December 7, 2022

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The latest on Padres top prospects

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Welcome to the Padres prospect update, where you’ll find news, promotions and standout performances, all year long.

Gore to make MLB debut in Friday start (April 14)
Left-hander MacKenzie Gore, the Padres’ top pitching prospect and MLB Pipeline’s No. 85 prospect overall, will make his long-awaited MLB debut when he starts Friday’s game against the Braves at Petco Park at 6:40 p.m. PT.

Gore is stepping into Blake Snell’s spot in the Padres rotation after Snell was scratched from his start on Sunday with left adductor tightness. Gore, 23, is coming off an excellent Spring Training, and he carried that success into the regular season, pitching five scoreless frames for Triple-A El Paso on Saturday.

His arrival at Petco Park will be a long time coming. Once the top overall pitching prospect in baseball, Gore has plummeted those rankings over the past couple of seasons as he’s dealt with command problems. Full story »

Gore could debut Friday (April 12)
The Padres are likely to have a vacancy in their starting rotation on Friday night, and on Tuesday they welcomed a new starting pitcher into their clubhouse at Oracle Park.

It stands to reason, then, that MacKenzie Gore, who joined the team in San Francisco on Tuesday, will make that start on Friday against Atlanta. But the Padres are going to wait at least one more day before finalizing those plans. More >>

Mears, Hassell show out in Game 1 of DH (April 10)
Joshua Mears
clubbed a career-best 17 home runs in 71 games last season and may be well on his way to reaching that mark again in 2022. The 10th-ranked prospect cranked his first multihomer game of the season in the first game of a doubleheader as part of a three-hit, four-RBI performance in High-A Fort Wayne’s 13-2 seven-inning win. No. 2 prospect Robert Hassell III also had a strong Game 1, collecting two hits and three RBIs of his own.

The TinCaps got started early when both Mears and Hassell launched first-inning solo homers to left field, the first long balls of the season for both prospects. Hassell added a two-run single in the third and Mears nearly plated him on a double, but Hassell was thrown out at the plate. It wasn’t long before Fort Wayne blew the game open, though. After stretching the lead to 8-2, Hassell reached on a fielder’s choice following a nine pitch at-bat to put two men on with two outs. Mears worked a 3-2 count and on the sixth pitch, he launched a fly ball that cleared the fence in center field for his second dinger of the day, as well as his second, third and fourth runs batted in.

The 21-year-old Mears had three multihomer games to go with 48 RBIs in 2021 after hitting seven homers in 43 games in his pro debut in 2019. Hassell, the eighth overall pick of the 2020 Draft, had an impressive debut last season, batting .302/.393/.470 with 48 extra-base hits, 76 RBIs and 34 stolen bases in 110 games across two levels. — Stephanie Sheehan

Gore fans seven in dominant 2022 debut (April 9)
MacKenzie Gore has had a long road to get to this point in his career. A mix of mechanical issues and struggles at higher levels of competition have resulted in Gore’s slide from ending 2020 as the No. 3 prospect in baseball to his current ranking of No. 86 on Pipeline’s Top 100 prospect list. On Saturday, Gore looked like the dominant left-hander the Padres have expected him to be.

In his season debut, the left-hander threw five scoreless innings with seven strikeouts, allowing two hits in Triple-A El Paso’s 3-1 loss to Round Rock. Gore missed bats while filling up the zone, tossing 43 of his 63 pitches for strikes and registering 11 swings-and-misses.

“Good outings always help. We were confident going in, we’ve done a lot of work and we threw the ball well in [Spring Training],” said Gore after his start. Full story »

Wood launches two homers in Single-A debut (April 8)
After being selected by the Padres in the second round of the 2021 Draft (62nd overall), 19-year-old James Wood had a strong debut in Rookie ball, slashing .372/.465/.535 in 26 games. Making his full-season debut with Single-A Lake Elsinore, the fifth-ranked prospect showed out with a three-hit, two-homer, five-RBI night in his first game of 2022.

Wood was everywhere in the Storm’s 12-0 blowout. He first singled in the third and came around to score the second run of the contest before blowing the game open the following inning with a three-run dinger to center on the first pitch he saw. In the seventh, Wood worked a 3-2 count and parked the sixth pitch of the at-bat over the right-field wall for a two-run shot and his second homer of the night. He ended his night with a six-pitch walk. The outfielder clubbed four home runs last year and is already halfway to matching that total after a single game. — Stephanie Sheehan

Gore, Campusano to start season at Triple-A (April 6)
Left-hander MacKenzie Gore and catcher Luis Campusano, the Padres’ No. 4 and No. 3-ranked prospects, respectively, and two of MLB’s top 100 overall prospects will officially open the season at Triple-A El Paso. The battery was formally optioned by the Padres on Wednesday night, ahead of Thursday’s opener against the D-backs.

Neither move comes as much of a surprise, though both Gore and Campusano put forth strong springs. Gore, in particular, raised eyebrows of team decision-makers. He’s clearly made plenty of progress after his struggles of the past two seasons. And although a wind-aided grand slam ballooned his spring ERA to 4.50, Gore posted 16/3 K/BB and a 0.92 WHIP.

“That stung,” said Gore of the grand slam. “But I thought we had a pretty good spring. Got better every day. I thought we did all we could do to have a successful spring.”

The decision to option Gore was always likely after the Padres traded for left-hander Sean Manaea from Oakland. Manaea’s acquisition filled out the remainder of the Padres’ rotation. But prior to that move, there was serious talk about Gore being the top option to replace the ailing Mike Clevinger on staff.

As for Campusano, there was a brief window on Wednesday when it seemed like he might be ticketed for a roster spot. The Padres dealt backup catcher Victor Caratini to Milwaukee on Wednesday, potentially clearing space. But it appears that Jorge Alfaro will shoulder the backup catcher role. — AJ Cassavell

Rosario triples, racks up four hits on Opening Night (April 5)
Some players need time to shake off the rust when the season begins, but not Eguy Rosario. San Diego’s No. 7 prospect got off to a roaring start in El Paso’s 13-1 romp of Round Rock, going 4-for-6 with a triple, an RBI, three runs scored and a stolen base to kick off the 2022 season.

After singling to left, swiping a bag and scoring a run in the very first inning, the 22-year-old infielder blasted a 2-0 pitch into the gap in right-center and took full advantage of an apparent misread from the outfielders, stretching what looked like a double into a standup triple. While Rosario didn’t come around to score that time, he singled again in the fifth, this time to center (scoring on a home run that time) and collected his final base knock two innings later in the form of an RBI single to right. He eventually came home to plate the 11th run of the game for the Chihuahuas. — Stephanie Sheehan

Abrams tries new position in spring finale (April 5)
C.J. Abrams‘ fantastic spring ended with a bit of a surprise twist on Tuesday afternoon. In the Padres’ Cactus League finale, a 9-6 loss to the White Sox, Abrams entered the game as a replacement … in right field?

Yes, right field. The middle-infield prospect hadn’t taken any reps as an outfielder until Tuesday morning. Yet there he was, playing in a game setting, on Tuesday afternoon.

“New out there,” said Abrams, ranked by MLB Pipeline as the Padres’ top prospect. “It’s not going to be comfortable the first time. But anything where I’m needed, I’m going to try it.”

The Padres are intrigued by Abrams’ athleticism, and they like the idea of making him a versatile piece who can play multiple positions. On Tuesday, Abrams caught one fly ball and fielded another single on the run. He looked, well, like he knew what he was doing.

“He was out on the back field today, taking balls off the bat,” said Padres manager Bob Melvin. “His athletic ability showed up. It just gives us a little bit of versatility to look into.”

Barring a transaction, Abrams seems like a near certainty to make the big league roster, where he’ll split time at shortstop with Ha-Seong Kim. The decision to give him reps in right field is more of a contingency plan for now.

Then again, there are also questions about Abrams’ long-term fit in the San Diego lineup, with Jake Cronenworth and the currently injured Fernando Tatis Jr. up the middle. There are, perhaps, some big-picture benefits to finding out whether Abrams can handle playing the outfield.

“Any position that can help me get on the team, I’m willing to do it,” Abrams said. “Right field, center field, shortstop, second base — anything.” — AJ Cassavell

Working in a relief role against Oakland on April 3, Gore pitched two scoreless innings and then recorded two outs in his third frame … before a Sheldon Neuse grand slam ballooned Gore’s Cactus League ERA to 4.50.

“He just didn’t get a breaking ball quite where he wanted to,” Padres manager Bob Melvin said. “Look, he’s pitched really well. He happened to do something a little different today. It was just a different routine for him.”

Of course, one misplaced breaking ball doesn’t tell the entire story of Gore’s spring. The 23-year-old left-hander struck out 16 while allowing only three walks. He posted a 0.92 WHIP. Most important: Gore threw strikes. After two seasons’ worth of command issues, Gore, once again, looked like one of the sport’s best pitching prospects this spring.

Now, the Padres have a decision to make. The arrival of Sean Manaea makes it seem unlikely that Gore would crack the Opening Day rotation. But before the deal, Gore was perhaps the favorite to replace an ailing Mike Clevinger in the starting five. No doubt, Padres decision-makers have come away impressed. Is there a role for Gore as a long man or in a piggyback setting?

“We’re still evaluating all of that,” Melvin said. — AJ Cassavell

Campusano hits go-ahead grand slam (March 28)
Slam Diego is open for business in 2022. Luis Campusano, the Padres’ No. 3 prospect and MLB Pipeline’s No. 44 overall, launched the Padres’ first grand slam of the spring. The blast proved decisive, turning a three-run deficit into a one-run advantage in the ninth inning of the Padres’ 9-8 victory over the White Sox at Camelback Ranch.

In a deep group of catchers, Campusano is making a push for a place on the Padres’ Opening Day roster. He currently appears to be on the outside looking in, with Austin Nola, Victor Caratini and Jorge Alfaro seemingly ahead of him. Campusano is 2-for-10 with a walk this spring — but both of his hits were no-doubt home runs. — AJ Cassavell

Merrill on the mark in clutch relay (March 26)
Jackson Merrill, the Padres’ top selection in last year’s Draft, has already turned heads this spring with his bat. The Padres’ No. 6 prospect per MLB Pipeline has a pair of hits in five at-bats with the big league club and recently went 4-for-4 in a Minor League game on a back field at Peoria Sports Complex.

In a 2-2 tie with the Cubs, however, it was Merrill’s defense that took center stage. After former Padres prospect Owen Caissie hit a two-out double for Chicago in the sixth inning, Jurickson Profar chased down the baseball in the left-field corner and threw to Merrill, his cutoff man. Merrill was quick with his transfer and delivered a brilliant relay throw to the plate to nail Alfonso Rivas for the final out.

Said manager Bob Melvin after the game, “Nothing about him looks like he’s 18 years old. We’ve seen that from even before camp started.” — AJ Cassavell

Gore continues to dazzle (March 23)
MacKenzie Gore already looks like a different pitcher from the one whose prospect stock plummeted last season because of command issues. He pitched three scoreless innings against the Angels on Wednesday and has yet to allow a run across five Cactus League frames, while striking out seven with no walks and one hit.

So what gives? What’s the difference between this Gore and the Gore of the past couple seasons?

“I just feel really prepared,” Gore said. “It was a lot of work that I had to do to get here. It’s just been a lot of time and effort. … That’s everyone’s goal. Everybody wants to be as prepared as they can be. The most prepared people end up being the more confident people. They end up looking the most calm out there.”

Gore, the team’s No. 4 prospect and MLB Pipeline’s No. 86 overall, is an outside candidate for the fifth spot in the Padres’ rotation. — AJ Cassavell

Abrams getting reps at second (March 21)
The Padres had planned to prioritize shortstop work for top prospect CJ Abrams. But with Jake Cronenworth’s camp off to a slower-than-expected start because of an adductor strain, Abrams will see plenty of action at second base, as well, including a start there on March 21. There are, however, no imminent plans for Abrams to see time in the outfield — a potential long-term fit, given the presence of Fernando Tatis Jr. and Cronenworth up the middle.

“He’s very athletic,” manager Bob Melvin said. “There’s probably not anything he couldn’t do. But his first full big league camp, we want to keep him in the positions that he’s comfortable in.” Story > — AJ Cassavell

Merrill advanced ‘beyond his years’ (March 21)
Shortstop prospect Jackson Merrill swatted an opposite-field single in his first Spring Training action on March 20 against Milwaukee. Merrill, the Padres’ first-round pick in the 2021 Draft, is entering his first full pro season at 18 years old.

“He has an advanced approach for a young age,” manager Bob Melvin said. “Seems to be developed beyond his years.”

Merrill posted a slash line of .280/.339/.383 in 31 games at the Arizona Complex League last season. — AJ Cassavell

Gore impresses in first Cactus League start (March 18)
MacKenzie Gore got off to a strong start this spring, as he struck out two over two hitless innings in the Padres’ Cactus League opener, a 6-4 win over the Mariners. Story > — AJ Cassavell

Abrams, Kopps among NRIs to watch (March 14)
The Padres unveiled their full list of non-roster invites on Sunday, and it features a handful of intriguing names — even if the list is a bit shorter than usual because of this spring’s abbreviated camp.

Among the 24 non-roster players invited to camp, two prospects to watch are shortstop CJ Abrams and right-hander Kevin Kopps.

“He’s getting more physical, adding weight,” farm director Ryley Westman said last week. “Speed times, strength numbers, everything’s going up. His bat-to-ball has been awesome, always. But now, it’s contact with strength behind it. … Honestly, he’s just physically maturing.”

It’s an uphill battle for Abrams to win a roster spot, with Ha-Seong Kim and Jake Cronenworth also options to play short. The Padres almost certainly wouldn’t promote the 21-year-old Abrams unless there were regular playing time available to him. But general manager A.J. Preller has proven that he’s willing to move his top prospects quickly if they earn the right.

As for Kopps, he threw his first bullpen in big league camp under the watchful eye of pitching coach Ruben Niebla on Monday. The team’s No. 25 prospect, Kopps was drafted last summer as the Golden Spikes Award winner out of Arkansas. But after two redshirt seasons, he’s already 25 years old, and he impressed the Padres development staff in Minors camp. Like Abrams, it’s conceivable that Kopps pushes for a spot on the big league roster as well. — AJ Cassavell

Hassell embraces unconventional path (March 11)
Even for an immensely talented first-round pick, Robert Hassell‘s progression has been highly unorthodox. His senior season at Independence High School in Tennessee was shut down due to the pandemic, and his career effectively began four months later at the team’s alternate training site, where he regularly faced big league competition.

For an 18-year-old outfielder who’d just been handed his professional breakthrough, it was a challenge, Hassell says. It was also a valuable learning experience — one that most young players aren’t afforded.

“They got me, they were striking me out, beating me with the fastball,” Hassell said. “But that was good for me. At the time, I was like, ‘Damn, am I really that good?’ But everybody goes through that. … I got to learn what it was like, the speed of the game. … At first the game was 100 mph for me. Then, over time, it slowed down.

“When I learned that that isn’t the normal path that people take, it made me even shut my mouth more, open my ears more, and just take it all in.”

Hassell, the Padres’ No. 3 prospect and MLB Pipeline’s No. 43 overall, seems likely to receive an invite to big league Spring Training when Padres camp officially opens over the weekend. A year ago, he struggled as 19-year-old without any professional game experience. But, again, Hassell says those struggles were worthwhile. The sweet-swinging lefty went on to post a .303/.393/.470 slash line in his first season of pro ball, split between Low-A Lake Elsinore and High-A Fort Wayne.

“I hope that’s their plan,” Hassell said of the opportunity to join big league camp. “I’d like another crack at it. It was challenging last year, but it was good to struggle a little bit. … I wouldn’t say I was overwhelmed. But I’d say if I just take a deep breath and if slow it down more this year, I think I’ll let my talent show a lot more.” — AJ Cassavell

Abrams back in action (March 10)
Middle infielder CJ Abrams has been an early standout at Padres Minor League camp this spring — which, considering his standing as one of the sport’s best prospects, probably shouldn’t come as a surprise. The 21-year-old speedster missed the final three months of the 2021 season with a fractured left tibia and MCL sprain that he sustained in a collision on the basepaths at Double-A San Antonio. He was supposed to return during the Arizona Fall League but dealt with some shoulder trouble. Story > — AJ Cassavell

Kopps moving quickly? (March 8)
Coming off one of the most dominant seasons by a college reliever in recent memory, Kevin Kopps hasn’t slowed a bit. The right-hander was drafted by the Padres in the third round after a season in which he won the Golden Spikes Award at Arkansas as college player of the year. His 0.90 ERA and a 0.76 WHIP led all of NCAA Division I.

That college success carried into a brief pro debut at the end of the ’21 season. Kopps posted a 0.61 ERA across three levels. Then, Kopps spent the entire offseason — save for two weeks around Christmas — at the team’s complex in Peoria, Ariz.

It’s paying off. Kopps has impressed in Minor League camp with his on-mound ability and his fiery, competitive nature off of it.

On Tuesday, Kopps pitched a scoreless inning in an intrasquad scrimmage on a back field. He walked a pair though, leaving him with a bit of a bitter taste in his mouth.

“I’ve always said that the difference between college guys and Minor League guys and Minor League guys and big league guys is being able to be consistent,” Kopps said. “Being able to find something to fall back on when you’re struggling. My goal right now is to find that.”

Kopps is unique in that he’s 25 years old in his first big league camp. The Padres’ No. 25 prospect according to MLB Pipeline, Kopps spent six seasons at Arkansas, redshirting twice and missing most of his ’20 campaign because of the pandemic.

Perhaps, then, it’s fitting that Kopps looks like one of the most advanced prospects from last summer’s Draft. His elite cutter has mostly baffled younger hitters, and he pairs it with a solid two-seamer and a curveball that bites.

Although he’s only pitched 14 2/3 Minor League innings, if Kopps can find that consistency he’s searching for, he is a candidate to impact the Padres’ big league bullpen as soon as this season. — AJ Cassavell

First-rounder starts strong in first camp (March 8)
An intrasquad morning scrimmage lasted all of three innings, with a scoreless frame from Kopps and two scoreless innings from Daniel Camarena.

The lone hit allowed by Camarena? A liner through the right side off the bat of shortstop prospect Jackson Merrill, the team’s top pick in the 2021 Draft.

It’s merely the continuation of an impressive camp for the Padres’ No. 6 prospect. Earlier this week, farm director Ryley Westman had high praise for Merrill, the 18-year-old out of Severna Park, Md.

“Jackson Merrill is having a really good camp,” Westman said. “Physically, he looks great. He’s kind of cut from the same mold as [Matthew] Batten — he’s working constantly. His ABs have been really good. Defensively … he’s all-out. This dude’s making plays, going back over his shoulder, laying out.”

Merrill batted .280/.339/.383 in 31 games at the Arizona Complex League last season. — AJ Cassavell

Batten embraces super-utility role (March 7)
Like plenty of pro ballplayers, Matthew Batten spent his entire amateur career as a shortstop. That was bound to change when Batten was drafted by the Padres out of Quinnipiac University in the 32nd round in 2017. So Batten’s college coach, John Delaney, offered some parting advice: “Say yes [to any position], and then figure it out.”

Batten has lived that mantra to the extreme. At Triple-A El Paso in 2021, Batten played all four infield positions regularly and saw time in all three outfield spots as well. He even took reps behind the plate, serving as the team’s emergency catcher (though he didn’t see any game action there).

“I realized once I got here that the easiest way into the lineup was playing as many positions as possible,” Batten said. “And it’s something I’ve always enjoyed. I call myself a baseball player now. I don’t really have a position.”

Batten might just ride that “baseball-player” mindset straight into the big leagues. He has steadily risen through the Padres’ system, hitting at nearly every level. He slashed .300/.370/.391 with El Paso last season.

Batten almost certainly isn’t bound for an everyday Major League role. But his versatility and his knack for reaching base could give him a path to a bench spot. His best position is probably second base, but Batten is an average or above-average defender at seven spots defensively.

He’s already turning heads in Minor League camp this spring. Though camp formally opened on Sunday, Batten arrived four weeks ago, and has pieced together some high quality at-bats in live settings. He’s also garnered praise for his natural leadership ability.

“On top of being a really good player — he plays all over, he’s a plus defender anywhere you put him, his at-bats have been awesome — honestly, he is a tremendous leader,” said Padres farm director Ryley Westman. “He’s an impressive dude.” — AJ Cassavell

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