MacKenzie Gore- LHP, Rookie League, AZL Padres
Seven games started, 21.1 innings, 40.5%-8.3% K/BB rate, 1.27 ERA, 2.14 FIP
With such a stacked system for pitching, it may be hard to pick just one player who could be the Padres’ future ace. However, if I was a betting man, I would put my money down on left-hander MacKenzie Gore. Drafted number three overall by the Padres in the 2017 MLB Draft, Gore did little to dampen expectations in his first showing in professional baseball.
The early draft comparisons to Clayton Kershaw were probably a little unfair, but Gore did not disappoint in the Arizona Rookie League. Over his first seven starts, spanning only 21 and a third innings, Gore struck out over 40 percent of batters faced while finishing the year with just a 1.27 ERA. While most 18-year-old pitchers are working on their pitch arsenal, Gore already has four pitches with the potential to be plus pitches. There may be such a thing as too much hype for an 18-year-old, but Gore could be a fast mover through the Padres’ system given his pure talent and mound presence.
Michel Baez- RHP, Low-A, Fort Wayne TinCaps
11 games started, 63.2 innings, 36.6%-4.1% K/BB rate, 2.54 ERA, 3.16 FIP
Speaking of mound presence, right-hander Michel Baez is quite an intimidating presence on the hill. Signed by the Padres out of Cuba last December, Baez really came out of nowhere to light Padres’ Twitter aflame this season. After a dominant, seven strikeout outing in five innings in the AZL, Baez was quickly moved to Fort Wayne. In Fort Wayne, Baez did not disappoint.
Over his 58 and two-thirds innings in Fort Wayne, Baez struck out 82 batters while walking only eight. For a pitcher with the fastball velocity of Baez, that is an absolutely absurd strikeout to walk ratio. Add in his developing off-speed pitches, and Baez quickly has put himself in the conversation as one of the best pitching prospects in the entire Padres’ system. More importantly, Baez may have really pushed himself into the Top-100 prospects in all of baseball conversation. Quite a year for a guy who signed for just over a million less than a year ago.
Pedro Avila– RHP, Low-A, Fort Wayne TinCaps
23 games started, 129 innings, 31.4%-6.1% K/BB rate, 3.70 ERA, 2.44 FIP
Although Baez kind of came out of nowhere, right-hander Pedro Avila really came out of absolutely nowhere to have one of the best seasons of any pitching prospect in the Padres’ system. Through nine starts with the Lake Elsinore Storm in the Cal League, Avila was a bit of a mess, with a 4.98 ERA and a walk rate over nine percent. The strikeout rate was up over 25 percent, but the Padres saw enough problems to demote the right-hander back to Low-A Fort Wayne.
Over his last 14 starts in Fort Wayne, Avila struck out 117 batters in 85 and two-thirds innings with just 15 walks during that time. Avila very quickly became one of the best strikeout pitchers in the entire Midwest League and rivaled Adrian Morejon and Michel Baez as very impressive pitching prospects in Fort Wayne. It was a strong second half of the season for Avila, but it will be interesting to see how he adjusts if he returns to Lake Elsinore in 2018.
Hansel Rodriguez– RHP, Low-A, Fort Wayne TinCaps
35 appearances, 90 innings, 27.4%-8.2% K/BB rate, 3.80 ERA, 3.21 FIP
It might be a hard pill to swallow, but sometimes pitchers just work better as relievers. Look no further than Zach Britton and Andrew Miller, two of the best relief pitchers in baseball, who were converted to that role after being failed starters. Teams would rather have their pitching prospects work as starters, but relievers are becoming more and more valuable with each passing year.
For the Padres, Hansel Rodriguez was that same type of failed reliever-turned-starter. After finishing his first 10 starts with a 5.62 ERA, the Padres made the decision to shift Rodriguez into a strictly relief role. From his next appearance on June 13 through the end of the season, Rodriguez threw 40 and a third innings, struck out 56 batters to just nine walks, and accumulated a 1.56 ERA with 10 saves. It’s never an easy transition to the bullpen, but Hansel Rodriguez took it in stride in 2017 and had great success while doing it.
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