TDG’S Triple Play: San Diego Padres!
The Triple Play is back for a fifth season! This regular feature is broken down by senior writer Phil Barrington and he is joined by a rotating panel of some of the best Dynasty Baseball writers in the business. If you’re new to the Triple Play, this series breaks down an arm, a bat, and a prospect within each organization for your reading pleasure!
Follow Phil (@barrington_phil), Ben Sanders (@HPBenSanders) and Taylor Case (@TCasesLoaded) on Twitter and read their analysis here at the site!
Ha-Seong Kim, Age: 26, Position: SS/3B
Analysis by: Ben Sanders
Ha-Seong Kim was one of the best players in the Korea Baseball Organization by age 19, and came to MLB in 2021 as a potential five-category fantasy contributor. It was difficult to know exactly what to expect, as projecting MLB performance using only KBO stats is an inexact science, but even the most skeptical of forecasters had to be disappointed by his .202/.270/.352 line. Kim was unable to secure a full-time role with the Padres, managing just 297 PA as a utility infielder. His rank in TDG’s Top 500 dropped from 158 before the season to 459 after it, and his chances of becoming a regular in San Diego’s stacked infield seemed bleak.
Fernando Tatís Jr.’s broken wrist changed that. Kim began this season splitting time at shortstop with top prospect C.J. Abrams, and he appears to be winning the battle for that job thanks to a much-improved .246/.352/.492 line, putting himself back on the dynasty radar.
Kim faced many challenges on and off the field as he adapted to life in the U.S. One of the biggest is that MLB pitchers throw harder. He saw a steady diet of fastballs last season, more than 60% of his total pitches faced, but hit just three of his eight home runs and slugged only .366 off them. He seems to have caught up to the velocity in 2022, with a .676 SLG and all three of his homers against heat.
As Kim adjusts, it may be worth revisiting some of last season’s projections based on his KBO stats. Mike Podhorzer gave a breakdown of his forecast on Fangraphs, settling on a .268/.362/.466 line with 24 home runs and 12 stolen bases. That seems attainable, and is not too far off from Kim’s current performance. Excessive popouts have kept his BABIP down, but that’s been balanced out by his improved plate discipline, particularly his 12.7% walk rate. He began the season batting mostly in the bottom two spots in the order, but has moved up to sixth recently. He has the on-base skills and speed to hit even higher, and the extra plate appearances and chances to run could really help his fantasy value.
A Seong For You
Kim’s long-term playing time outlook is still a bit murky. Tatís will reclaim his SS job when healthy and Manny Machado is locked in at 3B, and that covers the only two positions Kim has played this year. He did spend some time at 2B last season, and the Padres could move the versatile Jake Cronenworth around to create an opening there – in fact they’ve done that a few times to keep giving Abrams opportunities. The arrival of the DH in the NL also makes a super-utility role a little more viable.
Ultimately it will come down to performance. If Kim keeps hitting, San Diego will find a way to play him. If not, he could be reduced to part-time duty again. That uncertainty could have dynasty owners looking to move him while his value high, but I don’t think we’ve seen the best of Kim yet. With his track record in Korea and promising start this season, I’d be willing to accept the playing time risk to acquire him.
Robert Suarez, Age: 31, Position: Relief Pitcher
Analysis by: Taylor Case
A Rough Start
The Padres signed Robert Suarez to a well-deserved two-year contract this off-season and immediately put him to work on Opening Day. Unfortunately, he got rocked, giving up a couple walks and three runs in Arizona before ultimately getting pulled without an out to show for it. Since then, though, we’ve seen a completely different pitcher.
However, A Strong Body of Work
I won’t lie, I was completely turned off by Suarez’s opening day fiasco. The Padres had that one in the bag! And not that it was entirely his fault, but I imagine there were quite a few people who, after a ridiculous off-season of waiting and waiting and waiting, felt righteously compelled to rage-drop Suarez that night. I know I did! But let’s dive in anyway, as I think there’s reason to believe he’s a worthwhile stash on your fantasy teams, especially in deep leagues. First off – and I know this is completely anecdotal, simplistic, and that the stats count towards your team whether I say they do or not – for comparison’s sake, I’m going to give Suarez a pass for having a rough outing in his MLB debut. That’s a ton of pressure for a “rookie” on Opening Day, plus it was a road game. Plus, it fits my narrative! Okay, so we (yes, you too) have decided to give Suarez a pass for OD. Great! Without that out-less first outing (now there’s a line), his ERA falls from 3.86 to 1.93, with a nice little .461 OPS against. Not only that, he’s struck out multiple dudes in five of his eleven non-OD stints. I’ll take it!
Now let’s address the elephant in the room. Hello Elephant, I know you know as well as the rest of us that Suarez hasn’t gotten a save yet. Nor does the opportunity for saves appear to be in his immediate future. And further, he only has two, count ‘em, two holds thus far. So where does that leave us? Well, as I’ve spoken about before on the Join The Ranks pod, I’m a big fan of filling in the back half of my pitcher slots with solid high-strikeout, solid-ratio dudes to supplement the innings eating starters I like to employ in the front half. You know, the Jonathan Loáisiga’s, the Ryan Helsley’s etc. I think Robert Suarez can be (and to be honest, already is) one of those guys, with good holds and maybe even a few-saves upside as well.
Hoping For A Nice Conclusion
Let’s face it, it’s hard to predict this stuff with most of a season’s stats to survey, let alone 14 innings pitched (as we’re doing at this very moment). But with Pierce Johnson (My Boy!) hurt, I see a scenario where Suarez and Steven Wilson need to step up in high-leverage situations moving forward for San Diego. Wilson has definitely held his own so far (and check out Ken Balderston’s thoughts on him in one of our recent Roundtables), but to be honest, Suarez has more of a track record of professional success to draw on. Will that matter to Bob Melvin in the end? Only time will tell, but my guess is that Melvin is acutely aware of Suarez’s 68 saves and career 2.81 ERA over 205 innings in Japan (NPB), at the very least as an option to save games if anything were to happen to Taylor Rogers or if even to spell him a game or two.
Note that while the Padres starters have been much better about accumulating innings thus far into the season, Rogers and Wilson have gotten a workout lately on the mound – the former already has eleven saves in 30 games. Now, I want to be clear about something. I’m not telling you to rush out and drop 25% of your FAAB on Suarez. We’re speculating here. That being said, get him on your watchlist, and watch a Padre game or two to get your eyes on him. He’s 32% rostered in Fantrax leagues and only 5.2% in ESPN leagues heading into today, and while he’s not a sure-fire target of mine, he’s pitching even better than his overall line suggests.
Esteury Ruiz, Age: 23, Position: OF, Level: Double-A
Analysis by: Phil Barrington
Esteury Ruiz has been around for a while, enough time to accumulate almost 1,600 minor league at-bats (as of this writing). He has been found, at best, inside the Top-20 of most Padres prospects lists, and on some lists not even in the top 40. So, the industry feeling is that he can be, at best, a bench bat, but I see something more.
Signed from his home country of the Dominican Republic way back in 2015 for only $100,000 (writing only and $100K just seems wrong to me but I did it anyway). Ruiz showed a lot of potential with the bat (less so with the glove) but he never made it out of rookie ball in his two seasons with the Royals organization. Then, Ruiz went from the Royals to the Padres in a 2017 trade deadline deal, with the Royals getting pitchers Trevor Cahill, Brandon Maurer, and Ryan Buchter from the Padres for Travis Wood, Matt Strahm and Ruiz. The minor leaguers that move in these types of deals are usually afterthoughts, and Ruiz was no different. Though at the time, Ruiz was only 18-years-old, still in Rookie ball, with a promising slash line of .419/.440/.779 in 91 at-bats, so the upside was there, and it was up to the Padres organization to unlock it.
He also only showed 40-grade speed at the time of the deal; since becoming a Padre though, speed has become his calling card. The Padres greatly accelerated that; as a Padres farmhand he has stolen 134 bases in 322 games. We know the Padres love their speed guys, so giving Ruiz another way to succeed was a prudent move. While not playing in 2020, he began 2021 playing for Double-A San Antonio Missions and produced a respectable season; in 84 games with 353 plate appearances Ruiz slashed .249/.328/.411 with 36 steals, ten homers, and 94 Runs + RBI. It was not earth-shattering, to say the least.
Esteury the Actuary
Thus far in 2022 Ruiz has shined. Back in San Antonio, in 23 games he has already hit five homers, stole 15 bases (only caught twice) and has a big boy slash line of .357/.505/.655. He’s more than doubled his career walk rate to 15.6% and cut his K rate to 17.4%, and has a 19:19 Walk: Strikeout rate. Now, all this comes with a super high .417 BABIP, so we may want to pump the breaks a bit. But my excitement is palpable. Take note of his 11 hit-by-pitches thus far after only nine all last season. Seems to me he is getting closer to the plate and that is yielding positive results. Enjoy this grand slam hit off the 352-feet sign in left field; what a sweet swing.
From a Missionary to a Padre
Ruiz began his career at the keystone but has seen more time in left field as of late and with the infield packed in San Diego the outfield may be where Ruiz is able to find big league at-bats one day. We could be looking at a 15/30 hitter with a passable batting average when all is said and done, and that is quite fantasy relevant, regardless of how he is defensively. Expect a promotion to Triple-A this season, with the distinct possibility he needs to get a full season of at-bats there in 2023. His Fantrax ownership is at a paltry 9% (and my teams are making up a lot of that I believe), so for deeper Dynasty leagues now is the time to jump in and be baptized, as it were.