Of the prospects acquired in the Craig Kimbrel trade, the only one who has a chance to impact the 2016 Padres is Carlos Asuaje. Asuaje, while having the lowest upside of the quartet of prospects coming from Boston is the most advanced. He’s already had a full season at AA, and A.J. Preller has already said he’ll let him compete for the starting shortstop job this Spring Training.
Asuaje is primarily a second baseman, but he’s also played shortstop, third base and left field in his minor league career. He was drafted out of Nova Southeastern University in 2013 at 21 years old. Despite his short time playing professionally he rose through the ranks quickly. After signing with the Red Sox they started him off in short season A ball, completely skipping rookie ball. He put up a strong performance there, hitting .269/.366/.368 in 52 games.
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While he looked pretty good in his first season, he took a huge leap in 2014. He started off in A ball where he hit .305/.391/.542 in 90 games with 11 home runs, 10 triples and 24 doubles. This earned him a promotion to high-A to finish off his season. He despite moving up a level, he didn’t miss a step. In 39 games he hit .323/.398/.516. The biggest surprise with his 2014 campaign is the extra base hits. In 2013 he had just 14 extra base hits, with 12 of them being doubles. Even though he played 77 more games, he did face tougher competition so more than tripling his doubles totals while hitting 14 triples and 15 home runs after having just 1 a piece the year prior is still very impressive.
Asuaje’s excellent 2014 was enough for the Red Sox to let him start this past season in AA. The jump to AA is often considered the biggest jump in the minor leagues, and Asuaje’s performance gave some credence to that theory. He hit just .251/.334/.374 making him look more like the player he was in 2013 than the one he was in 2014. It’s hard to read these numbers, because he should have regressed due to the level jump, but this much of a regression, especially in his power numbers, is a little alarming.
The only thing that has stayed consistent from level to level has been his eye for the strike zone. He’s always been able to draw a high percentage of walks while not striking out too much. Good things happen when you put the ball in play and when you get on base. Asuaje has shown the ability to do both throughout his entire career.
Ultimately, Asuaje has always projected as a utility player, but Preller stating that he could be the Opening Day starter makes me think the Padres see him as more than that. This is as especially true when you realize that the Padres have started to corner the market on utility players with guys like Yangervis Solarte, Alexi Amarista and the recently acquired Jose Pirela. If the Padres viewed Asuaje as just a utility guy I don’t see a reason for him to be in this trade.
Even if Asuaje turns out to be nothing more than Solarte, Amarista or Pirela, his ability to play second, third and left and with the potential to play shortstop, center and right will always give him value. Also with how close he is to being major league ready, he makes for a good insurance policy in case anybody gets injured. At the end of the day, despite being the guy with the lowest upside he could be the most interesting to follow. He could end up being a solid everyday middle infielder, a good utility man or a AAAA guy who can never find a consistent role in the majors.