Synopsis: Although this will be the thinnest of the four full-season clubs, there are some interesting players to watch. Outfielder Nick Torres is the top prospect coming to San Antonio along with his fellow outfielder Auston Bousfield and shortstop Jose Rondon. The pitching in unheralded and will have to beat expectations for the club to have much success.
Three Strikes with Sam Geaney, the Padres Director of Player Development:
(1) The outfield appears to be the strength of the San Antonio roster. Do you think you will see a few more home runs from Nick Torres this season?
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Sam Geaney: You never like to point to one specific thing because everything at this level is more about a process. Our hitting guys worked a lot with Nick in the spring with the main goal of trying to get him to incorporate he legs more into his swing to generate a little more power.
I think you might see a few more balls going over the fence but our main takeaway is that he is leaving here a better hitter than when he arrived. San Antonio as you know is a tough place to hit, but we like where Nick is right now. He was our Minor League Player of the Year in 2015 and he embodies all that we want in a player, both on and off the field.
(2) What changes has Jose Rondon made to resemble the player that he was in Lake Elsinore as compared to San Antonio last year?
Sam Geaney: I know a lot of people were really down on him for what he did in San Antonio in 2015, but it was also only 100 plate appearances - really a month - so we are not that worried. The guy we saw this spring resembles the guy we saw in Lake Elsinore.
This spring, I think we saw an improvement in his two-strike approach, he's very tough to strike out, and he has some pop in his bat. He can occasionally get a little big at the plate, but we thought he looked good and will hit this year.
Defensively, there are some actions with his glove that we want to work with, but that is normal. If he was completely there, he would be in the big leagues.
(3) Rocky Gale made the big club last year. What was the rationale of sending him back to Double-A?
Sam Geaney: With Austin [Hedges] going to Triple-A, we really wanted to give Rocky a chance to play every day. Until last year, he never really had that opportunity. We really like what he brings behind the plate defensively and thought he developed offensively too this past season.
We think he will really help the staff and can also help Ryan Miller in his development as a catcher.
2016 Projected Lineup:
1B Duanel Jones SP RHP Luis Diaz
2B Nelson Ward SP RHP Bryan Rodriguez
SS Jose Rondon SP RHP Fabio Castillo
3B Gabriel Quintana SP RHP Cesar Vargas
RF Nick Torres SP RHP Johnny Hellweg
CF Auston Bousfield RP LHP Brandon Alger
LF Alberth Martinez RP RHP Adam Cimber
C Rocky Gale RP RHP Eric Yardley
MadFriars' Top 20 Prospects in San Antonio: (3) #13 Nick Torres, #17 Jose Rondon and #7 Ryan Butler (currently serving a 50 game suspension.)
Catch a Rising Star: Nick Torres finished second overall in the minor leagues with 44 doubles and is a solid all-around player. If he is successful in tweaking his swing to send a few more over the wall, he could become a corner outfielder in the big leagues.
Starting Pitching: The starting five will be comprised mostly of minor league free agents, with Bryan Rodriguez the sole holdover from last year's staff. In 2015 Rodriguez made 23 starts for the Missions and threw 133.2 innings with a 4.44 ERA.
Among the new additions, Hellweg was once a key component of the trade that sent Zach Greinke to Anaheim and logged seven starts with the Milwaukee Brewers in 2013. He was derailed by Tommy John surgery in 2014. Vargas, who got a spot on the Padres 40-man roster this winter, is moving back to the rotation after working in relief in the Yankees system last year.
Ryan Butler, a starter for the Missions last year, is serving a 50-game suspension under baseball's policy on drugs of abuse. It's unclear whether he will come back as a starter or in the bullpen when his suspension is finished.
Pen: The bullpen is a little more interesting with Alger, Cimber and Yardley all experiencing varying degrees of success in their professional careers. Alger had some problems with his command last season in San Antonio after striking out 73 in 63.1 innings in Lake Elsinore in 2014. If he can bounce back, he is the best of the bunch.
Catching: Last season was a huge year for Rocky Gale. He was able to reach the major leagues, got the most playing time of his six year career, and hit .307.349/.391 in Triple-A El Paso. While Hedges is the best defensive catcher in the organization, Gale is a close second.
When Hedges returns to the big leagues, look for Gale to move back to El Paso and Ryan Miller to assume the everyday job.
Infield: Rondon is the one who will get the attention, but could be usurped in a few months if the Padres decide to push Javier Guerra up from High-A Lake Elsinore. First baseman Duanel Jones had a big half-season in Fort Wayne in 2015 before really struggling in August and September in San Antonio. Nelson Ward, who came over in the Joaquin Benoit trade with Seattle, is a former Georgia Bulldog who hit .281/.362/.437 in High-A Bakersfield and looked good in the spring. Diego Goris, Gabriel Quintana and Taylor Lindsey should all alternate at third and they all will garner playing time at the other infield spots.
Outfield: The outfield has the most talent of any part of the squad. Torres is the top prospect, but both Bousfield and Martinez are solid all-around players. They both can play all three outfield positions, have some pop and can run a little. Keep an eye on Bousfield, who put on 15 pounds of solid muscle that should help him from wearing down at the end of the year. Ascencio is a victim of a crowded outfield in El Paso along with some questionable strike zone judgment in the past. He has always been able to hit with a lifetime .301/.332/.447 slash line and last year was his biggest power output. He should get a chance to show it again this summer.
On the Spot: Jose Rondon was the only shortstop in the Padres' system last season, but this year he has competition with Javier Guerra in Lake Elsinore and Ruddy Giron in Low-A Fort Wayne. He is going to need to produce.
Under the Radar: Rocky Gale going backward to Double-A was really more of a promotion to an everyday role than a demotion to a lower level. The Padres like what they saw last year and he could be back in the majors by the end of the year.