batting practice and mingled with Manny Machado.

"As soon as I can, I want to get out here in San Diego," said Abrams, who was selected No. 6 overall in the Draft on Monday night. "There's nowhere else I want to be."

Of course, now that the Padres have agreed to terms with their 18-year-old shortstop prospect, it's easy to envision Abrams making Petco Park his home. And fast.

The Padres, perhaps more than any other team, have moved their prospects quickly to the big leagues. Abrams was in attendance Friday night to see it first-hand. Fernando Tatis Jr. homered and had three hits. Josh Naylor hit the game-tying single with two outs in the ninth. They’re 20 and 21, respectively.

"The good ones come quick," general manager A.J. Preller likes to say.

By all accounts, Abrams is one of the good ones. A speedy 6-foot-1 shortstop, he took home Gatorade Player of the Year honors for his home state of Georgia. He batted .431 during his senior season.

According to sources, the Padres locked up Abrams with a $5.2 million signing bonus -- more than half a million dollars below the allotted value for the No. 6 pick. Abrams will report to the team's minicamp in Peoria, Ariz., on Monday.

"I just want to get to the bigs as fast as I can," Abrams said. "I'm going to work hard, do what I can to get there and help the Padres win a World Series."

Though he was drafted as a shortstop, Abrams seems destined to switch positions at some point during his development. Tatis is the obvious shortstop of the future in San Diego. Meanwhile, the Padres have a long-term opening in center field -- and, to a lesser extent, at second base. Abrams is a candidate to play both spots.

For now, Abrams will report as a shortstop, and he's clearly got the tools the position, with an excellent arm and the athleticism to match it. Abrams' signature skill is his speed, and he’s potentially the fastest player in the entire Draft. He's also an advanced hitter -- one who struck out just 12 times over four high school seasons.

"He just has a knack to square baseballs up, and that's hard to find," Preller said. "He has a good swing, too. He's not just a singles hitter. He's going to need to get in the weight room and continue naturally to develop some strength. But it's an advanced high school bat."

"I just see ball, hit ball," Abrams said. "I try to keep it simple at the plate. Striking out isn't something I want to do."

So what do Abrams' advanced plate skills and his already-elite speed mean for his progression toward the big leagues? Well, that's dependent upon how he fares in the lower levels of the Minors.

There's a chance he's fast-tracked. Xavier Edwards was the Padres second selection last year, a speedy middle-infielder with a similar skill set. It won't be long before he's promoted to Class A Advanced Lake Elsinore. Some feel as though Abrams could take a similar path -- perhaps moving even quicker.

"That's the kind of guy you want to give to your development staff," Preller said of Abrams. "He's got 'now' ability. But we think he's just scratching the surface of what he can do."

The Padres certainly don't shy away from giving opportunity to their young hitters. (Provided, of course, that they hit.) Naylor and Tatis serve as perfect examples. Both are contributing earlier than expected -- and they're doing so in a big way.

In that regard, the Padres' top-ranked group of prospects could use reinforcements, with Naylor and Tatis poised to graduate. Well, one of those reinforcements arrived Saturday afternoon -- in the form of a 6-foot-1, lefty hitting speedster with elite bat-to-ball skills.

"Always good to add a guy like this to the system," Preller said with a smile. "He's a premium talent."