Two Padres Power Arms Gather Momentum In Class A

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The volume of pitching prospects at the upper levels of the Padres system—Joe Wieland in the big leagues, Casey Kelly in Triple-A (recovering from elbow soreness) and Robbie Erlin, Juan Oramas and Keyvius Sampson in Double-A—obscures the fact that San Diego has a pair of interesting power arms percolating in the low minors.

• Venezuelan righthander Adys Portillo has added about 40 pounds since signing as a lanky 16-year-old in 2008, and he has shown signs early this season that he's learning to harness his power stuff while growing more comfortable with his new physique.

In a May 3 start for low Class A Fort Wayne, the 20-year-old Portillo completed seven scoreless innings against West Michigan, striking out six and allowing just three baserunners via two hits and a walk. That last number is most critical for a pitcher who has touched 100 mph in the past but is coming off a season in which he walked six batters per nine innings.

Padres vice president of player development Randy Smith believes Portillo is beginning to turn his impressive raw tools into results as he repeats the Midwest League.

"(Fort Wayne pitching coach) Willie Blair has done a great job with him and reported that his start last night was Portillo's best of his career," said Smith, who helped sign Portillo four years ago in his other role as international scouting director. "He had good composure in a tight game with dominant stuff."

Portillo sat 95 mph and touched 98 in that game, and he located his riding fastball down in the zone as well as he ever had. As he has enhanced his tempo and direction to the plate, his curveball has gained velocity and bite.

Never before in his brief career had Portillo completed seven innings in one start, and through six turns he's gone 1-1, 1.72 with 32 whiffs, 15 walks and 17 hits allowed in 31 1/3 innings. His .159 opponent average trails only Diamondbacks uber-prospect Archie Bradley among MWL starters.

• No high Class A hurler this season has turned in a more dominant start than Lake Elsinore righthander Burch Smith, a 14th-round pick from Oklahoma last year (signed for a well-above-slot $250,000) who bypassed the low Class A level entirely on his way to the California League.

In his April 28 start versus Rancho Cucamonga, Smith carried a no-hitter into the eighth inning before surrendering a double to the leadoff batter. While the 22-year-old wound up allowing a hit and a run over his 7 2/3 innings, he also struck out 13 and walked two. He brandishes a sparkling 33-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 27 innings this season.

"He's got a big arm," Randy Smith said. "He pitches 90-95 (mph), and we had him as high as 98 this spring. He's got a good downer curveball, and we project his changeup to average as well. He's a very interesting arm."