There is little doubt to what team we can consider the “winners” of this past MLB offseason. With new GM AJ Preller at the helm, the San Diego Padres drastically retooled their lineup. After years of offensive mediocrity in the hitter’s hell that is Petco Park, the Padres acquired Matt Kemp, Justin Upton, Wil Myers, Derrick Norris, and Will Middlebrooks to strengthen their lineup, while also adding James Shields via free agency to an already formidable rotation. The Padres went from irrelevant to perceived contenders after their flurry of offseason moves, but Preller wasn’t done wheeling and dealing quite yet.
Two days ago, on the eve of Opening Day, Preller and his team pulled yet another blockbuster, this time adding a dynamic piece to their bullpen. The Padres sent projected backups Cameron Maybin and Carlos Quentin, two prospects, and their competitive balance pick to the Atlanta Braves for closer Craig Kimbrel and outfielder Melvin (formerly known as BJ) Upton. The Braves had been reluctant to part with Kimbrel throughout the offseason, but having already begun a rebuild with eyes towards their new stadium opening in 2017, having a dominant closer like Kimbrel was an unnecessary commodity.
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After beginning their season with a 6-3 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers yesterday, reports surfaced this morning that the Padres were in the market for an upgrade at shortstop. The Padres are currently fielding a combination of Clint Barmes and Alexi Amarista at shortstop. Neither of that pair inspires much excitement, with both having spent more time as utility players than everyday starters over the course of their careers.
While big name players like Starlin Casto or Elvis Andrus would be “sexy” solutions to their shortstop issues, it stands to reason that San Diego might not have quite enough prospect power remaining to pull off another blockbuster type deal. That’s where the Brewers come in.
The Milwaukee Brewers have suddenly found themselves with a plethora of depth of shortstop in what is a quickly improving farm system. In addition to young Jean Segura on their major league roster, three of the Brewers’ top six prospects are shortstops, including top prospect Orlando Arcia, according to MLB.com. This doesn’t even include shortstop Luis Sardinas, acquired from the Rangers this offseason, who lost his rookie eligibility after debuting for Texas last season.
Sardinas, who will turn 22 this season, has twice been ranked among MLB.com’s top 100 prospects, in both 2013 and prior to last season. He was signed as an international free agent by the Rangers in 2009, and broke into the bigs for the first time last season. The switch hitter posted a .261/.303/.313 slash while stealing five bases in 43 games for the Rangers last year, and is considered a plus defender at shortstop, with tool ratings of 60 for both his fielding and arm, according to Fangraphs. His speed is rated at 60 as well, and he has stolen as many as 32 bases in a single minor league season.
While Sardinas is a nice player to have in the system, given their plethora of shortstop depth, Luis could be considered expendable for Milwaukee. The Brewers might also be less inclined to hold on to Sardinas, who was just added to the system, than they would be to a player that they have drafted and developed, like Arcia, who could be ready to make his debut as soon as some time in 2016. Preller, who was with the Rangers while Sardinas was coming up through the system, has already expressed interest in the Brewers’ shortstop, as well.
Sardinas has shown little ability to hit for power so far during his career, with a .289/.336/.355 slash line and just five home runs across 1527 minor league plate appearances. He doesn’t walk much either, only a 5.6% rate over his career. Sardinas does make a ton of contact, however, with only a 13.2% strikeout rate, and has stolen 84 bases in 111 attempts in the minor leagues. Sardinas enjoyed a strong spring training, getting 11 hits and drawing two walks in 38 plate appearances while flashing his Gold Glove potential around the infield. Sardinas could be a two win player on the strength of his defensive and baserunning contributions alone, and if he can continue to show a solid ability to handle major league pitching as he did this spring, Sardinas could become a future All-Star candidate at shortstop.
The Brewers are not a team without needs, as well, and should they decide to move Sardinas, they should be able to get a solid return. Milwaukee’s system is short on third base prospects as well as MLB ready pitching, two things that the Padres still possess in spades, even after their many moves this winter. Two players that I would target if I were GM Doug Melvin are RHP Casey Kelly and third baseman Gabriel Quintana.
Casey Kelly has battled injury over the last two years, but could still become a middle of the rotation type starter. Mandatory Credit: Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports
Kelly, 25, was ranked as a top 100 prospect by MLB.com in each season from 2012-14, and is currently ranked 10th in the Padres system. He made his major league debut in 2012, but Tommy John surgery cost him all of 2013, and he continued to have elbow issues last season. The Brewers and their award winning medical staff shouldn’t be too scared off by Kelly’s checkered history, as the upside he possesses is still undeniable. While he doesn’t blow hitters away, he features an above average fastball that sits between 90-93, complementing it with a curveball and changeup that are both rated above average. Kelly has demonstrated stellar control throughout his career, walking only 2.3 batters per nine in 390.1 innings, covering 77 minor league starts. The Brewers are short on MLB ready pitching prospects, and Kelly could still become a middle of the rotation starter and valuable depth piece, provided he can stay healthy.
Gabriel Quintana, 22, is a left handed hitting third baseman that slugged 18 home runs in 566 plate appearances at high-A last season. Though he showed much improved defense last season, the Padres 19th rated prospect likely won’t become much more than an average to below-average defender at the hot corner. He should have the bat to carry him, however, having slugged 145 extra base hits in 406 minor league games while carrying a .268/.317/.417 triple slash, though he does need to cut down on his near 25% strikeout rate. The Brewers’ cupboard is pretty bare at third base, and current MLB starter Aramis Ramirez is likely to retire following this season. While Quintana likely won’t be ready to debut until closer to 2017, his power bat would be a strong addition to an already loaded AA Biloxi Shuckers lineup, and he could be a long-term solution at the hot corner for Milwaukee.
With a system lacking in starting pitching depth and third baseman prospects, it might be wise of the Milwaukee Brewers to dip into their deep stable of shortstop prospects. San Diego Padres have been wheeling and dealing since AJ Preller came to town, and they have already asked about the slick fielding Luis Sardinas earlier in the year. With Preller’s desire to plug someone new in at the shortstop position, now might be a better time than ever for the Milwaukee Brewers to swing a deal.