MadFriars’ Preview: 2017 Tri-City Dust Devils

Synopsis: The Dust Devils will be the first stop for many of the Padres’ more heralded international signees of 2016.  LHP Adrian Morejon and SS Luis Almanzar will get most of the initial attention, but keep an eye on outfielder Tre Carter, an eleventh-round pick from the 2016 draft who in the end could steal the show.

As with most Rookie-level teams the roster – which is 35 players in the AZL and the Northwest League – will be in flux, with many of the myriad of international players the Padres’ still have back in Peoria and some of the high draft picks from 2016 – LHP Dan Dallas, RHP Lake Bachar and infielder Ethan Skender – finding their way up to Pasco sometime this summer.

Three Strikes with Sam Geaney, the Padres Director of Player Development:

How has Adrian Morejon looked?

Sam Geaney: He’s looked great.  In what would have been his last outing in Arizona with some of the other kids that we sent out to Fort Wayne but he experienced a little shoulder soreness. That prevented him from going up, so he is in Tri-City for now, but that could change.

We aren’t in any hurry to move him up, but at the same time it’s hard to not see his talent. I think his experience in Spring Training and Extended Camp has been good for him.  He learned a lot about pitching and more about just adjusting to the country, language and so many other things.  He made some minor delivery changes and his changeup and knuckleball pitch is a real variance.

Most of us don’t know much about Luis Almanzar.  Can you give us a quick scouting report?

Sam Geaney: I’m not an expert on the international market, but it was easy to see that he was one of the more advanced players out there.  He has all the attributes that you look for; he’s very athletic and in the time, since we have had him his body has filled out more.  He’s a guy who is going to be able to hit and has a great frame to play shortstop.

This year we are going to bounce him around the infield a little because we have a few guys that we want to see can play shortstop too.

There is a lot of buzz about Tre Carter.  What has impressed you the most about him?

Sam Geaney: He is one of the more athletically gifted players that we have in the organization.  We have a lot of good athletic center fielders in the organization and he certainly fits into that mold.  Tre has come a long way in the year that we’ve had him – as have a lot of our guys – and we are looking forward to seeing what he can do.

2017 Projected Lineup:

1B       Bryant Aragon                                     LHP     Adrian Morejon (#6)

2B       Justin Lopez                                        LHP     Osvaldo Hernandez

SS        Luis Almanzar                                    RHP    Emanuel Ramirez

3B       Kelvin Melean/Boomer White              RHP    Will Stillman

RF       Luis Asuncion                                      RHP    Henry Henry  

CF       Tre Carter                                            RHP    Jim McDade

LF       Josh Magee/Aldemar Burgos               RHP    Austin Smith  

C         Steve Bean                                          RHP    Dalton Erb     

MadFriars’ Top 20 Prospects in Tri-City: (1) #6 Adrian Morejon

Catch a Rising Star: At only 18 Adrian Morejon pitches like a man beyond his years. The lefty has a solid three-pitch mix and his fastball has amped up since he signed last year as he has matured and gotten stronger.  Fans in Pasco should get a long look at him, but if he pitches well the Padres won’t be reluctant to move him up.

Pitching: Morejon is the star, and the six-man rotation will see some higher upside pitchers later in the summer; but for now there will be some opportunities for some less heralded players.  After Morejon, Osvaldo Hernandez, 19, was the last of the three Cubans that the Padres signed in the offseason. According to Baseball America, he has a fastball that sits in the 89-94 range and the ability to manipulate multiple breaking balls. The Padres’ have always liked the wonderfully named Henry Henry, 19. The 6-foot-4 righty has the scouting report as many young pitchers, big fastball and developing secondary pitches and the potential to pack on at least 25 more pounds onto a large frame. Will Stillman was a senior sign out of Wofford College in the sixth round of last year’s draft and looked good in limited outings with the Dust Devils last year. Emmanuel Ramirez has bounced back and forth between Tri-City and Low-A Fort Wayne with varying degrees of success. Finally, one of the more interesting guys is Jim McDade, 24, and undrafted free agent who was MadFriars’ Arizona League pitcher of the year in 2016.  McDade looked good in 18.1 innings this year with the TinCaps with a 2.45 ERA and a 15:3 strikeout to base-on-balls ratio.  He should be the first in line to go back to the Midwest when some movement starts to occur.

As mentioned above, expect to see Dallas and Bachar before too long, in addition to Michel Baez, the 6-foot-8, 225-pound Cuban signee who seems to have greatly benefitted from his time in Extended Spring in improving his fastball command.

Bullpen:  Despite having great pitching tools Austin Smith, the very first pick of the A.J. Preller regime, struggled mightily as a starter with a 5.68 ERA in 130 innings over two seasons in Fort Wayne. The Padres sent him back down to become a reliever and hopefully they will be able to harness some of what they saw when they selected him in the second round of the 2015 draft. Dust Devils’ manager Ben Fritz will have a pair of 6-foot-8 pitchers, Dalton Erb from the right side and lefty Ben Sheckler to choose from.  Finally, keep an eye on Joe Galindo, an 13th round pick from last year’s draft who was impressive in limited outings with Fort Wayne this year.

Infield: It should be a very good defensive infield with the Dust Devils essentially playing with three shortstops; albeit none of them will have turned 19. Almanzar could climb quickly up the prospect lists and in the offseason received the fourth highest bonus in team history at $4 million dollars.  As Sam Geaney noted in his interview, he will be the principle shortstop but will see time around the infield. Justin Lopez is another high -profile international prospect out of Venezuela that was signed in the offseason will play mainly at second base and join in the shortstop rotation. Kelvin Melean was the top international signee in 2015, and is one of the seemingly unedning number of toolsy Latin shortstops that have been signed in the past two years will get the reps at third.  Boomer White was the SEC batting champion in 2016, but struggled in his first summer of pro ball.  He was the most impressive player in Extended Spring and like McDade, should get the first opportunity to move up to a full-season league if the opportunity comes up. White could also seem some time in the outfield as well. Bryant Arragon is a left-handed hitting converted catcher who should get most of the reps at first but some of the Padres recent draftees could be brought up too. The first name that pops up could be Nick Feight 19th round pick out of UNC-Wilmington who was very impressive in the Cape Cod League last summer. 

Also, look for 2B/3B Eguy Rosario, who spent much of the first half in the Midwest League at 17, to make an appearance soon along with Skender.

Catching: In the 2017 draft the Padres used two of their first three picks to select high school catchers Luis Campusno and Blake Hunt; neither of which will make it up to Pasco this summer.  Steve Bean, Wilfri De La Cruz and Tucker Pennell are all 23 and should be staying with the Dust Devils for the foreseeable future. 

A dark horse candidate to join them could be Jalen Washington, 22, of Ohio State, a 29th round pick in this year’s draft whom Jeff Ellis, a Senior Columnist for Scout.com and MLB draft specialist raved about. With Campusno and Hunt getting the bulk of the playing time with the two AZL teams, Tri-City could be a good fit. To give you an idea of what type of athlete Washington is, he transitioned from catcher to shortstop this year and is returning to catch as a pro.  The big question is can a career .254 collegiate hitter produce offensively at a higher level?

Outfield: Carter was an eleventh-round pick last year and the left-handed hitter was an outstanding athlete that could develop into a very good baseball player with the right amount of repetitions. Last year in the AZL in 56 plate appearances he hit .298/.411/.383 and was considered a plus defender in center. Magee, 20, was a fifth-round pick in 2015, but has yet to produce professionally. Asuncion, 20, was with the Dust Devils last year and hit .241/.335/.317.

Both Magee and Asuncion will get the initial opportunities, but a pair of Padres’ picks, outfielders Duke Ellis and Greg Lambert that were taken in the  20th and 21st rounds could also be in the mix. 

On the Spot: Austin Smith was given many chances to succeed, he’s going to have to show he can cut it in the bullpen with all the starting pitching talent that is coming into the organization.

Under the Radar: Tre Carter didn’t get onto the field until August of last year after a health concern popped up right around the draft, but once the club’s 11th-rounder made it into action, it was easy to see his superior athleticism at the plate, on the bases and in the field. He will likely need a lot of minor league at-bats, but has some special talent. 

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