PEORIA, Ariz. — You’ll have to excuse Eric Hosmer if the occasional overwhelming sense of deja vu causes him to lose focus for a moment or two this spring.
A baseball lifetime ago, Hosmer was part of the next wave of Royals prospects, a group — along with Mike Moustakas, Danny Duffy, Mike Montgomery and others — that was destined to lead Kansas City out of the baseball wilderness and to the promised land. It might have taken a bit longer than some hoped, but the youngsters eventually did exactly that. Kansas City made it all the way to Game 7 of the 2014 World Series before falling, and then claimed the 2015 World Series title in five games over the New York Mets.
Hosmer is now 29 years old, and he’s shed his “top prospect” label in favor of the “veteran leader” label. He’s in the second year of his eight-year, $144 million free agent contract with the San Diego Padres, and he’s on the other side looking at a talented group of up-and-coming prospects.
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The similarities are not lost on him.
“It’s cool having gone through the process and understanding what the vision is here, understanding what we’re trying to get and where we are in the process right now,” Hosmer told Sporting News. “It’s really cool position for me to be in, because obviously it gives me a lot of flashbacks of when we were in Kansas City and coming up through the ranks and all that. It’s fun to see where these guys are at, it’s fun to see the year-to-year progression that they’re making from one spring to another, to see the progression they made last year during the season. It’s a blast.”
The Padres have the No. 1 farm system in baseball by just about every publication that ranks such things, with nine prospects making appearances on Baseball America’s most recent Top 100 prospects list.
Cal Quantrill — the No. 7 overall pick in the 2016 MLB Draft — just missed out on that list, checking in as the No. 10 prospect on BA’s Padres team rankings. He enjoys being part of the next wave as much as Hosmer enjoys watching the next wave develop.
“I think that competition can be scary for people at times,” Quantrill told SN. “I think, in this atmosphere, it’s awesome. It pushes us. You see somebody go out and have a great start and know you’ve got to go out and do a little bit better. That desire, that friendly competition, is what makes teams great. I think that, if you can have a team that gets along as well as, at least, the guys I know around here, but also have that desire to be a little bit better the next time and then a little bit better the next time, that’s how you reach new levels of success. And I think we have that. I’m thrilled about it. I’ve loved it. It’s a group of really good people, as well. It’s a blast.”
Both guys think it’s a blast, if that tells you anything about the excitement in the Padres’ clubhouse this spring.
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Fernando Tatis, Jr., is the top prospect of the group — he’s No. 2 on BA’s overall list, behind only Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. — and has looked good this spring, with two homers and a 1.127 OPS in 22 at-bats. Of course, that’s a small sample size and of course spring training stats have to be taken with a grain of salt, but the 20-year-old has done nothing to temper expectations for when he makes his big-league debut, likely later this summer.
“I think we’re all pretty excited to see what Tatis can do. In my opinion, we’ve just seen the beginning of what he’s capable of,” Quantrill said. “But there are a lot of guys, people who don’t even get talked about all the time. There are guys who have flown under the radar who have done nothing but succeed at the pro level or, at the very least, put up special numbers at times. I’m excited to see how the group goes, and I’m excited to see how I can proceed with that group.”
And the depth is where Hosmer sees separation between Kansas City and San Diego.
“The depth of all this talent we have is unreal. It’s definitely a big difference,” Hosmer said. “In Kansas City, there was the Double-A, Triple-A team that we were all kind of in the same wave and there wasn’t much after that. Here, you look at our Double-A and Triple-A team, and then our High-A team and our rookie ball guys, and there are standout prospects in each one of those groups.”
With all those talented youngsters, it was already an excited group, and that was before San Diego landed star third baseman Manny Machado as a coveted free agent this spring. Hosmer said the we’re-building-something-special pitch that convinced him to sign in San Diego last offseason worked a second time around, too.
“I know it was a similar process with Manny,” he said. “I was looking up all these guys, watching them on the internet, seeing what they were all about. That was definitely the process, to build within the organization with all these prospects and try to find the right mix of veteran free agents to blend in, and that’s what’s happening.”
The Padres might not compete for a playoff spot in 2019 — the ETA on a lot of these prospects is later this year or next year or the year after that — but this is a franchise destined to be in the playoff conversation for the foreseeable future.
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