Here’s an excerpt from the very first edition of The Sacrifice Bunt Newsletter, on Padres prospect Austin Allen:
Allen had collected just 10 home runs over his first two seasons, a stretch that included 686 plate appearances. Then he moved up to High-A Lake Elsinore this season and walloped a career-best 22 dingers, not to mention 31 doubles and a shiny .283/.353/.497 slash line. The usual caveats about the Cal League’s offensive environment and Allen’s age (he’s 23) apply, but that kind of performance from a backstop would stand out anywhere outside of the moon.
Allen reminds me a little of former Padres prospect Colt Morton. Like Allen, Morton was a big-bodied catcher, somewhat limited defensively, and always a bit old for his leagues. Morton even had his own breakout season as a 23-year-old, where he OPSed .895 between Fort Wayne and Lake Elsinore.
If there’s a difference between the two players, it’s hopefully the strikeout rate. Morton whiffed 26 percent of the time over his minor-league career, which explains in part why his upward trajectory stalled before he got a real big-league look. Allen struck out just 21.1 percent of the time this year, nearly two percentage points better than the league average, and he’s a career .289 hitter through three pro seasons.
All of this is enough reason to overlook Allen’s questionable defensive profile, as he allowed 100 stolen bases on the year and generally gets so-so (or worse) reviews on that side of the ball. The hope—as Wilson Karaman noted back in July—is that Allen can develop into a good enough pitch framer to mask some of the other deficiencies back there, emerging as a sort of poor man’s Yasmani Grandal. If he does that, he’s got a good chance to become an offense-first complement to Hedges (or trade bait) soon enough.
Excerpt no. 2, from “Wait Till Next Year:”
But there is hope.
To go along with positive contributions from young players at the big-league level, the Padres kept on acquiring (and developing) eye-catching young talent. It’s still too early to say much about the most recent draft, but third overall pick MacKenzie Gore is the early frontrunner for best player in the entire class. The lone high-profile trade from the season—which sent Trevor Cahill, Brandon Maurer, and Ryan Buchter to the Royals—looks like another major coup, with both Esteury Ruiz and Matt Strahm providing good potential long-term value. And the minor-league system—which we’re reviewing over the next couple of weeks—overflowed with good developmental stories, from Fernando Tatis Jr. to Michel Baez to Pedro Avila. The bottom rungs of the farm system are so stocked with exciting players that the Padres might have to add another affiliate just to give everyone reps at a familiar position.
All told, things could have gone worse. Sure, the tank didn’t get much further than base camp and the Padres still peppered us with a usual dosage of Padres Things (the five-win pass, not trading Hand by the deadline, Ron Fowler talking on the radio, etc.), but underneath the Twitter memes and well-deserved doubts, something is plainly obvious: A.J. Preller and his baseball operations team are better at finding and hoarding good young baseball players than their peers. There are worse redeeming qualities with which to forge ahead into the great unknown than that one, especially when your thing is trying to put together a good baseball team.
Excerpt no. 3, from “Padres Hire Dave Cameron:”
Many of the smarter teams in baseball have consistently plucked the internet of its brightest baseball writers. The Houston Astros, for example, have Mike Fast (director of research and development), Colin Wyers (analyst, research and development), and Kevin Goldstein (special assistant to the general manager), all of whom wrote at Baseball Prospectus and other prominent sabermetric websites. The Cleveland Indians have Keith Woolner, Sky Andrecheck, and Victor Wang; the Pirates have Dan Fox; the Red Sox have Bill James and Greg Rybarczyk; the Jays have Joe P. Sheehan; the Twins have Josh Kalk; and the Rays have everyone else.
What I’m trying to say here is that other teams have taken advantage of the wealth of knowledge available in baseball writing circles on the internet, whereas the Padres haven’t done much in that arena. They’ve always had an analytics department, and certainly still did prior to Cameron’s hiring, but they’ve rarely hired from outside of the traditional avenues.
Cameron will likely have a key role filling out the rest of the research and development staff, and he’s about as plugged in to internet baseball writing as anyone. Plus, he’s already shown a keen eye for talented writers and analysts as part of his job at FanGraphs. Maybe his hiring is eventually accompanied by a Russell Carleton, Rob Arthur, or Eno Sarris, or someone doing good, under-the-radar work at a place like Beyond the Box Score, or on a more obscure personal blog.
In short, the internet has many good baseball minds, actively searching for a deeper understanding of the game, and many of them have the right amount of technical know-how and inquisitiveness to find some answers. Hopefully the hiring of Cameron is a sign that the Padres are ready to embrace that; and hopefully Cameron, himself, helps to provide an inside track to hiring some of those people.