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Chris Paddack Closes Out Brilliant First Half Healthy, Strong

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(Photo by Bill Mitchell)

LAKE ELSINORE, Calif.—The goal for Chris Paddack this year was pretty simple.

After never pitching more than 46 innings in a season and missing the last 21 months rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, Paddack just wanted to stay healthy, remain on the mound and prove he can be counted on to take the ball regularly.

As the first half of the minor league season nears its close, the 22-year-old righthander can say he’s done everything he sought to do and then some.

With Padres general manager A.J. Preller watching from the stands, Paddack delivered five innings with five hits and one run allowed, one walk and nine strikeouts on Tuesday night in his final start of the first half for high Class A Lake Elsinore.

With it, he goes into the California League all-star break 3-1, 1.91 in eight starts with an astonishing 70-to-3 strikeout-to-walk mark.

“It’s getting to the point where I feel like I’m normal again, like I’m not rehabbing anymore,” said Paddack, the No. 79 prospect on BA's Top 100 Prospects list. “It just feels good. These last seven or eight starts have been a blessing for me just to be healthy. My biggest goal for the season was to stay healthy, show the Padres' organization and the front office that I’m good to go, that there’s nothing holding me back.”

Paddack, whom the Padres acquired from the Marlins in a trade for Fernando Rodney in 2016, still has some restrictions on him. He has been on an 85-pitch limit all season and won’t pitch in the California League all-star game next week despite being selected.

But for those 85 pitches Paddack gets every sixth day, he’s making the most of them.

Paddack pitched at 90-93 mph on Tuesday and ran his fastball up to 95-96 as needed. His changeup was devastating as usual, dropping in on the corners at 82-83 mph and freezing both lefties and righties.

Paddack’s control wasn’t quite as sharp as in past starts. He threw only 47 of his 82 pitches for strikes and struggled getting into some deep counts. But when he needed a big pitch, he was able to spot his fastball and changeup exactly where needed to get swings and misses.

“We’ve been seeing that all year,” Lake Elsinore manager Edwin Rodriguez said. “That fastball and that changeup, they’re plus pitches, and he knows how to pitch.”

Paddack’s third pitch, his 72-74 mph curveball, remains a work in progress. He threw only seven in his latest start, including four out of the strike zone for balls and another that hung over the plate and was crushed to the wall in right-center.

Opposing scouts in attendance graded Paddack’s curveball a 40—a below-average pitch—which is in line with what even the Padres acknowledge is the offering’s current state.

“There’s some work to do, but it will get there,” Rodriguez said. “If he had an average or plus curveball he wouldn’t be here (at this level), because his fastball and changeup are big league pitches. But that’s why he’s here. He’s working on his secondary pitches and the way he works and the way he approaches his work and his career, it’s matter of time that it will come.”

For Paddack, finding and developing that curveball has been a focal point of not just this season, but the better part of the past two years.

“With rehab as a whole, I had a few goals: To develop my third pitch, which is my curveball, and to eliminate the inverted W,” Paddack said. “I definitely knew at these next few levels that I was going to need to be able to develop a third pitch. Because at the big league level, Double-A, Triple-A level, fastball-changeup isn’t going to get the job done. So I got to use those 21 months of rehab to develop a third pitch and really have confidence throwing that curveball. “

To that end, Paddack has maintained a constant dialogue with Lake Elsinore pitching coach Pete Zamora.

“Breaking ball-wise he wants to have a dominant breaking ball, and he asks me all the time ‘How was that one? How was that one?’” Zamora said. “He knows that it’s something he needs and he wants to get to the level of his changeup. I don’t know that it ever will because that changeup is so good, but I like the goal that he has. He wants them all to be dominant.”

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Classification All-Star Teams

Baseball America honors minor leaguers at all levels with our annual Classification All-Stars.

Dominance is familiar to Paddack. After his latest outing he boasts a 1.66 ERA in his professional career, with 180 strikeouts and 15 walks in 130 innings.

It’s a performance like something out of a video game, and one that shows no signs of abating at the Class A levels.

If a promotion to Double-A San Antonio comes as expected, it will carry extra special meaning for Paddack, a native Texan whose family lives about an hour and a half north of San Antonio.

“My biggest goal is to be able to pitch in front of my family in Texas,” he said. “Whether it’s after the all-star break or if it’s in September and San Antonio is making a playoff run, whatever it is … it’d be special.”

Just about everything Paddack has done this season could be described as special. And as far as his coaches are concerned, he’s nowhere near his ceiling yet.

“Everything is improving,” Zamora said. “Fastball command, I think the velocity of the fastball is playing better, I think he’s getting stronger and more conditioned for baseball after being away for so long. He’s getting into a really good groove now. I expect it to only keep getting better.”

NEWS AND NOTES

— Padres' No. 17 prospect Hudson Potts went 2-for-4 with two doubles, including the game-tying RBI double in the eighth inning. He struck out in his first two plate appearances before rebounding in his final two at-bats. He thumped a two-strike fastball the opposite way to the wall in right field in the fifth inning, and in the eighth he turned on an inside fastball and grounded it hard down the left-field line, scoring Luis Torrens from first base with the tying run. Potts, 19, is batting .450 (9-for-20) with five runs and eight RBI in his last five games.

— Dodgers' No. 16 prospect Cristian Santana went 2-for-5 with a gargantuan two-run homer that gave Rancho Cucamonga its first lead of the night. He hit a single to center off Paddack in the first inning, and he launched a David Bednar offering over the scoreboard in left field to give the Quakes a 3-2 lead in the seventh. Santana has multiple hits in three of his last five games and has three homers in his last nine.

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