Padres Select CJ Abrams, Jose Azocar; Kyle Tyler DFA

The Padres finalized their opening-day roster Thursday, announcing this top prospect CJ Abrams and outfield players Jose Azocar were drafted into the Major League roster. The Padres placed Fernando Tatis Jr. Designated as a right-hander on the 60-day injured list Kyle Tyler for assignment in a pair of corresponding 40-man platoons.

Abrams is a consensus top prospect ranked among the top 15 most talented minor leagues in the sport by Baseball America, The Athletic, FanGraphs, ESPN and MLB Pipeline. ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel is the most optimistic of the bunch, ranking Abrams fourth among prospects of the sport. Reports laud his top-notch speed and athleticism and excellent hitting toolkit, although reviewers also suggest Abrams has a chance of hitting at his peak with average or better power.

San Diego originally selected Abrams from a Georgia high school with the sixth overall pick in the 2019 draft. He doesn’t have much professional gaming experience. Abrams spent the second half of his freshman pro season in rookie ball, with a late appearance at Low-A. The pandemic wiped out the 2020 minor league season, and the brothers pushed him to Double-A Amarillo to start the 2021 season.

Abrams handled the aggressive task well, hitting .296/.363/.420 with two home runs and 13 stolen bases over 183 plate appearances. He demonstrated his advanced racquet-to-ball skills with a 19.7% strikeout rate, which was a few points below the league average despite being younger than virtually every arm he faced. Unfortunately, Abrams was deprived of the second half of the replays after fracturing his left tibia and spraining his MCL in an on-field collision in early July.

There is undoubtedly some risk for the Pads to push Abrams straight into the big leagues. He has played all 44 games over rookie ball, none of them at Triple-A, because of the pandemic and last season’s injury. However, there’s no question that he has electric physical ability, and the San Diego front office clearly thinks he can stay afloat, at least in the early stages, while he continues to develop into a long-term staple.

Abrams has played exclusively in center infield during his minor league tenure. Evaluators were divided on his ability to stay at shortstop over the long term, but the general consensus is that he would be a solid defender at second base. Given his top-notch running ability, Abrams could likely be a plus defender in the outfield, too, and he’s gotten some work on the turf this spring. It will likely take him more than a couple of weeks to feel comfortable reading flyball from the start, but there’s no doubt he’s athletic enough to develop into a long-term outfield option.

It remains to be seen how first-year skipper Bob Melvin will use the 21-year-old in the early stages. He expects to see some action at every shortstop, second base and in the outfield. Jake Cronenworth has accounted for second base but Tatis’ injury had boost Ha Seong Kim into the primary shortstop job. Kim, a respected signing from South Korea, struggled in MLB during his rookie season. Melvin can give either Abrams or Kim a regular shortstop run, and the pads will rely on a combination of Jurickson Prof, Brent Rooker and Matt Beaty in the left field.

The Padres are not comfortable with keeping Abrams in the big league from now on as he will have all three remaining minor league option years. Yet San Diego wouldn’t have carried him out of camp if they didn’t feel like he was up for the challenge, and they would certainly love for Abrams to stay in the big leagues. If so, he would be controllable by 2027 and would not reach arbitration until after the 2024 campaign. Future optional assignments could shift these trajectories backwards if needed.

As a consensus top prospect, Abrams qualifies for what is called the prospect promotion incentive in the new collective bargaining agreement. Based on his Rookie of the Year rankings and MVP voting in his first three MLB seasons, the Padres could garner some additional draft picks if he excels.

There’s more to come.

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