In 2019, you will have a great opportunity to see some excellent pitching in Lake Elsinore. With MacKenzie Gore, Luis Patino, and Anderson Espinoza headlining the rotation, fans will see plenty of quality efforts from the rotation.
The 2018 Lake Elsinore Storm possessed some of the biggest talents of any minor league rotation in baseball.
From minor league pitcher of the year Chris Paddack, to Cuban imports Adrian Morejon and Michel Baez, to Padres On Deck game starter Reggie Lawson, this collection of young arms ranked amongst the most talented in all the minors during the course of the 2018 season, with most of these young hurlers moving to the new Double-A affiliate in Amarillo for the upcoming 2019 season.
If you are a season ticket holder at “The Diamond”, or live close enough to drive up the 15 and visit the team for a game during the upcoming season, you should be in for quite a treat. The Storm might have even a more talented starting five in the rotation than they did in 2018.
Leading the way will be 2017 1st-rounder and MLB’s 13th overall-ranked prospect, MacKenzie Gore, he of the supremely talented left arm who usually gets compared to anywhere from World Series champion and San Diego native Cole Hamels to probable future HOF Clayton Kershaw. After a somewhat frustrating season for MacKenzie, for his standards, he will look to overcome his first taste of adversity in his baseball career and take the next step on his path to Petco. He will also see if he can put the blister issues that plagued him at Fort Wayne in the rearview mirror. He has all the makings of a front-of-the-rotation arm with a fastball that sits between 92-95 mph, to go along with a true plus curveball and a slider and changeup that both rate as plus when he is on — all of the ingredients to be an Opening Day starter at Petco within the next couple of years (health permitting).
Challenging him for that role, among others, will be his 2018 Fort Wayne teammate, Luis Patino, MLB’s #83 overall prospect. Patino was arguably the most talented pitcher on the staff last year and broke onto the prospect scene in a big way. He was another uber-talented signing out of the 2016-2017 international signing period spending spree A.J. Preller went on that seems to have paid off so far. He comes after hitters aggressively with a mid 90’s fastball that tops out around 98 mph and a plus curveball with good depth and bite. His slider and changeup are advanced for what you’d expect from an 18-year-old pitcher. If he were born stateside, Patino would have been a high school senior drafted at or near the top of the 1st round this past June.
What’s most interesting is the dynamic and budding friendship that is developing between Patino and Gore. He has shared that they push each other in workouts and practice and have even shared tips on certain pitches with each other, specifically MacKenzie sharing his curveball and Luis with his emerging slider. This friendship continues to fuel the friendly competition that will drive both of them towards Petco with an eye on winning.
Anderson Espinoza arguably will have the best stuff in the Storm rotation. Originally signed out of Venezuela during the 2014-2015 international signing period by the Boston Red Sox, he was acquired during the 2016 MLB All-Star break for Padres representative Drew Pomeranz straight up. At the time, Espinoza was the #1 overall prospect in the Red Sox organization and had been labeled as the next Pedro Martinez by baseball analysts and pundits.
He made quite an introduction to San Diego Padre fans when he started the inaugural Padres On Deck game in October of 2016 and came out in the first inning throwing 98 mph with a plus curve and change. Everything was as promised with the stuff that came out so effortlessly. The fastball ranges from 94-97 mph, but can bump higher, to go along with a potential plus curve that simply lacks consistency. The changeup was possibly his best pitch, with great arm movement and fading sink action that reminds one of a nasty split-finger pitch.
The downside is that he lacks innings at the professional level. After missing the last two seasons while dealing with initial forearm tightness, and then Tommy John surgery, he hasn’t had the opportunity to pitch. His main goal this upcoming season will be to stay on the baseball diamond and make his scheduled starts. The Padres will certainly be protecting him with pitch counts and ideal situations to ease his way back into form. One thing to keep in mind is that Lake Elsinore had another promising young pitcher make his return from TJ surgery last year to high acclaim; Minor League Pitcher of the Year, Chris Paddack. The bar has been set high by Chris, but we shall see if Anderson is up for the challenge.
Now, if California League hitters weren’t scared enough already, you will also be adding 20-year-old Osvaldo Hernandez, he of the 1.81 ERA in the Midwest League last year, which was barely below the inning requirement to win the league ERA crown. Rounding out the rotation will come down to a spring battle between 6-foot-7 Mason Thompson, and a handful of other young hurlers like Aaron Leasher and possibly Ronald Bolanos or Pedro Avila, if they are not promoted to Double-A.
A drive up the 15 might give you a sneak peek at a healthy amount of your future Padres rotation. Come to see them dazzle you in person with one of the more intimate and comfortable settings in all of the minor leagues. The “Diamond” will surely be dazzling this upcoming season with gem after gem on the mound.