The San Diego Padres lost 96 games in 2018, however, if you made the trek up the road to Lake Elsinore in 2018, there were plenty of reasons for optimism. The Storm featured a breakout campaign from Buddy Reed, power from 19-year-old Hudson Potts and three consensuses top-100 prospects in their rotation, headlined by right-handed pitcher Chris Paddack.
The Storm went 68-72 on the year and missed the playoffs for the fourth straight season. Beyond the aforementioned players, they got some production from first baseman Brad Zunica, who hit 17 homers and Nate Easley, who may have been the most consistent member of the Storm in the season’s second half.
Top Players: Outfielder Buddy Reed made the California League his personal playground in 2018 and the second-rounder firmly established himself as one of the most dynamic players in the farm system. Reed hit a blistering .324/.371/.549 with 12 homers, 47 RBI and 33 stolen bases. Reed earned a promotion to Double-A San Antonio before the season ended and is participating in the prospect-laden Arizona Fall League this month.
Hudson Potts is only 19 but was the best position-player prospect who saw time in Riverside County in 2018. The 19-year-old Potts belted 35 doubles, 17 homers and slugged nearly .500. His production was 26% above league-average — quite the feat considering Potts was one of the youngest players in the California League.
LINK: MadFriars Player of the Year: https://madfriars.com/2018/10/16/madfriars-player-of-the-year-series-lake-elsinore-storm/
Top Pitchers: Chris Paddack returned from Tommy John surgery and destroyed the competition in the Cal League. The Texas-born righty walked four batters in 10 starts, struck out 83 and pitched a 2.24 ERA before earning a promotion to Double-A. The talented righty showed absolutely no ill effects from his procedure and could be part of the rotation in San Diego at some point in 2019.
Big Cuban RHP Michel Baez didn’t dominate like he did with Fort Wayne in 2017 but he was still quite productive. The righty flashed his mid-90’s fastball and changeup and pitched to a 2.91 ERA in a hitter’s league. Like Paddack, Baez finished his season pitching in San Antonio.
LINK: MadFriars Pitcher of the Year: https://madfriars.com/2018/10/17/madfriars-pitcher-of-the-year-series-lake-elsinore-storm/
John Conniff caught up with Sam Geaney, the Padres’ Director of Player Development to review the top players that saw time in Lake Elsinore in 2018.
Link: Q&A with Sam Geaney on the 2018 Lake Elsinore Storm: https://madfriars.com/2018/10/18/qa-with-sam-geaney-2018-lake-elsinore-storm/
MadFriars Announcer Series: Dominic Lorenz
Sean McCall has handled play-by-play duties for the Storm since 1996 and has seen the likes of Jake Peavy and and Hunter Renfroe roll through town. When it comes to discussing individual players, McCall prefers to defer to others in the media department who follow the team.
In his place, Dominic Lorenz was alongside McCall for much of the 2018 season. Lorenz is a 2017 graduate from Cal State Fullerton and called 15 games this season, in addition to his responsibilities to helping with the Storm postgame show.
Lorenz talked to us about some of the talent he saw in Lake Elsinore this season.
MadFriars: Buddy Reed had a breakout year before being promoted to San Antonio. What did the outfielder bring to the Storm in 2018?
Dominic Lorenz: Buddy Reed brought energy and hard-work to the team that quickly spread all around the clubhouse. His approach at the plate was to be selective with the pitches he was looking to hit, which stems from the work he put in during batting practice. I would see him constantly work with the coaching staff to correct his footwork as well as batting position against every style of pitch in order to get the best swing possible on the ball.
The more contact he put on the ball, the more opportunities he had to get on base, which is the part of his game that goes to a new level. As soon as he recorded a base hit, the first thing that crossed his mind was to run and take the extra base. His speed is a dangerous part of his game and numerous times this season, Reed would turn what would be a lazy bloop single into a sliding double or a double in the outfield gap to a triple. His 79-game stretch with the Storm proved to be his best offensive production to date during his 3-year minor league career, but that fact never made Reed cocky. He dug deep and took pride in improving his game each day.
Edward Olivares garnered a lot of attention because he was traded for a popular player in infielder Yangervis Solarte. What did you see out of the outfielder down the stretch?
Dominic Lorenz: In the final month of the season, I saw Olivares take his offensive game to a new level. He utilized the whole field to spray his hits and collectively have 29 hits (nine for extra-bases) while also cutting down his strikeouts to only 14, which was his lowest month total all season long.
To me, as the season progressed, the speed of Olivares increased, which elevated his opportunity to steal bases and cover more ground in the outfield. Being able to improve each of the five tools during his age-22 season sets the Venezuelan up well to move up the San Diego Padres farm system when the rosters are revealed for the 2019 season.
Luis Torrens returned to the minors and played well overall. How did his skills progress at the plate and defensively?
Dominic Lorenz: With the 2018 season being the most games Torrens has played in one year, the opportunities at the plate and behind the plate allowed his game to evolve to new heights. With career numbers in all offensive categories (batting average, hits, home runs, RBI, doubles and runs scored), Torrens success is essentially a product of more playing time.
If he was either the catcher or DH, he was making strong contact with the ball and avoiding strike outs which occurred only 77 times in 475 at-bats. Defensively, Torrens worked well with a young Storm pitching staff and was able to call great games from behind the plate. Having major-league experience was a good quality to have and utilize. Even though the numbers show Torrens had his worst fielding percentage year behind the plate (.984), his technique improved, and he was more aggressive when runners were on base. He threw out 34% of would-be base stealers and continued to work on his back-pick skills with a runner on first base.
Hudson Potts had a great campaign but still seems like an under-the-radar type of player. Is he a guy that should be more hyped up in the prospect lists?
Dominic Lorenz: For being just 19, I feel Hudson Potts is at the right spot and getting the right amount of attention. Each and every day he takes pride in his game and consistently works on improving himself in all facets of the game. This season, he really focused on his defense at third base and the amount of time he and Storm manager Edwin Rodriguez put in, there was great improvements with his range, foot work and throwing ability to either 1st or 2nd base.
Potts is currently listed #23 on the Padres Top-30 Prospect List [on MLB Pipeline], which could appear low to some, but with the depth that San Diego has, especially with pitching, it puts him at the right place to keep a low profile and focus on improving his game without constant speculation.
Not only is Potts a great talent that will factor into the Padres future infield to join the likes of [Eric] Hosmer, [Luis] Urias and [Fernando]Tatis Jr., but he is also a genuine human being. He is a likeable guy that will go out of his way to say hello and shake a hand with a smile on his face.
Michel Baez had a great year but didn’t show the same velocity he had in Fort Wayne last year. Is he still a guy that fans should be excited about?
Dominic Lorenz: Absolutely! Even though his velocity dipped a little in 2018, the effectiveness of each pitch is something remarkable. Between his fastball, slider, curveball and changeup, Baez is able to throw off hitters into simply guessing what comes next.
On many different occasions this past season, I witnessed Baez go after opposing batters which led to dominant performances and near no-hitters. He controlled the game while he was on the mound and limited any sort of damage as he yielded two runs or less in 13 of 17 starts with the Storm. I think if Baez is able to get keep his pitch velocity around the mid-90’s and reach the upper 90’s at will, he could still be a complimentary piece of the Padres starting rotation either in the middle or the back end.
Chris Paddack had an amazing year — perhaps the best of any minor leaguer. What did you take away from watching his starts?
Dominic Lorenz: In 10 starts with the Storm, I saw a pitcher that is nearly ready to be pitching for the San Diego Padres.
Being just over a year in a half removed from Tommy John Surgery and having an innings limit coming into the season, there was slight skepticism on how Paddack would look to attack the 2018 season, but with poise and a fantastic work-ethic, he exceeded my expectations.
Everyone will look at his walk to strikeout split (8BB/120K) which equates to one walk to every 15 strikeouts, which is nearly unheard of in baseball today. The feel he has for his pitches is some of the best (if not the best) I have seen in my two seasons with the Storm, but his changeup is the knock-out pitch to any batter. The way the bottom breaks on it, will buckle the hands of any opposing batter and what I like especially is that it can be thrown with ease.
Anytime Paddack steps on the mound, the team has a greater chance of winning because he takes what he does seriously. As a pitcher, repetition and consistency is key and for Paddack, it is no different. On gameday, he will enter the clubhouse or get on the team bus dressed for success with a buttoned shirt, jeans, cowboy hat and boots to go along with a game face that has him locked in and ready to work on the mound. His attention to detail is top notch and as a leader, he has the ability to elevate his teammates play on and off the field.
Adrian Morejon struggled with some injuries but what were your impressions of him when he threw?
Dominic Lorenz: For being just 19 years-old, I feel Morejon has a terrific upside with great promise as he heads into the off-season and prepares for the 2019 season. The southpaw is very polished for his age especially with his arsenal of pitches which he has great velocity on.
One aspect of his mechanics that I do like is how his delivery is constant. There is no hitch, which allows each of his pitches to have a degree of deception and keeps opposing batters guessing what is next. The only question that I have on my mind is how can he handle a full workload of a starting pitcher. In each of his first two seasons, he has only thrown 13 starts each and has fallen victim to the injury bug. I think once health is on his side, just refining what he has in the arsenal will be a tremendous boost as he has the ability to be a front of the rotation starter.
Are there any other under-the-radar players that could break out next season?
Dominic Lorenz: The one player that comes to mind would be Nate Easley. The 2018 season was a breakout one for him offensively in batting average, hits, home runs, RBI, doubles and runs scored; and his performance reminded me similarly of Buddy Reed.
An outfielder that through the first two seasons of minor-league baseball had little success and found themselves in the middle of the pack moving forward. Easley, who can play all three outfield positions, along with second base, and proved to be highly valuable especially with a team-leading 13 outfield assists while his arm strength and speed were on display each and every game. Easley will grind his way into the lineup and take advantage of the opportunity as a table setter at the top of the order.
Kevin Charity is a writer for MadFriars.com, and you can follow him @madfriars.com.