As Tuesday's Opening Day at Parkview Field looms, the TinCaps officially have a roster.
The team has been practicing at the downtown stadium since Friday, but Sunday afternoon the Padres officially unveiled the list of players who will start the season at the club's newly minted High-A affiliate in Fort Wayne.
The roster is filled with faces that will be familiar to fans in the Summit City, including a long list of players that were in Fort Wayne in 2019, when the team was still a Low-A affiliate. Those players have been promoted, but they'll return for another season with the TinCaps after the 2020 season was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“From a comfort standpoint, I know a lot of these guys really well,” fifth-year TinCaps manager Anthony Contreras said. “There's only a handful I haven't had yet, but I've had a few months to get to know them in Arizona (at the Padres' training facility). My vibe is good with these guys. We had a good talk the first day we got here.
“As you move up in your career, your window of time starts to shrink. There's urgency with a lot of these guys, they know where they are in their careers. ... The excitement the last few days has been really fun to watch.”
Among those who will be coming back to Fort Wayne is outfielder Dwanya Williams-Sutton, who led the Midwest League in on-base percentage in 2019 at .411 and was hit by a pitch 32 times, a TinCaps record.
Tirso Ornelas, the No. 19 prospect in the Padres organization, is also back after hitting eight home runs and getting on base at a .341 clip in Fort Wayne in 2018. Contreras said Ornelas, 21, looks like a “wrecking ball” and has developed into a “man body.”
Other players who previously played for the TinCaps are pitchers Anderson Espinoza, Edwuin Bencomo, Sam Keating, Gabe Mosser, Austin Smith and Cody Tyler; infielders Luis Almanzar, Olivier Basabe, Reinaldo Ilarraza, Justin Lopez, Kelvin Melean and Ethan Skender; and outfielders Michael Curry, Jawuan Harris and Agustin Ruiz.
Lopez will be spending a third year in Fort Wayne after hitting 13 home runs and driving in 57 in 2019. He is just 20 years old after debuting in Fort Wayne at age 17.
The roster is somewhat lighter on top prospects than in the recent past because the Padres have graduated so much talent to the upper levels of the minors and the majors in the last few years, but the TinCaps do have a player whose name was once all over the lists of future big-league stars: Espinoza.
The right-handed pitcher was the big prize the Padres received when they traded starter Drew Pomeranz to the Boston Red Sox near the trade deadline in 2016.
Espinoza was the No. 10 prospect in baseball in the winter of 2017 at the age of 19, according to Fangraphs.com. He has not pitched in a regular-season minor-league game since the end of 2016, when he was with the TinCaps at Low-A.
Since then, the 6-foot flame-thrower has had two Tommy John surgeries. Now 23, he will begin the season in the starting rotation, and Contreras said he looked good in a simulated game Saturday.
“It's exciting to see (Espinoza) back into an affiliate,” Contreras said. “Hopefully he can get going again from where he left off, as one of the top prospects in '16. ... He's definitely more mature, he's looked at as someone we can lean on as an older guy.
“It's going to be exciting to see him get on that mound and start to perform under the lights again.”
Espinoza won't be the Opening Day starter. That honor will fall to 6-foot-3 left-hander Ethan Elliott, 24, who spent the end of 2019 at short-season Tri-City after getting picked in the 10th round in that summer's draft. He was terrific in that short stint in pro ball, posting a 1.77 ERA in 12 starts across 352/3 innings. He struck out 38 and walked only four.
The TinCaps open against the West Michigan Whitecaps and 2020 No. 1 overall pick Spencer Torkelson at 7:05 p.m. Tuesday.