The Padres are becoming synonymous with risky moves and risky prospects that have high upside.
Loading up on as many high-ceiling prospects as possible is a strategy the club continued to implement in the 2017 MLB Draft by taking a high school pitcher with the number three overall pick, and followed that pick up by taking two high school catchers and a high school outfielder.
In a farm system known for high risk/high reward players, there are some less risky youngsters, in the form of a group of pitchers, that routinely pound the strike zone and limit walks.
While all these players won’t top overall prospect ranking lists, or become top of the rotation aces, they do offer the Padres a higher probability skill set.
Here is a list of some high-floor pitchers that project as mid-rotation starters thanks to their advanced control.
Lauer is a quintessential high floor/low ceiling arm that won’t get a ton of hype on prospect ranking lists. He profiles as a guy that will provide a lot of value at the big league level as a mid-rotation starter that limits overall base runners. Drafted in the first round in 2016 after posting a 0.69 ERA in college, Lauer has used his athleticism and repertoire of pitches to make up for the fact that none of his pitches are currently graded as plus offerings. In his first 18 IP with Double-A San Antonio, Lauer recorded 16 strikeouts, compared to only two walks, and is living up to the expectations that he has one of the highest floors of any 2016 draft pick. Although Lauer lacks the premium stuff to be a front line starter, he looks a safe bet to slot into the back-end of the Padres’ rotation, perhaps within 12 months.
Like Lauer, Lucchesi carved up the hitter-friendly California League and earned a recent promotion to Double-A San Antonio, where he has 18 K’s and four BB’s in 24.2 IP. Although the walk total isn’t concerning, he’s given up 26 hits, leading to a bloated WHIP. A big-bodied lefty, Lucchesi could end up moving to the bullpen, but has feel for off-speed stuff to give him a chance to start. Already 24, Lucchesi is old for Double-A and isn’t exactly a premium prospect, but as a lefty with 90’s velocity and an ability to pound the strike zone, he’ll be given plenty of chances to find a role at the major league level.
While the first player drafted in the A.J. Preller era, Austin Smith, has not developed as hoped thus far, fellow 2015 draftee Jacob Nix has. With a plus fastball and curveball, as well as above-average command, Nix has remained at the top of the Padres prospect ranking lists while the influx of high-end talent has pushed Austin Smith out of the top 30 altogether. 41 strikeouts in 55 innings in High-A isn’t a total that impresses, but Nix has impressed by only allowing seven walks over that span. Fantasy baseball dynasty league players might scoff at the low K/9, but the real world value of keeping the ball in the strike zone and throwing in the low to mid 90’s shouldn’t be overlooked. The tool grades suggest Nix has more batting missing ability, but even if he remains a guy that pitches to contact and eats innings, he will be a useful mid to back-end of the rotation starter.
If you want to dream on a guy from this list exceeding expectations, Paddack is the guy. Here’s why. More polish than stuff prior to Tommy John surgery, he saw a little extra velocity after being drafted and has a 6’4″ frame that could lead to more velocity as he fills out. If he’s able to come back from surgery with slightly better stuff, as some pitchers do, that fastball could go from above average to plus, and that combo of stuff and feel is very intriguing. The 110 strikeouts and only 12 walks in Paddack’s 87.2 IP as a pro is in line with the rare plus command grade, and it will be interesting to see how quickly he’ll be back to that form after surgery. It’ll take a while before Paddack is major league ready, and the injury makes him riskier than the rest on this list, but he has a high-probability skill set and could end up being the best of the bunch.
With perhaps the best blend of stuff and control in the Padres farm, Morejon could become more than just a middle of the rotation innings eater, but like Paddack, has a long way to go. However, with only 35.1 IP as a professional, Morejon has already shown why scouts grade his control as above average by only allowing three walks and striking out 35. At just 18 years old, he’s the youngest player on this list. Since he has a longer developmental road ahead of him, he is a bit riskier. However, he is yet another strike thrower that has a relatively high-floor in a farm system more noted for its high-ceiling prospects.
The Padres have an impressive collection of high-ceiling talent in their very deep farm system, but not all of those guys will pan out. That’s the point of loading up on as many of them as possible. A.J. Preller and company have loaded up on a different type of prospects as well, however. High probability guys like Lauer, Lucchesi, Nix, Paddack, and Morejon project to give the Padres an impressive amount of depth rotation options in the coming years to compliment the high-ceiling potential aces that will garner more attention as prospects. While the tank is rolling strong these days, it won’t be long before the Padres won’t need to rely on rule-5 picks and bounce-back veterans to fill out the starting rotation.