International Reviews: San Diego Padres
Top signing: LHP Adrian Morejon, Cuba, $11 million.
Total signings: 54.
The Padres are in full-on rebuilding mode. As part of that effort to bolster the farm system, the Padres have committed nearly $80 million between signing bonuses and their upcoming overage tax payment toward signing international amateur players since the 2016-17 signing period opened, with the $2.5 million signing of lefthander Osvaldo Hernandez earlier this month their latest expenditure. While most teams in baseball have gone over their bonus pool at some point since the pools began in 2012, only the Dodgers have spent more money than the Padres in one signing period, with the Padres’ class looking more appealing. With the 2016-17 signing period still open until June 15 and Cuban outfielder Luis Robert still available, it’s possible their spending spree could continue. And with the exciting injection of all the new players entering the farm system, the Padres will field two teams this year in the Rookie-level Arizona League. As a penalty for exceeding their bonus pool, the Padres won't be able to sign any players subject to the bonus pools for more than $300,000 in the next two signing periods.
The Padres signed 18-year-old Cuban lefthander Adrian Morejon for $11 million, the largest bonus of the 2016-17 signing period. Morejon made his mark in 2015 when he was the MVP of the 15U World Cup in Mexico. Cuba beat the United States in the gold-medal game, with Morejon throwing 124 pitches in a complete-game, 6-3 victory with 12 strikeouts and one walk. Morejon had just come off an outstanding season in Cuba’s 15U national league, where he was by far the league leader in strikeouts (113) with 15.0 K/9, a 1.93 ERA and 30 walks. He even pitched briefly for Mayabeque in Serie Nacional, facing hitters a decade or two older than him. At that time, Morejon’s fastball sat in the upper-80s and touched 91, impressive for a 15-year-old lefty, but even more impressive was just how easily Morejon made it look with his smooth delivery and feel for pitching. When he got to the Dominican Republic, his velocity increased to sit in the low-90s and touched 95 mph, and since then he’s reached 96. He had good spin on his curveball when he pitched in Mexico, then when he got to the Dominican Republic that pitch looked better, flashing above-average. His changeup is another pitch with swing-and-miss action. Morejon throws his changeup with two different grips, one a knuckle change that dives late, while the one with a more traditional grip has late sink and fade. At 6-foot-1, 190 pounds, Morejon has a relatively filled out, compact frame, with clean arm action and fluid, repeatable mechanics, though he did struggle throwing strikes at times in Cuba. Now the same age as a high school senior in the U.S., would be a potential top 10 pick if he were eligible for this year’s draft. Instead, he’s expected to pitch at one of the Padres’ Class A affiliates this season with a chance to move quickly, already ranking as the No. 98 prospect in baseball.
Cuban outfielder Jorge Oña signed with the Padres for $7 million, tying Cuban shortstop Alfredo Rodriguez (Reds) for the second-highest bonus of the signing period. Oña, 20, hit well in Cuba’s 18U national league and made his mark in Mexico at the 2014 COPABE 18U Pan American Championship, where he led the tournament in batting average (.636) and slugging (1.364), going 14-for-22 with four home runs, eight walks and five strikeouts in eight games. At that time, Oña showed good bat speed, a compact swing from the right side and plus raw power, along with a solid idea of the strike zone. After that tournament while he was still in Cuba, Oña’s swing changed, taking away some of his natural rhythm and actions in the box, but he has a chance to hit and hit for power from his strong 6-foot-1, 220-pound frame. Oña got heavier in Cuba and will have to keep his conditioning in check. He’s a fringy runner who might slow down more, with a strong arm that could play in right field.
In December, the Padres signed 21-year-old Cuban righthander Michel Baez for $3 million. He’s an enormous human being, 6-foot-8, 220 pounds with a fastball that sits in the low-90s with cutting action and has reached 97 mph with steep downhill angle. It’s a rise in velocity from where he was in Cuba, where he pitched for their 18U national team in 2014 and in their national 18U league that year posted a 2.08 ERA with 52 strikeouts and 31 walks in 69.1 innings. He then pitched in Serie Nacional in 2014-15 out of the Mayabeque bullpen, where he had a 5.05 ERA with more walks (16) than strikeouts (14) in 26.2 innings. The Padres liked Baez’s secondary pitches, including a curveball and changeup.
Righthander Ronald Bolaños, who was teammates with Baez on the 18U national team in 2014 and back home with Mayabeque, signed with the Padres for $2.25 million in August. Bolaños developed as an outfielder in the Cuban junior leagues, but he converted to pitching and took to it quickly. He pitched mostly as a reliever in Cuba’s 18 league, where he had a 2.02 ERA with a 38-19 K-BB mark in 35.2 innings in 2014, then led the team with 15 strikeouts in nine scoreless innings at the COPABE 18U Pan American Championship in Mexico that year. A good athlete with long arms, Bolaños added about 10-15 pounds since leaving Cuba and was 6-foot-2, 190 pounds when he’s signed, with another 15-20 pounds on his frame since then. His fastball jumped from the 88-93 mph when he was in Cuba up to 90-96 mph once he got to the Dominican Republic. He has a hard slider up to the mid-80s with late break that flashes above-average but is still inconsistent. That’s his best chance for an out pitch, with a slurvy curveball in his mix as well.
Another Cuban signing with a lower profile the Padres added in December is Ramon Perez, a 17-year-old lefty signed for $400,000 in December. Perez pitched for Guantanamo in Cuba’s 18U national league in 2015 when he was 15, posting a 3.38 ERA in 58.2 innings with 39 strikeouts and a league-leading 51 walks. The previous year he had pitched in the country’s 15U league, where he had a 1.34 ERA in 74 innings with 80 strikeouts and 35 walks, ranking third in the league in both ERA and strikeouts. Perez has a sturdy, mature build (6-foot-1, 190 pounds) with a fastball that sits in the upper-80s and touches 92 mph. He’s shown some feel to spin a curveball with a changeup in his arsenal as well, though he may have to make some mechanical adjustments to throw more strikes. He will probably debut in the Rookie-level Arizona League. Even without their Cuban signings, the Padres still came away with a huge haul from the more traditional July 2 signings, mixing top players from the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Mexico and Taiwan in their class.
The biggest bonus ($4.05 million on July 2) went to 17-year-old Dominican shortstop Luis Almanzar, who trained with Ivan Noboa. Born and raised in the Dominican Republic, Almanzar grew up playing a lot of organized baseball, traveling to Aberdeen, Md. in 2012 to play in the Cal Ripken World Series. At 15, Almanzar played one season at American Heritage (Plantation, Fla.) High, one of the powerhouse high school baseball programs in the country, and performed well there before moving back to the Dominican Republic to sign. A lot of teams didn’t get many looks at Almanzar, but he was one of the best hitters in the class. He has good bat speed with a clean, compact stroke that stays through the hitting zone a long time. He’s calm and balanced at the plate, tracking pitches well with a sharp eye to pick up spin and control the strike zone. He has the swing path and barrel control to make contact at a high clip, performing well in games by lacing line drives and using the right-center field gap. Almanzar has strong hands and forearms and makes hard contact in games, with a chance to 20-plus home runs in the future once he learns how to turn on pitches he can drive. The most common question scouts had on Almanzar was where he would play. He has a thicker build for a shortstop along the lines of Addison Russell, who coming into his senior of high school dropped 20 pounds and worked his way into a plus fielding shortstop in the big leagues. While a lot of scouts from other clubs felt Almanzar would likely end up going to third or second base, the Padres think he has a chance to stay at shortstop. At 6 feet, 180 pounds, Almanzar has already improved his conditioning since signing, with a solid arm and the ability to make off balance throws on the move. His defense is still not as polished as his hitting, though, but he has a chance to be an offensive-oriented shortstop. He should get started this year in the AZL.
Venezuelan shortstop Gabriel Arias joined Almanzar as one of the select handful of elite prospects in the 2016 class, signing with the Padres for $1.9 million on July 2. Arias, who trained with Ciro Barrios, has an excellent blend of physicality, athleticism, tools and baseball skills for a 17-year-old. Arias has represented Venezuela at multiple international tournaments, including the 15U World Cup in 2014, where he was the youngest player on the team as a 14-year-old and went 4-for-9 with two doubles and four walks. Signed at 6-foot-2, 180 pounds, he’s added 10 pounds of good weight since then with room to continue filling out his lean frame. He’s a righthanded hitter with good bat speed, clean swing path and sound hitting mechanics, with his hands and hips working well together. He’s a smart hitter who controls the strike zone and is adept at driving the ball to right-center field, though at times he can get jumpy and will pull off the ball. The added strength has helped Arias drive the ball with greater exit velocity, with the potential to hit 20 home runs in the future. While there were some scouts who wondered whether Arias might get so big that he would eventually slide over to third base, many felt he was a true shortstop and he continues to look comfortable there. He’s an average runner who’s quick and fluid at shortstop, with polished hands and footwork at shortstop. He has a high overall baseball IQ that’s evident in the way he slows the game down, reads hops and plays under control, especially relative to his peers. Arias generates plus arm strength with minimal effort and sharp accuracy, with a chance for his arm grade to improve with more strength. He’s expected to make his pro debut in the AZL.
The Padres paid $1.85 million to sign Dominican outfielder Jeisson Rosario on July 2. Rosario is a 17-year-old lefty who’s 6-foot-1, 175 pounds and has a well-balanced tool set and high overall game awareness, though there isn’t any one premium tool on the scouting card. Rosario has strong, quick hands and wrists at the plate to generate whippy bat speed. He recognizes pitches well and takes a short swing with a line drive approach in games. He shows more loft in batting practice with the power potential to hit 15-20 home runs eventually. There are some moving parts to his swing and he can get jumpy and out on his front foot at times, so he’s still learning to maintain a calm, consistent approach. Rosario is a good athlete but doesn’t have prototypical speed in center field. He’s an average runner, so some scouts felt there was some risk Rosario might end up in right field, but others considered him one of the better defensive center fielders in the class because of his instincts. He looks like he’s faster than a 50 runner in the outfield because of his jumps, actions and sharp routes that give him good range. His above-average arm is also an asset. Rosario trained with Pedro Nivar, known as “Nube.” He’s expected to start in the AZL.
They also signed Mexican outfielder Tirso Ornelas for $1.5 million from the Mexico City Red Devils of the Mexican League. The Padres have a good relationship with that club, as Alfredo Harp Helu, who owns the Red Devils, is an investor in the Padres’ ownership group. Ornelas, a 17-year-old lefthanded hitter, has been dedicated to his weight training program since signing, bulking up to 6-foot-3, 200 pounds with a strong, well-proportioned frame. His best tool is his bat. Some scouts had concerns with Ornelas’ bat speed and the way he bars his arm in his load, but when the swing comes forward it’s a clean path to the ball, staying flat and in the hitting zone a long time. Ornelas’ combination of rhythm, timing, hand-eye coordination, pitch recognition and swing plane result in a high contact rate and a lot of hard, low line drives with good carry off his bat. His swing isn’t geared for loft, so he might not post huge power numbers, at least early in his career. Ornelas’ hitting ability will drive his value. While he’s improved his conditioning, he’s not that athletic and a below-average runner whose body type suggests his speed will slow down further. His arm is a 40-45 tool that if it gets stronger could allow him to play right filed, but there is some risk he could end up at first base too. Ornelas should start in the AZL.
Venezuelan shortstop Justin Lopez signed with the Padres for $1.25 million on July 2. Lopez is still 16 and looks young with his wiry, gangly frame, even after putting on 15 pounds since signing to jump to 6-foot-2, 185 pounds. Physical development will be crucial for Lopez’s future. Fielding comes naturally to Lopez, who has extremely soft, smooth hands to go with good footwork and a nose for the ball. His speed is below-average but he reads the ball well off the bat to enhance his range. He’s able to throw from different angles with a plus arm that plays up because of his quick exchange. As good as Lopez is in the field, he’s not necessarily surefire bet to stay at shortstop because of the uncertainty of how he will develop physically, as he’s young and lanky enough that he could grow another inch or two and end up filling out to become too big for the position. Lopez’s value is tied to his ability to stick at shortstop, with his offensive game still more of a long-term project. He has plenty of baseball experience, including an appearance as Venezuela’s shortstop at the COPABE 15U Pan American Championships in Mexico in 2015. Lopez is a switch-hitter who cuts himself off at the plate and might need to alter where he sets his hands to cut down on the length of his swing and just get stronger to hold his swing together more consistently, a process that might take time to come around. When he’s at his best he’s shown the ability to use the middle of the field with a line-drive stroke and has shown a little extra sock and loft from the left side than he did a year ago. Lopez trained with Jose Montero. He’s in Arizona now with a good chance to stay there for the AZL.
The Padres paid $1 million to sign 17-year-old Dominican shortstop Jordy Barley, a price tag significantly higher than the rest of the industry consensus on Barley, though there was little question of his pure athleticism. He’s a 70 runner and one of the best athletes in the 2016 class, showing quick-twitch in everything he does from running to the way he swings the bat with fast, whippy bat speed. He’s a high-energy, bouncy player at shortstop, but there’s a wide gap between his athleticism and game skills, especially at the plate. The most encouraging thing for Barley, though, has been the development of his power over the past year. While his power from the right side was mostly to the gaps before he signed, Barley (6 feet, 175 pounds) has added muscle and power to drive the ball over the fence in BP and occasionally in games. He now looks like he should have plus power. Barley is still scratching the surface of his potential, so whether he can make it all work against live pitching is still the main risk. He will swing through pitches in the zone with length to his swing and an uphill cut, then gets himself out with a raw approach and a tendency to chase off the plate. His athleticism is obvious at shortstop and his plus arm has the potential to grade even higher, but he’s still learning to control his energy and slow the game down in the field. Barley trained with Javier Rodriguez and is another player expected to debut in the AZL.
Venezuelan catcher Alison Quintero, who was a teammate of Lopez as the catcher on Venezuela’s COPABE 15U Pan American Championships team in 2015, signed with the Padres for $830,000 on July 2 after training with Yasser Mendez. Quintero, 16, stands out behind the plate, where he’s extremely athletic for a catcher. With a lean upper body at 5-foot-11, 175 pounds, Quintero has great agility and flexibility, with his blocking and receiving skills advanced for his age. His knowledge of the game is beyond his years and is a fiery, intense player. Quintero’s managers will likely always be drawn to his leadership and toughness, with pitchers in the organization already requesting to throw to him. His arm is a 50-55 tool on the 20-80 scale but with his quick exchange and short throwing stroke, he gets the ball to second base in under 2.0 seconds with accurate throws. Quintero is even an average runner, which is great for a catcher, though that will slow down. Quintero’s defense and intangibles as a catcher will always give him opportunities to stick around and develop as a hitter, with his bat more of a project. A righthanded hitter, Quintero’s swing is short and he isn’t a high strikeout guy, but he will have to make adjustments to be more productive at the plate. He’s mostly a singles hitter with occasional gap power and could potentially hit at the bottom of a lineup one day. He’s ticketed for the AZL as well.
Most of the Padres’ international signing class focused on Latin America, but they also spent $675,000 to sign 20-year-old righthander Wen-Hua Sung out of Taiwan in July. Sung was the Padres’ first ever amateur signing from Asia. He pitched on Taiwan’s 15U national team in 2011, then pitched in the 18U World Cup in 2013, the same year he was named MVP of the E-Sun Cup high school tournament. He was named to Taiwan’s national 23U team last year. At 6-1, 198 pounds, Sung doesn’t have overpowering stuff, with a fastball that touches 92 mph. He throws strikes with his curveball and slider, with his changeup/splitter the most advanced offering and his best change to develop an out pitch.
Righthander Michell Miliano, who signed with the Padres for $450,000, was one of the more promising pitching prospects in the Dominican Republic last year. At 17, Miliano continues to trend in the right direction. Tall and thin when he signed, he’s grown an inch and added 20 pounds to become 6-foot-4, 205 pounds. He still has room to fill out with long arms that point to more velocity coming. Miliano’s fastball grew steadily during the tryout process, reaching 92 mph by the time he signed. He went through pitching coordinator Mark Prior’s throwing program last summer, then during instructional league reached 94 mph. His fastball has above-average movement and comes at hitters with downhill plane. Miliano’s curveball flashes average with good spin and shape, with a changeup that he’s just learning now. He throws across his body and can get a bit upright, but his delivery is relatively loose and easy, with the athleticism that should help him repeat his mechanics and throw strikes, giving him the attribtues to project as a starter. Miliano trained with Luis Mejia and looks likely to debut in the AZL.
Carlos Batista is a lefthanded Dominican outfielder the Padres signed for $400,000 on July 2. Batista, a 17-year-old who trained with John Carmona, stood out for his hitting ability in games. He has a projectable frame (6-foot-2, 175 pounds) with a short, efficient swing and a flat path that stays through the hitting zone a long time. He puts the barrel to the ball with high frequency, with a lot of line drives and gap power. Batista is a corner outfielder with a 45 arm. He’s expected to start in the DSL.
The Padres signed Dominican righthander Jose Manuel Guzman (who goes by “Manny”) for $400,000 on July 2 from Laurentino Genao’s program. During the tryout process, Guzman injured his elbow, so he dropped off the scene for a while, but he has a tall, projectable frame (6-foot-4, 185 pounds) and has seen his velocity climb back and reach higher than he was before, touching 92 mph. While durability is a question, he has the three-pitch mix of a starter with an advanced changeup for his age that he will throw in any count along with a solid overhand curveball. Guzman has a good chance to start in the AZL.
Venezuelan shortstop Tucupita Marcano signed with the Padres for $320,000 on July 2. He’s a wiry 6 feet, 165 pounds and has impressed with his hitting ability in games from the left side. Marcano, 17, has a short swing with good barrel control, producing a lot of line drives with doubles power. Marcano is athletic and a 55-60 runner on the 20-80 scale, though his hitting is more polished than his fielding. He could move around the field to either find a position or enhance his versatility, possibly getting time at second base and center field in the DSL. The Padres added several position players with advanced bats last year. One of the most talented hitters of the group is Carlos Luis, a 17-year-old Dominican outfielder who got $200,000 on July 2. He’s a skinny 6-foot-2, 160 pounds with an extremely loose, easy swing, whipping the barrel through the zone and hitting the ball to all fields. He doesn’t have much strength now, but he’s driving the ball to the gaps now with more power potential in there because of the loft in his swing and how big he projects to become. Luis has a solid-average arm to play on the left side of the infield, but he’s not a great runner and looks like he will outgrow shortstop, with third base possibly in his future. Like Batista, Luis also trained with John Carmona.
Bryan Torres is a 17-year-old Venezuelan shortstop from Carlos Guillen’s academy who signed with the Padres for $175,000 on July 2. He’s a smaller player (5-foot-9, 165 pounds) whose game fits his size, showing the patience to take his walks, hit line drives to all fields and use the bunt to his advantage. His arm strength and speed are both a tick above-average who should play somewhere in the middle infield, with a chance to stay at shortstop.
Colombian righthander Luis Patino is a converted shortstop who pitched at the MLB international showcase last year in February in the Dominican Republic, where he threw in the mid-80s but had a projectable frame and a lot of athleticism. His fastball has increased since then as he’s filled out (6 feet, 175 pounds) to touch 92 mph with room for more velocity gains. The Padres liked his tight slider and feel for a changeup as well. Dominican catcher Juan Vasquez, another player from John Carmona’s program, signed with the Padres for $100,000 on July 2. At 5-foot-11, 180 pounds, Vasquez a defensive-minded catcher whose best tool is his strong arm and is more developed than his righthanded bat.
While the high-priced Cubans and wide range of top 16-year-old signings the Padres added from the Dominican Republic and Venezuela were the highlights of their 2016-17 class, one of the sleepers in the class is Agustin Ruiz, a 17-year-old Mexican center fielder signed from Tabasco for $80,000. He’s loose and gangly (6-foot-2, 175 pounds) with a short, balanced swing from the left side. His head stays locked in during his swing and he sprays hard line drives with a knack for going to the opposite-field gap. His bat and overall game awareness stood out, with average speed and a tick above-average arm in center.
Colombian outfielder Luis Castro was a previously eligible 18-year-old who signed for $10,000 on July 2. At 5-foot-10, 180 pounds, Castro is a lefthanded corner outfielder who performed well in the Tricky League last summer, showing a knack for hitting a compact swing and gap power. Adrian Antunez, an 18-year-old righthanded hitter, is a $20,000 signing out of Venezuela whose skills are still crude, but he jumps out for his highly athletic, projectable frame (6-foot-3, 195 pounds) with plus speed and an average arm in center field.
Injury Truncates Breakout Season From Jorge Ona
The 23-year-old Cuban corner outfielder had begun to show elevated power and patience before an injury ended his season.
The Padres signed a handful of Mexican players last year, with Ornelas the main standout but a pair of intriguing arms in the mix as well. One of those pitchers, 17-year-old Martin Carrasco who signed from Tijuana, is 6 feet, 165 pounds with advanced pitchability. He throws a lot of strikes with an upper-80s fastball and a good changeup for his age, with his changeup further along than his breaking ball. Duilio Ochoa, a converted position player, signed with the Padres from Mexico City in October. He’s 6 feet, 180 pounds and reaches 93 mph. He’s athletic and shows feel for a breaking ball with good shape.