While the Padres think they have the position set for the foreseeable future with newly-acquired Yonder Alonso, the cupboard beyond the 24-year-old Cuban-born lefty is bare. Clark, Decker and Freiman all have some interesting possibilities at the plate, but each also has significant flaws. Should Alonso flame out, the second-best option in the organization is Kyle Blanks and several guys who haven't played the position yet might get a chance as well.
After signing quickly as the 10th overall pick last summer, Spangenberg did nothing to dispel the pre-draft analysis of his impressive bat skills. The left-handed hitter could certainly be on the same career path that got Chase Headley to the majors just about two years after he was selected. Between Spangenberg and the big league club, however, are two very interesting talents (an obstacle Headley never had to overcome) in Belnome and Galvez. Both have defensive questions, but if Belnome can reprise his 2011 performance – minus the injury – he's a good bet to be at PETCO Park by the middle of this season.
There is no clear cut everyday major league shortstop in the Padres system today. Last year's supplemental pick Jace Peterson excited a number of talent observers with how quickly he honed his athletic ability into baseball skill, but he's still a long way from being a sure thing. Parrino's best chance is as a bat-first utility infielder while Weems is a glove-first defensive specialist. The wildcard in the mix here is Drew Cumberland, who will be back on the field this year. It will certainly be worth watching how John Gibbons manages the playing time up the middle between Valdez, Cumberland and Galvez (and possibly Weems if his last month of hitting before the injury scared the organization too much) to open the year in San Antonio. Should Jason Bartlett go down, Parrino or Everth Cabrera would be called upon to fill the gap in 2012.
While some questions linger about Gyorko's defense at third, his offensive production in 2011 was truly stellar. After the hiccup when he got promoted to Elsinore, he posted a .370 wOBA over the last two months and then obliterated the Arizona Fall League as a capstone. He could be ready to go as early as mid-year this season should Chase Headley get injured or become appealing to a playoff contender. Darnell's actions at third and at the plate remain fairly stiff, but if something were to happen to Headley this year, Darnell is most likely to take the job. Jones and Rincon are both offensive forces, but it's hard to imagine either of them staying on third base.
Grandal has some refinement to do, but he's a balanced package at the plate and behind it. How he works with the club's prized pitching rotation at Tucson this year will likely dictate how they plan for 2013. Had the Pirates not signed Josh Bell, Hedges would have landed the highest bonus ever given outside the first round. It will be worth watching how a 19 year old from Southern California with such high expectations stands up to the Midwest League. Anything over a 700 OPS should have the team doing backflips this year. Hagerty laid an egg after his promotion and compounded the situation with a lousy AFL showing, but he's a powerful switch-hitting catcher, which will afford him more chances than many guys get. Should Tommy Medica's shoulder allow him to get back behind the plate, he's an interesting wild card for the organization. Left Field
Was last year what the organization hoped or expected from Decker? Absolutely not. But the 21-year-old bookended the season with flashes of what he can do when he's on. Decker is a perfect example of the drawbacks of housing the Triple-A club in Tucson, as they really need to promote him this year but are unlikely to learn much helpful from his performance in the high desert. Darnell must feel the window closing on him with the cluster of corner outfielders ahead of him at PETCO. He and the organization would probably both be best served by a trade. Domoromo will likely return to Fort Wayne, but that's not a bad thing for the highly talented teenager. Don't be surprised if he vaults up lists this year. A year ago, the notion of Matt Clark anywhere on the diamond other than first base was pretty much unthinkable. It's still mostly unthinkable, but he did rack up some innings in left for Tucson last season, and will probably add some more this year.
With Cameron Maybin firmly ensconced in center for the Padres, there isn't as urgent a need here as elsewhere on the diamond. If Tate stays on the field, he's likely to emerge as a future regular, but that's a huge if in his case. Tekotte seems a natural fit for a fourth outfielder role in the majors immediately, except the roster clutter in front of him virtually ensures that will not happen. Will Fuentes manage a slugging percentage above 300 in the unfriendly confines of the Wolff?
The most exciting prospect in the system will patrol right field in Elsinore this year. And although it may feel like he's been around forever, he won't be able to enjoy the Riverside Highlands' bars until June. If things come together for Liriano, he has all the skills to become a dynamic player to build around. Theoretically, "Alcantara" has the same profile. Of course, until we know who and how old he really is, and when the U.S. will allow him in the country and MLB will allow him to play, it's all hypothetical. Filpo will get to spend the spring on the desert before short-season ball opens, and will be worth watching when he gets going.
The sheer number of guys in the system with a legitimate shot at holding down a regular spot in a big league rotation is quite impressive. Watching how Erlin, Wieland, Kelly and Oramas perform in the harsh Tucson environment will be interesting, and the club will rely more heavily on reports from the coaching staff in the PCL than numbers to determine when and if any of them are ready to move up. The smart money would be on Erlin to be first in line, but don't be surprised if Oramas, who already has significant experience pitching at elevation against advanced hitters and is on the 40-man roster, leapfrogs him if a need arises early. Further down the pike, Sampson, Portillo and Lollis all have major upside, with the latter two carrying some significant flaws too.
1) Brad Brach (Opening Day)
2) Brad Boxberger (mid-2012)
3) Miles Mikolas (2013)
4) Kevin Quackenbush (2014)
5) Nick Vincent (2013)
Boxberger may have gone 1,232 spots earlier in his draft class than Brach went in his, but I still see Brach in front of him at this point. However, the vagaries of relief pitcher development are such that picking which of these guys might break through is even less clear than prospects at other positions. The organization has a larger stockpile of strong-armed guys who profile as late-inning relievers than they have in some time. It would not be a big surprise to see any of the five named make an impact in the majors within the next 18 months. Of course, as Erik Hamren and Josh Spence can attest, roster needs at the big league level mid-Summer can create opportunities for a variety of relievers you may not have heard of just yet.