For years fans of the San Diego Padres have been told that the team is building for the future, and for years the Friar Faithful have had to painstakingly watch top prospects toil in Petco Park or get traded away only to become All-Stars for other franchises.
Before the winter meetings, 2015 appeared to be no different. After striking out on Yasmany Tomas, and Pablo Sandoval fans redirected their attention to the “future”. They wondered whether Cory Spangenberg could play third base at a Major League level, or whether Rymer Liriano could “steal” a starting spot from Will Venable and Carlos Quentin. The emergence of Hunter Renfroe and his performance in the Arizona Fall League had everyone talking. Mallex Smith looked to be the next Billy Hamilton, and Trea Turner was proving to be a worthy and exciting first round pick. The disappointment of Matt Bush had worn off. Jason Bay is no longer a sore subject. The future was bright once again.
Newly appointed Padres General Manager A.J. Preller had other plans.
Yes, the future of the San Diego Padres was bright, brighter than anyone other than Preller himself could have imagined. But it was a future bright from the lights of marquee names like Matt Kemp, Justin Upton, Wil Myers, Derek Norris, and the boom-or-bust Will Middlebrooks. All of them under team control for the next four to five years with the exception of Upton. The future of San Diego has no place for “prospects”.
Preller quickly dismantled the farm system, erasing more than two generations of work by failed General Managers. He wasn’t shy in moving former Tommy John survivor Joe Wieland and Single A standout Zach Eflin, two of his top 20 prospects. Next to go was top bullpen prospect RJ Alvarez, the crowned jewel of the Huston Street trade. MiLB Offensive Player of the Year (as voted by the fans), Mallex Smith, and #35 of the MLB’s top 100 prospects, Max Fried, Dustin Peterson, and Jace Peterson were all dealt in exchange for a one year rental in Justin Upton. To top things off, four more top 10 prospects in Burch Smith, Joe Ross, Jake Bauers, and Trea Turner were all sent packing in the Wil Myers deal.
The Padres had a top 5 system at the end of 2014, but after losing so many pieces of their system where are they now?
While the Padres farm system now ranks in the bottom half of the league, the Friars front office has four to five years to recover because AJ Preller has put the Padres in a unique position.
If Will Middlebrooks doesn’t work out at third base, Cory Spangenberg is still a viable option to fill that role. Jedd Gyorko could also be moved back to third and Spangenberg could play second. Spangenberg’s projects to play better than Jace and Dustin Peterson which gave Preller the ability to move both of them. Taylor Lindsey, who the Padres also acquired in the Street deal, struggled last season, but is still a higher rated prospect than Jace. Spangenberg can also provide depth as an outfielder, so with Liriano getting his call up last September and Hunter Renfroe positioned to debut sometime in 2015, Smith became expendable.
Speaking of expendable, the Padres had enough pitching prospects to invade a small country. The Padres have major league ready prospects in Casey Kelly, Robbie Erlin, and Matt Wisler who will be fighting for a rotation spot with Odrisamer Despaigne, Brandon Morrow, Josh Johnson, and Cory Luebke once he’s healthy. This surplus at the position allowed Preller to get creative and trade some of the organization’s highest rated arms.
The loss of Trea Turner is what damages the system most. Jose Rondon (yet another piece in the Huston Street deal) must have done something to impress Preller, because he is the only standout at short stop left in the organization.
The best part is, Preller isn’t finished. After acquiring Derek Norris from the Oakland Athletics, Austin Hedges, who ranks first among all MLB catching prospects, could now be on the trading block. His bat has never developed, and it might be in the organization’s best interest to deal him before another bad offensive season damages his trade value too much.
If Justin Upton signs an extension this offseason, Preller might also be inclined to trade Renfroe.
Preller has already replaced some of the arms he dealt, but now he needs to focus his attention on young bats.
The most likely scenario is for Preller to go the international route in replacing some of these prospects in the coming years. Either way, there is going to be exciting baseball in San Diego for years to come.