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Hassell, Mears shine in San Diego system

Slugging outfielders gave Padres lift at lower levels in 2021
Robert Hassell III finished with an .863 OPS over 110 games in his first Minor League season. (Jerry Espinoza/
December 15, 2021

Each offseason, goes position by position across each system and honors the players -- regardless of age or prospect status -- who had the best seasons in their organization. Click here to locate your favorite club. There were high hopes for the Padres system in 2021 on the strength

Each offseason, goes position by position across each system and honors the players -- regardless of age or prospect status -- who had the best seasons in their organization. Click here to locate your favorite club.

There were high hopes for the Padres system in 2021 on the strength of a Top-100 prospect core of MacKenzie Gore, CJ Abrams, Luis Campusano and Robert Hassell III. Unfortunately, Gore endured his most inconsistent season yet on the mound, Abrams suffered a season-ending fractured left tibia and sprained left MCL in July and Campusano never quite cracked through as the Major League catcher of the present. Only 2020 first-rounder Hassell appears on this year's edition of the Organization All-Stars.

That shouldn't lead to an abandonment of hope, however. Strong seasons by Hassell, Joshua Mears and Euribiel Angeles at the lower full-season levels provide optimism for the long-term future of the system, and impressive pitching breakouts by Adrian Martinez and Ethan Elliott helped strengthen the group's overall depth on the mound. The return of Abrams in 2022 will give the group back its potential position-player star power as well, assuming he gets back to full health following a left shoulder bruise that kept him from playing in the Arizona Fall League. James Wood and Jackson Merrill boosted the system through the Draft in July.

Make no mistake, this isn't the same quality group that ranked sixth in MLB Pipeline's preseason farm-system rankings, but the core in place has the capacity to rebound and build back closer to that status in 2022.

Padres Organization All-Stars

Catcher -- Brandon Valenzuela, Low-A Lake Elsinore (82 games), High-A Fort Wayne (15 games): At age 20, the switch-hitting backstop showed little issue with his first jump to full-season ball. Valenzuela ranked second among Padres full-season qualifiers with a .393 on-base percentage, fifth with a .299 average and sixth with an .821 OPS. He also showed a more mature approach than many his age with a 13.3 percent walk rate (second-best in the system).

The Padres mixed in some first base to keep the Mexico native in the lineup, but his above-average defensive ability behind the plate should keep him there long-term. The next step in his development could be power after he hit only seven homers in 97 games, but he set a good offensive foundation elsewhere this summer.

Honorable mention: Luis Campusano would have had a strong case for his second straight Organization All-Stars appearance, if not for the fact he ended with 117 fewer Minor League plate appearances than Valenzuela. (A late oblique injury played a role there.) The 23-year-old catcher hit .295/.365/.541 with 15 homers and a 122 wRC+ in 81 games with Triple-A El Paso.

First baseman -- Daniel Montesino, DSL Padres (56 games): Montesino was already squarely on San Diego’s radar, having signed for $1 million out of Venezuela last Jan. 15, and he only boosted his offensive profile with the way he performed in the Dominican Summer League. The 17-year-old left-handed slugger led all qualified Padres Minor Leaguers with a .444 OBP, .934 OPS and 160 wRC+. His .316 average and .489 slugging percentage both stood second in the organization, and he contributed 21 extra-base hits and eight steals in 56 games.

Originally signed as a corner outfielder, Montesino made 30 of his 51 defensive starts at first base, and that plays into early reviews of his rough and raw defense on the grass. He’ll need to keep on hitting similar to his DSL output at the higher levels if he stays at the cold corner.

Second baseman -- Euribiel Angeles, Lake Elsinore (87 games), Fort Wayne (18 games): Angeles has done nothing but hit since he signed with the Padres in July 2018 and that has prompted his jump to No. 13 in the club’s prospect rankings.

The 19-year-old batted .326 over 105 games between Low-A and High-A, giving him the highest average among qualified San Diego hitters and the fifth-best mark among Minor Leaguers with at least 400 plate appearances. His .343 average at Lake Elsinore specifically was 10 points better than any Low-A qualifier. Angeles made a good amount of contact (15.7 percent K rate) and utilized his speed to swipe a career-high 19 bags. His defensive home remains in question after he got time at second, third and short in 2021, so the bat will be what keeps him in lineups every day.

Third baseman -- Allen Córdoba, Double-A San Antonio (74 games): Córdoba is best known for being a Rule 5 pick who jumped from Rookie ball to the Majors in 2017. He hasn’t cracked higher than Double-A since, and as a 25-year-old, he spent the whole season there to solid success.

The Panama native hit .299/.392/.446 with five homers, one triple and 20 doubles over 296 plate appearances with the Missions. Córdoba rebounded with a 14.2 percent strikeout rate that was second-lowest among Double-A Central hitters with at least 250 plate appearances. Just before the work stoppage, he signed a Minor League deal with the Reds and received an invitation to Major League Spring Training.

Shortstop -- Eguy Rosario, San Antonio (114 games): Rosario’s individual numbers may not pop off the page, but he was as steady a Double-A performer as they come, especially considering he was only 21 during the summer. The 5-foot-9 infielder hit .281/.360/.455 with 12 homers and a 118 wRC+ in 114 games. His 30 steals were sixth-most at Double-A and seventh-most in the entire Padres system.

San Diego’s No. 15 prospect primarily featured at short (the reasoning for his spot here) but also got looks at second and third. He played at the hot corner only in the Arizona Fall League in an indication of where he might eventually land full-time.

“He’s come a long way since I [coached] him as a 17-year-old,” AFL manager Anthony Contreras told of Rosario in October. “He’s older now. He’s playing with some really good talent and seeing what level he has to step his game up to. The talent is there. It’s squeezing it out of him that has been the process, and he’s starting to show what he can do on an everyday basis.”

Robert Hassell III, Lake Elsinore (92 games), Fort Wayne (18 games): These lists don’t include a Player of the Year award, but if there was one, it’d likely go to Hassell.

The 2020 eighth overall pick met or even exceeded lofty expectations for his first full season. His .863 OPS and 130 wRC+ led qualified Padres full-season Minor Leaguers, and he accomplished those marks over 516 plate appearances, the most by any Minor League teenager in 2021. The left-handed slugger finished with a .302/.393/.470 line, 11 homers and 34 steals across two levels.

A .205 average and .698 OPS humbled him slightly during his time at High-A, but that assignment was meant to give him a taste of the more advanced pitching he’ll see again in 2022. Notably, three of his four homers for the TinCaps came in one Sept. 1 game.

"The main thing for me this season has been just having the time to develop my tools," Hassell told after his trifecta. "Slowing the game down has been really important and beneficial. I recognize my capabilities and as long as I don't go out there and try and do too much, I'll be fine. Letting the game come to me instead of forcing it and just taking everything -- an at-bat, a play in the field -- just one at a time."

Joshua Mears, Lake Elsinore (71 games): If Padres fans knew anything about the 2019 second-rounder heading into his (delayed) first full season, it was that he could absolutely mash. And mash he did during his time in the Low-A West.

Mears clubbed 17 homers in only 71 games with Lake Elsinore. That gave him the third-highest total in the San Diego system, despite the fact he played in at least 20 fewer contests than the two above him (Patrick Kivlehan and Agustin Ruiz, both with 21 homers). His 131 wRC+ placed second in the organization among Minor Leaguers with at least 250 plate appearances -- leader Jack Suwinski (150) was traded midseason -- and his .529 slugging percentage and .897 OPS ranked fourth.

You might be able to guess what else came in his profile -- a .244 average dragged down by a 39.2 percent K rate (highest in the system). The exciting power base at least gives the 20-year-old something to build on as he looks to make more contact higher up the chain.

Taylor Kohlwey, San Antonio (18 games), Triple-A El Paso (97 games): A 2016 21st-rounder out of Division III University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, Kohlwey reached Triple-A for a second season in 2021 and performed well enough to stick there for much of the summer. The left-handed slugger hit .319/.381/.456 with seven homers and nine steals in his 97 games with El Paso. Combined with his time at Double-A, he finished with a .311 average, making him one of only nine players to bat .300 with 450 plate appearances or more at the Minors’ top two levels. Prominent prospects Alek Thomas, Riley Greene and Jose Miranda joined him on that list.

Kohlwey played all three outfield spots, primarily center and right, and also featured at first base. That versatility makes him valuable as organizational depth, and there’s still a chance he builds on this to earn that elusive Major League debut next summer.

Right-handed starting pitcher -- Adrian Martinez, San Antonio (17 games, 13 starts), El Paso (nine games, nine starts): The 6-foot-2 right-hander led all Padres Minor League pitchers in strikeouts (122) and innings pitched (125). In fact, he was one of only five hurlers in the system to toss at least 100 frames.

But Martinez was more than just a durable compiler. The Mexico native thrived at Double-A, posting a 2.34 ERA and a 1.09 WHIP with 83 strikeouts and 24 walks in 80 2/3 innings prior to an Aug. 14 promotion. His numbers were rougher in the tough pitching environment of the Triple-A West (5.28 ERA, 1.51 WHIP in 44 1/3 innings), but his home-road ERA splits (5.84 at El Paso, 4.58 elsewhere) provide reasons for optimism. The Padres liked Martinez’s above-average heater and screwball-like changeup enough to add him to the 40-man roster ahead of this year’s Rule 5 deadline.

Left-handed starting pitcher -- Ethan Elliott, Fort Wayne (12 games, 12 starts), San Antonio (three games, three starts): The 24-year-old southpaw has gone from a 2019 10th-round pick who signed for $5,000 to the No. 12 spot in MLB Pipeline’s current Padres prospect rankings. His performance in 2021 played a big role in that.

Elliott led Padres Minor Leaguers (minimum of 70 innings) with a 3.06 ERA, a 1.10 WHIP and a 4.6 K/BB ratio over 70 2/3 frames between the High-A and Double-A levels. He fanned 87 and walked 19, giving him the third-best strikeout rate (30.3 percent) and fifth-best walk rate (6.6 percent) in the system as well.

Elliott isn't a fireballer as his fastball only touches the low 90s on its best days, but his plus changeup, which features good vertical break and can be really deceptive off the fastball, can give him swing-and-miss stuff at the middle levels. His above-average control -- he didn't walk more than three batters in any of his 15 outings -- gives him an even better chance at sticking in a starting role. A little more velocity could be all standing between him and the back end of a Major League rotation.

Relief pitcher -- Steven Wilson, ACL Padres (two games), El Paso (28 games): An arm injury that knocked Wilson out for roughly two months in the middle of the season is about the only thing that may have kept him from seeing the Majors in 2021. Instead, he was one of the most dominant Triple-A relievers of the second half.

He posted a 3.43 ERA with 63 strikeouts and 14 walks over 28 appearances (39 1/3 innings) with El Paso, and his 40.1 percent K rate (third) and 0.92 WHIP (12th) ranked among the top dozen Triple-A pitchers with at least 30 frames this season. The 27-year-old right-hander didn't allow a single walk in a 10-outing span from Aug. 14-Sept. 17, and he posted a 2.57 ERA with 24 strikeouts and a .104 average-against over 14 innings in that period. The Padres saw enough promise in Wilson's fastball-slider mix to add him to the 40-man roster ahead of the Rule 5 Draft deadline last month, and he should get a chance to compete for a Major League spot this upcoming spring.

Sam Dykstra is a reporter for Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @SamDykstraMiLB.