As we move closer and closer to a day that we can start beginning to think of a plan to start playing baseball (and I guess moving to Arizona, yikes), I’m realizing that my Padres content quota is sorely lacking. An entire preseason, with bonus pandemic time, and only one (one!) post highlighting a swinging Friar? WHAT NECROMANCERY IS THIS? Yeah, no clue how dark magics in all caps entered the chat, but this lockdown has been long, the flesh has been weak (don’t look at me like that when yours is too!), so I ask you: what exactly would be the downside of becoming bizarro Harry Potter with evil witch powers? +5 to magic missile, bro. [*Crosses arms, drops shades, waves wand in a counter-clockwise motion, raises the dead.] Regardless, I’m supposed to be talking about whales. Not just because San Diego is named after the vahina of one (silent ‘g’ for our NSFW friends), but because a literary tale as old as the last pandemic has just been referenced (give or take 50 years, but you get the point). The point is, I’m struggling connecting anything thematic in this lede, so we’ll just get to the part where I tell you about my Padres-content quarantine ending (check), the fact that I’ve somehow ended up writing about nothing but value pitchers the last month, so a hitter (a prospect no less!) would be a nice change of pace, and quite simply put: while Ismael Mena is prospect on the fringes, I’m here to convince you that you there might be something special here. Plus, I get to quote Herman Melville. NO DOWNSIDE FOLKS.
“I know not all that may be coming, but be it what it will, I’ll go to it laughing.”
That’s what she said…
So, victim-complex aside, I think the Padres have a chance to be alright-alright-alright on the Matthew McConaughey scale, both this year and the next several, if my heart can take it. One of the reasons for this renewed (yet sure be let-down) optimism is due to the robust farm system the team currently has. And while some prospects get hyped for different reasons, some J2 signings (an International Amateur talent period, aptly named for the July 2nd start date) tend to fall under the radar to both professional MLB analysts and basement-dwelling fantasy guru’s alike. True, you may already recognize such names like Jasson Dominguez, Luis Rodriguez, Robert Puason, Erick Pena, Bayron Lora etc., but right now, I am firmly planting my flag on the lesser known Ismael Mena hill. Even if he technically doesn’t have a hill. I mean, I don’t even have a hill, so I can’t seriously hold that against him.
A 6-foot-3, 185-pound outfielder from the Dominican Republic, a lazy TL;DR would basically be: Left-handed speedster (see the video above) with the potential to be an above average five-tool talent. While I’m not a professional scout, the consensus seems to be that he has 70-grade speed now, but expects to add muscle the next several years and some have pegged him as a middle-of-the-order power hitter with 20-steal potential during his peak-seasons. While still languishing at the Bernie Sanders median supporter age of 17, his window of opportunity may be closer than you think. (Wil Myers navigating centerfield says hello, how’s your mother?)
So granted, prospects are a bit more abstract to write about for obvious reasons, so player comparisons are even more valuable than they usually aren’t. In this case, Gregory Polanco comes immediately to mind, and while Mena is ultimately slated as a future left-fielder, his current speed tool, combined with reports that opine about his impressive defensive play, could accelerate his timetable not just for an arrival in several years, but quite possibly towards the end of this season or as early as next season if things go right.
As you can see above, there are a lot of aspects to dig about his plate mechanics. The swing doesn’t have many moving parts, he naturally transfers weight on his rotation with a light leg lift, and has a great propensity to follow the pitch throughout the entire process. His head stays down, and while he has yet to build up bulk, you can certainly see that his wiry frame allows for great plate coverage and a smooth exit point when driving the ball. You can especially see this when he goes to the opposite field. Remember, a short and uncomplicated swing is sometimes half the battle when developing zone awareness and fighting off pitches on the inside and outside of the zone.
So ultimately we have a prospect that has speed, can play defense, and can utilize both abilities right now. But there are the usual caveats for a young player, power is still developing, strike-zone judgement is still in an optimistic work-in-progress, and quite simply put, the Padres are in no hurry to rush a player with a profile like this. But it remains to be seen how exactly the Padres outfield depth chart will play out this season in the next. It’s hard to fathom a scenario where the Padres wouldn’t consider Mena ready if he shows continued growth at the late and keeps his defensive marks high.
All this is to say, keep an eye on Mena starting now, no matter what your league-dynamic is. These types of hitters don’t grow off trees, but pineapples do. So while your pina colada might be just fine, whenever a player with particular eventuality appear, it’d beneficial to at least take a gander. I understand that a 2024 projected ETA is a bit down the line, but a lot can happen between now and then. I mean, probably not another pandemic, I feel we can rule that out. But when it comes to premier middle-of-the-order bats with speed and a chance to make a difference soon, don’t just call him Ismael. Call him up soon.
Jay is a longtime Razzball everything who consumes an egregious amount of Makers Mark as a vehicle to gain wisdom and augment his natural glow. Living in the D.C. area, he also likes spending time visiting the local parks and feeding lettuce to any turtles he encounters, including Mitch McConnell. You can follow him @jaywrong, or read his rarely (like never) updated blog Desultory Thoughts of a Longfellow.