Image credit: San Diego Padres
When the Padres loaded up on investments in the 2016-17 international class, when they spent $40.8 million in bonuses and another $37.4 million in overage taxes, they were dreaming on the projections for still-developing 16-year-old frames. The hope was that they’d all add strength and skill as they continued to mature.
However, one middle infielder who signed that year out of Venezuela for $1.9 million was a bit different: Gabriel Arias.
“The intriguing thing that Gabe has always had is he’s always been able to impact the baseball,” Padres farm director Sam Geaney said. “He hits the ball really, really hard, and he hits it really hard the other way. So we’ve always thought—a little bit different than our other young hitters where you’re waiting on the strength—Gabriel has always had that, and we’ve had to and continue to work to develop the overall hitter.”
A lot came together for Arias in 2019.
Assigned to high Class A Lake Elsinore, the 19-year-old Arias set career highs in batting average (.302) on-base percentage (.339) and slugging percentage (.470), and his 17 homers was nearly triple his previous best of six, which he hit with low Class A Fort Wayne in 2018. The power surge came in stark contrast to his first 146 games as a pro, when he hit just one home run.
The key? Tightening a swing that had been overly geared toward loading up in an effort to impact the ball, which a lot of younger players do to get to their power.
The thing is, Arias, with his sturdy, 6-foot-1, 200-pound frame, didn’t need to overcompensate in order to drive the ball. In fact, the smaller Arias’ movements became over the years, the more consistent his contact.
“Going back, even just a year ago, he had a real violent turn away from the baseball,” Geaney said.
“He’s definitely working with a swing that is going to allow him to be a little more disciplined at the plate and probably put him in a better position to see the baseball. And also the dial has been turned up as far as the level of focus. You start combining those things, and you can start to point to some real growth.”
— OF Taylor Trammell ended a difficult year on a positive note at Double-A Amarillo, coming through with a go-ahead grand slam in the top of the ninth inning to propel the Sod Poodles to a Texas League championship. He hit .229/.316/.381 after joining the Padres’ organization via trade, but he hit .310/.356/.643 with three home runs and 11 RBIs in 10 playoff games.
— C Luis Torrens, stashed in the minors the last two seasons after sticking as a Rule 5 pick in 2017, led all of minor league baseball with 11 defensive runs saved as a catcher, according to Baseball Info Solutions. Torrens hit .300/.373/.500 with 15 home runs and 62 RBIs in 97 games at Double-A Amarillo.