The Padres opened the season with five of the 10 youngest players in the low Class A Midwest League. They pushed 17-year-olds to their full-season affiliates on more than one occasion. They boasted the Double-A Texas League’s youngest player at both the beginning (Luis Urias) and end (Fernando Tatis Jr.) of the season.
Why should the Arizona Fall League be any different?
The Padres are sending eight players to the AFL, including 18-year-old righthander Andres Munoz, who is the youngest player in the annual prospect finishing school. The Mexico native punched his ticket by ramping his fastball up to 100 mph as he moved from short-season Tri-City to low Class A Fort Wayne.
“We made the decision as an organization to challenge him,” pitching coordinator Mark Prior said. “I think his stuff plays.”
At 6-foot-2, 165 pounds, Munoz is up about 20 pounds since signing for $700,000 in July 2015 out of the Mexico City franchise’s youth academy.
That’s one reason Munoz’s four-seam fastball has jumped from 88-91 mph to triple digits. Now on the Padres’ throwing program, his fastball regularly sits 96-98 mph with enough spin to finish off hitters up on the strike zone.
Though his mid-80s slider remains a work in progress, Munoz showed improved command in the strike zone, Prior said.
A year after posting a 5.49 ERA in 19.2 innings in the Rookie-level Arizona League, Munoz lowered the number to 3.81 in 26 innings split between the Northwest and Midwest leagues. He limited opposing hitters to a .181 average over that stretch, striking out 38 and walking 18.
Munoz won’t turn 19 until January. Of the other prospects in the AFL, only Minor League Player of the Year Ronald Acuna (19) of the Braves and outfielder Estevan Florial (19) of the Yankees are younger than 20.
“I think he’ll be able to handle facing higher-caliber players and think he’s mentally ready to handle that challenge coming off a year where he was extremely confident in his stuff,” Prior said. “It’s definitely going to be a big challenge for him, but I think he’s up to it.”
• Righthander Chris Paddack, who missed the season after having Tommy John surgery, faced hitters a handful of times and was scheduled to participate in instructional league when mild inflammation prompted the Padres to give him a break in his rehab. San Diego acquired him from the Marlins in 2016 for Fernando Rodney.
• The Padres concluded instructional league with an exhibition against Rangers prospects at Petco Park for a second straight year. Tatis drove in a run on two hits, including an opposite-field double that nearly left the yard. Outfielder Jorge Ona also drove in two runs on two hits, while pitching prospects Jacob Nix, Adrian Morejon, Michel Baez, Munoz and Dauris Valdez combined for 13 strikeouts in a 5-2 win.