2019-20 MLB International Reviews: San Diego Padres
The Padres are in the discussion for the top farm system in baseball. A big part of why they're up there is a revamped international pipeline since Chris Kemp took over as international scouting director five years ago. Colombian righthander Luis Patiño is one of the game's elite pitching prospects. Mexican righthander Andres Muñoz and Dominican righthander Emmanuel Clase (now with the Indians but a Padres signing in 2015) both have triple-digit fastballs and are two of the best relief prospects in the game.
Lefthander Adrian Morejon is a Top 100 prospect who reached the majors this year as a 20-year-old, while fellow Cuban pitchers Michel Baez and Ronald Bolaños made their big league debuts this year as well. Venezuelan shortstop Gabriel Arias was one of the top prospects in the high Class A California League as a 19-year-old, while players like Tucupita Marcano, Tirso Ornelas and Eguy Rosario add depth to the system at the Class A levels.
After being in the penalty box and unable to sign anyone for more than $300,000 during the previous two signing periods, this year the Padres added a nice mix of high-end prospects with depth all over the diamond.
The Padres paid $2.2 million to sign 17-year-old Dominican center fielder Ismael Mena, who trained with Rudy Santin. Mena is a lefty with a lean, sleek frame (6-foot-3, 185 pounds) and quick-burst athleticism. He's a 70 runner with good range in center field, with an arm that has shot up from a 30 or 40 tool when teams were scouting him as an amateur and now grades out as plus. Mena has good range too, so while his reads and routes can be inconsistent, he has the tools to develop into a plus defender at a premium position. At the plate, Mena stays behind the ball well and shows good contact skills. He employs a slashing, line-drive approach, spraying the ball around the field and using his wheels to his advantage. There's some upside to Mesa's body, but he still lacks strength at this point. By the end of the summer, he started to flash over-the-fence power and there's leverage in his swing that could bring out more pop down the road, but it might never be a big part of his game.
The Padres signed the top 2019 prospect from Panama, 16-year-old Reggie Preciado, a long, lanky shortstop (6-foot-4, 185 pounds) who got $1.3 million. Preciado signed for less money than Mena, but he's arguably the better prospect. He trained with his father, Victor Preciado, who spent a few years playing the outfield and first base in Rookie ball with the Yankees in the 1990s. Reggie is tall and skinny but has a knack for being on time at the plate, something he showed consistently in games as an amateur. That includes the U-15 World Cup in Panama last year in August, when Preciado led his country to a silver medal on its home field. He made the all-tournament team at shortstop, hitting .393/.452/.500.
This year, he raked in Panama's junior national league for 17-and-under players as a 15-year-old, ranking third in the league in OPS. He has continued to hit well in games since then between Tricky League and Dominican instructional league. He's a long-levered batter, so there are some length and unorthodox components to Preciado's swing, but he has a good clock for the game that shows up in the field and in the batter's box. Preciado makes a lot of contact and puts together quality at-bats with ability to discern a ball from a strike. His lefthanded swing is shorter, whereas his righthanded swing has more length but also spends more time in the hitting zone and produces more power. Preciado isn't a huge slugger right now, but he has immense physical upside to grow into big power. Much of Preciado's future depends on his physical development, which could go a variety of ways. Preciado could blow up, get huge and end up at third base or an outfield corner. He could also add strength, remain athletic and be a physical shortstop built along the lines of Corey Seager or Carlos Correa. A fringe-average runner, Preciado has good glovework in the field, charges slow rollers well and plays under control with a knack for slowing the game down. He has long arms but a short throwing stroke with average arm strength that should increase once he puts on weight. Preciado's body and tools could look markedly different in a few years, with different paths for him to develop into a high-level prospect. He also graduated from high school this month in Panama at 16 and earns high praise for his leadership and intelligence on and off the field.
The Padres signed one of the top righthanders and one of the top lefties in the 2019 class. One of them, 17-year-old Venezuelan righthander Brayan Medina, could end up throwing 100 mph one day. He has already had multiple outings where he has reached 95 mph, with fast arm speed, physicality (6-foot-1, 185 pounds) and athleticism on the mound. Medina pairs his fastball with the ability to spin a sharp-breaking slider that shows signs of developing into an above-average out pitch to miss bats. Medina has feel for a changeup with fade that gives him a promising three-pitch mix. He's en energetic pitcher who can get too amped up at times, causing him to fly open early and lose the strike zone at times, but he has the athleticism and aptitude to make adjustments.
The other top pitcher the Padres signed is Luis Gutierrez, a 16-year-old Venezuelan lefty. Gutierrez had to wait to sign until he turned 16 on July 31, so he's on the younger side for his class and will pitch most of his first season as a 16-year-old. The Padres system is stacked with lefties, led by MacKenzie Gore and Adrian Morejon, and Gutierrez (6 feet, 185 pounds) has some similarities to Morejon, with polished, free-and-easy mechanics for his age and international tournament experience, representing Venezuela at the COPABE 14U Pan American Championship in Chihuahua, Mexico in 2017. Gutierrez has loose, fluid arm action and a calm, under control delivery with advanced pitchability for his age. He has reached 91 mph, but he's not overpowering, often cruising in the mid-to-upper 80s with riding and cutting action at times. If he can eventually sit more in the low 90s, it's a comfortable starter profile, with a big-breaking curveball that stood out from a young age and early signs of feel for a changeup to go with his pitchability and athleticism. Gutierrez is represented by Cesar Suarez.
In addition to Medina and Gutierrez, the Padres signed a two-way player from Mexico, lefthanded pitcher/center fielder Zayed Salinas, for $800,000, after he was with the Tijuana Toros. Salinas will continue to develop as both a pitcher an outfielder for the Padres. He's a projectable, athletic 6-foot-2, 185 pounds with a quick arm and a fastball up to 91 mph with good angle and life. Salinas pairs it with a tight-rotating curveball that has good depth and shape in the mid-to-upper 70s. It's already an unusual profile as a two-way prospect and even more so because he's a lefty thrower who bats righthanded. There's probably more upside on the mound, but he's an athletic outfielder with slightly above-average speed and a strong arm. He's not a pure hitter and needs to do a better job with his offensive approach to use the whole field more, but he has quick bat speed and the strength projection in his frame to develop power once he adds weight.
Dominican center fielder Jose Cordero signed for $625,000 after training with Pori (the program the Padres signed shortstop Charlis Aquino from last year) nearby the Padres' complex in Palenque. Cordero is a lean but muscular 6-foot-1, 185 pounds, a bursty athlete with easy plus speed. He has an average arm with the arm speed and clean throwing stroke that suggests it could be plus within the next few years. Cordero is a toolsy athlete, but there's still some rawness to his game. He doesn't have a ton of swing-and-miss to his game, though it's not always quality contact because he gets pull-conscious in games, causing him to roll over balls, so staying through the middle of the field will be important for him. He's a line-drive oriented hitter with gap power and the wheels to help him leg out extra bases.
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Two prominent Venezuelan catchers also joined the Padres this year on July 2. One of them is Oswaldo Linares, 16, an offensive-oriented catcher who trained at the Gold Prospect Academy. He has added a little more than 10 pounds since signing at 5-foot-11, 170 pounds and stands out for a pretty clean swing from the right side. He performed well in games as an amateur in Venezuela and he kept it up after signing during the Tricky League with a lot of barreled baseballs. He tracks pitches well, squaring up fastballs and breaking pitches. He keeps his weight back, lets the pitch travel and goes with where the ball is pitched, driving the ball well the opposite way and to the middle of the field. He's a line-drive hitter with gap power. Linares still lacks strength, but once that comes, more of those doubles should start to climb over the fence. Some scouts had questions about whether Linares would stay behind the plate, but Padres coaches have been excited by how much progress he has made defensively since July 2. While Linares has always had good offensive feel, he has cleaned up his defense, getting quicker with improved blocking technique. His arm is fringe-average but has a chance to tick up once he gains strength. It's still a bat-first profile, but there's a higher probability of Linares staying at catcher than there was earlier in the year.
The Padres also signed Carlos Rodriguez, a 16-year-old Venezuelan catcher with a lot of experience behind the plate. He's 5-foot-10, 190 pounds, with a thick frame that he will have to stay on top of to maintain his agility, but his defensive actions stand out behind the plate. He's a calm receiver with soft hands and good blocking technique. He's a savvy, instinctive player whose high overall game awareness is beyond his years, with a disciplined but high-energy approach. Rodriguez's frame doesn't offer a ton of physical upside, but he's a high-contact hitter with a short, efficient cut from the left side who knows the strike zone and performed well in games as an amateur in Venezuela. He's a line-drive hitter with gap power who stays through the ball well with a straightaway approach and a hit-over-power profile. Rodriguez trained at the 5J Baseball Academy.
Dominican infielder Adrian Perez, 16, signed with the Padres for $160,000 after training with Rudy Santin. He's a stout 5-foot-9, 165 pounds with an aggressive mindset on the field and a bat-first player. He's a righthanded hitter who puts the ball in play consistently with sneaky strength in his smaller frame, producing mostly hard line drives but with enough sock for some extra-base damage as well. Perez will likely play all around the infield with exposure to shortstop, second base and third. He needs to get lighter on his feet to play shortstop more regularly, but his hands work in the infield and his arm strength has improved to become a plus tool.
The Padres also signed 17-year-old Venezuelan shortstop Jose Sanabria, who trained with Ivan Suarez. While Perez stood out for his bat potential, Sanabria's strengths are his speed, defense and athleticism. He's a plus runner with quick-twitch actions and signed at a skinny 5-foot-10, 145 pounds, but he's added 15 pounds of quality weight since then. He manages his at-bats well for his age and sprays the ball around the field, but he will need to continue to get stronger for his righthanded bat to come around. Sanabria is primarily a shortstop, though he's likely to move around the middle of the diamond early in his career.
Henry Baez is a Dominican righthander the Padres signed for $125,000 after training with Pori, whose program also had Cordero this year. At the beginning of 2019, Baez was a tall, projectable pitcher who threw strikes with loose arm action and an 85-87 mph fastball. He's around 25 pounds heavier now at 6-foot-3, 200 pounds, and after signing on July 2, Baez didn't pitch during the Tricky League, going on a throwing program instead. When he got on the mound this fall during Dominican instructional league, he reached 93 mph, with the physical projection to be in the mid 90s soon. He has feel to spin a curveball with three-quarters action that might eventually morph into a true slider and he throws a firm changeup with good sink.
One position player who didn't land a big bonus but is one to watch is infielder Hugo Sanchez, who was with Mazatlan and got $50,000. He's 6-foot-1, 175 pounds with good swing path from the left side and some over-the-fence power already in games. He's an average runner and has average arm strength that could tick up, with a chance to play shortstop but probably ends up playing more at second or third base.
The Padres also signed Ruben Galindo out of Colombia for $10,000 as an eligible 18-year-old on July 2. He was throwing 87-89 mph at the beginning of the year, but after putting on 10 pounds (6-foot-1, 180 pounds) and going on a throwing program this summer, he was throwing 90-94 mph during Dominican instructs. His 82-84 mph slider has a chance to be his best pitch with its late, sharp snap.