Padres center fielder Travis Jankowski hit the 10-day disabled list earlier this week with what the team called a “deep bone bruise” in his right foot, but there’s now a concern that Jankowski may have a hairline fracture as well, reports MLB.com’s Barry M. Bloom. If that’s the case, the 25-year-old could be out more than a month. Bloom quotes manager Andy Green as saying the team doctors aren’t yet able to determine if there’s a fracture (perhaps due to the swelling), but they’ll be cautious either way. Even if there’s no fracture, it sounds as if Jankowski can expect to miss more than the minimum 10 days. “They told me I’d be in the boot for another week to 10 days,” Jankowski tells Bloom. Jankowski turned in a marginal performance at the plate in 2016, hitting .245/.332/.313 in 383 plate appearances, but he played strong defense in center field and provided significant baserunning value with 30 steals.
The Padres sent catcher/outfielder/reliever Christian Bethancourt outright to Triple-A earlier this week after he cleared waivers with the hope that he’d continue to hone his mound skills, and as Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union Tribune writes, Bethancourt has informed general manager A.J. Preller that he is indeed open to that. Bethancourt only recently began experimenting as a pitcher, and Preller tells Lin that the organization involved the 25-year-old in the decision process.
“It’s his career,” Preller tells Lin. “…Talking to him, he said, ‘I want to give it a go.’ I think he understands he can always go back to catching and he wants to see how it plays out on the pitching front if he has regular practice and outings.”
Coming up through the Braves’ system, Bethancourt rated as one of the game’s top 100 prospects as a catcher, thanks largely to his rocket arm. Multiple scouting reports, in fact, placed an 80 grade on his arm (on the 20-80 scouting scale). An issue with passed balls and his struggles at the plate, however, may have contributed to San Diego’s preference to get a look at Bethancourt on the mound; in 489 Major League plate appearances, he’s batted just .222/.252/.316.
Unsurprisingly, Bethancourt is a work in progress on the mound. Though he allowed just two runs in 8 1/3 innings in Spring Training, he also issued four walks against just three strikeouts in that time. His work as a pitcher during the regular season has been unsightly, as Bethancourt has logged a 10.13 ERA with three strikeouts against 11 walks in just 5 1/3 innings. That’s not necessarily indicative of the hard-throwing Bethancourt’s potential on the mound, though. Learning to pitch at the Major League level with scant mound experience elsewhere is obviously a daunting task, which no doubt factored into his removal from the 40-man roster. (Bethancourt was out of minor league options, thus the exposure to outright waivers.) Despite those struggles, Bethancourt did offer a glimpse of his potential on the mound during his 2017 work, as he averaged better than 94 mph on his fastball and topped out at 98 mph (per Brooks Baseball).
According to Lin, Bethancourt will continue to pinch-hit and take batting practice while in Triple-A, but the vast majority of his focus will be on his work as a reliever. “He’ll get a chance to face the next-best league to the big leagues,” says Preller of the decision to throw Bethancourt into the fire of the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. “It’s going to be a test for him, but I’m confident as far as him going out and being able to perform.”
If Bethancourt is able to successfully make the transition, he’d join Jason Motte, Chris Hatcher and, most notably, Kenley Jansen as big league relievers that opened their careers as catchers. Carlos Marmol and Troy Percival are other recent examples of relievers who found success after (much more briefly) working as catchers early in their careers.
Nineteen-year-old outfielder Luis Robert is the top international talent that is available on the amateur market and, after recently being declared a free agent by Major League Baseball, has already begun hosting private workouts with interested teams, according to Baseball America’s Ben Badler. The Athletics hosted a workout for Robert last Friday that was attended by GM David Forst, according to Badler, and Reds GM Dick Williams was on hand to watch him this past Tuesday in a workout. Prior to that, he’d worked out for the Astros, Badler adds.
Badler notes that Robert’s camp is also expected to set up private workouts with the Padres, Cardinals and White Sox in the coming weeks. It seems that of those three clubs, the heavy-spending Padres are up first, as Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union Tribune reports (via Twitter) that Robert will work out with the Pads tomorrow. To this point, the Padres have paced all 30 teams in terms of international spending during the current signing period, as their total investment (including luxury tax penalties for shattering their allotted bonus pool) is in the vicinity of $80MM.
The willingness to spend at such an aggressive level may be key for any club that wishes to sign Robert, as FanRag’s Jon Heyman writes in his latest Inside Baseball column that one source who closely follows the international market believes Robert already has a $25MM offer “in hand,” though Heyman notes that others have suggested to him no offers have been made to this point. There could, of course, be some semantics at play there in terms of what constitutes a formal offer. A price tag in the vicinity of $25MM for Robert would come with a 100 percent luxury tax attached to it, meaning he’d cost any team that signed him at that rate a total of roughly $50MM.
As Badler writes, though Robert has been declared a free agent, he won’t formally be cleared to sign until May 20. In the interim, he’ll host at least one more open showcase for teams, in addition to the remaining private workouts his camp will orchestrate.
It’s worth noting that of the teams linked to Robert, only the White Sox have yet to exceed their current international bonus pool. In other words, while other clubs would essentially only be parting with money in order to sign Robert, the ChiSox would need to determine if Robert is worth handcuffing themselves in each of the next two international signing periods; should the Sox decide to exceed their pool in the eleventh hour — the current signing period ends on June 15 — they’d be unable to sign any individual player for more than $300K in either the 2017-18 or 2018-19 signing periods.
In a similar vein, teams that are still in the metaphorical “penalty box” for crushing their allotted pools in previous signing periods won’t be able to compete for Robert’s services, as they’re each capped at that same $300K figure on individual signings. That eliminates the Cubs, Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, Angels, Blue Jays, Rays, Royals and Diamondbacks from serving as serious competition in the Robert market.
Though Robert is just 19 years of age, he’d already blossomed into a star, hitting a ridiculous .401/.526/.687 with 12 homers, 12 doubles, a pair of triples and 11 steals over the life of 53 games (232 plate appearances) in his final pro season in the Cuban National Series. Scouting reports on Robert note that he’s capable of playing center field right now, though he may ultimately wind up in a corner. Badler has previously written that both his bat speed and raw power are plus, and Heyman’s above-linked piece offers a number of favorable reviews of Robert’s skill set. Additionally, MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez has previously spoken to a number of international scouting directors who have heaped praise onto Robert, calling him the game’s best international prospect behind Japanese phenom Shohei Otani and labeling him one of the most talented young players on the planet.
The Padres have claimed righty Kirby Yates off waivers from the Angels, per an announcement from the Los Angeles organization. Yates had been designated for assignment recently.
Yates, 30, only made it into one contest for the Halos this year. Over his 98 2/3 total MLB frames since the start of the 2014 season, he owns only a 5.38 ERA. But he has also generated 10.4 K/9 to go with 3.7 BB/9 in that span and showed career-best fastball velocity (94 mph) in his sole MLB appearance this year.
ESPN.com’s Keith Law provides his ranking of the top fifty amateur players (Insider link) who are eligible for selection in this summer’s Rule 4 draft. The group as a whole has generally disappointed, Law writes, perhaps leading teams to “flee to safety” by looking at safer collegiate performers with their top selections. Of course, such a strategy would also open up some greater opportunities for organizations with multiple early selections to take some risks on higher-upside, younger prospects.
- Like most analysts, Law has called right-handed pitcher and shortstop Hunter Greene the top overall draft prospect. As has been suggested previously, he will indeed no longer take the hill in high school competition in advance of the draft, as Hudson Belinsky of Baseball America writes. That’s unlikely to impact his stock, as teams have already seen plenty of triple-digit heaters and will continue to watch him play in the field — where he’s also considered a top talent. Greene and his family are taking a very active role in assessing organizations and their approaches to developing pitchers, Belinsky explains, with the Twins (who sit at first overall) and Padres (third) seemingly making for a better match than the Reds (who choose second).
- One of the draft’s other top prospects, South Carolina righty Clarke Schmidt, has unfortunately been diagnosed with a torn UCL and will undergo Tommy John surgery, as Belinsky also reports. The junior starter had risen to be seen as a clear first-round selection before this rough news. Of course, he could still end up being taken with a lofty selection; we have seen several hurlers nabbed quite early in the draft in recent years despite serious arm injuries.
10:50pm: The Padres’ hope for Bethancourt is that he’ll continue to develop as a pitcher in the minors, manager Andy Green told reporters following Bethancourt’s outright (via the San Diego Union Tribune’s Dennis Lin). That determination remains somewhat up in the air, however, and it seems as if Bethancourt will have a significant say in the decision.
“I think the ball’s in his court on that,” said Green. “Our recommendation and desire as an organization is to see him on the mound, to see him continue on this path that he’s currently on, with almost all of the emphasis placed on the pitching side of things. … Our hope, our belief, is that we see him as a pitcher long-term and see him having success there.”
Lin’s column contains several more quotes from Green on the matter for those that are interested in Bethancourt’s unique career arc.
4:41pm: The Padres announced that utility man/reliever Christian Bethancourt has cleared waivers and been outrighted to Triple-A El Paso. In a corresponding move, the Friars have recalled infielder Cory Spangenberg from El Paso.
The 25-year-old Bethancourt, once a top catching prospect with the Braves, began working out as a pitcher with the Padres this offseason and pitched in the Panamanian Winter League. At the plate this year, he’s batted just eight times, going 1-for-7 with a walk. On the mound, he’s tossed 3 2/3 innings but allowing nine runs (six earned) on six hits and eight walks with two strikeouts. Bethancourt has averaged nearly 94 mph with his fastball, but it seems clear that his control remains a work in progress.
Heading to Triple-A should afford him further opportunities not only to work from the mound but also to up his proficiency at other positions. In the past year, Bethancourt has appeared at second base, catcher and in the outfield corners.
Spangenberg, meanwhile, offers an alternative to the slumping Ryan Schimpf (.102/.276/.254). A 26-year-old former first-round pick, Spangenberg is off to a fast start with El Paso, hitting .348/.403/.470. Spangenberg, like Schimpf, has experience at both second base and third base. With Yangervis Solarte’s move to second base this season, Spangenberg’s most immediate path to playing time would seem to be third base, though he does have a bit of experience in the outfield as well.
- The Padres announced that they have recalled outfielder Jabari Blash from Triple-A. With Travis Jankowski hitting the 10-day DL owing to a bone bruise on his right foot, the club was in need of another option in the outfield. The 27-year-old Blash has continued to punish pitching at the highest level of the minors, though it remains unclear how long a look he’ll get at the MLB level. For now, at least, he’s holding onto a 40-man spot and will get at least a brief shot to return to active duty in the majors.
- With Cory Spangenberg on fire at Triple-A, the Padres may be in a bit of a roster crunch, MLB.com’s AJ Cassavell writes. Spangenberg could be called up to take some playing time away from the struggling Ryan Schimpf at third base, though that still wouldn’t give Spangenberg the everyday at-bats the Padres want him to get, plus it also seems early to relegate Schimpf to a part-time role. There’s also a 25-man issue in finding a place for Spangenberg, as the Padres have three Rule 5 Draft picks and three out-of-options players on their big league roster.
- “The rumors of [Hunter Greene] and his family attempting to maneuver his way to the No. 3 pick with the Padres are a poorly kept secret,” Baseball America’s John Manuel writes as part of a mock draft. Greene, a high school pitcher/shortstop, reportedly wants to be a Padre for geographical (Greene is from Los Angeles) and baseball-related reasons, as the Padres’ throwing program more closely matches Greene’s own throwing program. Interestingly, Greene is believed to be shutting down as a pitcher, perhaps in part to lower his draft stock so that Minnesota and Cincinnati pass on him with the first two picks and Greene winds up in San Diego. Then again, the Reds “aren’t afraid to call Greene’s bluff,” Manuel writes.
- The White Sox, Padres, Cardinals, Reds and Astros are among the favorites to sign Robert, MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez writes, echoing previous reports. Sanchez also lists the Athletics as a possibility, noting that the A’s have spent heavily on international talent (including Cuban outfielder Lazaro Armenteros) since July and have “strong interest” in Robert. Sanchez further notes that the A’s took the rest of MLB by surprise by signing another Cuban outfield phenom, Yoenis Cespedes, in 2012. Sanchez also tweets that A’s GM David Forst and other team officials are in the Dominican to scout Robert.
- The Padres have also confirmed their interest, reports Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune. “We have seen him multiple times and will continue to scout him aggressively until he signs,” says Padres international scouting director Chris Kemp. Including penalties, the Padres since July 2 have already spent an amazing total of nearly $80MM on a large collection of international amateur talent headlined by Cuban lefty Adrian Morejon. Lin notes that sources tell him the Padres might not have much more to spend on amateur talent after such an incredible expenditure (although it should also be noted that the team’s international spending has been balanced by a remarkably cheap big-league payroll). The Padres might see Robert as a special opportunity to add top talent, however, particularly given that their ability to spend will be restricted once the current spending period ends.