The Journal Gazette
Sunday, August 29, 2021 1:20 am

TinCaps Roster Update: What Just Happened?

DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette

The TinCaps have had more roster turnover in the last two days than in any other short stretch this season, including several very significant moves. Here is a rundown of everything that happened.

The kids are here: The Padres sent the next wave of their top-rated position players to Fort Wayne tonight all in one cluster. Outfielder Robert Hassell III, the No. 8 pick in the 2020 draft, catcher Brandon Valenzuela and infielder Euribiel Angeles are all headed from Low-A Lake Elsinore to High-A en masse. None of them were in the lineup tonight as they completed their journey from California to Indiana, but it's likely that at least one or two of them make their Fort Wayne debuts Sunday. Here is a rundown of all three:

  • Robert Hassell III: Hassell is the player Fort Wayne has been waiting on all season. It appeared as though he might get called up following the trade deadline in late July, but it ended up taking an extra few weeks. Regardless, he's here now and the 19-year-old, the No. 4 Padres prospect (72nd overall) according to Fangraphs, has earned this call-up. Hassell hit .323 at Lake Elsinore and got on base at a .415 clip (ranking third and second in Low-A West in those categories) in 92 games with the Storm, walking nearly as often as he struck out, a rarity for young hitters. He also had some power, hitting seven home runs and slugging .482, and plenty of baserunning ability (31 steals). Hassell played mostly centerfield in Lake Elsinore, which could mean that Reinaldo Ilarraza sees some time back on the infield or in left (if the finger injury that caused Grant Little to leave Saturday's game keeps him out for more than a few days). Here's what Fangraphs had to say about the first-round pick. "Hassell wielded arguably the most advanced bat of the 2020 draft’s high school hitters, spraying contact to all fields against upper-echelon high school pitching during his pre-draft summer. ... Somewhat stiff in the lower half, Hassell is not the sort of high-end speedster ideal for center field but his strides eat up space and his first step is pretty good. ... Hassell’s a tempestuous guy and seems to be cut from the same (intense) cloth as (Ryan) Weathers, (MacKenzie) Gore, and several other guys to whom the Padres have gravitated with their first round picks."
  • Brandon Valenzuela: The TinCaps had to use an emergency catcher in Zack Mathis on Saturday because starter Adam Kerner was scratched with a shoulder injury and they had no one else. That problem has been fixed going forward as Valenzuela, 20, spent most of the season as Lake Elsinore's catcher, while also playing some games at first. The 6-foot, 170-pound Valenzuela isn't the prototypical catcher size, but he has a good arm (24 base-stealers thrown out this season) and a very good bat. He was ninth in average (.307) and OBP (.389) in Low-A and walked in nearly 12% of his plate appearances. He has some power with six home runs, 21 doubles and 62 RBI, as well. Fangraphs rates him the No. 9 prospect in the Padres farm system and had this to say in fall 2020: "Valenzuela switch-hits and tracks pitches well, and the bat-to-ball and strike zone feel pieces were both in place already throughout 2019, but he’s swinging with a little more explosion now. Well-built players with a foundation of skills rather than tools are often a threat to breakout as those more overt physical tools come with maturity, and we may be seeing the early stages of that here."
  • Euribiel Angeles: At the time of his call-up, Angeles was the batting champion in Low-A West with a .343 batting average, 10 points clear of any other qualifying hitter in the league. The 19-year-old (sensing a theme with these guys?) doesn't walk much, but he also struck out less than 16% of the time at the lower level and he's fast enough that he earns some infield hits when he makes contact. With that decent speed, he also stole 18 bases this season and he legged out a league-high six triples to go with 22 doubles and three home runs. Angeles got on base at a .397 rate with the Storm and can play second, third or short, giving Fort Wayne options when it wants to put him in the lineup. Fangraphs slots him at No. 23 among Padres prospects and described him this way: "He is not the sort of player who you notice getting off the bus but Angeles has a track record of hitting in games dating back to his amateur days. ... He's not the kind of guy who jumps out at you with big power or speed on a short look; he's a vanilla athlete with very advanced feel for the bat. He's definitely a prospect because hitting, after all, is the most important thing."

Yorman Rodriguez going back to El Paso: When Agustin Ruiz, who led the TinCaps and was in the top five in High-A Central in home runs and RBI, was sent to Double-A San Antonio, the Padres sent Fort Wayne a hot hitter who had been tearing it up in Triple-A to cushion the blow. Rodriguez, as would be expected for a good hitter who had been dropped two levels, tore up High-A for several weeks. He ended his Fort Wayne tenure with eight hits in his final four games and was riding a 12-game on-base streak and 10-game hitting streak when the Padres decided to send him back to El Paso, where he had a .940 OPS in 14 games earlier this season. The move is tough for Fort Wayne, but was probably inevitable. Rodriguez is too advanced for this level.

Tyler Malone sent to Low-A: Malone's demotion was part of the reason Fort Wayne did not have a catcher when Kerner needed a night off Saturday. The 23-year-old played all over the diamond (first, catcher, left and right) in his 20 games with the TinCaps and was slightly below league-average with the bat (a .671 OPS), despite striking out in almost 34% of his plate appearances. Depending on how spring training goes next year, it's possible Malone will be back in Fort Wayne next season.

Mason Feole placed on the IL: Feole has had a difficult 2021 campaign. The 2019 draft pick finally got his first professional action in May following Tommy John surgery, but he struggled and only made four appearances before going on the IL again May 27. He didn't pitch for more than a month, but when he did return he was much better (minus a few outings in early July to knock the rust off). He had given up zero runs in 10 of his last 12 appearances before Friday, but when he entered the game that night he lasted only two pitches before he needed to come out with an injury. Today he went back on the IL for the second time this season and it's pretty unlikely he'll pitch again for Fort Wayne this season. He remains a good relief prospect and he could also be back with the TinCaps to start 2021 if he's healthy.

Ethan Skender promoted to San Antonio: Skender arrived in Low-A Fort Wayne in 2019, fresh off missing essentially 2 1/2 seasons with knee injuries. He was very good with the TinCaps at the end of that campaign and after a difficult start to 2021 bounced back with a terrific finish in High-A. In his final 17 games with the TinCaps, the utility infielder hit .360 with a .476 OBP, .520 slugging percentage and 11 walks against 14 strikeouts. That certainly earned the 24-year-old a promotion, but he provided the TinCaps with one final highlight before he departed, scoring from second on a sacrifice bunt when he noticed nobody was at the plate during a game in West Michigan last week. In his first game with San Antonio, Skender posted a double and a triple. 

Fred Schlichtholz activated off the IL: Schlichtholz got in the game Saturday, tossing a 1-2-3 inning (two of the outs were very hard-hit) after hurriedly warming up following a snafu that caused expected Fort Wayne pitcher Connor Lehmann to be ruled ineligible to pitch. The 25-year-old left-hander came to the TinCaps from Double-A in mid-July and was solid in four appearances, giving up only one earned run and striking out six in 5 1/3 innings before he went on the IL on July 30. With experience at the higher level, he'll be a valuable piece down the stretch and Fort Wayne's bullpen looks very strong with him, Chase Walter and Kevin Kopps occupying the back end and Edwuin Bencomo and Felix Minjarez handling the middle frames.

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