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A.J. Preller and the San Diego Padres Have Built a Monster Farm System

Last week the San Diego Padres traded Brad Hand and fellow reliever Adam Cimber to the Cleveland Indians, and in return received Francisco Mejia, baseball’s top catching prospect. It was yet another elite addition to what has become baseball’s best farm system by miles.

Padres general manager A.J. Preller has methodically built San Diego’s collection of prospects into an absolute behemoth, one that looks more loaded than any in recent memory. While the results have yet to be seen at the major league level, some of the team’s impact prospects are knocking on the door.

Preller and the Padres have taken their cues from the Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros. They tore the major league product down and invested in high-upside youth at all levels. They bet on their ability to out-scout, out-draft, out-recruit and out-spend their competition for talent. It’s paying off so far.

How jam-packed is the Padres’ system? With the addition of Mejia, San Diego now boasts three of the top six players on Keith Law’s midseason top 50, and seven of the top 51 (he made an addendum to his list).

On MLB.com’s top 100 list, the Padres have 10 of the top 100 and a ridiculous seven in the top 42. MLB also ranked San Diego’s system at No. 1 before the season.

The crown jewel of the system is 19-year-old shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. All Tatis has done this season is tear the cover off the ball in Double-A while playing stellar defense. Unfortunately, the future face of San Diego’s franchise is out for the year thanks to a thumb injury, but it shouldn’t impact him long term. Law currently has Tatis — who has drawn comparisons to Carlos Correa — as his top prospect in baseball, while MLB has him at No. 3.

Lefty MacKenzie Gore is another high-upside 19-year-old who has drawn lofty comparisons (to Clayton Kershaw mostly) and ranks among baseball’s best prospects. MLB.com has Gore at No. 13 and says he’s the top lefty in the minors, while Law has him at No. 6 overall.

Then there’s Mejia, who Law absolutely loves. The switch-hitting catcher has one of the best bats in the minors and an absolute rocket for an arm. While it’s not guaranteed he’ll stick behind the plate, Mejia is undoubtedly one of the top prospects in the game. Law ranks him fifth on his list, while MLB places him 15th.

*Note, I’ll be using MLB.com’s ranks from here on out

While the top of the system is obviously impressive, it’s the depth and quality all over that is so remarkable. Here’s a look at the rest of the team’s players listed in the top 100:

Infielder Luis Urias (No. 29) is a 21-year-old hitting machine who should be up with the big club this season. At Double-A in 2017, Urias slashed .296/.398/.380, while walking 68 times and striking out just 65 in 442 at-bats.

Cal Quantrill (No. 32) is a 23-year-old righty who has scuffled a bit at Double-A this season but has the bloodlines and the stuff to put it together. If the former first-round pick can lock in his command, he’ll be ready for the big leagues.

Michel Baez (No. 33) is a big (6’8″ and 220 pounds), hard-throwing righty with an upper-80s slider. The 22-year-old Cuban regularly sits in the upper-90s with his fastball and has a 2.97 ERA at High-A Lake Elsinore this season.

Adrian Morejon (No. 42) is another high-upside Cuban pitcher who has put together a really nice season in High-A as well. The 19-year-old lefty is incredibly polished for his age and his fastball has been in the mid-90s this season (and even touched 99), while his secondary stuff projects well.

Anderson Espinoza (No. 75) was the return Preller extracted from the Red Sox in the Drew Pomeranz trade, but is currently rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. The righty could miss all of 2018, but may wind up pitching at the end of the season. The 20-year-old has an upper-90s fastball with movement combined with a devastating changeup. If he comes back healthy, Espinoza could move quickly.

Chris Paddack (No. 95) is a 22-year-old righty who returned from Tommy John surgery this season and has dominated at High-A and Double-A. In 13 starts at two levels, Paddack has a 2.08 ERA and 95 strikeouts against just seven walks in 69.1 innings. Yes, you read that right, seven walks. Paddack boasts a fastball in the 93-95 mph range and one of the best changeups in all of baseball.

Logan Allen (No. 97) is another former Red Sox prospect who arrived as part of the package for Craig Kimbrel. A 21-year-old lefty, Allen has been arguably the best pitcher in the Padres’ system this season. At Double-A he has a 10-4 record with a 2.66 ERA and 113 strikeouts against 34 walks in 105 innings. His fastball consistently sits  in the low-90s, and he boasts a solid curveball/changeup secondary arsenal. Allen might be the team’s next young hurler to get a call to the big leagues.

Get all that? Good, because there’s plenty more.

While those guys are the headliners, the Padres are absolutely stocked with raw talent at the lower levels. Shrewd trades, smart drafting and an international spending spree in 2016 have provided San Diego with a wealth of young players that have barely even played professional ball yet.

A group of 18-year-old international prospects that includes shortstop Gabriel Arias, Mexican outfielder Tirso Ornelas, Dominican outfielder Jeisson Rosario, Dominican third baseman Luis Almanzar and Colombian righty Luis Patino has barely gotten its feet wet in the U.S. But all of them are playing full-season baseball at Low-A Fort Wayne this year. Those guys would all litter top 10 prospect lists for any system in baseball, but are just footnotes in a discussion about San Diego’s.

And the talent just keeps on coming. Buddy Reed was the Padres’ second-round pick out of Florida in 2016 and had struggled in his first two professional seasons. This year he dominated at High-A (slashed .324/371/.549 in 79 games) and played in the Futures Game before a move to Double-A. He’s not even listed among the team’s top 30 prospects on MLB’s list.

The Padres were also lauded for this year’s draft in which they selected high schoolers Ryan Weathers and Xavier Edwards among others.

While all of that talent is fantastic, we know it won’t necessarily equal wins at the big league level. And that’s where the rub comes for Padres fans.

San Diegans have been sold on prospects before only to have them disappoint. The list of big-league failures is too long to even begin discussing. After all this time I’m convinced that since we get to live here, we’re punished when it comes to sports success. It’s God’s way of evening things out a bit. That said, this movement by the Padres feels different.

What Preller has built is staggering in its scope. He seems to have set things up so that if two-thirds of these prospects fail, he’ll still be able to field a competitive big league team. He’s also been able to push all of these kids aggressively because if they can’t handle each step along the way, there’s someone else waiting to take that spot. More than anything, competition breeds success.

Will this vast collection of talent yield wins on the field in San Diego? We likely won’t know how things stand until 2020. But Preller and has staff have done an amazing job building up the Padres’ system into something formidable.

The San Diego Padres currently own the worst record in the National League, haven’t reached the playoffs in more than a decade and have been damn near unwatchable this season. But just around the corner is a wave of young talent that could make all of this suffering worth it.