Are you a San Diego Padres fan who has heard all the hoopla about the minor league guys the team has brought in recently and want to check it out?
You’re in luck! The team’s High-A affiliate is in Lake Elsinore, less than two hours north of San Diego, and is called the Storm (somewhat confusingly in an area where storms are few and far between).
But before you consider following the Storm, I have the question for you: a T-Rex faces off versus a million cats in a fight to the death. Who do you got?
It’s a debate that has raged recently in the clubhouse of Lake Elsinore and on the Twitter accounts of some of their top pitchers.
It also serves as a good metaphor for the team itself and the rest of San Diego’s minor league system: with so many high-upside youngsters added to the mix in the past year-plus, will the numbers inevitably overwhelm other teams? Or will shepherding a promising group to glory be as difficult as herding cats?
That is the task at hand for Storm manager Edwin Rodriguez, who earlier this year in the World Baseball Classic led Puerto Rico and its band of bleached-hair misfits all the way to the championship game before falling to the host U.S. team.
San Diego’s band of misfits in Lake Elsinore, which started the year with nine of MLB Pipeline’s Top 30 Padre prospects, have shown signs of future stardom but some also have struggled with the inconsistency typical of the level, where most are playing their first or second full year of pro ball.
To introduce possible new fans to the Storm, allow me to run through what people might expect from the team when they visit The Diamond.
The pitching staff in Lake Elsinore with Cal Quantrill, the Padres’ 2016 top draft pick, leading the staff is what has many fans excited. Along with holding the aforementioned Twitter polls about dinosaur/feline battles, Quantrill boasts strikeout stuff and has averaged more than a K per inning so far this year. He is coming off of Tommy John surgery during his time at Stanford, so the team has been cautious by not letting him throw more than 6 innings in a game yet, but he still managed 12 strikeouts in an outing on May 2.
The Padres’ other top pitching prospect, Anderson Espinoza, is also on the Lake Elsinore roster but hasn’t thrown a single pitch for the Storm because of forearm tightness that popped up at the end of spring training. San Diego got the 19-year-old Espinoza when they traded Drew Pomeranz to Boston last year, and he possesses the most upside of any Padre prospect, topping most rankings of the team’s minor leaguers and evoking Pedro Martinez comparisons when he was with Boston. The team has been hush-hush on his current status, but hopefully, they’ll get him out there in Lake Elsinore sometime this month or the next.
The rest of the Storm’s pitching rotation are no slouches with fellow 2016 Padres first-round draft pick Eric Lauer (and original dino vs. cat debater!) having a sub-2 ERA through the end of May, 2016 4th-rounder Joey Lucchesi with an ERA just over 2 this year, 2015 3rd-rounder Jacob Nix, who just debuted for Lake Elsinore late last month after a groin injury delayed the start to his season, and 2016 9th-rounder Jesse Scholtens, who started the year at low-A Fort Wayne but was brought up and looked great in his first three starts, including a May 27 10-K outing at home.
The pitching staff has led the eight-team California League in ERA by a sizable margin, but unfortunately, the Storm’s hitters haven’t quite been as great at the plate, sporting the second-worst OPS in the league.
There are a few bright spots, however, namely 1B Josh Naylor, part of the trade that sent Andrew Cashner to the Marlins last year. The 20-year-old Naylor struggled in his first go-around at Lake Elsinore last year with a .252/.264/.353 slash line in 144 at-bats but has been vastly improved this year with an OPS nearing .900. The Padres seem set at first base for the foreseeable future with Wil Myers, but Naylor is a good backup plan.
Two players up the middle of the diamond, catcher Austin Allen and CF Michael Gettys, seem to be the other best bets among the Storm’s position players to make an impact in the big leagues. Allen has shown a mature approach at the plate, walking in more than 10% of his plate appearances and hitting for a decent amount of power. The 21-year-old Gettys is a great defender and speedy baserunner who is still working to figure it out at the plate and has steadily progressed this year. After hitting only .223/.257/.330 in April, he bumped that up to .274/.400/.411 in May, then has started June even hotter with a three-homer game this past Friday.
Lake Elsinore has other guys with top prospect pedigrees, particularly Javier Guerra, one of the prospects traded along with current SD center fielder Manny Margot from Boston for closer Craig Kimbrel. Guerra has struggled, though, since coming to the Padres’ organization, hitting barely above .200 for the Storm last year and again in 2017.
In all, the Storm have a number of guys who seem to be on the fast lane on I-15 from Lake Elsinore toward Petco Park, and it would serve you well to check them out while they’re with the Storm if for no other reason than that you can boast that you saw and knew about them before they were the next big thing.