A.J. Preller made a lot of moves early in his tenure as Padres general manager but his two best acquisitions came from a seemingly-thrown-in prospect during a trade with the White Sox and the ’17 draft. San Diego has one of the better systems in the game.
The Graduate: Manuel Margot, OF: Margot (1.8 WAR) and pitcher Dinelson Lamet (1.4) have had the biggest rookie impacts on the Padres in 2017. Both players will likely enter 2018 with question marks, though. Lamet’s (mostly) two-pitch repertoire will need to continue to challenge hitters to keep him from eventually shifting to the bullpen. Margot will try and squeeze more value out of his bat after having the majority of his strength come from his outfield defence. Still, there are promising signs from Margot – including a 22.5% line-drive rate and reasonable 19.5% strikeout rate. If he can find a way to get on base more consistently and improve his base running (He’s just 13-for-19), the 22-year-old outfielder center-fielder could become a threat at the top of the order for San Diego.
First Taste of The Show: Jose Ruiz, RHP: Ruiz helped headline the Padres international signee haul back in 2011 when he agreed to a $1.1 million contract — as a catcher. After five pro seasons, though, his OPS sat at .488. In an effort to squeeze some value out of his contract — and to take advantage of his powerful arm — the club converted him to a pitcher in 2016. Ruiz, 22, spent all of 2017 in high-A ball and produced a 5.73 ERA in 43 games — but also struck out 45 batters in 48.2 innings. He was recalled to the Majors in July and made one big league appearance before heading back to the minors to continue to work on his mid-to-upper-90s fastball and developing slider.
The Stud: Fernando Tatis Jr., SS: Tatis Jr. joins Toronto’s Vladimir Guerrero Jr. to form the most intriguing pair of 18-year-old hitters in years. While Guerrero Jr. zoomed up to high-A ball in his full-season debut, Tatis jumped over high-A ball all the way to double-A towards the end of the season. There, he was a little overwhelmed in 53 plate appearances and saw his wOBA dip to .274 after sitting at .405 in low-A ball. Despite the late struggles, Tatis Jr. still had a 20-20 season and walked more than 13% of the time. Tatis Jr. has a slightly higher risk of washing out than Guerrero Jr. because of the former’s penchant for striking out (24% in low-A, 28% in double-A). But his athleticism and pedigree should help him make the necessary adjustments — he just might need to take a step back to high-A ball to open 2018. After Tatis Jr. and Gore, the most impressive 18-year-old prospect might be Esteury Ruiz (I’ll write about him later this winter).
The Draft Pick: MacKenzie Gore, LHP: Like Tatis Jr. above, Gore is an easy choice for one of the Top 25-50 prospects in baseball. The 18-year-old southpaw could easily have gone first overall in the ’17 draft but he “dropped” to the Padres at No. 3. In very limited pro action, he dominated rookie ball hitters with a 14.34 K/9 rate and 68% ground-ball rate. Gore has shown uncanny command and control for his age and has a four-pitch mix that he can rely on. Add in strong athleticism and a great pitcher’s frame and you might have a guy that won’t be truly challenged until he hits double-A. No. 1 starter projections get handed out too freely at times but this North Carolina native is one who truly deserves the title. He should open 2018 in high-A ball and the organization will no doubt be cautious with his development.
The Riser: Michel Baez, RHP: At 6-8, 220 pound beast on the mound, Baez overpowered hitters in his pro debut with a strikeout rate of 12.58 K/9 in low-A ball. He also showed strong control with a walk rate of 1.23 — although his command still has a ways to go. The hard-throwing right-hander can hit the upper-90s with his heat and his second potentially-plus offering is his slider. His changeup shows flashes of being a reliable offering. Currently an extremely-fly-ball pitcher, Baez is vulnerable to the long ball and allowed eight in 58.2 innings despite pitching in a league that mutes over-the-fence pop. As Baez, 21, moves up to high-A ball in 2018, the Cuban native will look to work down in the zone more consistently.
The Tumbler: Javier Guerra, SS: Acquired from the Red Sox back in 2015 for Craig Kimbrel, Guerra has gone from toolsy-but-promising infield prospect to dud. The other three prospects in that deal have either already impacted the Majors (Margot, Carlos Asuaje) or appear ready to do so in the near future (Logan Allen). Guerra’s issues stem from an inability to make consistent contact and he’s produced strikeout rates of more than 30% each of the previous two seasons. He has Gold Glove potential at shortstop but he’ll likely never hit enough to be even a backup infielder in The Show. As a result, the Padres should consider turning the 21-year-old infielder into a pitcher to take advantage of his rocket-of-an-arm — much like they did with Ruiz (above).
Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.