Tatis, hurlers forecast sunny days in San Diego

Strong system shines through with Padres Organization All-Stars

While setting a franchise record at the dish, Fernando Tatis Jr. notched 243 assists at shortstop for Fort Wayne. (Fort Wayne TinCaps)

By Josh Jackson / MiLB.com | December 4, 2017 10:15 AM

This offseason, MiLB.com is taking a look at the most outstanding campaigns by players in each system across Minor League Baseball and honoring the players -- regardless of age or prospect status -- who had the best seasons in their organization.

Since the Padres' last winning season -- 2010, the year they traded Adrian Gonzalez to the Red Sox -- fans have been reading about prospects predicting a sunny future in San Diego. Undeniably, not every move has worked out. But it's also undeniable that the Padres now have one of the game's most loaded farm systems.

"We're pleased to have seen an accumulation of talent over the last two or three years in the organization. It's a testament to our scouting staff -- professional, amateur and international," said Sam Geaney, who's been the Padres' director of player development since October 2014. "It's a talented group and we're proud of the work our development staff has done to see steps forward. But it starts with the talent we're given."

2017 Organization All-Stars

A lot of that talent is in pitching. Ignoring those honored below, MacKenzie Gore, Cal Quantrill, Adrian Morejon, Anderson Espinoza, Michel Baez, Logan Allen, Chris Paddack, Eric Lauer and Enyel De Los Santos make quite the ensemble.

There's also plenty of middle infield talent. As Carlos Asuaje found success in the Majors, two shortstops (Luis Urias and Fernando Tatis Jr.) joined MLB.com's top 100 prospects and two more exciting youngsters (Gabriel Arias and Luis Almanzar) made their pro debuts.

On top of those riches, San Diego has outfielders ready to establish themselves as everyday big leaguers (Hunter Renfroe, two of those named below and others), even as Manuel Margot comes off a strong rookie campaign. A little farther down, Franmil Reyes, Michael Gettys and Edwin Moreno are on a promising track.

Looking for results? Three Padres affiliates played postseason ball. Triple-A El Paso and Class A Fort Wayne reached their respective Championship Series, and Double-A San Antonio reached the semifinals.

Padres Organization All-Stars

Catcher -- Austin Allen, Lake Elsinore (112 games): Allen got on base at a .353 clip while establishing career highs with 22 homers and 31 doubles.

"[His production is] a pretty good bet to continue going forward," Geaney said. "I would be remiss if I didn't acknowledge it's a good place to hit, but he's hit since we've had him."

Over 750 2/3 innings, the 2015 fourth-round pick allowed six passed balls, although he threw out 21 percent of potential basestealers.

"We saw strides," Geaney said, crediting Allen's work with catching instructor John Nester. "I think you find times to get him a DH at-bat and then he's in a better position to last through the rigors of catching, but his arm strength definitely improved, his release has gotten better and we expect there will be smaller continued adjustments."

First baseman -- Brad Zunica, Fort Wayne (84 games): Repeating the Midwest League, Zunica boosted his on-base percentage 67 points to .361 and his slugging percentage 103 points to .504, bashing 18 homers while reducing his strikeout rate before missing most of August with a foot injury.

"It was a very aggressive assignment for him in 2016 to go out and play a full season," Geaney said of the 2015 15th-rounder. "It made sense to challenge him and we did it knowing ... there was a possibility he was going to have to repeat the level. He's always been a good worker, but a year of professional baseball under his belt paid dividends. He's also a guy who ... learned the value of a walk."

Video: Zunica puts the TinCaps on the scoreboard

Second baseman -- Esteury Ruiz, AZL Padres (31 games), AZL Royals (21 games): Ruiz was named Arizona League MVP after leading the circuit with a .350 average in 52 games and ranking third with 26 stolen bases. In 31 games following the July 24 Trevor Cahill deal that brought the 18-year-old Dominican over from from Kansas City, he swiped 17 bags while hitting .300/.364/.475.

"Just a very natural pure hitter. He's very athletic and he runs well," Geaney said. "He improved a lot defensively with his throwing and angles to the baseball since we've had him. He acclimated very well to a new team in his first year playing in the States. He's fun to be around and he loves to work. He's very much a Padre."

Third baseman -- Christian Villanueva, El Paso (109 games), San Diego (12 games): Formerly a ranked Cubs prospect, Villanueva missed the 2016 campaign with a fractured fibula and signed with the Padres as a free agent last December. He rebounded with 50 extra-base hits in the Pacific Coast League.

"[Acquiring Villanueva] was very much an upside play on a guy who's still very talented, still quite young," Geaney said. "He was one of our best players in El Paso. He's a former shortstop, very athletic, and he did a good job at third base."

Honorable mention: Hudson Potts, a 2016 first-rounder, banged out 20 homers and 23 doubles in the Midwest League. The dingers would have tied the TinCaps' single-season record had Tatis not eclipsed him with 21.

Shortstop -- Fernando Tatis Jr., Fort Wayne (117 games), San Antonio (14 games): Tatis' breakout was among the most noteworthy this year. After putting up a .281/.380/.520 line with 54 extra-base hits and 29 steals in 117 Midwest League games, he leapt to the Texas League.   

"I was there during his first few games in Double-A. It very much looked right. He looked like he belonged at that level as an 18-year-old kid who would have been in high school and Draft-eligible [this year] had he been born in the States," Geaney said. "With all players, but especially in Fernando's case, we're asking ourselves, 'Are they at appropriate levels? Are they being challenged?' It got to the point where it was not much of a challenge for Fernando the last couple weeks in the Midwest League."


• On the blog: Tatis promotion had ripple effect


Tatis notched 18 total bases and three steals in his first 14 games with San Antonio, then hit .350/.391/.550 with five runs scored in five playoff games. The Dominican-born son of an 11-year Major League veteran also played winter ball games in his home country.

Honorable mention: Luis Urias led the Texas League with a .398 OBP and was an All-Star there as well as a participant in the Arizona Fall League's Fall Stars Game. He moved to second base when Tatis arrived in San Antonio and also took the bulk of his AFL reps there.

Outfielders -- Franchy Cordero, El Paso (93 games), San Diego (30 games): The Padres moved Cordero from shortstop to the outfield during the 2015 season and believe the conversion made him "a little bit freed up, and we saw what can be done," Geaney said.

This year, he batted .326/.369/.603 with 17 dingers, 21 doubles and 15 steals. The 23-year-old speedster's 18 triples tied for tops in the Minor Leagues, even though he played only 93 games in the PCL.

Video: El Paso's Cordero ropes a triple

"He's one of the fastest players in all of professional baseball. He's one of the best athletes we've got," Geaney said. "The nuts and bolts of learning the center field position came very easily to him. There's still work to be done, to continue to get him in the strike zone a little more, to get him on base a little more. But it's been a pretty rapid ascent for a guy who was in low-A, playing shortstop two years ago."

Rafael Ortega, El Paso (121 games): Now a free agent, Ortega put together an impressive Triple-A campaign, hitting .317/.383/.468 with 31 doubles and 26 steals.

Jabari Blash, El Paso (72 games), San Diego (61 games): Blash split the season between the PCL and the Majors. When he was with the Chihuahuas, he made his presence felt. The 28-year-old native of St. Thomas collected 20 homers in 72 PCL games, adding 16 doubles while posting a .419 OBP.

"It's a strong Triple-A performance, and the more opportunities he has at the Major League level, the better chance there is that things are going to click and he's going to get closer to mimicking the performance," Geaney said.

Utility/designated hitter-- Nick Buss, El Paso (114 games): Like Ortega, Buss became a free agent with a resume spruced up by another stellar PCL campaign. In fact, he won the batting title with a .348 mark and totaled 38 extra-base knocks.

Right-handed starting pitcher -- Chris Huffman, Lake Elsinore (eight games, six starts), San Antonio (11 starts), El Paso (seven starts): Climbing three levels, Huffman led Padres right-handers with a 3.18 ERA while placing fourth in the system with 144 innings pitched.  

"He throws strikes. He's very intelligent.," Geaney said. "Going forward, we can see him in a variety of roles. He definitely has value as a starter and he put himself on the radar for us, and I imagine for other organizations, with his strike-throwing."

Left-handed starting pitcher -- Joey Lucchesi, Lake Elsinore (14 starts), San Antonio (10 games, nine starts): Lucchesi went 6-4 with a 2.52 ERA and 95 strikeouts over 78 2/3 innings in the Cal League. Following a promotion to Double-A, he was 5-3 with a 1.79 ERA, making him part of a trio of 2016 early-rounders (along with Lauer and Quantrill) to experience success in the Texas League in 2017.

"Joey probably separated himself a little more than anyone else, if we're talking pure performance," Geaney said. "There is some funk to how he does things. He has a unique look and delivery, but you can't mistake his stuff for just deception."

Video: Missions' Lucchesi notches fifth strikeout

Lucchesi also turned in seven scoreless innings in his lone postseason start.

More Organization All-Stars

Relief pitcher -- Trey Wingenter, San Antonio (49 games): Wingenter held opponents to a .193 average and led the system with 20 saves. The 23-year-old right-hander fanned 64, walked 19 and allowed 13 earned runs over 47 2/3 innings for a 2.45 ERA. He also made three scoreless appearances in the PCL playoffs.

Josh Jackson is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @JoshJacksonMiLB. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

View More