Prospect Previews: Week One
At Parkview Field the approach of Opening Day doesn’t just mean waiting for snow to melt off the field and the end of Johnny’s annual Canadian vacation, but it also means looking ahead to the players that might make up the TinCaps roster this season. As we did last year to critical acclaim (Thanks, Mom!) here on “It’s All Relative”, it’s “Prospect Previews” back by popular demand (Thanks again, Mom!). I’ll preview five prospects per week for the next five weeks through the end of March. There’s no particular order to these previews, whether by position or alphabetical order. If you have any questions on any players you think I left out or who you’d like to know more about ,please let me know via email (Couzens@TinCaps.com) or on Twitter, where I’m @MikeCouzens. Don’t forget…only 36 days until opening day.
The 2013 season was one of adventure for Luis Tejada, who was fresh off of a transition from being an outfielder to being a first baseman. In 2012, playing in 46 games with the Arizona League Padres, he primarily played first base, but the level of competition and short length of that league’s season don’t provide the same type of baseball climate as the Midwest League does. For the first two years of his career, Tejada, a native of the Dominican Republic, had been an outfielder, and this was his first full season at first base.
On the defensive side of things, it was nearly impossible for me to tell that Tejada was not a native first baseman. His instincts and defensive ability on balls hit his way were very good, making him a reliable, everyday option for Manager Jose Valentin.
The downside of Tejada came on offense where he hit a meager .227, the second-lowest mark among regular players. Only Brian Adams’ .211 had a lower average among everyday players. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Tejada start the 2014 season in Fort Wayne in an effort to improve his bat. The tough part of that, of course, is that hitters say it’s not easy to hit in the Midwest League in April with the frigid temperatures. Tejada, at worst, will be a good defensive anchor for the 2014 TinCaps.
Although there’s not much depth at shortstop in the Padres minor leagues (although 2012 TinCaps SS Jace Peterson does stand out), Cordero has shown quite a good bit of promise in his two years as a pro, especially with his bat.
The 19-year-old began his Padres tenure in 2012 with the Dominican Summer League team, managed by new TinCaps manager Michael Collins, and hit .270 with a .372 OBP. He also struck out 73 times in 61 games. In 2013 Cordero moved up to the Arizona League club, again with Collins, and raised his average to .333 with a .381 OBP and was 11-for-11 in stolen bases. His batting average was the fourth-highest in the AZL and he led his team in average, triples, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and stolen bases. MadFriars.com named him their 2013 Prospect of the year from the AZL, writing:
“Cordero, 19, may be the most exciting Padres Latin American prospect since Rymer Liriano came to the States. He led the AZL Padres in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and stolen bases with 11 in 11 attempts. The six-foot-three Dominican is considered to have the speed, quickness and hands to play shortstop. His stroke can get a little long, but he has more tools than the local Home Depot.”
And in the 2014 Prospect Handbook, Baseball America says he’s their choice for breakout prospect of 2014 in the Padres system: “…Rare lefty-hitting Dominican infielder shows quick-twitch athleticism and strong tools across the board.”
Going into the fall of 2013, all signs pointed to Rodney Daal, who was Fort Wayne’s starting catcher for 79 games last year, returning for a second season in the Midwest League. The multi-lingual backstop was just 19 last season, having celebrated his birthday in late March, and so another season in Fort Wayne certainly wouldn’t be viewed as a setback for him. He has work to do as a signal caller and defender. However, he had off-season Tommy John surgery, which requires a recovery time of 12 months, which means we won’t see him again until 2015.
Enter Miller, who was with the TinCaps for three games last year toward the end of the season (8/28, 8/30, 9/1). After being drafted last June out of San Bernadino (CA) Valley College, he went and played in Eugene for 43 games. His defense was strong, as he threw out 53% (35/66) of attempted basestealers, a mark that lead the Northwest League. He looks like a candidate to begin 2014 in green and white.
Although in franchise history there’s never been a Fort Wayne-born player to suit up for the team (There have been some from other teams, most recently Ryan Wright of Homestead High School (Dayton) and Kevin Kiermaier of Bishop Luers (Bowling Green)), there have been a few close calls. At the end of the 2012 season, the TinCaps had Leo native and left-handed reliever Brandon Alger join the team, but his propensity for getting batters out saw him spend 2013 above the Midwest League.
Last summer all eyes were on Norwell High School star Josh VanMeter, who was selected by the Padres during the fifth round of the 2013 draft. Would he sign? Would he go to Illinois State to play college baseball? That decision had to wait for one big moment in his life—a high school baseball championship game.
VanMeter, drafted by the Padres as a shortstop, pitched seven innings in that championship game against Jasper, leading Norwell to its first state title since 2007, when Jarrod Parker of the Oakland A’s was on the team. After winning the title he made his decision, and just a few days later he was off to Arizona to begin life as a professional baseball player:
“I guess a short term goal would be to end up in Fort Wayne next year,” he told WANE-TV in June. “I’m going to see where things fall into place. I’m going to go out there, work hard, and do what I’ve been doing for the last 18 years.”
We could expect to see him accomplishing that short-term goal in 2014.
In the 2014 Prospect Handbook, Baseball America rated VanMeter as its #31 prospect in the San Diego farm system, writing: “Upper Midwest area scout Mark Conner, the very same who recommended (2012 TinCaps star pitcher) Matt Wisler from Bryan, Ohio, in the 2011 draft, argued successfully for VanMeter in the fifth round in 2013. Hailing from the same Norwell High program that produced Athletics righthander Jarrod Parker, VanMeter opted to turn pro for $308,000 rather than become starting shortstop for Illinois State. The Padres’ player-development staff fell in love with VanMeter’s savvy, makeup and athleticism during the Rookie-level Arizona League season and instructional league in 2013. A two-way player on the high school diamond and also a standout on the basketball court, he showed sound bat-handling skill and a refined approach in his AZL debut, with nearly as many walks (24) as strikeouts (25). The Padres believe VanMeter can stay at shortstop in pro ball because he has solid-average speed, great instincts and enough arm to play the left side of the infield. They also think he’ll fill out his lean 5-foot-11 frame and develop gap power, giving him a chance for a few 50 tools, plus strong on-base skills and perhaps fringy power. VanMeter could join fellow AZL shortstop Franchy Cordero in a middle-infield timeshare at low Class A Fort Wane in 2014.”
If you asked farm directors around Minor League Baseball for one thing they’d like to have more of on their rosters, I’d bet a lot of them would say that they want quality left-handed pitching. When the Padres selected Memphis Tigers pitcher Erik Schoenrock in the 11th round last June, it looks like they got exactly that.
The Collierville, Tennessee, native, who played for his father, Daron, at Memphis, was named the Conference USA pitcher of the year in 2013. The southpaw has been gaining momentum in his career, following up a 2012 summer in the prestigious Cape Cod Baseball League with a 7-4 record and 3.02 ERA with the Tigers in 2013.
In an article in the Memphis Commercial Appeal, both father and son said being together for Erik’s college career was the right fit:
“He’s gone from a guy trying to figure out ‘Do I fit?’ as a college pitcher to being a professional prospect,” Daron said.
Daron said traditionally strong national programs like Vanderbilt, Baylor, Arkansas and Mississippi State expressed interest in his son coming out of Collierville High. “He was ready to go anywhere. He even took a visit to Vanderbilt.
“Then he took an official visit to see us. I told him this is who we are, this is what we do. I think the visit got him around our players on a more formal basis and he made a decision that he wanted to be part of that.”
Daron said he’s glad he got the opportunity to coach his son and watch his career unfold instead of hearing about it had he chosen another program.
Erik gives his dad a passing grade for handling what could be a difficult situation. But Erik has attempted to do everything he can to make it easy on his father.
“This year he’s seen I’m going to work hard and he treats me like everyone else,” Erik said. “I think he worries more about my grades and if my rent is paid on time.”
Erik said his father has played more the role of “dad than coach” this season, but adds “he balances out playing father and coach really well.”
Last season at Eugene, Schoenrock showed good control in 14 starts, striking out 52 batters and walking 15 in 57 1/3 innings. He also showed a propensity to get ground-ball outs, with a 3.51-to-1 ratio of ground balls to fly balls.
Considering the TinCaps worked with only two lefties last year—starter Max Fried and reliever Chris Nunn—the addition of Schoenrock would be a boost for new skipper Michael Collins.
Having recently received my 2014 copy of Baseball Prospectus in the mail, I was very interested to read Geoff Young’s write-up on the Padres, especially his take on the minor leagues. The Padres are, relatively speaking when compared to the Yankees, Red Sox and top-of-the-mountain teams, a low-budget team when it comes to the amount of money they have available to spend on free agents. Thus, they must build from within and make smart, economical decisions. Young writes:
“The Padres must constantly replenish their system by drafting and developing better players. Questionable choices have undermined recent efforts…Their lat decent first-round pick was Tim Stauffer in 2003. Khalil Green, taken a year earlier, enjoyed a few good seasons. Before that? Sean Burroughs in 1998. Ben Davis in 1995, another disappointment. Dustin Hermanson, 1994? He landed the Padres Qulvio Veras. Derrek Lee, 1993? He fetched Kevin Brown in a trade….We can’t yet judge 2011 to 2013, but the last 10 years are ugly. A team that relies on developing its own cost-controlled talent cannot burn draft picks like matchsticks. Some of this is bad luck, but some is bad process.”
Young includes a table of the last ten first-round picks by San Diego:
Over that ten-year stretch, the franchise has seen three different general managers: Kevin Towers, Jed Hoyer, and now Josh Byrnes, who took over in 2011.
Young goes on to remind readers of players like Jedd Gyorko, Chase Headley, Will Venable, Tommy Medica, Burch Smith, Matt Stites (traded to Arizona), Austin Hedges, and Matt Wisler, who have been successful, despite not being first-round picks.
“All of this doesn’t undo a decade of damage, but it’s a start,” Young writes.
In the Midwest League, having a star player or two certainly helps, but as my counterpatr Tom Nichols in Dayton wisely tweeted:
“That being said, you win or lose in the Midwest League because of roster depth up to and including the 25th man on the club. Everyone plays.”
Martin Garrix…take it away!