It’s going to be an exciting year in Lake Elsinore. The Storm, High-A affiliate for the San Diego Padres, released their Opening Day roster on Monday and it is quite impressive. To begin the 2018 minor league season, the team with the eyes on their chests boasts six prospects from the team’s Top 30 Prospects list, according to MLB Pipeline.
Left-handed starting pitcher Adrian Morejon is the highest-ranked prospect to suit up for the Storm on Opening Day 2018. The Padres’ 6th-best prospect at any position and the 50th-best prospect in baseball (MLB Pipeline), Morejon has a lot to prove as he looks to make the transition to full-season ball. After all, the 19-year-old lefty made just 13 starts last season split between Low-A Tri-City and Single-A Fort Wayne in his stateside debut. Morejon is known for his mature presence on the mound and above-average fastball control. He throws two types of changeups, one knuckle-change and one normal changeup, and also mixes in a curveball that the Padres hope can become a bit more consistent. Sitting at 91-93 with his fastball, Morejon has the ability to spot it wherever he pleases, and as long as he can get those secondary pitches ironed out, he has the potential to be a future number two in a big-league rotation.
Also on the pitching side, the Storm will boast two huge arms in 26th and 28th-ranked prospects Pedro Avila and David Bednar. Avila has some experience in the California League as he pitched in 10 games for Lake Elsinore in 2017. A 21-year-old right-hander, Avila has been utilized as a starter since his stateside debut with the Nationals’ rookie-league affiliate in 2015. A three-pitch pitcher whose repertoire is highlighted by a well-above average curveball, Avila was acquired by the Padres in the Derek Norris trade in December 2016 and made quite the impression on Padres brass. Avila led all Padres minor leaguers in strikeouts with 170 across two levels (A and A+) and will look to build on that success as he takes on the Cal League for the second year in a row.
Bednar is entering his third year in the Padres’ organization and will also be tackling the Cal League for a second straight year. A 35th-round draft pick of the Padres in 2016, Bednar projects as a high-leverage reliever with a monster fastball. A 23-year-old right-hander, Bednar loves to pitch down in the zone, and as a result, he has only given up two home runs over 91.1 career innings. Bednar has all the makings of a fast-mover within the Padres’ system so don’t be surprised if he works his way onto Triple-A El Paso’s roster come August.
Austin Smith and Reggie Lawson are both former second round draft picks of the Padres in recent years (2015 and 2016 respectively). Both are right-handed starting pitchers that struggled last year with Fort Wayne, but will get a chance to prove themselves in the hitter-friendly Cal League. Lawson had trouble with walks in his full-season debut, but at just 20 years old, that is to be expected. Smith, on the other hand, has yet to post a BB/9 lower than 4.57 in his three years played in the Padres’ system. As a result, Smith was moved to the bullpen for most of the 2017 season where he continued to struggle. 2018 will be a big year for the 21-year-old as he continues to be passed up on the depth chart by pitchers with higher floors.
Another pitcher to keep an eye on is right-handed pitcher Hansel Rodriguez. Acquired by the Padres in the Melvin Upton Jr. trade of July, 2016, Rodriguez has been utilized as both a starter and reliever. He worked better as a reliever where he didn’t have to pace himself, and higher strikeout numbers came as a direct result of that. Rodriguez will probably be stretched out to begin 2018, as giving up on an electric arm like he has makes no sense considering his age.
On the other side of the ball, the Storm may very well carry the most exciting lineup in the Cal League. Hudson Potts, the team’s 17th-ranked prospect, is coming off a successful full-season debut that saw him mash 20 home runs and put up a 103 wRC+ as an 18-year-old. A shortstop when he was taken 24th overall by the Padres in the 2016 Amateur Draft, Potts moved to third base to make room for Fernando Tatis Jr. on the left side of Fort Wayne’s infield in 2017. That move might work out as the best one for Potts’ future as he now finds himself as the third baseman of the future if Tatis can stick at shortstop. Strikeouts were a concern last year for Potts, but as he grows and matures as a hitter, the plate discipline will come.
Elsewhere on the infield, second baseman Eguy Rosario and shortstop Ruddy Giron find themselves fighting for their futures. Both talents carry upside, but with Gabriel Arias and Esteury Ruiz poised to turn heads in Fort Wayne to begin the season, Rosario and Giron will need to step up or risk being passed up on the organizational depth chart. Giron is entering his fourth year in the organization and has yet to improve his plate discipline, which shows in his career .295 on-base percentage. Rosario will be entering his third season in professional ball and only his second with a full-season affiliate. He struggled with Fort Wayne in 2017 and his debuting 2018 at Lake Elsinore seems a bit too aggressive considering his 25 percent strikeout rate last year. With that being said, he is only 18 years old and he walks at a good enough clip (9.8% in 2017) so keep an eye on Eguy Rosario as the 2018 season rolls on.
The outfield carries a ton of potential, as 22-year-old Edward Olivares, 22-year-old Buddy Reed, and 21-year-old Jorge Ona will come together to create a dynamic and toolsy starting three. Reed carries the lowest amount of upside of the three, but the 2016 second rounder has all the tools necessary to take up a fourth or fifth outfielder’s spot on a big-league team. Arguably the fastest runner in the Padres system, the former Florida Gator also has above-average arm strength and very intriguing raw power. He will look to force his way into the Padres’ plans with a big 2018 that starts in the hitter-friendly Cal League.
Olivares was acquired this past offseason in the Yangervis Solarte trade with the Blue Jays. Ranked 20th in a stacked Padres system, Olivares is similar to Reed in that both are speedy outfielders with good arms. Where Olivares separates himself is in his potent bat. Olivares posted a 130 wRC+ over 464 at bats with the Blue Jays’ Single-A affiliate. A tremendous athlete rivaled by only Tatis in the Padres system, Olivares was able to bash 17 home runs while also walking at a 10.4 percent clip. Edward Olivares has breakout prospect potential as he enters his second season of full-season baseball.
Rounding out the projected starting outfield is 18th-ranked prospect Jorge Ona. In 2017, Ona skipped straight into full-season ball in his pro debut where he held his own over 465 plate appearances with Fort Wayne. Ona showed a good feel for hitting, posting a 115 wRC+ accompanied by an 8.6 percent walk rate. Known for jaw-dropping raw power, Ona was only able to slug .405 last season, but he spent that whole year playing as a 20-year-old so expect the power to really start showing this season.
Behind the plate, Lake Elsinore will employ Luis Torrens and Marcus Greene, Jr. Torrens spent the 2017 season with the Padres after being acquired from the Yankees via the 2016 Rule 5 draft. Torrens will be 22 soon and will have some developmental time to catch up on after playing sparingly as Austin Hedges’ back-up for a full year. Greene was acquired in 2015 for Will Venable when the former was recovering from Tommy John surgery. He made his debut in the Padres’ system the next year and broke out in a big way in 2017. Over a career-high 84 games, the 23-year-old posted a 132 wRC+ with 11 home runs, showing solid pop. The young catcher showcased good plate discipline skills as well, walking at a 12 percent clip while only striking out 17 percent of the time. Torrens and Greene will most likely share time behind the plate as both attempt to separate themselves from the pack.
According to San Diego Union-Tribune’s Jeff Sanders, right-handers Michel Baez and Chris Paddack will be kept in Arizona until late April, but both have a very strong chance of beginning their seasons in Lake Elsinore. Baez is the Padres’ fifth-best prospect and 42nd-best prospect in all of baseball. Paddack ranks 23rd in the organization. Both pitchers employ well-above average offerings in Baez’s fastball and Paddack’s changeup.
Edwin Rodriguez will manage the Storm for the second year in a row. His staff will be rounded out by pitching coach Pete Zamora, hitting coach Doug Banks, and coach Freddy Flores. It will be the job of these coaches to develop these youngsters over the course of the 2018 season as many of them have lots of room to grow. All of the exciting young talent Lake Elsinore will field this season further illustrates A.J. Preller and his front office’s eye for talent. Expect for this to be a big year for the Storm.
*All statistics courtesy of Fangraphs