AZL Notes - San Diego Padres 1

From 7/12-7/17 I sat on the Padres 1 AZL roster. It is an intriguing roster headlined by highly-touted 2019 draftees, including 6th overall pick CJ Abrams and overslot third-rounder Hudson Head. The Padres inked Head for $3 million, which was the equivalent to end of first round dollars. The bonus placed him squarely between slot value of picks 22 and 23 for this year’s draft. Joshua Mears, the Padres second-round pick, was also on the roster. Noteworthy international signees included Miguel Rondon and Brandon Valenzuela. Rondon is an undersized but advanced Venezuelan righty with back-end starter potential. Valenzuela is a defense-first catcher with backup catcher upside.

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CJ Abrams (SS) – It does not take a scout’s eye to see Abrams is a special athlete. He didn’t show well this spring at NHSI, but the 120 decibel tools shone through; he has double-plus bat speed and elite speed (70). Abrams displays special hands at the plate and can do damage with little effort to his swing; for lack of a better word, he flicks the bat through the zone and still generates substantial carry. Physically, Abrams is thin but wiry strong. I look at the body and wonder if thin goes hand in hand with projectable. He looks like a fast metabolism kid who will not gain much more weight. At the same time, the Padres have huge monetary incentive for Abrams to succeed: expect team player dev/dieticians to craft a plan to help Abrams maximize his potential power. Projecting him to 50 future power feels reasonable.

Watching Abrams, one could come away with the impression he does not feel challenged by the level and was not always 100% locked in. During BP, the bat path was inconsistent. In game, he was (at times) out front on spin with his hands chopping down on the ball. His reaction to pro-caliber breaking balls should improve with reps and better competition at higher levels may incite another gear in Abrams. With the stick, Abrams has shown the ability to hit offspeed, ripping a changeup to right on 7/12. He has good barrel control and uses all fields. The special bat speed is a luxury, allowing for margin of error that few other players have. Put a 60 future on the hit. Defensively, Abrams has some rawness to his game but also immense athleticism. My feeling watching his defense is he moves too close to his max speed. Slowing to 90% speed in exchange for disproportionate gains in body control may yield better results. He is a good enough defender to stick at short, but should team needs dictate a move to the outfield, Abrams would also have the speed (70) and arm (45/50) to play in center. As an above average offensive contributor at a premium defensive position, Abrams profiles as a realistic role-60 player.

Hudson Head (CF) – The bonus Hudson Head signed (rightfully) sent ripples through #PadresTwitter. At $3 million it was a record for a third-round pick. Last week Head did not disappoint; the bat speed and hands are special. I would love to get my greasy paws on some blast motion data, but on the eye test alone his bat speed approximates to that of CJ Abrams. Head hit .500 in my 19 PA sample and rifled balls to all fields. Head times his swing with a large leg kick and creates separation by keeping his hands back around shoulder length through front foot strike. At first glance the swing looked long, and I thought his hands were too high too late, but Head makes it work with his bat speed and was consistently on time. Strong hip rotation through point of contact and at least plus bat speed power his swing; it is a thing of beauty. Present raw is around fringe average. Head’s body looks very projectable though; the power should get to 55 by maturity. If there is a spot Head can be attacked, it is down and away. The location of his hands through slot position and the rotational nature of his swing make him susceptible there. He did show some ability to go oppo, but he needs to prove he can do that more consistently to succeed at higher levels. My only run time on Head was 4.19. Call this an excuse or call it a reason, but his balls in play all felt like lasers; I don’t think he needed to make a max effort run. A 4.19 from the left is average speed, but Head looks faster than that; he is a plus runner. Defensively, Head lacks polish but shows the skills requisite to stick in center field long term. His range is good, and his 40-grade arm should improve as he fills out. Notably, Head is young for his class, having just turned 18 in April. I think he is a 50 hit/55 power guy who will stick in center field: that’s a role 50 with tools to be an above average contributor on both sides of the ball.

Josh Mears (OF) – Sandwiched between Abrams and Head was a high schooler from Washington, Josh Mears. The first thing that stands out with Mears is his sheer physicality; he is a tank. This is a 2% body fat kind of guy, all good weight. At the plate Mears swings from his heels with a lot of effort and generally makes hard contact when he connects. His approach was patient; Mears was comfortable working deep in counts and had a good idea of the zone. The two-strike approach needs some work; Mears did not alter the max-effort nature of his swings and that exposed him to swing and miss. Mears showed 60 present raw power in BP, but he is still learning to fully tap into it in game: the bat path can get flat. Mears is a good athlete but a below average runner. He is especially slow out of box due to the follow through of his swing that draws his momentum back toward the catcher. Even though Mears is only 18.4, his frame looks filled out. I wonder how much projection remains or if you’d even want him to get larger. Additional weight would probably limit his utility in the OF and force him to first. As-is Mears looks capable in right but with below average range and a 60 arm, maybe 70 arm. At this point Mears grades to a 40 FV realistic role with a second-division regular OFP if things break his way: he needs to adjust his two-strike approach and maintain enough mobility to stick in the outfield to realistically play every day.

Brandon Valenzuela (C) – Valenzuela is a defense-first catcher with a chance to hit enough to be a backup catcher. He is a solid, sturdy receiver behind home and moves well behind the plate. The arm is pretty good (65) with most pops around 1.90-1.95; the overall fluidity of his defensive movements stand out. At the plate he keeps his weight back, generating easy loft with a slight uppercut path; he tries to drive the ball. Valenzuela has a polished offensive approach and waits for “his pitch”. His .214 slugging percentage is not at all indicative of his power potential. A 40 hit/50 power outcome is within the realm of possible, but that is probably the rosy projection. Consistency of barrels in BP was encouraging; there is more bat to ball ability than his stat line might suggest. While I like the swing mechanics and barrel control, his bat speed is around fringe average to average which may hold him back. I also like his overall workmanlike, professional approach to the game. Valenzuela strikes me as the type of guy who will maximize his physical tools. I think he is a 40 OFP backup catcher with a good chance to get there.

Tirso Ornelas (OF) – The Padres gave 19-year-old Tirso Ornelas an aggressive assignment this spring, sending him to High-A Lake Elsinore where he was over three years below the average age. He struck out 27% of the time in 300+ PAs and was subsequently sent to the AZL. It feels strange because he has been in the public eye for some time, but Ornelas (only 19.4) is actually age-appropriate for the level. His body is physically mature for his age; he is a very strong kid. There is big raw power (at least 60), but Ornelas has looked overmatched in the AZL. The bat speed is around average and the swing mechanics will make it difficult for Ornelas to touch premo velocity as he climbs back up the ladder. There is a sizeable hitch in his swing that makes consistent hard contact difficult. The late positioning of his hands has resulted in frequent swing and miss and weak groundball contact. Defensively, he is athletic enough for the outfield, but it is ultimately a bat-first profile. A swing overhaul would need to happen for Ornelas’ to tap into his power. While not impossible, it feels like a long shot. He is a role 30 for me.

Bryan Torres (INF) – Torres is a guy you root for. It’s a little ironic that as a smaller guy (5’9” 165), and he does all the little things right. At age 19.6, he does not have the sexiest ceiling, but I love his defensive versatility and approach to the game. In five games he played short, third and second. The body control was impressive during INF drills, and he is an instinctive, high IQ defender – Swiss army knife type. He is more quick than fast: a fringe average runner with a top speed of 4.33 to first from the right (more were around 4.40). Range defensively is above average where his instincts and quickness play up. Torres has good hand/eye coordination, good bat to ball ability, and around 40 raw power, more than you might expect for his size. The overall tools are probably not loud enough to get him there, but the ceiling is a role-40 super-utility player. Considering his age for the level, I am skeptical of his chances. The more likely scenario is a role 30 up and down guy who can fill in at multiple spots if there are injuries.

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Miguel Rondon (RHP) – The the biggest name you probably have never heard of on Padres 1 is Miguel Rondon. He is a thin, but athletic 5’11” Venezuelan. Rondon threw five innings on 7/17, and I quickly became smitten. Rondon repeats his mechanics well and has borderline-plus command at present. He is very advanced for his age boasting three pitches with a chance to get to 55 or better. The fastball sat 90-92 and touched 93. Rondon’s frame has some room for more weight so we can dream on another couple of ticks of velocity. At maturity he likely settles into the 92-94 range. Rondon spots the FB where he wants it and has advanced command. For me he projects to plus command or better. His low-70s CB featured mostly 12-6 shape and tight spin. The spin access occasionally became inverted and the shape looked 1-7. The CB flashed 60 and was his primary swing and miss offering. The changeup did not have big movement, but Rondon showed great feel and confidence in the pitch, throwing it against both-sided hitters in any count. Rondon maintained arm speed for all pitches and frankly was a master of sequencing. I never knew what he would go to next; he would use any pitch in any count. Rondon is a bull dog that throws strikes and attacks hitters. His advanced pitchability will help his stuff play up. (It would also not surprise me if he were to add a fourth pitch to his mix at some point). Size be damned, I look at him and think backend starter.

Alexuan Vega (LHP) – This is cheating because Vega was on Padres 2, but I caught him in cross-coverage. He showed better in extended spring training, but at his core Vega is an athletic lefty with a plus high-70s breaking ball. The delivery is athletic and easy, but he has struggled to throw strikes consistently. His breaking ball (unsure of classification) is nasty with big two-plane break. The fastball was 92-95 in extended, and he looked like a possible weapon out of the pen. His AZL look was less exciting with velo around 90-91, touching 93. I still think Vega has more in velocity in that arm. His lack of control is what has shaken my confidence in him. Vega has role-40 pen potential, but his chances of reaching that ceiling seem less likely; he is more of role 35 guy (run-of-the-mill reliever).

Moises Lugo (RHP) – Lugo is a two-pitch reliever with a role 40 ceiling. He sat mid 90s and paired it with a slider that flashed plus in the 83-85 range with good depth/little tilt. His arm angle results in occasional run on the fastball. He has a high-effort reliever-y delivery and an upright release that cuts into his extension, making the ball easier to see out of his hand. It is control over command right now: Lugo threw strikes but also got too much plate and was knocked around. He is a role 30 guy. The stuff is good enough, but he needs to be more consistent with command to succeed at higher levels.  

Edgar Martinez is an 18-year-old, undersized Cuban with four pitches (none of which were overpowering). He was around 5’9” and worked a low-90s fastball. Martinez used a low slot which further reduced his downhill plane. His change (83-84) was his best secondary, flashing 55. The slider 81-83 and high-70s CB were both below average. He has decent feel to pitch but lacks physical projection, polish over projection type guy.

Frank Lopez and Seth Mayberry are both good body, middle relief upside plays. Lopez sat low 90s with some run from his low slot. He has a couple fringey secondary pitches including a changeup that flashed 50. His age (18.25) and body projection make him interesting. Mayberry is 19 with a 6’3” 200 frame. He has a long arm action and a 12-6 CB that flashed 50.

You can follow me on Twitter @jasonpennini .