Over his first seven weeks in the major leagues, Chris Paddack has become one of most celebrated pitching prospects in baseball.
The designation says as much about the San Diego Padres’ minor league system as it does about the 6-foot-5 right-hander.
Paddack, 23, entered the season as the Padres’ sixth-best prospect, according to Baseball America.
“We have many more guys coming up,” Paddack said.
Paddack and 20-year-old shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. are only the first wave of players produced by the top-rank farm system in the game. By Baseball America’s count, the Padres started the season with nine of the game’s top 100 prospects. The Dodgers had five.
The depth of the Padres is such that multiple talent evaluators predict they will be the franchise that ends the Dodgers’ run of the National League West championships — not necessarily this year or next, but perhaps as early as 2021.
“They have some arms down there,” said one National League scout, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because his team forbids him from publicly commenting on players on other clubs.
One of the architects of this treasured minor league system is the same executive responsible for many of the players who were part of the Dodgers teams that reached the World Series in each of the last two years.
Logan White was the farm director when the Dodgers drafted or signed Clayton Kershaw, Kenley Jansen, Cody Bellinger, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Corey Seager, Joc Pederson, Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp. He even drafted rookie Alex Verdugo.
White is now the director of player personnel for the Padres. He isn’t the only one to switch allegiances from the Dodgers to the Padres.
General partner Peter Seidler is the nephew of former Dodgers owner Peter O’Malley.
General manager A.J. Preller started his career in baseball operations with the Dodgers under then-general managers Dan Evans and Paul DePodesta.
Acey Kohrogi, the director of Pacific Rim operations, held a similar position with the Dodgers. Former Dodgers Hideo Nomo, Chan Ho Park, Takashi Saito and A.J. Ellis are part of the Padres’ front office.
Padres bench coach Rod Barajas and first base coach Skip Schumaker are former Dodgers players. Third base coach Glenn Hoffman managed the Dodgers for the final 88 games of the 1998 season. Hitting coach Johnny Washington was a former Dodgers minor league coach.
Preller said the Padres’ scouting-based approach is heavily influenced by his time with the Dodgers.
“As you go through and try to build an organization, I constantly look back on the lessons that I learned here,” Preller said.
Preller was quick to commend the work of his scouting directors: Mark Conner, the director of amateur scouting; Chris Kemp, the director of international scouting and Pete DeYoung, the director of professional scouting.
“We've hit in all three of those areas,” Preller said. “That's what the Dodgers have done over the last 15 years.”
Connor drafted the organization’s highest-rated pitcher, 20-year-old left-hander MacKenzie Gore, who is with Class-A Lake Elsinore.
Kemp’s foreign excursions have produced the likes of infielder Luis Urias, a Mexican-born infielder in triple A, and Adrian Morejon, a left-handed Cuban defector who reached double A last year.
DeYoung’s expertise helped the Padres land top prospects in trades for veterans, as was the case when they acquired Tatis in a deal for James Shields, Paddack for Fernando Rodney and promising triple-A left-hander Logan Allen for Craig Kimbrel.
White compared the group of minor leagues favorably to the collection of talent he helped assemble with the Dodgers, but said, “We have a long ways to go be at the Dodgers’ level.”
High-priced free agents additions such as Manny Machado and Eric Hosmer have given the team’s up-and-coming players veterans after whom they could pattern themselves.
While Preller wouldn’t discount his team’s chance this year, he said, “We're pretty realistic. We're building. We're growing. The first 40 games, there have been some exciting moments, but we know that to be a championship club, there's still a lot more work to do. Just look across the field. The group across the field, they've got a lot more answers than questions.”
By losing year after year, the Padres gained higher draft picks and a greater spending threshold for international prospects. Preller senses they are close to being rewarded for their patience.
“This is what we've been working for,” Preller said.