Last April, Ruddy Giron was an unknown 18-year-old in extended spring training, coming off a dreadful U.S. debut in 2014.
However, by mid-May a combination of need in the organization and his strong work at the Peoria Sports Complex convinced the organization he was ready to play shortstop for the Fort Wayne TinCaps.
Giron announced his arrival in full-season ball by going 6-for-6 with a homer in his first game, and by the end of June he had an eye-popping .351/.408/.545 batting line, guaranteeing that he'd no longer be unknown.
"For me, that was great," said Giron, who has worked hard to learn English since arriving in the U.S. "I was the youngest in the Midwest League, and that was a great experience. To play in front of 8,000 people, and how [well] we played the last couple of months."
While Giron faded down the stretch, he still finished with a solid .742 OPS as the second-youngest player in the Midwest League (only teammate Luis Urias, who joined him on the roster in June, was younger). He earned recognition from MadFriars as the TinCap's top prospect and seemed certain to open the 2016 season in Lake Elsinore.
Then the Padres acquired Javier Guerra as one of four players the Boston Red Sox sent in exchange for All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel, and things got murky. The strong-armed Panamanian, himself only 20 years old and coming off an impressive year with the Sox Low-A Greenville club, usurped Giron as the first up at shortstop for the Storm. That left the Padres to decide whether they wanted to promote Giron, or keep him at shortstop.
Given the options, the club opted to have him return to Fort Wayne - where he will still be among the youngest players in the league - to open this season. And while that means Padres fans will have to wait a bit longer before they can drive up Interstate 15 to see the Dominican-born Giron, it also ensures that he'll be on a better path toward his ultimate goal of playing in the Majors.
"In terms of value and our vision, we see him as capable of becoming a big league shortstop," said Padres director of player development Sam Geaney.
"There are only 30 of those guys in the major leagues, so when you have a chance to develop one or more, you have to take that opportunity."
Giron now slots into an impressive line of young, talented middle infielders coming up through their system, with Guerra and, to a lesser degree, Double-A starter Jose Rondon in front of him and a trio of Venezuelan shortstops led by 17-year-old Reinaldo Ilarraza coming behind him. And while Urias doesn't profile with the arm to play shortstop regularly, he's another capable middle infielder on whom the Padres will rely.
That recipe of building around young, talented middle-infielders is one that General Manager A.J. Preller used consistently in Texas, where his international scouting team signed Jurickson Profar, Rougned Odor, Odubel Herrera, Leury Garcia, Luis Sardinas, and Hanser Alberto, who have all reached the big leagues in recent years.
"It's interesting last year we had one potential major league shortstop in the system in Jose Rondon," said Geaney. "Now we have four guys, Rondon, Javier Guerra, Ruddy and Luis Urias. All of them are capable of playing up the middle and are going to have to compete and will get plenty of opportunities to show us what they can do."
For Giron, that competition means that he'll have work to do this year in all aspects of his game. Defensively at shortstop, his footwork can be a bit rough and his arm action tends to get long, and at the plate he has to avoid letting his weight drift forward. But those are relatively minor issues which can be fixed with more work.
"Ruddy sees himself as a big league shortstop," said Geaney. "In terms of his vision, leadership and ability to make the plays we certainly see him as having a chance to do that."
Giron arrived at spring training having trimmed a few pounds off his frame since he departed from the Padres' instructional league program in October. He weighed in at 195 pounds even as he added muscle during a winter that included work with team in San Diego in December and the Dominican complex in January.
His added physical conditioning should help him avoid a fade down the stretch in his second full year.
"The fatigue was [a lot] the last month," said Giron. "I needed to make an adjustment every day, every pitcher, every at-bat. That was hard for me."
Depending on how things go early this year, the Padres will need to decide if Guerra and Giron are ready to move up a level. If Giron gets off to another hot start but Guerra isn't ready for Double-A, the team may opt to promote Giron and have the two play side-by-side on the left side of the infield for Elsinore. If both are effective, they might push Rondon forward, or to second base in San Antonio.
Having so many options is a good thing for the organization.
And Giron is ready for whatever awaits.
"Right now, I feel good. I'm not worried if I play third or short or second, it's the same. I just want to play for the team and play hard."