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2023 San Diego Padres Top 10 Prospects Chat



Jeff Sanders hosted a chat to discuss the Padres system. You can read the transcript here.
Jeff Sanders: Thanks for joining us. A lot to get to, so we'll get started a few minutes early before A.J. Preller trades away anymore of these prospects and forces me to tear up the top 30 ... again.

Frederick (Boston):
    Hi Jeff, thanks for the chat today! Jairo Iriarte had a jump into the top 10 mid-season last year. I was wondering how close was he to the top 10 this year? Also, what was the excitement about him originally and is that still there?

Jeff Sanders: Hey Frederick ... I had Iriarte just outside the top-10. The organization is still high on him, but there's some internal split on whether he can stick as a starter or will wind up in the bullpen. His command backed up a bit in Lake Elsinore last year. It will have to trend the other direction if he's going to be a rotation arm.

Molly B. (New Jersey):
    If you were drafting first year players in a fantasy dynasty draft how high would you take Lesko? If everything goes right for him coming back from injury does how high is his upside? Thanks!

Jeff Sanders: Tough question. Depends on how deep the league is, but I can tell you someone in my geek league took him in our draft LAST YEAR. It's a silly, Bugs Bunny changeup when he's healthy and a plus fastball. The breaking stuff will have to come a bit, because he really didn't need to throw it a whole lot in high school. I think we start a safe conversation as a No. 2/3 starter and see what it looks like as he makes his debut later this summer.

Zac (NYC):
    Carlos Luis had a good year. Does he have a chance to jump into the top-10 if he can stay healthy? Will he be in the top-30 this year?

Jeff Sanders: Yes, he indeed had a good year in Lake Elsinore and continued in Fort Wayne, but I had him outside the top-30. Some slug and a good on-base percentage, but he looks like a guy who will continue to have to hit if he's going to become a legit first base prospect. It's a tough position to stand out at.

Zac (NYC):
    Hi there. What are your thoughts on Noel Vela? It seems he strikes out a lot of batters. Could he wind up a bullpen arm, or back of the rotation?

Jeff Sanders: Vela still has one of the better curves in the system and it's one reason he remained in the top-20. But he's also older now at 24 years old and his command regressed last year. Never say never, but time might be running out for him to carve a future as a starting pitcher.

Kevin F. (San Diego):
    Once Ethan Salas officially signs where would he be on your Padres top 10? Do you see him being in your top 100 once he debuts? Thanks for all of your hard work.

Jeff Sanders: The top-100 is put together by the staffers at BA, so I don't have any clue on how that will shake out. But I wrote for the Union-Tribune that Salas would be grouped with top prospects Jackson Merrill, Luis Campusano and Dylan Lesko upon signing and heard immediately from someone in the front office that Salas might be No. 1 in that group. I tend to lean toward wait-and-see-some-production before making such claims, but that should give you an idea of how high they are on Salas.

Ken (Lakewood CA):
    The Padres have seemed reluctant at best to commit to Campusano playing catcher for them at the big league level. Will they finally give him a legit chance this year? He seems a bat first type though you have him listed as the best defensive catcher now. Maybe because he's their only real catching prospect? Thinking glove and maybe attitude have held him back this long?

Jeff Sanders: First, I think Salas' ceiling defensive would grade out ahead of Campusano's if he'd been signed before we published. Campusano is certainly a bat-first guy. Some in the organization say his raw power rival's Josh Mears and Campusano can actually get to it in game. Campusano has made defensive strides the last few years, but the 2022 big-league team was full-steam ahead. Hard to fault Bob Melvin with going with the veteran (Nola) who was already established with the pitching staff. That said, they cut Alfaro loose with the idea the Campusano would get a larger share of the playing time to begin to see what he can do with a regular job.

Tirso Ornelas (Top 30?):
    Thanks for the chat today. Am I still in the top 30? I was viewed as a high upside guy back in 2018/2019 but have taken the slow burn path. Still only 23 and in AA do the Padres still see me as someone who has a chance to

Jeff Sanders: You're a pretty polarizing player, to be honest. You look the part for sure at 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds and you're still plenty young at 22 years old, but a .369 slugging percentage after five years in the minors isn't going to cut it for a corner outfield prospect who doesn't move especially well. You'll get a chance to put up big numbers this year at Triple-A El Paso, but everyone does that, right?

Alex (Bay Area):
    Thanks for chatting with us Jeff. How close was Yendry Rojas to the top 10? Is he seen as a lighter hitting leadoff type or could he grow into average power?

Jeff Sanders: I had Rojas in the 25-30 range. He had a solid debut in the Dominican Summer League (.730 OPS, 14 steals) and has a chance to get to average power. He at least gives himself a chance with a quiet, balanced swing and good pitch recognition.

Scott (Boston):
    If Lizarraga’s fastball can jump into the 93-96 mph range this season, does his projection increase to a number 2/3 starter?

Jeff Sanders: It might. He certainly has the makeup for it, but when he sits in the low-90s the heater sort of blends with a hard change-up (86-89). He's a baby (and was starting road playoff games for Lake Elsinore last year), so plenty of time to add velocity as he matures.

Freakin Friars (Ballast Point):
    Adrian Morejon - no longer eligible for the list, but your just-for-fun 2026 rotation slots him ahead of Dylan Lesko (at age 22). Can you add more color to this? Says more about Morejon resuscitating his career, or a potentially thin SP pipeline and Lesko still being unestablished by '26?

Jeff Sanders: I think it's a bit of both. We've been talking about Adrian Morejon for forever but he's still just be 24 on opening day. A lot of talent in that arm if he can stay healthy and the organization remains high on him. That's why I went with him over Lesko for that spot, but it was certainly a consideration.

Nick R. (San Diego):
    Samuel Zavala...most impressive young position player behind Merrill? What's his ceiling?

Jeff Sanders: After A.J. Preller's trades, I think that's an easy call. It's a smooth, left-handed swing that's drawn comparisons to Carlos Gonzalez, he gets on base and he started to tap into his power during an aggressive promotion to Lake Elsinore last summer before the broken hamate bone. The power surge was in a small sample, but he's got the potential to be a big-league regular, probably in left field.

Ryan (Point Loma):
    I think the Padres have drafted astutely: when everyone else has seemed to (over)value college hitters, they've been willing to take HS players that might have been top picks 10 years prior. However, I wonder if something in their development system has been broken given that few of their "top picks" have really blossomed at the major league level. Is this a concern the current regime shares with Merrill? Seems like we've had a lot of great prospects in A ball/AA ball that don't seem to make that final push to become quality ML players.

Jeff Sanders: This is a tough question to tackle. The Padres do lean toward additional risk/reward with their top draft picks over the safer college hitters and that might be one reason we see guys like Hudson Potts stagnate in the upper levels. There's a reason they are risky and not everyone is going to pan out. I don't know that anything is broken but it said something when the organization sort of overhauled some of their player development structure after the 2021 season. There was some acknowledgment that need to get more out of their homegrown players. That said, James Wood was blossoming last year when he was included in the Juan Soto trade. CJ Abrams was a kid pushed a bit too fast to do much with his early big-league time, but he was a desirable prospect. So was Gore. Weathers has backed up. Quantrill has blossomed in another organization, but Austin Hedges and Hunter Renfroe seem like they are who the Padres thought they were when they were traded away. That you can list a lot more failures than successes might simply be the nature of the draft and player development, but it's certainly worth monitoring.

Ken (Lakewood CA):
    What is the realistic ceiling for Merrill? Seems high?

Jeff Sanders: Injuries shortened his first full season, but .280/.330/.440 with 20 homers and 10 steals seems like a reasonable place to start.

Marc (Las Vegas):
    Jackson Merrill seems like someone with extra untapped potential still to be realized, given that he was young-ish for his 2021 high school class, played in a cold-ish climate (DC/Baltimore area), and was a late-bloomer, meaning he hasn't played with his full-grown body for very long. Do evaluators conclude from those variables that he might have more potential to tap in the coming years than a hypothetical guy from Texas who was 19 on draft day, and had reached his full height when he was 15?

Jeff Sanders: Saved the Merrill questions for the end as a couple overlapped. So the Padres will say the industry viewed Merrill as a late-bloomer and a draft-board riser because it hadn't done the homework on him that the Padres had. The cold climate certainly limited Merrill's opportunity to play in front of scouts. The pandemic didn't help, but the Padres believed they had solid grades on Merrill for that spot in the draft (27th overall in 2021) and he's blown past even some of their expectations in the injury-shortened debut. The breaking ball coverage in particular has come a long way as he's received more reps in pro ball.

Jeff Sanders: All right. Thanks for stopping by. We'll see how many of these prospects are still Padres when we do this next year.

Jackson Merrill Photo By Matt Thomas San Diego Padres Getty Images

2023 San Diego Padres Top MLB Prospects

Ranking the best prospects in the San Diego Padres farm system, projecting their 2026 lineup, rotation and more.

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