Jeff Smith 12:15 p.m., April 24
Suddenly, the Padres farm system is more important than ever and worth keeping two eyes on. Apart from the Dominican Summer Rookie League, the Arizona Rookie League, and the Northwestern Summer League of low-A ball, the seasons of the other minor league affiliates are underway. Unlike spring training and the Cactus League, there is an emphasis on winning - along with learning. Prospects take pride not only in their own performances, but the team's performance as well.
The low-A Fort Wayne Tincaps are seeing a lot of the class of last year's draft. Shortstop Jace Peterson, a compensatory first round draft pick, and 2nd round selection catcher Austin Hedges are off to quick starts. Peterson is batting .400 and has three doubles, while Hedges is batting .500 with his first home run of the year being smacked Tuesday afternoon. Donavan Tate, first round draft pick from 2010 who has battled injuries his first two seasons, is another position player to watch.
On the mound for the Tincaps, first round draft selection Joe Ross will see plenty of opportunities to start games and along with another compensatory first round pick, Michael Kelly. Cody Hebner and Matt Wisler are two other top ten draft picks on the Tincaps pitching staff.
The Tincaps are currently 2-3 in their first five games.
The high-A Lake Elsinore Storm also have some players that were first round draft picks in 2011, and some in the top ten. Starting pitchers Matt Andriese and Mark Pope compliment a storm pitching staff that includes relief Pitcher Kevin Quackenbush. Andriese and Quackenbush spent time in the Cactus league. Expect the pitching stats to be a little higher with the earned runs averages, the California League is more of a hitters league because of the locations of some of the ball parks.
Position players for the Storm are new bunch from last year's team. First round, first pick overall by the Padres, Cory Spangenberg will start in the infield for the storm this year while highly touted Dominican prospect, outfielder Rico Noel gets the boost up from low-A. Spangenberg and Noel may be ready for the big leagues in 2-3 years.
The Storm are 2 wins and 4 losses so far this season.
Next is AA San Antonio in the Texas League, who won their league last season. This season, the Missions are a mix of some players from last year's roster with some others having been promoted from Lake Elsinore. Unlike the California League, the Texas League is a pitcher's league. And since AAA Tucson is in the Pacific Coast League which is a notorious hitter's league, it iss often advantageous to challenge hitters in AA rather than promote them, or let pitchers build up some confidence in the pitcher's league.
For the Missions, third baseman Jedd Gyorko and outfielder Jaff Decker headline as the best position prospects, both could be with the big club as soon as the 2013 season. Other position players to watch include outfielders Edinson Rincon and Reymond Fuentes. Shortstop Jeudy Valdez will work on his glove as well as second baseman Jonathan Galvez. Both were plagued with errors last season at Lake Elsinore.
Pitching for the Missions will be highlighted by starters Robbie Erlin, who came from Texas last season in the Mike Adams trade, Keyvius Sampson, and Juan Oramas. Sampson has been especially impressive at all levels in the minor leagues. Reliever Miles Mikolas is another pitcher to watch.
So far, the Missions are 3-3 this season.
The Pacific Coast League, where the AAA Tucson Padres play, is easily filled with the most lopsided hitter's ballparks in North America. Some parks are at altitude, which means that any air with moisture is thin at the molecular level; less water in the atmosphere per square inch. Other parks are arid and dry, so although molecules in the atmosphere are not thin, there is no moisture in the air. The ball flies off of the bat and keeps going, and pitches do not move as much, in both types of parks.
Keeping in mind that pitching stats will be negatively inflated and hitters will look better than they are, the Tucson Padres will field some players that are poised to replace anyone injured on the big club. Joe Wieland already got called up after Dustin Moseley's MRI after his last start has landed him on the disabled list for an extended length (beyond the normal 15 days). That leaves Casey Kelly, who came to the Padres as part of the Adrian Gonzalez trade with the Red Sox, Matt Palmer, Jorge Reyes, and Josh Geer as starters for the T-Pads. Relievers that could see time on the big league club include Brad Boxberger (part of the Mat Latos trade with the Reds), Alex Hinshaw, and Josh Spence.
Position players for Tucson waiting for a shot with the big club include catcher Yasmani Grandal (another player in the Latos deal), outfielders Blake Tekotte and Sawyer Carroll, infielder Everth Cabrera, and third baseman/outfielder James Darnell. Grandal, Darnell, and Tekotte are already off to fast starts.
The T-Pads have started the season 1-5.