Lake Elsinore Storm (High-A)
The Lake Elsinore Storm opened the season as arguably the team to watch in the Padres system. The team featured a loaded pitching staff that included first-round picks in Cal Quantrill and Eric Lauer, as well as Anderson Espinoza, who was rated as the Padres top prospect coming into the season.
Unfortunately, Espinoza never threw a pitch in 2017 and the Quantrill and Lauer were promoted to San Antonio in the seasons second half. After making a run towards the playoffs in the first half, the Storm struggled in the second half and finished with a 64-76 record. Despite the poor record, the Storm had a number of players who stood out.
Top Players: Catcher Austin Allen had an incredible year in Lake Elsinore, hitting .283/.353/.497, with 22 homers (3rd in the California League), including 17 in the second half. Allen is still refining his game defensively, where he has improved at framing pitches but still needs to get better at shutting down the running game. He may profile better at first base and he certainly has the bat to stick there.
Josh Naylor had a very nice first half, earning a Cal-League All-Star berth and a late-season promotion to San Antonio. Naylor, still just 20, hit .297/.362/.452, with eight homers, while showing impressive bat-to-ball skills. The left-handed swinging first baseman has plus raw power but has mostly sprayed the ball to the opposite field in the looks we had in 2017. If the lefty can tap into his power, he has a chance to push Wil Myers back to the outfield by 2019.
On the mound: Like we mentioned earlier, the Storm started the year with the most prospect-laden rotation in the system. Opening day starter Joey Lucchesi had an excellent season, earning a mid-season promotion to San Antonio. The lefty with the funky delivery pitched to a 2.52 in 14 starts, averaging nearly eleven strikeouts per nine innings, while allowing opposing hitters to bat just .194. The former fourth-round pick can bring his fastball up to 93 mph and could be a dark-horse candidate for the big league rotation next season.
RHP Cal Quantrill also pitched well in his brief time with the Storm, before he too, earned a promotion to San Antonio. The eighth overall pick in 2016 had a few flashes of brilliance -- including a 12-strikeout performance in which he struck out big league hitters Logan Forsythe and Joc Pederson, who were rehabbing in the Cal League. All told, Quantrill started 14 games for the Storm, pitching to a 3.67 ERA in 73.2 innings. While Quantrills numbers dont jump off the page, it was his first full season since recovering from Tommy John surgery and he made it through without any significant hiccups. The righty has a plus changeup, a mid-90s fastball and a breaking ball that he feels is becoming a plus pitch.
We would be remiss if we did not mention LHP Eric Lauer, who also fared well before making the trip to the Texas League mid-season. The 25th overall pick in 2016 led the Cal League in ERA up until his final start in Lake Elsinore, where he was knocked around a bit. Overall, the lefty had a very respectable 2.79 ERA, while averaging 11 strikeouts per nine innings pitched. His pitching repertoire features four pitches (fastball, slider, curve, change) that are all projected to be average at best. He also showed the ability in Elsinore to throw all his pitches for strikes.
San Antonio Missions (Double-A)
The Missions were the best team in the system, winning their division in both halves. Their 78-62 record was the best in the league but the team lost a five-game series to the Midland RockHounds in the Texas League playoffs.
The team was headlined by Luis Urias, who continued to impress, despite being one of the younger players in the league. The team also got outstanding contributions from position players like Franmil Reyes, Noah Perio and Brett Kennedy and Enyel De Los Santos on the pitching side.
Top Players: Infielder Luis Urias finished sixth in the Texas League with a .296 average and his .398 on-base percentage paced the circuit. Even more impressively, Urias once again walked more than he struck out -- the fourth straight year he has achieved that feat.
Urias only hit two home runs and slugged just .380, although no one will mistake Wolff Stadium as a bandbox. Urias also played a lot of shortstop, although he profiles much better as a second baseman. The 20-year-old figures to get a promotion to Triple-A next season.
Outfielder Franmil Reyes had his best professional season, leading the Texas League in homers with 25 and he was second in the league with 102 RBI. Reyes put it together, showing his strong finish last season in Lake Elsinore was no fluke. The 65 outfielder struck out in thirty percent of his plate appearances, surely an area of his game he will attempt to refine next season.
On the mound: RHP Enyel De Los Santos was the best prospect that started the season with San Antonio and he seemingly got better as the season went along. In 150 innings. De Los Santos pitched to a 3.78 ERA with 138 strikeouts. The young righty has a fastball in the mid 90s and his slider could become an above-average pitch.
RHP Brett Kennedy won a team-high 13 games and was second on the staff in innings (to De Los Santos) with 141 IP. The Fordham righty doesnt have a big-time fastball but he was able to command a low 90s fastball to both sides of the plate. He finished with a solid 3.70 ERA with San Antonio in 2017.
MadFriars also chatted with Padres Director of Player Development Sam Geaney on the players that he saw in Lake Elsinore and San Antonio as well as Stu Paul, Mike Saegers partner on the Missions broadcast with whom we talk with below.
MadFriars Announcer Series: Mike Saeger
Mike Saeger was behind the microphone for the Missions once again in 2017, his eighth year with the club. The Texas League broadcaster has roots in California, having called NAIA baseball games prior to his work in San Antonio.
The veteran broadcaster answered questions, giving us his insight and experience to break down the best team in the San Diego system this season.
MadFriars: Luis Urias has established himself as a legitimate prospect. What did he bring to the top of the lineup each night?
Mike Saeger: [He brought a] very good zone awareness and the ability to put the bat on the ball. [Urias] had the best BB/K split of any qualifying hitter in the league. Later in the year, he did start chasing a lot more than he did early and his strikeout rate over his last 82 PA was about 18%, after hovering around 11% up to that point. Not sure if it was due to fatigue or an imperceptible change in his approach. I wouldnt think it was fatigue only because he had a couple of injuries that shelved him for about 3 total weeks in the second half. In the long run, I think hell make for a good little second baseman for the Padres.
On the subject of Urias, he tailed off in the second half. Was there a change in his approach?
Mike Saeger: I didnt notice anything that really stood out. I asked [San Antonio manager] Phillip [Wellman] about that once late in the season and he didnt really have a theory. It was interesting, though. His OPS from June 1 thru the end of the season was .669 while hitting .258. Over the first two months, he hit .343 and posted a .913 OPS.
Ty France came up and hit well out of the gate. Is the former SDSU star a guy that should be on the prospect radar?
Mike Saeger: Hard for me to say since Im not a scout. That said, hell have to hit for a lot of power if hes going to play a corner position in the majors. Showed a lot of pop during his first month with the club (.504 SLG first 36G) but then his slugging fell to .303 over his last 61 games, though he did post a solid OBP and a good BAVG for that stretch. The power will be the key for him moving forward since he doesnt really profile a super-sub utility type of player. He played a pretty nice 3B for us. Some of the front office guys who have been here awhile said that they thought he was the best 3B weve had since [Chase] Headley in 07.
Franmil Reyes had a monster year. Was his power surge for real in your opinion?
Mike Saeger: He has real man-strength and its to all fields. I think his power surge was legit. As you know, our park is one of the tougher HR yards in the league. He hit 13 of our 41 homers at home and no one else on the team hit more than seven. I think that ultimately, hell be better suited moving to first base, but his power will play up anywhere.
You caught a brief glimpse of Fernando Tatis Jr. at the end of the season. Do you think he can stick at short?
Mike Saeger: From the small sample size, I saw I dont think theres any reason to think he cant continue at short. Hes already a big kid and will obviously fill out more, so I suppose its possible that he could eventually outgrow the position, but weve also seen several cases over the years where a bigger guy has been able to continue productively at that position.
Josh Naylor showed flashes as a Mission. What were your overall impressions of him?
Mike Saeger: Flashes would be a fair assessment for his first taste of Double-A. The couple of homers he hit were legit opposite field shots. You can see that there is power there, its just a matter of figuring out how to tap into it on a consistent basis. I do know that he put up only so-so numbers in his first taste of the Cal League and then greatly improved when he went back there to start this year. I think well be able to form a much better opinion next year since hes had a taste of Double-A and will have a better idea of what to expect heading into next year. It takes time to really tap into that power source for a number of hitters.
Cody Bellinger is a prime example when you look at what he did early in his minor league career.
Enyel De Los Santos had a very good season. His fastball is big-time but does he have the makings of a legitimate off-speed pitch?
Mike Saeger: Hes got that good change up and I thought his breaking ball made some nice strides last year. For him, I think it was a matter of getting to a point of trusting his stuff and trusting himself. Once he started tasting some success he really rolled into form and became extremely reliable and consistent. His numbers, while solid, were misleading because he had a 7.51 ERA and 1.88 WHIP in 8 regular season starts vs. Midland compared to a 2.49 ERA and a 0.96 WHIP in his other 18 outings.
Quantrill, Lauer, and Lucchesi had some good moments in Double-A. Which of the three stood out most to you?
Mike Saeger: Lucchesi was the more advanced of the three and probably stood out the most to me when you look at how consistently good he was with us. Lauer had a very rough first month or so but adjusted thereafter and had a very strong finish. He looked a lot more like the Lauer we read about during the last month or so with us. Quantrill has a good arm but was definitely behind the other two during his time with us. I think that missing his last two years in college, essentially, played a role in that. Has a really good fastball and a nice change. The development and consistency of the slider is going to be key and I think that will come with more innings and reps.
What other players not mentioned stood out to you this season?
Mike Saeger: While he might not be considered a prospect in the scouting community, Noah Perio was a very valuable player and was one of our most consistent players this year. Played a very steady second base and even did a stand-up job when asked to play first on a number of occasions. He was among the league leaders in batting in the second half and could be counted on to put the ball in play.
T.J. Weir took his game to another level this year and was a valuable piece coming out of the pen. Could give you two-three innings if needed. Eric Yardley, a guy signed out the Pecos League, continued to get guys out on a regular basis and pitched in a lot of high-leverage situations.
Kevin Charity is a contributor to FoxSportsSanDiego and you can follow him @madfriars.com.