PT TOMORROW: NL West—Padres youth movement pays dividends, raises questions

San Diego Padres

The Padres entered 2019 with one of MLB’s best farm systems and surely liked what they saw this year from two players in particular—Chris Paddack (RHP, SD) and Fernando Tatis Jr. (SS, SD). Paddack threw 141 innings in his debut this season, impressing with a 3.33 ERA (3.94 xERA) and 153 strikeouts against just 31 walks (4.9 Cmd). Tatis, after missing the last six weeks of 2018 with a broken thumb, missed almost half of this season to hamstring and back injuries. When on the field, though, Tatis electrified in 84 games (334 AB), hitting .317 (.267 xBA) with 22 HR and 16 SB. Even with some pullback from his 42% h% and 32% hr/f, Tatis owns a rare power/speed combo sure to make him the object of many fantasy owners’ affection heading into 2020 drafts.

Elsewhere on the Padres roster though, there are still some questions as to how the pieces will fit together for 2020—perhaps none more difficult than with regard to the team’s #5 prospect, Luis Urias (2B/SS, SD). Urias has only amassed 229 AB at the MLB level, so final decisions about his ability to succeed are far from being made. But given the team’s desire to compete in the short term, patience may be in short supply when it comes to the 22-year-old infielder. Across those 229 at-bats, Urias owns a .214 BA (.234 xBA) with a 76% ct%, 10% bb% and below-average power metrics (87 HctX, 79 xPX). And his futility against right-handed pitching (541 OPS in 169 AB) has been tough to stomach for a team already struggling in that department (.713 team OPS, #25th in MLB).

Another item to watch will be the outfield, which at times appeared flush talent while at others looked woefully mediocre. Wil Myers (OF, SD) has been in and out of the lineup thanks to inconsistency and a rough 59% ct% in the first half. But he’s been better of late (.276 xBA, 69% ct% in September), and is still just 28 years old. His contract could prove tough to unload in the offseason, but it’s reasonable to think the Padres will give it strong consideration. Hunter Renfroe (OF, SD) started off slowly in something of a 4th OF role, then smacked 18 HR and knocked in 33 runs across May/June, only to struggle with a .190 BA, 58% ct% and just 8 HR in 179 at-bats since July 1.

With the acquisition of Taylor Trammell (OF, SD) at the trade deadline, the expected return of Franchy Cordero (OF, SD) next spring, and 23-year-old Edward Olivares (OF, SD) making quite the impression (.283 BA, 18 HR, 35 SB) at Double-A, the outfield could look considerably different by mid-season next year.

 

San Francisco Giants

Giants fans have to be pleased—if not thrilled—with the way things have turned out in 2019, a year that was set to be a year of transition with manager Bruce Bochy calling it a career while analytics-minded Farhan Zaidi took over the helm as president of baseball operations. A mid-season playoff push resulted in the team holding onto free agents Madison Bumgarner (LHP, SF) and Will Smith (LHP, SF), but the team was able to acquire young talent and shed salary by moving Mark Melancon (RHP, MIN), Sam Dyson (RHP, MIN), and Drew Pomeranz (LHP, MIL) at the trade deadline.

With veterans Buster Posey (C/1B, SF), Evan Longoria (3B, SF), Brandon Belt (1B/OF, SF), and Brandon Crawford (SS, SF) all signed for at least a couple more years, the roster transformation might not take place overnight. But for the first time in a while, the Giants have some premium hitting prospects worth keeping an eye on.

Joey Bart (C, SF) the team’s #1 prospect and ranked #23 on the Midseason HQ50, slashed .278/.328/.495 across two levels (79 games) despite a fractured hand that kept him out of action for about seven weeks. Bart was the 2nd overall pick in the 2018 draft, known for both his plus offensive and defensive skills, with raw plus-plus power and the plate skills to hit .275 at the major-league level. He has already hit 2 HR in his first game at the Arizona Fall league, and could earn a call-up as early as next year. 



A little farther away is 18-year-old shortstop Marco Luciano (SS, SF), who finished with a .329/.436/.696 line and 7 HR in the Arizona Rookie League. Matthew St. Germain tabbed Luciano as a notable riser in the Midseason HQ50, noting that Luciano “oozes tools and now has the performance to back it up,” with a high floor and the potential to be one of the premiere MLB players in short order.

 

Colorado Rockies

Bringing up the rear with a 66-87 record through September 18, the Rockies 2019 season is a far cry from 2018, when they lost a one-game playoff to the Dodgers for the NL West crown. One glaring weakness for the Rockies has been their bullpen, which after an expensive facelift prior to the 2018 season, has combined to post an unsightly 5.20 ERA, ranking them 28th in the majors.

Wade Davis (RHP, COL), who has one more year on his deal, poses the biggest problem. The prized acquisition of the aforementioned facelift, Davis led the NL in Saves last year with 43, but has completely unraveled this year with a 7.87 ERA (5.88 xERA) and 1.80 WHIP across 42 innings. His walk rate (6.0 Ctl) has ballooned while his Dom (8.9) and SwK (11%) have each taken another step back. And after sitting above 95 mph during his heyday with the Royals, Davis has seen his velocity dip to 93.2 mph on the year, bottoming out at 92.5 mph since August 1. 

Originally taking over for Davis in early August, Scott Oberg (RHP, COL) hit the IL not long afterwards with a blood clot in his right arm, something that Oberg is optimistic won’t limit his ability to be ready for spring training next season. The 29-year-old posted a sub-3.00 ERA for the second straight year, even if his 3.91 xERA and slowly slipping velocity (94.4 mph) paint a somewhat more sober picture.

Prior to his dud (0.2 IP, 4 ER) this past Wednesday, Jairo Diaz (RHP, COL) was handling the closer’s role quite well—converting his first 4 save opportunities, all of which have come in September. Diaz has a fastball that sits at 97.1 mph and a nice slider (24.6% SwK), which has contributed to his strong second half—2.93 ERA (3.48 xERA), 10.9 Dom (16% SwK) and 2.3 Ctl (65%) in 31 innings.

Carlos Estevez (RHP, COL), too, has provided reason for optimism. Estevez spent most of the past two seasons in the minors, but saved 11 games during his rookie year (2016), and he continues to improve on getting ahead of batters with a 65% FpK (to go along with 14% SwK) in 70 IP with the big-league club.

 

Arizona Diamondbacks

The Diamondbacks are on pace to finish over .500 for the third straight year, which is something of a surprise given the offseason departures of Paul Goldschmidt (1B, STL), A.J. Pollock (OF, LA), and Patrick Corbin (LHP, WAS), not to mention the mid-season trade of Zack Greinke (RHP, ARI).

One of the reasons for the team’s success has been the emergence of Christian Walker (1B, ARI), labeled by some as a “Quad-A player" heading into the year, but who now has the look of a late bloomer at the ripe age of 28. Walker’s power had been on display plenty in the minors, but questions about his contact ability only gathered steam with his struggles (combined 55% ct%) at the MLB level entering the year. That said, Walker currently sits with a 71% ct%, which has improved (75%) in the second half. Meanwhile, his powerful start (15 HR, 117 HctX, 148 xPX) in the first half has taken a slight step back in the second half, where he’s hit 11 HR with a more pedestrian 107 HctX and 87 xPX. Walker does offer some sneaky speed though, as he’s swiped 8 bags in 9 attempts, despite never stealing more than 5 bases during any season in the minors.

Another name that could push for time at 1B in 2020 is Kevin Cron (1B, ARI). Cron has been shuttled back and forth to Triple-A this season, where he slashed a robust .329/.446/.777 with 39 HR and 107 RBI in just 84 games (310 AB). Cron has struck out 28 times in his 64 AB (56% ct%) with ARI this year, but his power has carried over in his small MLB sample, with 6 HR (160 xPX) in 64 at-bats. He had been showing career-best plate skills this year in the minors, so perhaps he can improve on that front as he sees more major league pitching.

 

Los Angeles Dodgers

The Dodgers clinched a 7th straight NL West crown last week, and now have their eyes firmly focused on a run at the World Series, where they have come up short in each of the past two seasons.

As far as the regular season goes, there was a lot to like—from the emergence of top prospects Gavin Lux (2B, LA), Dustin May (RHP, LA), and Will Smith (C, LA), to the sustained performance of last year’s breakout, Max Muncy (1B/2B/3B, LA), along with this year’s MVP candidate Cody Bellinger (1B/OF, LA), who despite less-than-eye-popping results in the 2H (.250 BA, .273 xBA, 17 HR, 41 RBI and 4 SB) looks poised to enter 2020 as a Top 5 or 6 pick in most drafts.

Perhaps the most surprising facet of the season was the relative health of the team’s starting rotation. After signing a three-year extension this past offseason, Clayton Kershaw (LHP, LA), who had missed time (at least 30 days) to injury in four of the previous five seasons, managed to stay healthy while bouncing back with a 3.05 ERA and 176 strikeouts in 165 innings, opening the season with a 23-game stretch in which he lasted until at least the 6th inning. 32-year-old Hyun Jin Ryu (LHP, LA), a free agent at the end of this year, dazzled with a 1.83 ERA across 16 starts in the first half, but had sputtered a bit before tossing 7 innings of shutout ball last weekend against the Mets.

Rich Hill (LHP, LA), also a free agent at the season’s end, has struggled with knee and elbow injuries most of the year, but recent reports are that there is no structural damage to his MCL (a similar injury that cost him most of April) and that he is hoping to pitch for the Dodgers again this coming week, even if his outings are brief given the need to build up his pitch count. Ross Stripling (RHP, LA) seems to be turning more and more into a bullpen arm after dealing with a bicep injury in August, with manager Dave Roberts recently saying that Stripling would be used out of the bullpen in the playoffs. Meanwhile, Julio Urias (LHP, LA) has pitched 77 innings at the MLB level this year, after missing most of the previous two seasons with a shoulder injury. Urias’s 4.20 xERA throws a bit of cold water on his surface 2.68 ERA, but he’s getting ahead of batters (60% FpK) and generating swinging-strikes (14% SwK), making him a very intriguing option heading into next season.


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