The Padres traded four catchers in 2020.
In December, San Diego moved big leaguer Francisco Mejia and prospect Blake Hunt to the Rays to acquire Blake Snell.
All that activity left Luis Campusano as the most established young catcher in the system—and a blank slate on the depth chart below Triple-A.
Not that the Padres didn’t have a name or two circled for aggressive Opening Day assignments this season.
Take, for instance, 20-year-old Brandon Valenzuela.
Signed for $100,000 out of Mexico in July 2017, the 6-foot-3, 200-plus pounds Valenzuela is from the same Mexico City youth program that produced Padres signees Luis Urias, Andres Muñoz and Tirso Ornelas.
The switch-hitting Valenzuela hit .253/.379/.323 in the 2018 Dominican Summer League, graduated to the Rookie-level Arizona League in 2019 and then trained on his own in Mexico when the coronavirus pandemic wiped away the 2020 season.
That work included regular Zoom calls with player development director Ryley Westman and minor league catching coordinator Brian Whatley. After getting up to speed at instructional league and minor league spring training, Valenzuela was assigned to Low-A Lake Elsinore.
While the organization has a penchant for pushing its younger prospects, Valenzuela won over the player development staff with catching IQ, a projectable bat and solid skills behind the plate.
Valenzuela has a quick transfer and above-average arm. At the plate, he’s an on-base threat with a frame for future power, which had shown up this season. He smashed three home runs in his first five games and was hitting .275/.367/.449 through 17 games.
“Honestly, this kid has the capacity to take a lot on his plate,” Westman said. “Like game-calling, it’s a strength for this kid. We’re not just getting into the secondary stance or the mechanics of his throwing.
“We can get into the weeds a little bit more with him because both physically and mentally he’s ready for a lot of that stuff.”
— Derailed since 2016 with back-to-back Tommy John surgeries and the pandemic, righthander Anderson Espinoza threw two shutout innings, striking out three and allowing one hit, in his return to the mound on May 6 with High-A Fort Wayne.
— Outfielder Robert Hassell, the eighth overall pick in 2020, reached base in 13 straight games to start his professional career. Hassell was hitting .265/.393/.485 with two home runs and 14 RBIs in 17 games for Low-A Lake Elsinore.