The Padres’ Top Pitching Prospects Are Finally Succeeding … On Other Teams

In the recent past, the Padres had multiple top pitching prospects in their system. 5 years later, they're finally thriving - on other teams.

MacKenzie Gore #1 of the Washington Nationals pitches in the first inning against the San Diego Padres at Nationals Park.
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 23: MacKenzie Gore #1 of the Washington Nationals pitches in the first inning against the San Diego Padres at Nationals Park on May 23, 2023 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Matt Thomas/San Diego Padres/Getty Images)

As we all have learned time and time again, baseball prospects can be oh-so volatile. Something like 10% of all minor leaguers ever participate in a big league game. Each year, there is an incredible amount of hype surrounding some of the youngest stars who are destined to be the future of Major League Baseball.

Each of the game’s top prospects are far from a sure thing. Sometimes their development happens quicker than expected, sometimes the opposite. But sometimes, there are simply situations where young talent is given up on before they should have been.

There are no better examples of this than the San Diego Padres of the past five years. Sure, there are teams every single year that trade away prospects before they truly know what they’ve got, but man, have the Padres gotten burned.

In 2018 and 2019, the Padres had the top ranked farm system in baseball, headlined by seven top-100 prospects each time. While Fernando Tatis Jr. turned himself into a superstar, the vast majority of others have moved on.

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Here we are five years later in 2024. Most of the club’s top pitching prospects from years past have finally begun to click at the big league level. The only problem, though, is that they are turning things around … for other teams.

Padres Prospects From 5 Years Ago Experiencing Success on Other Teams

In the 2019 MLB Pipeline prospect rankings, five of the top-12 prospects became pitchers that left San Diego and excelled. Four of them are starting pitchers on other teams while one of them returned as a reliever for the Diamondbacks.

Of the group, that reliever has the least amount of “star power” tied to his name, but he’s still one to watch. Logan Allen, not that Logan Allen, received a handful of opportunities in the Padres system but failed to capitalize at the major league level. He also received a look in parts of four seasons for the Cleveland Guardians and was extremely underwhelming.

He’s got a pair of solid outings under his belt in Arizona this year, but we’re far from ready to say that his loss will begin to hurt San Diego this year. With 7.2 innings of one-run ball under his belt so far, let’s circle back in a few months.

No, there are multiple pitchers who have made a name for themselves in bigger ways than Allen. Let’s dive in and look at their journeys to success outside of San Diego.

MacKenzie Gore

At one point, MacKenzie Gore was the top pitching prospect in all of baseball. Drafted out of high school in North Carolina, he was a first-round pick (third overall) in the 2017 MLB Draft.

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The hype surrounding Gore could not possibly have been any higher. He was 12-1 with a 0.08 ERA (yes, 0.08) as a junior in HS, striking out 174 in 83 innings. He got even better as a senior and eventually won the 2017 Gatorade National Player of the Year.

Gore was best known for a deep repertoire and crafty delivery that effectively kept hitters off balance. He was tabbed by The Athletic’s Keith Law as one of the best pitching prospects he had ever seen and excelled in his first three years of development in the low minors.

MLB Pipeline labeled Gore as a top-100 talent in the pre- 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022 prospect rankings. Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus did the same from 2018-2021. He was added to the Padres’ 40-man roster prior to the 2022 season to avoid being exposed to the Rule 5 Draft.

Gore’s long-awaited MLB debut came in April of 2022 and it didn’t take long for him to show why he was so highly touted on his ascent through the minor leagues. In his second big league start, he went five shutout innings with seven strikeouts. In his next outing, he struck out 10 batters through five innings of work.

By this point, the Padres and Gore were a solid team. The organization had stuck with him throughout his development and while it wasn’t always a perfectly smooth journey, their patience and hard work in assisting his growth seemed to be paying off.

Then, in a blink-and-you-might-miss-it moment, the Padres traded Gore as part of one of the largest trade packages ever to the Nationals for Juan Soto. All of a sudden, the dream team was broken up and a pitcher who at one point was considered the best prospect in the game, was on the move.

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Gore didn’t pitch particularly well for the Nationals last year, but he had a respectable 97 ERA+ while striking out over 10 batters per nine innings. However, he has gotten off to a sterling start for the club this year, which is when I believe his loss will truly begin to hurt the Padres.

Through five starts this season, Gore has come out of the gates with a 3.12 ERA and 2.91 FIP in 26 innings. He has over 10.5 K/9, has brought his walks down 2 BB/9 from a few years ago and is quietly turning himself into a stud over in D.C. He made two consecutive so-so starts to open the current campaign but really stood out in a five shutout-inning performance against the Oakland A’s where he struck out a whopping 11 batters.

The sample size remains small, but there have been signs of Gore turning things around this season. CJ Abrams, another player included in the Soto trade, is experiencing quite the breakout of his own, so him and Gore combined could make the trade hurt for the Padres by the time all is said and done.

Chris Paddack

If you thought it took Gore a while to get to the big leagues and capitalize on his potential, you’d better buckle up while we discuss Chris Paddack. The Padres’ No. 5 prospect in 2019 rankings, Paddack was 34th in the game in pre-2019 rankings as well and had quite a bit of steam surrounding his name.

Unlike Gore, Paddack was not a homegrown talent. He was drafted by the Marlins in 2015 and traded to San Diego for Fernando Rodney in June of 2016. Tommy John surgery eliminated the vast majority of his 2016 and the entirety of his 2017, but he came back looking stronger than ever.

In 17 starts in 2018, Paddack had a 2.10 ERA with 120 strikeouts and just eight walks in 90 innings of work. Talk about a comeback story. Against all odds, he turned that into a spot on the 2019 Opening Day roster, and he did a great job across 26 starts, posting a 3.33 ERA and 126 ERA+.

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Named the 2020 Opening Day starter, it’s tough to label Paddack as someone who waited until he left San Diego to succeed, because he experienced some high highs with the Padres. However, issues with inconsistency and command plagued the remainder of his tenure there.

Ultimately, Paddack was traded to the Twins in April of 2022. He had a second Tommy John surgery a month later and didn’t return to the mound until late last year.

The numbers Paddack has put up across the past year or so don’t look great on paper, I’ll give you that. However, he returned in a relief role at the tail end of 2023 and finished his season on a strong note, firing three shutout innings against the Rockies. This continued into the postseason as he had a pair of scoreless outings against the Astros in the ALDS, striking out six batters and allowing just one hit in 3.2 innings.

Paddack is still working on finding his footing on a consistent basis for the Twins, but his last start is a massive step in the right direction. Just a few days ago, he went seven shutout innings against the White Sox, striking out 10 batters without walking any.

The Padres gave Paddack a shot to prove himself in the big leagues. 61 outings and 308 innings isn’t exactly a miniscule sample size. However, he’s finally healthy and may just have health on his side for the first time in four years. If he’s able to continue to capitalize on the healthy arm and consistent role as a starting pitcher in Minneapolis, his name could become a significant sore spot for Padres fans.

Cal Quantrill

Cal Quantrill is another former first-round pick that didn’t get things going at the major league level until his post-Padres days. He was the No. 12 Padres prospect in 2019 and graduated from “prospect” status during an underwhelming rookie season.

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Putting it bluntly, Quantrill was not great in the minor leagues for the Padres and he didn’t come through for them at the game’s highest level either. He was traded to Cleveland after 10 solid outings in 2020, where he began to elevate his game to another level.

Losing Quantrill began to hurt San Diego right away. In his first full season in Cleveland, he had a 2.89 ERA and 149 ERA+ across 40 outings (22 starts). He followed that up with a 15-5 showing in 2022 where he had a full 32-start season and had a third straight above-average performance.

2023 was a lost season for Quantrill, and it’s one that resulted in him losing his job on the Guardians. He was traded to the cellar-dwelling Rockies in a minor trade this past offseason, but has done a solid job to begin his stint in Denver.

Through five starts, the right-hander has a 108 ERA+ despite the fact that he’s walking more and striking out less batters than he typically has over the course of his career. He’s not an “ace”, but he’s been an inning-eating veteran, which is precisely what the Rockies needed him to be.

The Padres’ starting rotation ranks 15th in the league in ERA, 24th in FIP and 25th in fWAR so far this year. They’ve been eating innings as well (third in the league), but overall, the unit has been disappointing. There’s no guarantee Quantrill would be figuring it out in San Diego the same way he is in Colorado, but he’s done plenty to make the Padres miss him since that trade a few years back.

Don’t forget that joining Quantrill in Cleveland is outfielder Josh Naylor, whose career has taken off on the Guardians. He’s hitting .295 with a .923 OPS and 169 OPS+ through 24 games to begin the year. Seems that a first career trip to the All-Star Game may be in the cards for a player the Padres once happily deemed as expendable.

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Ryan Weathers

Listed as the No. 10 Padres prospect in 2019, Ryan Weathers is yet another first-round pick that did next to nothing for them in the big leagues. The left-hander moved through the minor leagues at a rapid pace thanks to a keen ability to keep opponents off the bases, despite the fact that he’s never been much of a strikeout artist.

Weathers broke into the big leagues in 2021 and made 43 appearances for the Padres before they had seen enough. In that time, he had a 5.73 ERA and an equally-unimpressive 5.53 FIP. Very little had gone right for him, but it’s worth wondering if he was given up on too early.

Traded to the Marlins for Garrett Cooper at last year’s trade deadline, Weathers struggled through three post-trade outings for Miami, but has really turned it around this season.

Thanks to a seemingly endless list of injuries to the Marlins’ pitching staff, Weathers earned his way into the starting rotation to open the year. So far, he has done more than enough to prove that he belongs.

In five starts, Weathers – who is still only 24-years old – has outperformed most of his rotation mates. He’s got a 3.16 ERA and has yet to allow more than three earned runs in any of his outings. In his second start of the season, Weathers struck out 10 batters against the Giants across six innings of work, tied for the longest outing of his big league career.

He followed that up with a five-shutout inning performance against the always dangerous New York Yankees, who he grew up rooting for while his dad, David, pitched for them. For the first time, Ryan is proving he belongs in the major leagues.

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The losses of Gore and Weathers in particular are ones that’ll sting the Padres for a while. Trading away the top pitching prospect in the game is always a massive risk, and even if it took a while, Gore’s starting to figure it out in the big leagues. Since San Diego turned Soto into another package of promising players, it remains to be seen whether it was ultimately worth it or not to move on from Gore.

Weathers, another promising lefty, is showing what he’s capable of, even if his inclusion in the Marlins rotation may have been nothing more than a product of injuries to everyone else. If some of the injured arms returned from the injured list today, I’d be willing to bet that Weathers maintains his hold on a spot in the rotation.

In deals surrounding prospects, or players who at one time were prospects, teams usually end up looking very smart or very foolish once said players get their shots in other organizations. The Padres haven’t seen any of their investments in the trading of prospects of five years ago end up in their favor.

Here are the pieces they acquired for each of the aforementioned pitchers and how they performed in a Padres uniform.

-OF Greg Allen, 0.1 bWAR
-1B Josh Bell, -0.5 bWAR
-RHP Mike Clevinger, 0.2 bWAR
-1B Garrett Cooper, -0.1 bWAR
-RHP Sean Reynolds, N/A
-LHP Taylor Rogers, -0.3 bWAR
-OF Brent Rooker, -0.2 bWAR
-OF Juan Soto, 7.2 bWAR
-RHP Matt Waldron, 0.4 bWAR

Outside of Soto, were any of these moves really worth it?

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