The arrival of the offseason means that it's time to rank stuff. Already this winter, we've sized up the 60 best free agents, both on an overall and positional basis. There's no law that prevents us from ranking minor-league players in addition to their big-league counterparts. As such, we're going to spend the winter evaluating every team's farm system.
The lack of a minor-league season makes that more of a challenge this year. It doesn't help that some teams opted against sharing video and data from their alternate-site camps with the rest of the league. As such, we've opted against overthinking this. Our rankings will essentially be the same as they were last winter with a few changes. First, we'll exclude anyone who graduated by exhausting their rookie eligibility; second, we'll replace them with draftees or other worthy prospects; and third, and lastly, we'll present the information in a new format.
In every article in this series, you'll find a team's top five prospects as well as five others we felt like including, either because of their promise or some other reason. For those top five prospects, you'll find a quick summation of their pros (their saving grace, if one will) and their cons (their fault line), as well as beefier report and our attempt to peg their "likeliest outcome."
These rankings were compiled by talking to industry folks -- scouts, analysts, and other evaluators -- and include a touch of our own evaluative biases. Remember, that this is more of an art than a science, and that the write-ups matter more than the rankings themselves.
Now, let's get on to the top five prospects in the San Diego Padres system.
1. MacKenzie Gore, LHP
Age (as of 4/1/2021): 22
Height/Weight: 6-foot-2, 197 pounds
Acquired: No. 3 pick in the 2017 draft (Whiteville High School, North Carolina)
Highest level: Double-A
Saving grace: Total package
Fault line: Not much
Scouting report: It seemed likely that Gore would make his big-league debut at some point during the 2020 season, the way two other members of the Padres' top five did. Yet Gore never did get the call, and instead spent the year at the alternate site. Rest assured, he'll get his, and sooner than later. Gore checks all the boxes one could want in a potential frontline starter: he's athletic; he should have multiple plus offerings; and he should have above-average command. He's a pitcher, so some kind of injury could pop up and ruin everything. Shy of that, Gore is probably going to have a long and successful career, beginning in 2021.
Likeliest outcome: Front-of-the-rotation starter
2. Luis Patino, RHP
Age (as of 4/1/2021): 21
Height/Weight: 6-foot-1, 192 pounds
Acquired: International amateur free-agent signing (Venezuela)
Highest level: MLB
Saving grace: Pure stuff, athleticism
Fault line: Command, changeup
Scouting report: Patino had an eventful, if not particularly memorable rookie season. He was optioned to the alternate site three times during the month of September, limiting him to 11 regular-season appearances. In those outings, he allowed 10 runs on 18 hits and 14 walks. Patino is on the smaller side, but he has big-time stuff, including an above-average fastball and breaking ball. Patino still needs to work on his changeup and his command; provided he makes progress -- do note his age -- he should get a chance as a mid-rotation starter. Otherwise, he has a promising future in relief, where his size wouldn't be talked about as frequently.
Likeliest outcome: Mid-rotation starter or late-game reliever
3. CJ Abrams, SS
Age (as of 4/1/2021): 20
Height/Weight: 6-foot-2, 185 pounds
Acquired: No. 6 pick in the 2019 draft (Blessed Trinity High School, Georgia)
Highest level: A-ball
Saving grace: Overall potential
Fault line: Shortstop defense
Scouting report: Abrams is one of the fastest players in organized baseball. That could come in handy on defense if he's forced to move away from shortstop, perhaps to center. It also comes in handy on offense, but Abrams is more than a Billy Hamilton facsimile. He has a good feel for contact and above-average power potential thanks to a projectable frame. There's real star-level potential here, depending on how Abrams matures over the coming years.
Likeliest outcome: Regular at some non-shortstop position
4. Robert Hassell, OF
Age (as of 4/1/2021): 19
Height/Weight: 6-foot-2, 195 pounds
Acquired: No. 8 pick in the 2020 draft (Independence High School, Tennessee)
Highest level: High school
Saving grace: Offensive potential
Fault line: Defense
Scouting report: The Padres were rumored to believe that Hassell was the best hitter in the draft throughout the summer, so it wasn't too surprising when they used the eighth pick on him. Hassell was a legitimate prospect as a pitcher as well, and had to be lured away from his commitment to Vanderbilt. He's probably not going to stick in center, but if he can hit for average and power alike, as his boosters think he can, then it won't matter anyway.
Likeliest outcome: Regular corner outfielder
5. Luis Campusano, C
Age (as of 4/1/2021): 22
Height/Weight: 5-foot-11, 232 pounds
Acquired: Second-round pick in the 2017 draft (Cross Creek High School, Georgia)
Highest level: MLB
Saving grace: Bat, arm
Fault line: Framing
Scouting report: Campusano played in a single big-league game in 2020: he went 1 for 3 with a home run and a hit by pitch. Scouts believe he could grow into an above-average hitter, one equipped with a strong arm. He still needs to work on the other aspects of his defensive game, including his framing.
Likeliest outcome: Offensive-minded starting backstop
Five others to know
- Ryan Weathers, LHP
Weathers' father, Dave, was a longtime big-league reliever. Ryan figures to be a starter, provided his body allows him to shoulder the workload. He made his debut in the postseason, throwing 1 1/3 shutout innings against the Dodgers in the Divisional Series. Weathers has mostly average stuff but should be able to get the most out of it thanks to his instincts and his command.
- Cole Wilcox, RHP
Wilcox technically out-pitched Emerson Hancock at Georgia during the shortened season, but he went much later in the draft (third round) because it's unclear if he can cut it as a starter. Wilcox has elite arm strength and a promising slider. He's battled his delivery in the past, and there's enough effort involved that it's possible he ends up in a bullpen at the big-league level.
- Justin Lange, LHP
The Padres plucked Lange with their second pick in the draft, No. 34 overall, by way of a Texas high school. He's a lean, athletic righty with triple-digit arm strength. Lange is a long-term play who'll need to improve the rest of his arsenal, as well as his command. There's a lot of potential here, it's just mostly untapped for the time being.
- Hudson Head, OF
Head, San Diego's third-round pick in 2019, might well break into the organization's top five next winter. He's a center-field-level athlete with a potential plus bat, including some pop. Should Head reach the majors, he'd become the third player from Winston Churchill High School to do so, joining relievers Scott Dunn and Randy Choate.
Espinoza used to receive comparisons to Pedro Martinez. He hasn't pitched since 2016 because of multiple Tommy John surgeries and the pandemic. We'll continue to hold out hope, but it looks like we might be left wondering "what if?"