The San Diego Padres farm system has a wealth of potential…potential. By definition potential means…
Idaho Falls Padres and Eugene Emeralds
(1) Tools - This can loosely be defined for position players as the ability to run, field, throw, hit and hit with power. Typically for position players, someone needs to be a plus player in at least one category to make it in the major leagues. For pitchers it can be a variety of components, velocity, control, ERA, strikeouts; something that indicates the pitcher is able to dominate the competition. Control is important, but velocity tends to get greater weight. If a pitcher can harness outstanding velocity, he may have a chance at a major league career. Very few pitchers can advance without a decent fastball.
(2) Performance - The easiest one to evaluate. How well the player actually performed in their league. Someone can have all the "tools" in the world, but as the player advances higher in the minor league system his actual performance becomes more important than his actual potential. Performance is the main criteria at AA or AAA level, as compared to the lower minors.
(3) Age - Age is an indicator of how well the player does against the competition that he is facing. A 19 year old hitting .310 in the rookie leagues carries far more weight than a 23 year old, with four full seasons of college ball experience, doing the same thing. The younger and more successful a player is, the bigger upside they could possess.
Summary - Idaho Falls had the worst record of any team in the Padres' organization, finishing with 24 wins and 52 losses. After the season, the Padres ended their affiliation with Idaho Falls, partially because most of their players were simply to young for the league and Idaho Fall's desire for a more competitive team. The new low-A franchise will be in the Arizona League for 2004, which is more of a traditional rookie league for younger players. However, there were a few players this season that could help the Padres in the future, primarily pitchers Greg Conden and Ryan Klatt, and the Greek Olympic teams' catcher and Padres' prospect, George Kottaras.
Pitching - The two dominant pitchers on an otherwise forgettable staff at Idaho Falls were Greg Conden, a 23 years old 6'3" 220 lb right-hander out of George Washington University, and Ryan Klatt, a 22 years old 6'1", 180 lb right-handed relief pitcher from Biola University.
Conden struck out 96 batters in 80 innings pitched, while allowing only 29 base on balls. With a 3.94 ERA, he had the lowest ERA of anyone who pitched significant innings for Idaho Falls; yes, that was an indication of how the team went this season. Conden started 15 games, won four lost three, holding batters to a .259 batting average, while allowing only three home runs, the lowest on the staff. Scouts claim he has average stuff, but his fastball has a nice run to it. He was old for the league, but if he does well in Fort Wayne he could become a prospect.
Ryan Klatt, the save leader for Idaho Falls with 12, will also earn a promotion to Fort Wayne based on a very good season as a closer with limited opportunities for a bad team. Klatt recorded twelve saves and won two games, either winning or saving nearly half of Idaho Falls' twenty nine victories. Ryan won 2 and lost 3, had an ERA of 2.12 with 51 strike outs and only 3 base on balls (yes, three base on balls, its not a typo) in 29 innings. Klatt throws between 91 and 93 miles per-hour (mph), and occasionally throws a good slider.
A couple of other pitchers worth mentioning: the uniquely named Danny de la O and Yency Mora. Each had decent seasons on an over matched Idaho Falls team and should start next season in Eugene.
Position Players - Brett Burnham, Brandon Kaye and George Kottaras were the main stand outs for Idaho Falls.
Burnham, a twenty three year old 5'10", 190 lbs second baseman, had a nice year for Idaho Falls. Brett hit .290/.380/.398, (Batting Average/On-base percentage/Slugging Percentage) with 20 RBIs in 50 games. His BB/K ration was excellent, striking out only 25 times in 150 ABs with 25 walks. A converted shortstop out of the University of Connecticut he had a nice debut year, but because of his age and the existing talent the Padres have in their organization at 2b, he is in for a very tough road.
Brandon Kaye is probably a better prospect because of his power and left handed bat. Kaye, a twenty-three year old, 6'2" 215 lbs 1b out of Oklahoma City University, had a nice year, displaying good power, finishing at .273/.335/.522, with 10 HRs and 30 RBIs in 52 games.
Burnham had a nice year, but isn't much of a prospect. He was old for the league, doesn't have any outstanding tool, little power, and doesn't steal bases (he stole two and was caught twice). In order for him to advance he is going to have to hit for either more average or power. Kaye is a slightly better prospect because of his left handed power bat, but he will also be 24 years old next year and plays either 1b or the corner outfield slots; another difficult slog through the Padres system.
Both Burnham and Kaye are examples of how age and tools factor into prospect evaluation.
George Kottaras, a 19 year old 6', 180 lbs left handed hitting catcher from Canada, is the probably the best position prospect at Idaho Falls this year. A draft and follow, George is also a member of the Greek Olympic team. Kottaras had a decent debut season showing some power, 7 HRs to finish at .259/.348/.476. He has a nice eye, and is supposed to be very good behind the plate. His potential left handed power, position and youth made him the top prospect at Idaho Falls this year. It will be interesting to see what the Padres do this year with Kottaras, my guess is that he goes to Fort Wayne; he is too valuable to play another minor league short season. We should see him in Fort Wayne next year splitting time with Colt Morton.
Billy Hogan, who made the Pioneer League All star team at DH, started off the year at Idaho Falls, but was promoted in mid-season. Hogan is a third baseman who will be reviewed in the Eugene Emeralds section.
Conclusions - Conden and Klatt both emerged as definite pitching prospects this year, and hopefully will put together good seasons at Fort Wayne. Klatt should be the closer for Fort Wayne next year. Although both Burnham and Kaye had nice seasons, their relatively advanced ages for the leagues, positions, and lack of any dominant tools kind of scare me away from being too high on them, but both should be in Fort Wayne next year. Kottaras is probably the best prospect because of his left handed bat, age and position.
Potential MLB players this past year at Idaho Falls- Conden, Klatt, Hogan and Kottaras.
Summary - The Emeralds were one of better teams in the system finishing over .500 with a record of 39-37. The Emeralds were second in the western division, four games out of from winning the division.
Pitching - Sean Thompson, a twenty one year old 5'11", 160 lbs lefthander out of Colorado, easily had the best season of any of the Emerald's pitchers. Thompson went 7-1 this year with a 2.48 ERA. His most impressive statistic was an excellent BB/K ration of 39/97, holding batters to a .203 average. The only real negative against him is his rather slight stature, but still, numbers are numbers and his BB/K ratios were significantly better than anyone else on the team. Jim Callis of Baseball America, in an on-line chat with Padres fans, described Thompson as having one of the best curve balls in the Padres' system. Sean will probably end up rated as one of Baseball America's top 15 prospects going into 2004.
Other pitchers to watch include Eddie Bonine, probably the Padres' only knuckleball pitcher in the majors or minors. Bonine was the save leader on Eugene, and possess an interesting combination of a knuckleball, knuckle curve and a fastball that can touch the low 90's. He should be a pitcher to watch, either as a starter, set-up man or closer. Clark Girardeau, Aaron Coonrod and Jared Wells also performed well for the Emeralds this year. Wells might have the biggest upside of anyone, consistently throwing in the 92 to 94 mph range, even hitting 97 mph in spring training. Jared went 4-6 this past year, with a 2.75 ERA, and is 6'4", 200 lbs and only 22 years old. However, Jim Callis believes that if Wells could put it together, he could vault into the top 10 of the Padres organization for 2005.
Probably the most disappointing performance turned in this season was Daniel Moore's season. Moore, the Padres second round pick out of North Carolina, a 6'5" 225 lbs lefthander, went 2-3, with a 6.14 ERA, with batters hitting a robust .308 against him. The Padres system is short of left handed pitching and needs Moore to provide some much needed depth.
Position Players - Brian Wahlbrink probably had the best overall season, finishing off at .303/.382/.437, with 4 Hrs, and 34 RBIs, in 69 games. Although Wahlbrink played well, he is also going to be 24 years old in this March, so it is hard to foresee him progressing far in the system. He does have good size, listed at 6'3", 200 lbs and plays the outfield. Other players such as Jordan Pickens, Fernando Valenzuela Jr. and Ryan Johnson also had decent debuts, but all were experienced college players, who didn't really showcase any particular tool to get anyone excited.
The two best position prospects at Eugene this year were Billy Hogan, a twenty year old 6'3", 210 lbs third baseman out of Chandler-Gilbert Junior College in Arizona, and Colt Morton, a twenty one year old 6'5", 225 lbs catcher, a third round pick out of Florida Sate University. Hogan was promoted from Idaho Falls, where he was tearing up the league, .344/.419/.515, with 3 HRs and 33 RBIs in 45 games, but slowed somewhat once he arrived at Eugene. Hogan ended the year in Eugene at .256/.333/.385, with 1 HR and 10 RBIs in 22 games and 78 ABs. Billy made 8 errors in the 22 games which could force a move to the outfield. In my opinion, the Padres should try to keep him at third base because of the systems glaring weakness at that position. The Padres must start developing third basemen whether it is Greg Sain, another defensively challenged infielder this year at Lake Elsinore or Billy Hogan; someone needs to learn how to play third base. Hogan should start the year at Fort Wayne, and if his bat and defense progress, we could see him in Lake Elsinore before the end of the year. Hopefully at third base.
Colt Morton hit .278/.346/.557, with 7 HRs and 20 RBIs in 27 games, a very nice debut at Eugene earning him a promotion to Fort Wayne at the end of the season. However, at Fort Wayne, Morton struggled hitting only .171/.22/.303, with 2 HRs and 7 RBIs in 22 games. The sample is much too small to make any definitive judgements, but Colt obviously needs to improve his hitting, particularly contact. He struck out 28 times in 78 ABs. A few reports that I have read on Colt are not too confident that he will be able to cut down on his strikeouts, while maintaining his power. Because Colt is a very good defensive catcher, he will be given every opportunity to improve his hitting. Depending on his progression in the Winter League and Kottaras' availability after his Olympic commitments, we could see Colt at Lake Elsinore fairly quickly, the Padres really won't have any quality catching prospects at Lake Elsinore in 2004.
Conclusions - The strength of the Eugene team in 2003 was the pitching. We should see a good staff in Fort Wayne in 2004 led by Sean Thomson, Tim Stauffer (my prediction of where he will start), Jared Wells, Greg Conden and probably Daniel Moore or Eddie Bonine. Bonine could also be used as a starter, set up man or be the closer. Clark Girardeau will also compete for a spot. The Padres will need Daniel Moore to develop, but Thompson and Stauffer, and possibly Conden, will be the ones to watch. If Wells can continue to refine his stuff, he could be better than anyone by the end of the year.
For position players, it could be a weak year in Fort Wayne. Look for Hogan, Morton and possibly Kaye to provide the power with Wahlbrink and Burnham having solid seasons. The big wild card could be George Kottaras, who cold become a name quickly known to most Padres fans.
Potential MLB players this past year at Eugene - Thompson, Wells, Bonine, Morton and Hogan.
In the next report, we will summarize Fort Wayne's past season and provide a preview for the upcoming year.
John can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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