With the closest Padres affiliate nearly 10 hours away from the Atlanta area, spring training is my only opportunity to scout Padres prospects. Last week, Dave Laurila and I tag teamed a piece on top catching prospect Austin Hedges. And while he was the most impressive position prospect in the organization, a pair of right handers ruled the day.
In the Single-A game, Joe Ross struggled to locate an 88-94 mph fastball. He kept the ball up in the zone and missed the plate too often. After a handful of batters, his velocity stabilized at 93-94.
Ross paired this with an 80-81 mph curveball thrown only a couple of times. The pitch featured tight break, but was overthrown. A general lack of feel was noted throughout, although a scout commented Ross’ changeup showed promise.
However, squint hard enough and one sees a long, athletic frame similar to Mariners phenom Taijuan Walker. And while Ross’ velocity is comes just as easily, his feel lags far behind. Considering Ross is just nine months younger than Walker who’s repeating Double-A, it’s difficult to envision the Padres prospect catching up on the developmental curve.
After nearly two innings of Joe Ross, I hitched a ride on a golf cart to scout Matt Wisler in the Double-A game. With a lean, projectable frame, the right-hander pounded the bottom of the strike zone with a 91 mph fastball with sink. He touched 93 during the appearance, but Wisler was more about command and movement than overpowering opposing hitters.
Wisler’s best breaking pitch was a slider at 81-82 mph. Mariners hitters flailed wildly at the offering and it presented as his out pitch.
A 74-77 mph curveball was also thrown by Wisler. It profiled as a solid average pitch with 11/5 break.
The right-hander has a high floor and added strength would push his ceiling higher as well. I’ve seen worse pitchers ranked in the top-100.
Corey Spangenberg played second base in the Double-A game and underwhelmed. Slight of build, he’s a small ball player without strength or game altering speed. This leaves him a tweener — Especially if his defense isn’t good enough to stick at second base.
Spangenberg started his hands low in batting practice resulting in a more pronounced load into hitting position. His swing was quiet and compact, but a heavy pull hand limits Spangenberg’s ability to extend his hands. The result is a bat head that’s through the strike zone in a flash. So while his bat whip through the point of contact was impressive, I’m forced to question his feel for contact considering Spangenberg’s swing path doesn’t linger in the strike zone at all.
Add to this questionable plate discipline supported by a 6.1% walk rate in 2012, as well as his lunging wildly at multiple off speed pitches in person, and it’s difficult for me to envision Spangenberg as regular at the Major League level.
Spangenberg’s double play partner, shortstop Jace Peterson, made a strong first impression. In batting practice, his swing was inconsistent and shoulder heavy at times. During the game, Peterson floated on his front foot. This caused his hands to drag through the strike zone.
When Peterson’s swing worked well, good extension at the point of contact was evident. His flat plane swing resulted in a triple to left field off of a high fastball. In flashing gap power and plus speed, I left Arizona believing Peterson was one of the best athletes scouted. Add a mature, strong frame and he’s a breakout candidate in the organization.
2012 pick Travis Jankowski joined Ross, Spangenberg, Hedges and Peterson as the fifth first round pick scouted that day. Lean and athletic, his frame was impressive, but the bat wasn’t. On multiple occasions, Jankowski attempted to inside-out inside pitches with no success. His “aluminum bat swing” will need tweaking for the outfielder to pull pitches with any success.
Fellow outfielder Kyle Gaedele deserves mention as a sleeper in the organization. A former sixth rounder, his power display in batting practice resulted in shock when learning Gaedele’s slugging percentage was just .398 in Single-A. In the California League, college hitters seemingly come out of nowhere to post huge seasons and Gaedele will follow that trend.
Overall, the Padres were a mixed bag for me in terms of talent. Wisler, Peterson and Gaedele were better than anticipated while Spangenberg, Hedges and Ross fell short of expectation. As icing on the cake of an excellent scouting trip, I couldn’t imagine a better final day.