This is the final installment of a six-part Toolshed series that uses FanGraphs' Steamer600 projections to look at how prospects would fare over a full Major League season in 2019. The system bases its forecast on 600 plate appearances for position players, 450 plate appearances for catchers, 200 innings for starting pitchers and 65 innings for relievers -- taking into account age, past performance and previous Minor League levels, among other factors.
Last month, there was some pretty big news coming from San Diego. The Padres will have a new look for the 2020 season, according to a report by The San Diego Union-Tribune. That grabbed the attention of fans because the biggest part of that development seemed to be that the club would go back to brown as a primary uniform color for the first time in three decades. That's all good and exciting and reminiscent of the first half of Tony Gwynn's career, but there may have been something deeper there than just a simple change of color scheme.
The Padres might want a new exciting look for 2020 because, by then, the players they have on the field -- including several currently in the farm system -- should bring their own new exciting look to San Diego. In fact, if popular opinion and Steamer projections are correct, the talent will top the return of brown.
The wealth of talent in the Padres' farm system was put into black-and-white recently when MLB.com announced its Top-100 list for the coming 2019 season and ranked 10 of San Diego's prospects among those 100, more than any other organization. The Braves were second with eight, so no one else was even particularly close. Of those 10, six (Fernando Tatis Jr., Luis Urías, Francisco Mejía, Chris Paddack, Logan Allen, Michel Baez) have already played at the Double-A level or above, and two (Urias, Mejia) have made their Major League debuts. So while this may appear to be a young group, there is a lot of impressive talent on the cusp of influencing the National League West.
In fact, these are the top nine Padres position players heading into the 2019 season, as ranked by their Steamer600 Wins Above Replacement projection. Prospects/players with rookie eligibility are notated by asterisks.
Outside of Kinsler, Hosmer and Myers, it's an incredibly young group. In a nod to possible 2020 contention, the Steamer projections for 2019 are far from some of their potential ceilings, especially on the prospect side.
Ranked the No. 2 prospect in the game, Tatis is the biggest blue-chipper the Padres have, and many expect him to reach San Diego quickly. The volume of questions manager Andy Green faced about Tatis alone at the Winter Meetings in Las Vegas nearly two months ago speaks to that, and for good reason. The shortstop has plus tools across the board and showed those off when he hit .286/.355/.507 with 16 homers and 16 steals as a 19-year-old at Double-A San Antonio last season. The only thing holding him back was an injured left thumb that ended his season prematurely in July -- right when Tatis really had hit his stride. Continued offensive improvement (or even a jump to Triple-A) could have seen a major Steamer projection. Instead, Tatis, who will likely open at Triple-A El Paso, is the middle of the pack here, but few expect him to be there when he does make the Majors, hopefully as early as the first half.
Urias and Mejia should have legitimate chances to win jobs right out of spring. Both sport about the same WAR projection, but Urias might have the leg up. The 21-year-old middle infielder struggled some in his first taste of the Majors (.208/.264/.354 in 12 games) before a hamstring injury ended his season early in September, but he made an impression with his overall hit tool in the Pacific Coast League before the promotion and Green thought he was about to turn a corner before he was sidelined. The Padres may have signed Ian Kinsler to man second base initially out of the gate, but Urias is still capable of playing short (where he has 104 career Minor League starts) until Tatis gets the call.
Mejia has more direct competition with Austin Hedges, but Steamer gives the slight advantage to Mejia in terms of WAR projection: 1.6 to 1.4. It might come down to defense, which is Hedges' forte. Mejia has a plus-plus arm behind the plate, but has faced questions about the other facets of the position. He has some experience in the outfield and third base, going back to his time in the Cleveland system. Still, Steamer likes his bat enough that it projects he could overcome the defensive issues enough to beat Hedges to a primary catching role. Either way, that could be the battle of camp for San Diego this spring and beyond.
One quick shoutout to Esteban Quiroz, who didn't even factor into San Diego's last top-30 prospect ranking, but still tops the entire organization's list of position players in terms of WAR projection. The 26-year-old second baseman was acquired from the Red Sox for reliever Colten Brewer in November. He spent seven seasons playing professionally in his native Mexico (all of which are baked into the Steamer projections) before joining Boston last season and batting .299/.413/.598 with seven homers in 24 games with Double-A Portland prior to undergoing hernia surgery. A standout Arizona Fall League campaign likely helped his trade stock but didn't officially boost his Steamer numbers. Quiroz isn't on the 40-man roster yet and may be behind Urias and Kinsler at second base entering the spring, but the projections make him worth following.
On the pitching side, Chris Paddack could be the Padres prospect ready to pounce. A quick revisit of the table shared in last week's piece on AL West rookies shows that the No. 34 prospect is projected to be baseball's best rookie pitcher, should he get 200 innings in 2019. At 3.9 WAR, Paddack would be worth almost one more full win above his closest competition in Astros right-hander Josh James, and that's because Paddack is elite when it comes to striking out a ton of batters while walking very few. The 23-year-old right-hander was the MiLBY winner for Top Starting Pitcher in 2018 after striking out 120 and walking only eight over 90 innings between Class A Advanced Lake Elsinore and Double-A San Antonio. He also posted a 2.10 ERA and a miniscule 0.82 WHIP in that span. For his Minor League career, Paddack has averaged 11.5 strikeouts per walks. Steamer knows all that and gives him a glowing projection as a result. What it doesn't factor in is that Paddack was fairly limited last season after missing all of 2017 with Tommy John surgery, having never thrown more than six innings or 86 pitches in a start. It's still a question to see how his results can hold up with an increased workload, never mind the 200 innings Steamer has to give him here as a starting pitcher. However, it's still fascinating to see the system rate him so highly one year after he entered spring completely off the Top-100 radar. Perhaps his arrival in San Diego at some point will mark a tidal wave of talent, similar to that of Atlanta's in 2018, with Allen, Baez, Adrian Morejon, Cal Quantrill and others falling in behind.
The Padres prospect projections may not jump out on the page compared to their scouting reports or the Steamer numbers of their peers, but they do establish a foundation on which the organization could build its next contender. Then again, perhaps it can squeeze out one last surprise in blue and white.
Below are rookie projections for each of the five NL West clubs. To be considered, a prospect must be ranked among MLB.com's top 30 in the organization and must have spent a significant portion of the 2018 season at Double-A or above or be on the 40-man roster. (Exceptions were made for some Top-100 overall prospects, consistently the subject of "When are they coming up?" questions.)
San Diego Padres
Most ready: Urias, Mejia
Give it time: Tatis
Wild cards: Austin Allen could be a dark horse in the catching competition. The 25-year-old had a standout 2018 offensively with a slash line of .290/.351/.506, 22 homers and 31 doubles in 119 games for San Antonio. As a result, his hitting projection isn't far off from Mejia's or Hedges', and the Padres even rewarded him with a 40-man spot as Rule 5 protection in November. However, he's still below-average defensively, and he might be better off getting more looks at first base in 2019. He should hit his way to San Diego in some capacity this year, and his position will determine just how much value he can provide.
Top-100 talent: While there is a young glut of talent knocking on the Major League door, there's even younger talent further away in this deep system. MacKenzie Gore, Luis Patino and Ryan Weathers most certainly won't be ready after limited looks at Class A last season, while Baez and Morejon would only be brought up if San Diego decides to put all hands on deck. Allen has the best shot of anyone not featured in the intro of contributing heavily to the big club in 2019 after he ranked second in the Texas League with a 2.75 ERA over 121 innings last season.
Most ready: Yoan Lopez once looked like an $8 million bust coming out of Cuba, but ever since moving to a relief role in 2017, he's very much looked back on track. The 26-year-old right-hander posted a 2.92 ERA and a 1.04 WHIP with 87 strikeouts in 61 2/3 innings with Double-A Jackson last season. He made his Major League debut in September, allowing three earned runs while fanning 11 in nine frames. His 0.3 WAR projection puts him a tie for sixth among Arizona relievers, meaning he'll enter 2019 right on the fringe of the big league bullpen, but his high-90s fastball and above-average slider should help him stick out in the spring. They've certainly helped miss bats at impressive rates with Lopez striking out 39.2 percent of the Minor League batters he's faced the past two seasons. That said, he skipped over Triple-A Reno to make the Majors at the end of last summer, so a quick move to the PCL could be in order as well.
Give it time: Jon Duplantier's Steamer case is fairly similar to that of Paddack's. Ever since the D-backs took him in the third round of the 2016 Draft, the No. 73 overall prospect has put up some special numbers -- namely his career marks of a 1.79 ERA, a 1.05 WHIP and 10.5 K/9. What's not included is that Duplantier was held to 67 innings with Jackson last season because of right biceps tendinitis. He made up for those lost innings in the Arizona Fall League, where he looked good in some cases (32 K's in 21 2/3 innings) and a little more pedestrian in others (3.32 ERA, 1.52 WHIP). So while the 24-year-old right-hander's Steamer numbers stand out here among his fellow Arizona prospects, he'll still be back in the upper Minors for most, if not all, of 2019. To the D-backs' credit, his 2.0 WAR projection is fifth-best among possible Arizona starters -- not counting Taijuan Walker, who will be out most of the season -- so he'd probably open on the outside looking in because of service-time issues even if he was coming off a healthy season.
Wild cards: Taylor Widener gets a dreaded reliever projection here despite the fact that 25 of his 26 appearances with Jackson were starts last season. And what starts they were. The No. 83 overall prospect, who was traded from the Yankees last February, was second in the Minors with 176 strikeouts in 137 1/3 innings and led the Arizona system with a 2.75 ERA. His three-pitch mix, including a plus fastball and above-average changeup give him a good chance to start, and it would have been helpful to see what Steamer would think he could do in that role in the Majors right now. Instead, he'll open 2019 in Reno, trying to bang down the door past Merrill Kelly or the recently acquired Luke Weaver.
Top-100 talent: Jazz Chisholm (No. 60) broke out in a big way in the power department with 25 home runs in 112 games between Class A Kane County and Class A Advanced Visalia. He also showed above-average speed with 17 stolen bases and exhibited a real chance to stick at shortstop. The projection doesn't back up the enthusiasm just yet, but perhaps after another toolsy full season in 2019, the Steamer outlook will match the ceiling.
Most ready: Many would expect Brendan Rodgers to climb to Denver's mountaintop at some point in 2019 after the No. 10 overall prospect finished 2018 with Triple-A Albuquerque, and Steamer backs that up quite nicely. The projection system pegs the 22-year-old infielder to hit .280/.323/.451 with 19 homers and a 92 wRC+ over a full Major League season -- numbers that work out to a 2.0 WAR. However, that WAR would come if he spent the whole season as a shortstop. With Trevor Story entrenched at that spot, it's more likely Rodgers will have to move around the infield to find Major League time, and with DJ LeMahieu off to the Bronx, second base would make a lot of sense. Rodgers could face more competition there from Garrett Hampson or Ryan McMahon or even free-agent signing Daniel Murphy should the Rockies find a better first-base option, but no one in that group has the long-term potential of Rodgers. How Colorado deploys the 2015 first-rounder in Major League camp this spring could tell us a lot about where it views his future defensive home and place in the infield pecking order.
Give it time: Peter Lambert ended 2018 as a Top-100 prospect but has since fallen out of that group for the 2019 update, in part because he posted a 5.04 ERA in 11 starts with Triple-A Albuquerque last season and didn't miss many bats either with 31 K's in 55 1/3 innings. As a result of those numbers, his 1.2 WAR projection only ranks ninth-best among potential Rockies starters. That's fine considering Colorado won't need to rush the 21-year-old right-hander at a time when the rotation is undoubtedly a strength. Lambert has special control -- 27 walks in 148 innings across two levels last season -- and a return to the PCL will give him a chance to work on keeping hitters off balance with his four-pitch mix while still staying in the zone. Slotting Lambert in next to German Márquez, Kyle Freeland, Jon Gray and Tyler Anderson is a Rockies fan's dream, but it's still a ways away from becoming a reality.
Wild cards: Not to be passed over so easily, Hampson is considered MLB.com's No. 5 second-base prospect, making him a natural fit to slide into LeMahieu's place at the keystone. He holds the Steamer advantage over McMahon right now (1.6 WAR to 1.2), and the system believes he'd provide equal offensive to Rodgers in terms of wRC+ with Hampson holding a considerable advantage in terms of speed. What makes Hampson a wild card is the leash he'll be given if he does become Colorado's Opening Day second baseman. Will the Rockies allow him to make some mistakes early? Or will he need to hit and steal a ton right away to hold off McMahon and Rodgers? Will the Rockies make another offseason acquisition that could push Mark Reynolds or Ian Desmond to first and Murphy to second? Hampson has an interesting enough set of skills to be a Major League option, especially after he played 24 games with the big club in 2018, but the next week will show just how much his parent club believes those skills could help its run toward contention right away.
Top-100 talent: Colton Welker (No. 95) has done nothing but hit since he went in the fourth round of the 2016 Draft, but after spending all of 2018 with Class A Advanced Lancaster, the 21-year-old third baseman is still one for the future, not the present. Nolan Arenado's contract negotiations will be watched closely with the four-time All-Star potentially hitting free agency next offseason, but first, Welker will have to show his offensive numbers are more than just products of some severe hitting environments in the lower levels of the Rockies system.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Most ready: From an anecdotal standpoint, Alex Verdugo has the biggest case to be a Major Leaguer in 2019. The No. 35 overall prospect has played 208 combined games with Triple-A Oklahoma City the past two seasons while picking up 111 plate appearances in the Majors as well, 20 short of prospect graduation. He's coming off a 2018 season in which he batted .329/.391/.472 with 10 homers in 91 games in the PCL -- numbers that earned him a spot on the league's postseason All-Star team -- and his plus-plus arm scored him nine outfield assists combined from all three spots. A crowded Los Angeles outfield got a little less so when the club moved Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp to the Reds, but the free-agent addition of A.J. Pollock doesn't help Verdugo's case. His Steamer projection doesn't do many favors either. The system might believe he can be an above-average Major League hitter, but his 1.5 WAR projection trails well behind those for Cody Bellinger (3.5), Joc Pederson (3.0) and Pollock (2.7). Verdugo could open the season as the Dodgers' fourth outfielder, and he'll have to show he can be more than his projections to get a bigger role than that.
Give it time: With Yasmani Grandal moving to Milwaukee, everyone agrees it's basically a waiting game in Los Angeles for either Keibert Ruiz or Will Smith to take over long term behind the plate. It's a bit of a surprise to see Steamer prefer Ruiz over Smith this early. While Ruiz stands at No. 36 in the Top 100 and Smith isn't ranked there at all, the latter moved quicker up the Dodgers chain in 2018, getting 25 games with Oklahoma City after splitting time with Ruiz at Double-A Tulsa to open the season. However, the 23-year-old's .138/.206/.218 line in that first look at Triple-A did him no favors in terms of projection, and Ruiz earns points for putting up a .268/.328/.401 line at age 19 at the Minors' second-highest level. Both obviously need more development time, but given his projection and better package of tools, Ruiz could push past Smith on the organizational depth chart, possibly in the second half of the season.
Wild cards: There's a good chance Dennis Santana wouldn't have been on this list had he not strained his right rotator cuff back in June. The 22-year-old right-hander debuted in the Majors out of the bullpen on June 1 and was set to make his first start six days later before experiencing the injury that knocked him out for the rest of the season. Even with all that time off, Steamer still likes the 22-year-old right-hander most out of all Dodgers pitching prospects, in part because he posted a 2.54 ERA and a 1.05 WHIP with a 65/16 K/BB ratio in 49 2/3 innings at Double-A and Triple-A before his promotion. The Dodgers have said Santana will be ready for Spring Training, and with his plus fastball and above-average slider, he should feature back in the Majors at some point. But shoulder injuries lead to big question marks, and with what can be an energetic delivery, it might be best if Santana moves to the bullpen full time.
Top-100 talent: Gavin Lux (No. 70) put himself on the Top-100 radar after hitting .324/.399/.514 with 15 homers and 13 stolen bases between Class A Advanced Rancho Cucamonga and Double-A Tulsa in 2018. His Steamer projection, which also factors in his rough 2017, isn't much to write home about yet, but that's OK with Corey Seager ready to return to shortstop this spring. Lux could spend 2019 continuing to work on second base, where he made 17 starts last season, with the hope of pairing him with Seager perhaps in 2020.
San Francisco Giants
Most ready: All things point to it being a rough year in San Francisco, and it won't help matters that the most promising projection here is a reliever and not a game-changing toolsy prospect. That said, Ray Black's potential is interesting. His 3.02 ERA, 3.10 FIP and 12.5 K/9 projections top all Giants pitchers, and his 0.8 WAR estimation is tops among potential San Francisco relievers. That might come as a bit of a shock after the 28-year-old right-hander posted a 6.17 ERA in 23 1/3 innings with the big club last season, but his 3.98 FIP speaks much better to how good he was against big league bats. Black has always possessed a power arm (as evidenced by the 97.9 mph average on his heater) and has made significant strides in the control department, walking only 22 in 59 innings across all levels in 2018. If he can keep that up in 2019, he has real late-inning potential.
Give it time: Shaun Anderson has taken over as the top pitching prospect in the San Francisco system a year and a half after he was dealt from the Red Sox for Eduardo Núñez, and he'll enter 2019 one stop away from the Bay with Triple-A Sacramento. However, Steamer believes the 24-year-old right-hander will need a little more than a couple weeks of PCL seasoning before making his Major League debut, pegging Anderson to be a below-replacement-level starter out of the gate. That's not a huge surprise after he posted fairly pedestrian numbers in his first look at Triple-A (4.18 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 34 strikeouts in 47 1/3 innings). But with an arsenal that includes four average to above-average pitches and impressive control, Anderson has the skill set to work his way into the rotation discussion at some point. It might just take a few months of consistent results with the River Cats first.
Wild cards: The Giants face a real lack of exciting outfield options going into 2019 and have spent the offseason trying to find at least some help out there. They grabbed Drew Ferguson from the Astros in the Rule 5 Draft and added Mike Gerber on waivers, though he was eventually outrighted to Sacramento. Also, Chris Shaw is the only ranked prospect of the bunch slated to get a starting spot on the grass as he's penciled in as the Opening Day left fielder. Steamer likes Ferguson, who hit .305/.436/.429 at Triple-A Fresno last season, most of that bunch, considering he's the only one above replacement-level with his WAR projection, but even then not by much. At least the lack of depth here should help his chances to stick with the Major League club all season.
Top-100 talent: The Giants would love to see Heliot Ramos (No. 92) become part of the long-term solution on the grass, but the center fielder had a down year in his first full season with Class A Augusta (.245/.313/.396, 11 homers in 124 games) and his Steamer projection reflects that. He will be 19 for almost all of the 2019 season and remains years away from heading to San Francisco. Last year's second overall pick Joey Bart (No. 22) has the highest ceiling of any Giants prospect but doesn't have a long enough Minor League resume to have a Steamer projection worthy of discussion just yet.
Sam Dykstra is a reporter for MiLB.com. Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @SamDykstraMiLB.