Prospect Report: San Diego Padres 2024 Imminent Big Leaguers

Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

Below is an evaluation of the prospects in the San Diego Padres farm system who readers should consider “imminent big leaguers,” players who might reasonably be expected to play in the majors at some point this year. This includes all prospects on the 40-man roster as well as those who have already established themselves in the upper levels of the minors but aren’t yet rostered. I tend to be more inclusive with pitchers and players at premium defensive positions since their timelines are usually the ones accelerated by injuries and scarcity. Any Top 100 prospects, regardless of their ETA, are also included on this list. Reports, tool grades, and scouting information for all of the prospects below can also be found on The Board.

This is not a top-to-bottom evaluation of the Padres farm system. I like to include what’s happening in minor league and extended spring training in my reports as much as possible, since scouting high concentrations of players in Arizona and Florida allows me to incorporate real-time, first-person information into the org lists. However, this approach has led to some situations where outdated analysis (or no analysis at all) was all that existed for players who had already debuted in the majors. Skimming the imminent big leaguers off the top of a farm system will allow this time-sensitive information to make its way onto the site more quickly, better preparing readers for the upcoming season, helping fantasy players as they draft, and building site literature on relevant prospects to facilitate transaction analysis in the event that trades or injuries foist these players into major league roles. There will still be a full Padres prospect list that includes Robby Snelling and Braden Nett and all of the other prospects in the system who appear to be at least another season away. As such, today’s list includes no ordinal rankings. Readers are instead encouraged to focus on the players’ Future Value (FV) grades.

Let’s revisit what FV means before I offer some specific thoughts on this org. Future Value (FV) is a subjective valuation metric derived from the traditional 20-80 scouting scale (where 50 is average and each integer of 10 away from 50 represents one standard deviation) that uses WAR production to set the scale. For instance, an average regular (meaning the 15th-best guy at a given position, give or take) generally produces about 2 WAR annually, so a 50 FV prospect projects as an everyday player who will generate about that much WAR during each of his pre-free agency big league seasons.

Why not just use projected WAR as the valuation metric then? For one, it creates a false sense of precision. This isn’t a model. While a lot of data goes into my decision-making process, a lot of subjectivity does too, in the form of my own visual evaluations, as well as other information related to the players’ careers and baseball backgrounds. A player can have a strong evaluation (emphasis on the “e”) but might be a great distance from the big leagues, or perhaps is injury prone, or a superlative athlete. Context like that might cause me to augment the player’s valuation (no “e”). Using something more subjective like Future Value allows me to dial up and down how I’m interpreting that context.

There are also many valuable part-time players who can only generate so much WAR due to their lack of playing time. As such, FV grades below 50 tend to describe a role more than they do a particular WAR output; you can glean the projected roles from the players’ reports. In short, anyone who is a 40+ FV player or above projects as an integral big league role player or better.

Now some Padres thoughts. Take a peek at the RosterResource Depth Chart to see just how many free agents A.J. Preller and co. are tasked with replacing while also cutting payroll in the wake of Peter Seidler’s death. Trading Juan Soto and Trent Grisham to New York helped replenish their pitching staff, though the Friars could still use one proven big league starter, and I think they could stand to upgrade the bottom of their 40-man, too. For instance, 25-year-old lefty Jay Groome is still rookie eligible, but I have him graded below the 35+ FV threshold. He walked 16.7% of opposing hitters last year while his fastball sat just 90-92, and Groome is also out of options. It feels like he’s on the roster bubble. The Soto trade also left them without great in-house options in left and center field. Manny Machado had offseason elbow surgery that might prevent him from playing defense early in the 2024 season, leaving them thin at third base as well.

In addition to the older position player prospects on this list, the Padres have brought in Mason McCoy, Cal Mitchell, Óscar Mercado, and Bryce Johnson on minor league deals at these positions. They at least have a myriad of options in hand right now, many of whom are players one can envision the Padres winning with, though perhaps not winning because of. It would make a ton a sense for Jackson Merrill to play third base or left field during the spring, as his bat feels like the best chance for the Padres to catch a special sort of lightning in a bottle.

The number of potential trade partners that might have 3B/OF/P options to spare will probably be limited to teams mired in true rebuilds. Teams that hope or expect to compete for a playoff spot in 2024 will probably want big leaguers in return, and dealing with them could mean robbing Peter to pay Paul. Teams like the Nationals, Rockies, or White Sox, who are more likely to be happy getting younger prospects back, would seem like better fits.

Padres Imminent Big Leaguers and Top 100 Prospects
Name Age Highest Level Position ETA FV
Ethan Salas 17.6 AA C 2026 60
Jackson Merrill 20.7 AA SS 2024 55
Jairo Iriarte 22.1 AA SP 2024 50
Drew Thorpe 22.3 AA SP 2024 50
Dylan Lesko 20.3 A+ SP 2026 50
Graham Pauley 23.3 AA 3B 2026 45
Adam Mazur 22.7 AA SP 2025 45
Yuki Matsui 28.2 R SIRP 2024 40+
Jakob Marsee 22.5 AA CF 2026 40+
Randy Vásquez 25.2 MLB MIRP 2024 40+
Woo Suk Go 25.4 R SIRP 2024 40
Alek Jacob 25.6 MLB SIRP 2024 40
Tirso Ornelas 23.8 AAA LF 2023 35+
Stephen Kolek 26.7 AAA SIRP 2024 35+
Sean Reynolds 25.7 AAA SIRP 2024 35+
Korry Howell 25.4 AA CF 2024 35+
Cole Paplham 23.8 AA SIRP 2025 35+
Yovanny Cruz 24.4 A+ SIRP 2024 35+
Garrett Hawkins 23.9 A+ SP 2025 35+
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60 FV Prospects

Signed: International Signing Period, 2023 from Venezuela (SDP)
Age 17.6 Height 6′ 2″ Weight 185 Bat / Thr L / R FV 60
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
35/55 45/60 30/60 50/40 45/60 60

Salas was generally viewed as the best prospect in the 2023 international amateur class, and weeks after signing in January for a whopping $5.6 million, he went to Arizona and began to reinforce that notion. Salas, still just 16, was performing well in Double-A or big league “B games” against players who often had five to 10 years on him (he doubled off of George Kirby, for instance). After a few weeks in extended spring training (a level above where most 17-year olds play), the Padres assigned Salas to Low-A Lake Elsinore just before he turned 17 years old. He aced a two-month test there (122 wRC+), and the Padres promoted him to High- and then Double-A for the last several weeks of the season (he struggled).

Whether there was real value to or merit in the way San Diego promoted Salas late last year is debatable, but it’s also immaterial. Salas has so far exceeded what were already reasonably high expectations. With huge physical tools (power projection, arm strength) already in hand before he signed, Salas has now also demonstrated skillful feel for contact against pro pitching and shown he is a prodigiously talented defender. He’s a do-everything prospect with a chance to be one of the best players in baseball. The game appears very easy and slow to him, and Salas is effortlessly good at every aspect of it. His hitting hands are explosive but also under control, and Salas has great vertical plate coverage and the makings of all-fields power. He posted a 75% contact rate and 83% Z-contact%, which are both close to big league average, but remember that we’re talking about a 17-year-old in full season ball. Salas’ hands can trigger late at times, leaving him tied up inside. It won’t be long before he’s strong enough to swing hard without having to wind his hands up in the way that causes this.

Salas projects to have a contact and power combination that would make him an impact regular at virtually any position, and he’s also going to be a dynamite defensive catcher. He throws to the bases effortlessly and accurately, his size and lateral agility should make him a great ball-blocker with time, and by the end of 2023, he was framing Double-A pitches with incredible skill for a catcher his age. The risk with teenage catching is extreme, and while the Padres pushed Salas aggressively in some respects, he only caught 34 games during the season (when you add up his pre-season activity and extended spring training, it’s probably more like 55-60), so Salas’ offense hasn’t yet had to withstand the physical erosion of catching 90-plus games. He could spend all of 2024 at Double-A and all of 2025 at Triple-A and still be on pace to debut before he turns 20. This is one of the best couple of prospects in baseball and the odds-on favorite to be no. 1 overall next year.

55 FV Prospects

Drafted: 1st Round, 2021 from Severna HS (MD) (SDP)
Age 20.7 Height 6′ 3″ Weight 195 Bat / Thr L / R FV 55
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
55/70 50/55 35/45 50/50 40/45 55

This is a slight downgrade for Merrill, who was a 60 FV during the last list cycle. His 2022 season was limited to 45 games by a wrist fracture and hamstring strain, and masked by the resulting small sample was subpar plate discipline, which became more evident in 2023 when Merrill was healthy and played more. Another body blow to Merrill’s forecast is a looming slide down the defensive spectrum. Ha-Seong Kim and Xander Bogaerts are better shortstop defenders than Merrill, who has below-average hands. The Padres have many more question marks at corner positions than they do on the middle infield, and for the first time in his career, Merrill got reps at non-shortstop positions down the stretch in 2023 (mostly left field, with some first and second base).

Let’s not lose sight of Merrill’s carrying tool, though: He can still really hit. He has one of the prettiest swings in the minors and a lovely all-fields approach to contact. He’ll turn 21 early during the 2024 season, and it’s feasible that Merrill will still come into more raw power as he matures, with some of his current oppo gap doubles turning into home runs. By virtue of his contact’s precision, he might have peak years with 20 or so homers, and he’s very likely to overcome his tendency to expand the zone and be a young core position player no matter where he ends up playing defense.

50 FV Prospects

Signed: July 2nd Period, 2018 from Venezuela (SDP)
Age 22.1 Height 6′ 2″ Weight 160 Bat / Thr R / R FV 50
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Slider Changeup Command Sits/Tops
60/60 55/60 45/60 30/45 93-97 / 100

The uberloose Iriarte enjoyed a two-tick velo bump in 2023, with his fastball sitting 94-97 mph and touching 100 in his early-season starts before backing into the 93-96 mph range late in the year. He has had a plus sweeping breaking ball in his repertoire for some time now, and the movement of that pitch is mirrored by the nasty rise and tail action on his fastball. Watching Iriarte pitch is like watching Slender Man throw 97; he is extremely loose and has premium arm speed. He already features a huge stride down the mound and big hip/shoulder separation, and he still clearly has room for muscle on his frame. His low-90s changeup flashes huge tail, so much that Iriarte often struggles to command it, but his arm speed makes me want to project on this pitch in a big way. Iriarte is rather skinny and only showed premium velocity for roughly half of 2023. There’s risk he doesn’t maintain this velo bump, but because he’s still projectable, there’s also a possibility it will continue to trend up.

Iriatre was a must-add 40-man guy during the offseason, and he has huge long-term ceiling. In most situations, a pitcher like him would be poised to spend his entire first year on the 40-man continuing to develop in the minors, but because the Padres are still so in need of pitching at this stage of the offseason, it’s plausible Iriarte will be called upon to pitch in their rotation at some point in 2024.

Drafted: 2nd Round, 2022 from Cal Poly (NYY)
Age 22.3 Height 6′ 4″ Weight 205 Bat / Thr L / R FV 50
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Slider Curveball Changeup Cutter Command Sits/Tops
35/35 45/50 40/45 70/70 40/55 60/70 88-92 / 95

Thorpe came to the Padres in the Juan Soto trade and is poised to make an impact on their 2024 rotation. Pitchers with changeups as good as Thorpe’s and who throw as many strikes as he does tend to be high-floor propositions who pitch forever. His low-80s changeup, which he locates at will, has a ton of tail, and his ultra-short arm stroke helps trick hitters into seeing fastball out of his hand. The effectiveness of Thorpe’s slider (more average in terms of raw stuff) and fastball (below-average at just 90–92 mph) is enabled by his precise feel for location. He can sink his fastball down and to his arm side, or run a four-seam version of it past hitters at the letters. The Yankees coaxed a little more heat out of Thorpe (who sat 88–91 in college) during his time in their org, but not enough to give him impact velocity. He will throw the occasional cutter or curveball in an obvious fastball count to keep hitters guessing, but those pitches don’t currently have any more utility than that, though I think the cutter eventually will. This is a very polished 23-year-old who, given San Diego’s tendency to push prospects quickly, is likely to grab hold of a big league rotation spot in the upcoming season. We’re talking about plus command of a plus-plus changeup here; Jeremy Hellickson and Marco Estrada are fair recent comps.

Drafted: 1st Round, 2022 from Buford HS (GA) (SDP)
Age 20.3 Height 6′ 2″ Weight 195 Bat / Thr R / R FV 50
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Curveball Changeup Command Sits/Tops
55/60 60/70 70/70 30/50 94-96 / 98

Lesko was arguably the most polished and complete high school pitching prospect to come along in a decade, with an ideal pitcher’s frame, a gorgeous delivery, mid-90s velocity with huge riding life, and one of the better amateur changeups most scouts had ever seen. His curveball looked like it had gotten better during his draft spring, then his elbow blew out and he needed Tommy John, which precipitated his fall in the draft. Lesko was already the consensus top high school pitcher in the draft before the curveball showed up and would have been a lock for the top 10 had he stayed healthy throughout the spring, but instead he fell to no. 15, where he was picked by San Diego. Lesko looked incredible when he first returned to the mound in 2023, sitting comfortably in the mid-90s with explosive vertical movement across an inning or two of complex duty in Peoria. He ended up pitching 33 innings, ending the year with a few walk-prone starts at High-A Fort Wayne.

This is a downward adjustment to Lesko’s 2023 in-season FV grade because of issues that cropped up as he got further underway coming off of Tommy John. His command and mechanical consistency and ease wavered when he was asked to throw more than two innings. This might be remedied simply through reps, as Lesko matures and gets further away from TJ. What might not be so easy to solve is that Lesko might have The Lucas Giolito Curveball Problem, which is to say that while Lesko’s fastball tends to have downhill trajectory, his huge, mid-70s curveball does not. It pops out up out of his hand on release and, at 20 mph slower than his fastball, is easy to identify. It was only chased at a 15% rate in 2023, per Synergy Sports; the big league chase rate on any given pitch was 29% in 2023. It’s a sexy-looking 73-77 mph curveball with big depth, and it will have strike-getting utility, but that may be it. Lesko’s changeup is also pretty slow, sitting 79-82 mph, approximately 15 mph slower than his fastball. It has ridiculous screwball action and Lesko makes frequent, non-traditional use of it as an in-zone weapon.

There’s still huge upside here. Lesko might eventually parlay his feel for spin into a good cutter or slider, or develop impact command (he’s barely pitched, after all), but all of those things are distant enough right now to dial down where he lines up on the Top 100.

45 FV Prospects

Drafted: 12th Round, 2022 from Duke (SDP)
Age 23.3 Height 6′ 1″ Weight 200 Bat / Thr L / R FV 45
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
45/50 50/50 50/55 40/40 30/35 40

Pauley took just a year to go from Day Three afterthought to arguably being a top 100 prospect. He slashed a combined .308/.393/.539 with 60 extra-base hits and ended his season with a month at Double-A and then a great Fall League stint. His swing is gorgeous — it often looks like a mini version of Corey Seager‘s cut, completely connected from the ground up. It allows Pauley to execute a pull-and-lift approach that produced 23 homers in 2023. He can yank pitches across most of the zone to his pull side (Pauley’s style of hitting is similar to Brandon Lowe’s), though the very outer edge of the zone eludes him.

The one thing standing between Pauley and the Top 100 list is his infield defense, which is currently untenable. Pauley struggles to make strong, accurate throws to first base, and he appears to be trending off of third and toward some combination of second base and left field. The Padres’ need in left field might prompt even more spring experimentation with Pauley out there since he’s among the best internal offensive options to fill that void. If he can find a true home on defense, he’ll move into the Top 100 list during the 2024 season, provided Pauley isn’t pressed into big league action by then.

Drafted: 2nd Round, 2022 from Iowa (SDP)
Age 22.7 Height 6′ 2″ Weight 180 Bat / Thr R / R FV 45
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Slider Changeup Command Sits/Tops
45/50 55/55 40/50 30/45 92-95 / 97

The wispy Mazur, a transfer from South Dakota State to Iowa, boosted his draft stock early during the spring of 2022 before his velocity fell off a cliff at the end of the season. He was peaking in the 97-99 mph range early on, then was sitting in the upper 80s during his final two starts of the year, per Synergy. He is so slight of build (Triston McKenzie is a fair frame/body comp) that I was concerned Mazur would have long-term issues holding his peak velocity as a starter throughout a full pro season. So far, so good, however, as Mazur held a 93-95 mph fastball across 96 innings in 2023, finishing his season at Double-A San Antonio.

Perhaps even more impressive was that Mazur issued walks at a miniscule 4.3% clip all year. Watch Mazur pitch and he shows you more control than command. His entire mechanical operation, which is very graceful and athletic, hurdles his skinny body toward the plate, and Mazur peppers the strike zone with all of his pitches. His in-zone command is a little loose, though. Hopefully with time he’ll be able to locate his fastball to the upper third of the zone more consistently, up where the line on his fastball is tough for hitters to mirror. He too often leaves his fastball or slider in the meat of the zone where both are vulnerable, and this is why Mazur projects as more of a no. 4/5 starter at present than a contender’s mid-rotation weapon. Mazur doesn’t technically have to be put on the Padres’ 40-man roster until after the 2025 season, but considering that he’s had half a season of success at Double-A and is within range of a five-and-dive big league starter’s innings count — and given San Diego’s need for pitching — it’s feasible he could be up this year. If the Padres want to keep him around 120 innings in 2024, he could begin the season on a slight delay to backload those innings into September and (hopefully) October.

40+ FV Prospects

International Free Agent (SDP)
Age 28.2 Height 5′ 8″ Weight 167 Bat / Thr L / L FV 40+
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Slider Splitter Command Sits/Tops
55/55 50/55 60/60 40/40 91-94 / 96

Matsui’s combination of splitter quality, fastball shape and angle, and excellent command should make him a platoon-neutral big league middle reliever capable of working four to six outs if needed. He first appeared on the International Players section of The Board last year when he posted the second-highest swinging strike rate in NPB behind Livan Moinelo (a name to stash away for next offseason). Despite sitting mostly 91-94 throughout the season, he ranked fourth in K% in 2023 among pitchers who threw at least 40 innings (32.4%) because his fastball misses a ton of bats at the letters thanks to its flat approach angle and vertical movement. The supremely athletic 5-foot-8 lefty has a due north arm slot that helps impart a nearly perfect back spinning axis on his fastball. Sometimes pitchers with this high a slot end up having a steep, downhill fastball angle, but Matsui’s lack of size helps counterbalance that, and his bouncy on-mound athleticism should enable him to hold up across a typical 60-inning big league relief workload despite being so small.

As pedestrian as Matsui’s fastball velocity is, his splitter is quite firm (usually 86-88 mph). It’s his most-used secondary pitch; his usage of it has increased in each of the last several seasons and grew to a career-high 35% in 2023. Matsui also has a true two-plane mid-80s slider that is of big league quality, but his usage of it was cut nearly in half in 2023, way down to 10%. It’s a good looking pitch and probably deserves more air time. Despite lacking typical big league reliever arm strength, Matsui looks like a very stable and versatile big league middle reliever. I’ve gassed his FV a little bit above my typical 40 FV for a role like this because Matsui’s mix should enable him to get hitters of both handednesses out. He lacks the monstrous stuff I associate with a contender’s set-up man or closer, but he’s more than a generic sixth-inning guy.

Drafted: 6th Round, 2022 from Central Michigan (SDP)
Age 22.5 Height 6′ 0″ Weight 180 Bat / Thr L / L FV 40+
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
45/50 40/40 30/35 60/60 35/40 40

Marsee has yet to post a wRC+ below 131 at any level, and he creamed High-A pitching (.273/.413/.425, 41 SB, 32 XBH in 113 games) before a late promotion to San Antonio and an incredible Arizona Fall League stint that earned him MVP. His underlying contact and chase data is very promising (6.5% swinging strike rate, 88.5% Z-contact%, 16% chase rate) and Marsee runs well enough to consider him a viable (but flawed, perhaps fringe-y) option in center field, but I’m struggling to get wholly on board here. Marsee is barrel chested and stocky, a bit stiff, and I think he has some plate coverage issues (big velo up/away) that have yet to be exposed by (mostly) A-ball pitching. Marsee is a short-levered pull hitter capable of doing damage versus pitches on the very inner edge of the plate, and I think pitchers can neutralize his power by staying away from him. Purely from an eyeball scouting standpoint, Marsee looks like he’ll peak as a fourth outfielder. His statistical case is much stronger than that. He’ll compete with a deep group of NRIs for playing time in the spring of 2024.

Signed: July 2nd Period, 2017 from Dominican Republic (NYY)
Age 25.2 Height 6′ 0″ Weight 165 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40+
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Curveball Changeup Cutter Command Sits/Tops
50/50 70/70 45/50 45/50 40/40 93-95 / 97

Vásquez pitched in the big leagues last year but not enough to graduate from rookie status. He was a spin-rate sleeper near the bottom of the Yankees’ prospect list for several years, then broke out in 2021 when he had a two-tick velocity bump, climbed three levels of the minors, and put himself on the doorstep of the big leagues. He worked about 120 total innings combined between his minor league and major league outings in 2023, pitching as a starter at Triple-A Scranton but working in a variable role for the Yankees prior to the Juan Soto trade. The high-effort nature of his delivery, his lack of size, and his below-average command all put him in the long-term relief bucket a little more definitively than the other pitchers San Diego acquired for Soto, including 2023 rookie graduate, Jhonny Brito.

Vásquez sits 93–95 mph and has a four-pitch mix headlined by his trademark breaking ball, which has wowed scouts for the past half decade or so. In a sense, he is the replacement for Seth Lugo, another curveball-heavy righty who spent his entire career on the starter/reliever line before the Padres correctly predicted he’d be able to start. Vásquez is just so tightly wound and mechanically violent, however, that I’m not comfortable projecting him as a long-term starter. Because of San Diego’s needs and the flexibility that his two remaining option years provide, I’d expect him to be sixth or seventh on the Padres’ Opening Day rotation depth chart and be up and down as needed throughout the year. Once his options run dry, he’s likely to shift into a more permanent relief role.

40 FV Prospects

International Free Agent (SDP)
Age 25.4 Height 6′ 0″ Weight 198 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Curveball Cutter Command Sits/Tops
55/55 45/45 55/60 30/40 93-95 / 98

A powerful, compact athlete with big arm speed, Go is a solid middle-inning reliever with a bevy of offerings. He mostly leans on his mid-90s fastball (sitting 93-95 mph, up to 98) and low-90s cutter, but he’ll occasionally break off a nasty 12-to-6 curveball, too. He led the KBO in saves (42) and K%-BB% (24.6%) in 2022, and was first in strikeout rate among pitchers with at least 30 innings in 2023, his second consecutive season with a K% in the 31-32% range. His feel for release is a bit inconsistent, likely limiting him to the middle innings in MLB.

Alek Jacob, SIRP

Drafted: 16th Round, 2021 from Gonzaga (SDP)
Age 25.6 Height 6′ 3″ Weight 190 Bat / Thr L / R FV 40
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Slider Changeup Command Sits/Tops
40/40 60/60 50/50 55/55 84-87 / 89

Jacob has thrived as a submarining long reliever, striking out no fewer than 27% of opposing hitters all the way through the minors. He made his big league debut in July and two weeks later was shut down for the rest of the season with right elbow inflammation. He only sits 84-87 mph, but he has a funky, low slot similar to that of Tim Hill and Tyler Rogers. Jacob will show you three sweeping and tailing pitches, including a ton of right-on-right changeups. If Jacob can develop more precise command, he can carve out an integral middle-inning role like a Brad Ziegler.

35+ FV Prospects

Signed: July 2nd Period, 2016 from Mexico (SDP)
Age 23.8 Height 6′ 4″ Weight 200 Bat / Thr L / R FV 35+
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
40/45 60/60 40/45 45/45 40/40 50

Ornelas’ swing has undergone several changes in an effort to help him get to his power in games, and while that’s never quite happened, he’s still a lefty stick who is hitting the ball hard (42% hard-hit rate, 114 mph max exit velo) and often. He set a career high for homers (15) last year despite Ornelas’ tendency to inside-out pitches to left field. He’s a Billy McKinney type of hitter who could end up getting corner outfield reps due to the departure of Juan Soto.

Drafted: 11th Round, 2018 from Texas A&M (LAD)
Age 26.7 Height 6′ 3″ Weight 210 Bat / Thr R / R FV 35+
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Slider Curveball Command Sits/Tops
55/55 55/55 50/50 40/40 94-95 / 98

Kolek, the younger brother of former Marlins top five draft pick Tyler Kolek, has yo-yo’d back and forth between the bullpen and the starting rotation in the Dodgers and Mariners systems since being drafted in 2018. After spending the back end of 2021 and all of 2022 as a starter, the Mariners shifted him back into the bullpen in 2023, where Kolek had a two-tick fastball bump, sitting 94-95 mph and touching 98. Kolek also seemed to work more with sink in 2023, and his groundball rate spiked from 47% to a whopping 57%. He’s also capable of varying the shape of his breaking ball, from more of an in-zone curveball to a chase-inducing slider. The Padres used a Rule 5 Draft pick on Kolek, who has a good chance of being a low-leverage middle inning contributor in 2024.

Drafted: 4th Round, 2016 from Redondo Union HS (CA) (MIA)
Age 25.7 Height 6′ 8″ Weight 250 Bat / Thr L / R FV 35+
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Slider Changeup Command Sits/Tops
55/55 50/55 45/50 30/40 94-96 / 99

The 6-foot-8 Reynolds had been a power-hitting, whiff-prone 1B/OF throughout his minor league career (he posted a 57% hard-hit rate but also struck out well over 40% of the time), but the Marlins moved him to the mound in 2021; he had a velo spike in 2023 and was traded to San Diego as part of the Garrett Cooper/Ryan Weathers swap. Reynolds averaged 94-96 and touched 99 mph at Triple-A, and his changeup and mid-80s slurve both have bat-missing movement when they’re located. Reynolds’ issue is that they often aren’t, and none of his pitches are so nasty that he can miss bats while having 30 control. This is a gigantic conversion arm who recently came into new velocity, so he might have a peak window with fewer walks, but for now Reynolds is an up/down 40-man reliever.

Drafted: 12th Round, 2018 from Kirkwood JC (IA) (MIL)
Age 25.4 Height 6′ 1″ Weight 180 Bat / Thr R / R FV 35+
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
30/35 50/50 35/40 70/70 70/70 40

Howell was a toolsy junior college prospect with catalytic qualities, led by his supreme speed. After initial pro trials at shortstop in the Brewers system (he came to the Padres via the Victor Caratini trade), Howell began to play all over the diamond, including center field. He has really taken to center and it’s the position he plays most often now. Howell can really go get it out there, as his reads and range are both incredible. He’s going to play in the big leagues by virtue of this skill alone, as outfielders with this level of defensive ability are very rare. Whether or not Howell will hit enough to have a bigger role remains to be seen, in part because his last two seasons have been marred by multiple injuries, including a 2022 wrist surgery and 2023 shoulder issue. For now, he’s evaluated as a late-inning defensive upgrade and pinch runner.

Cole Paplham, SIRP

Undrafted Free Agent, 2022 (SDP)
Age 23.8 Height 6′ 3″ Weight 215 Bat / Thr R / R FV 35+
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Slider Command Sits/Tops
60/60 50/60 20/30 96-98 / 99

Paplham has emerged as one of the better 2022 undrafted free agent signings, a wild, hard-throwing, sinker/sweeper reliever who kissed Double-A in 2023 and pitched in the Arizona Fall League. Paplham sits in the upper-90s and bends in a plus-flashing sweeper in the 84-86 mph range. His drop-and-drive, somewhat cross-bodied delivery is very explosive and hard for him to maintain, and he scatters his fastball all over the place. Hitters don’t seem flummoxed by his breaking ball a lot of the time, but it does have nice shape. It’s possible Paplham’s command will level up in his second full pro season and he’ll coast through the upper minors en route to a September call-up, but there’s plenty of developmental runway here if he continues to struggle with walks.

Signed: July 2nd Period, 2016 from Dominican Republic (CHC)
Age 24.4 Height 6′ 1″ Weight 215 Bat / Thr R / R FV 35+
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Slider Changeup Command Sits/Tops
60/60 55/60 40/50 30/30 96-98 / 101

Cruz barely pitched in full-season ball across his seven-year career with the Cubs because he was injured so often. He signed a minor league deal with the Padres during the 2023-24 offseason and is poised to move quickly through the upper minors if he can stay on the field. When healthy, he sits 96-98 mph with heavy sink, and Cruz’s upper-80s slider has late, nasty movement for such a hard pitch. He’s a stiff and inelegant athlete with poor feel for strikes, likely limiting him to up/down duty.

Drafted: 9th Round, 2021 from University of British Columbia (SDP)
Age 23.9 Height 6′ 5″ Weight 230 Bat / Thr R / R FV 35+
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Slider Changeup Command Sits/Tops
50/55 40/45 45/55 30/50 91-93 / 96

Hawkins was the first NAIA player drafted in 2021 even though he was difficult to scout in British Columbia due to border restrictions throughout 2020 and 2021. He was instead mostly seen pitching for Trenton in the 2021 MLB Draft League. Hawkins had a great post-draft summer on the complex and generated some offseason trade interest. Then in 2022, he had a little uptick in velocity, working 91-93 mph and touching 95-96 at peak, his heater’s effectiveness bolstered by its movement. Hawkins’ arm strength backed up in 2023 and his fastball was only averaging 91 mph before he was shut down with a lat strain in May, which ended his season. His delivery is similar to Ubaldo Jiménez’s, with a vertical arm slot created in part due to his big, open stride. Hawkins still finds a way to create tumble on his changeup from this slot and his slider has vertical action; both are about average. Hawkins has only thrown anything resembling a full slate of innings once since 2019, but he has lots of background traits (cold weather, small program, fewer reps due to the pandemic) that indicate he may just be scratching the surface. If he’s healthy at the start of 2024, he could move quickly and be used in a relief role to help manage his innings.

Eric Longenhagen is from Catasauqua, PA and currently lives in Tempe, AZ. He spent four years working for the Phillies Triple-A affiliate, two with Baseball Info Solutions and two contributing to prospect coverage at Previous work can also be found at Sports On Earth, CrashburnAlley and Prospect Insider.

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3 months ago

Iriarte sounds like a real up-and-comer and a particularly fun one to watch pitch.