Top 30 San Diego Padres Prospects

Cedric Hunter

When ranking prospects, there is a certain amount of disagreement on the concept of "value". Even though Denis and I tend to agree far more than we disagree, we each have slightly different concepts of value. Denis believes players that have higher ceilings, or greater potential, are more valuable than someone who may turn out to be an average or good major league player.

For example, I like Drew Macias more than Yefri Carvajal, while Denis is the opposite. I agree that Carvajal has a much higher upside than Macias, but what I doubt is his ability to reach it and right now Macias, to me, has a chance to become a solid major league player. Denis believes the chance that Carvajal reaches his potential outweighs the value of Macias.

When you start comparing prospects across organizations it becomes even more difficult. Some teams like the Tamba Bay Rays and the Florida Marlins place a greater premium on the athleticism of a player, while the Padres tend to be more concerned with plate discipline for batters and "pitchability" or "feel" for pitchers. Additionally, where the major league team has the greatest need can also make a prospect more valuable than he actually is. The Padres have needed a second baseman for the past few years, which is one of the, but definitely not the only reason, the team is so excited by the potential of Matt Antonelli.

The Padres have five very good prospects: Cedric Hunter, Jaff Decker, Mat Latos, Kellen Kulbacki and Kyle Blanks who, some would argue, any of them could be the top prospect on the team. All are at various levels of development and all have a range of accomplishments on the professional level; so the big question is which is better?

Five of the top-ten are outfielders, eight in the top thirty. Four of the top ten are pitchers, but all are at High-A or below. All of the Padres' pitchers who project as a top or middle of the rotation are below High-A with the exception of Drew Miller, but his performance has a long way to go to meet his potential.

What is the systems' greatest weakness? Upper level pitching that has a chance to be more than a back of the rotation starter – and middle infielders. The highest ranked middle infielder was at #12.

I left out players such as Cesar Carrillo, Allan Dykstra, Nick Schmidt and Matt Bush who are either recovering from injury or played too little last year. Each could easily be in the top 30 for next years' rankings.

1) Cedric Hunter – OF

I picked Hunter as the top selection because I felt he was the closest to a total package. He's put up solid numbers in the organization but has the potential to become a much better player. Additionally, a centerfielder that can run, hit the ball into the gaps and has a solid grasp of the strike zone is custom made for what the Padres want to do. If Hunter can't handle centerfield and is forced to move to left field, his value decreases substantially.

Hunter led the minor leagues in hits with 187 and hit .335/.358/.486 in the second half while playing a very good centerfield. He's a tremendous athlete, can run, and has a better arm than most give him credit for. At only 20, he was one of the younger players in the league but needs to work on incorporating his speed into stealing more bases; he was only 12-for-18.

2009: Again he'll be very young for Double-A, but he should be able to put up better numbers again this year. His game offensively is about shooting the ball into the gaps, and he will be able to do that in San Antonio. There are parts of his game that he obviously needs to improve, but Hunter could become the ideal #2 hitter with gap power while playing a flawless center; he has a game built for PETCO.

2) Mat Latos – RHP

Latos was hurt much of the year with a strained oblique, but when he was healthy, he blew people away, striking out 69 against only 13 walks in the AZL, Eugene and Fort Wayne in 56 innings pitched. Last year, we ranked him as the second best prospect, and he's still 6-foot-6, 215-pounds and throws consistently in the mid-90s with control so he's usually going to be up there. His slider and change have come a long way, but he needs to be more consistent with them to have the type of success the Padres and him expect to have further down the road.

2009: Latos has come a long way in his maturity, but still needs to understand that as great as his talent is he won't realize his enormous potential until he gets more serious about his craft. He'll start the year in Fort Wayne again, but if he stays healthy and pitches well, look for him to move up Lake Elsinore by mid-season.

3) Jaff Decker – OF

Despite a high school career that seemed more like an Xbox game than reality, scouts found much to not like about Jaff Decker. He's only about 5-foot-10, he has a thick build, and scouts thought of him as limited to only one position – with all of his value in his bat. One big problem in this analysis, Decker is a very good baseball player and as a professional, he remained a very good baseball player. In the AZL he had a .523 OBP and a .541 SLG, the only one on the team with a .500 + slugging percentage in addition to stealing 9-of-10 bases. Defensively, he split time between center and left, but because of his arm, he should end up in right field.

2009: Decker will begin the year in the Midwest League at 19, which is quite an accomplishment. He is a pure baseball rat and should thrive in full season ball. Although he is a better athlete than given credit for, what separates him from others is his instincts for the game, especially his ability to control the zone at the plate.

4) Kellen Kulbacki – OF

From June to August, Kulbacki was the best player in the organization and arguably put up better statistics than anyone in baseball:
June .329/.451/.695
July .405/.458/.690
Aug .324/.429/.559

The only downside was that he hit .164 in Fort Wayne in April and .221 in May in Lake Elsinore before going on his tear. He had the same pattern in Eugene in '07, but his bat is just too special to ignore. He's an average fielder with an arm that should allow him to stay in right.

2009: If Kulbacki puts up anywhere close to the numbers he did in Lake Elsinore this season when he moves to Double-A, he will be in the outfield in San Diego for 2010. Nelson Wolff Stadium is a brutal place for someone who put the ball in the air and he will have to earn everything

5) Kyle Blanks – 1B

Even Padres' fans that don't follow the minor leagues know about Kyle Blanks. At 6-foot-6, 285-pounds and athletic, his description is more apt for a cartoon superhero than a baseball player. This year, he put together his most complete year at the plate and in the field. The one glaring question that nearly every Padres' fan wants to know is where will he play with Adrian Gonzalez at first with the big club? Right now, San Diego has him penciled in at first base in Portland with no plans to put him in the outfield.

2009: Blanks will be in Portland and could put up some big numbers in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. How well he does at the plate could force San Diego to see if he may be able to play in left field.

6) Jeremy McBryde – RHP

In 136.2 innings, McBryde struck out 158 batters against only 24 walks. The big downside is that he allowed 151 hits with a 4.28 ERA in a pitcher friendly league. McBryde has one of the better fastballs in the organization arriving consistently in the low-90s. When he decides to throw his slider and change, he is very tough to hit. He has the potential, and this is a key word, potential, to become a #2 or #3 starter.

2009: McBryde was much better in the second half than the first with Fort Wayne, becoming much more of a pitcher as his ERA went from 4.95 to 3.81. The California League is a brutal place for any pitcher, but as McBryde continues to find out that the more he continues to refine his talent, or throw something other than as hard as he can every time, the better numbers he will put up.

7) Wynn Pelzer – RHP

In 2007, the Padres took a chance on Pelzer, a player that in college showed big time stuff but not big time numbers. Paying him above slot money after an injury in the Cape Cod League precluded him from short-season action. Although no one was really sure what he would do, he answered quite a few questions. Pelzer led the Wizards' starters in ERA at 3.19, and showed solid velocity, movement and good slider. He throws more two-seamers now than four-seamers, sacrificing a little velocity for more movement. In the second half, he was 5-3 with a 2.44 ERA, holding MWL batters to a .239 average.

2009: Pelzer will be a big part of what will be the Padres' best staff in the minors in 2009 at Lake Elsinore. If he can continue to keep everything down with movement ,he may have the best year of anyone.

8) Chad Huffman – OF

In 2009, Huffman was two hitters, one at home, .256/.365/.343 and on the road, .318/.405/.513. He also absolutely destroys left-handed pitching, hitting .376 against lefties while .268 against righties. He's a competent outfielder who saw some time in both right and left field this year. The Padres believe he is still the most disciplined hitter that they have and also know that San Antonio is particularly brutal on right-handed hitters. In an off year, he still finished in the top-10 of the Texas League in doubles.

2009: Huffman will put up much better numbers in Portland than he did last year; the question is will he show enough power to force his way into San Diego in 2010?

9) Will Venable – OF

In four seasons with the Padres' organization, Venable has had his detractors; he's too old, he doesn't hit with enough power, he doesn't have the arm to play anywhere but left, and mostly that someone with under 400 at-bats in college just has too far to go to make it to the major leagues. Last year, Venable put together his best year in Portland, playing center and putting up his best offensive numbers, hitting .292/.361/.464.

2009: Of the September call-ups, Venable looked the best of any of the regular everyday players, and each year the Padres' have seen significant improvement in his game. San Diego likes his athleticism and intelligence. He could very well be in the starting outfield in PETCO next year.

10) Simon Castro – RHP

At 6-foot-5 and 210=pounds, Castro is another of the type of pitcher that we are beginning to see in the Padres' organization at the lower levels, not as polished but with much more upside. Castro has always had a big fastball that can sit in the low-90s. What has improved substantially are his mechanics and ability to throw secondary pitches for strikes. As with McBryde, he is far from a finished product, but he is another pitcher with the talent to develop into a top of the rotation starter.

2009: He'll begin the year in Fort Wayne, a full season league, which will mean a lot more innings and much better hitters. The Padres will take their time with Castro but so far he's right on track.

11) James Darnell – 3B

Darnell signed late, and if he had been with the Emeralds before August 18, he may have put up the type of numbers that he did, .373/.462/.582, over a longer period of time. There was some question if he could stay at third base, but the Padres like his ability there, and believe he could make the majors at several positions, possibly even second.

2009: The Padres have three candidates for the everyday third base job in Lake Elsinore and Fort Wayne, Darnell, Logan Forsythe and Justin Baum. Darnell easily has the most upside. Barring injury, he should be the man at the hot corner.

12) Matt Antonelli – 2B

Any way you look at it, Matt Antonelli had a tough year. He only hit above .216 for one month and .193 in 21 games in San Diego. He is still one of the most gifted athletes in the system, but he also needs to have a consistent approach at the plate, kind of like what he did in his last month in Portland where he hit .290/.391/.493.

2009: He's not going to compete for a starting job in San Diego out of spring training or in all probability in 2009. I still believe he is the Padres second baseman of the future, but he also needs at least three to four solid months of production in Portland before even becoming part of that discussion.

13) Drew Cumberland – SS

Cumberland was hurt for most of the season, but when he was healthy, he showed an ability to put the bat on the ball with a solid idea of the strike zone. In the last month before he got hurt, he was hitting .432 as a teenager in the Midwest League. One of the better athletes in the Padres system, he turned down Florida State scholarship as a defensive back and has the ability to stay at shortstop despite having an average arm.

2009: He'll start the year in Lake Elsinore as the everyday shortstop and should thrive in the warm weather and hard infields. He's never going to be a power hitter, but the Padres believe he has gap power. Defensively, the ability is there – it's just a question of repetitions.

14) Josh Geer – RHP

Although he is probably not going to be more than a fourth or fifth starter in the major leagues, it still means he is going to get the ball every fifth day. Geer will take that over any pundits praise any day of the week. In 2007 he was the Madfriars.com Pitcher of the Year but ran into a little more trouble in the pinball environment of the Pacific Coast League. Geer doesn't have a big fastball but he throws a consistent moving sinker to both sides of the plate along with a solid changeup and improving slider.

2009: No one is really sure about the health of his arm, but if he is healthy, he should have one of the five slots in San Diego based on a very good September in the majors.

15) Drew Macias – OF

Macias has always been one of the Padres best defensive outfielders. He has great range and one of the better, if not the best, arms in the system. The big problem was always his bat. In his third time around Double-A, Macias finally began to become the patient type of slashing hitter the Padres hoped he would become. He led the Texas League in walks and was second on the team in doubles.

2009: He'll be the everyday centerfielder in Portland and should put up better offensive numbers in a much more hitter friendly environment than of the Texas League. Also, expect to see him hit a few more home runs with the short right field porch in Portland. If he can continue to draw walks and hit doubles into the gaps, he has a shot. The big sleeper prospect for 2009.

16) Wade LeBlanc – LHP

After Trevor Hoffman, Wade LeBlanc has the best changeup of anyone in the organization. When he's on, it can appear like a cartoon with batters unable to gauge the multiple speeds of the ball. The big problem that LeBlanc has is getting to the change. This year, he began to throw a two-seam fastball for the first time to get more movement on his accurate, yet straight four-seam fastball. When LeBlanc can command the two-seamer, he's very tough. When he doesn't, it's going to be a short outing. He has a decent curve, but with LeBlanc, his future success will depend upon his ability to command the two-seamer to get into counts where he can throw the change.

2009: LeBlanc was much better in the second half, a 2.86 ERA, than he was in the first, 6.46. With the exception of one good outing, he struggled in his September call-up with the big club. He should begin the year in Triple-A for a little more work with his two-seamer but also could be accumulating frequent flyer miles from Portland because he will be called up quickly if there is an injury.

17) Blake Tekotte – OF

The Padres believe Tekotte could become the quintessential leadoff man – what they didn't expect was the .456 slugging percentage from the Miami Hurricane alumnus. Tekotte is a solid defender in center, plus runner and the type of hitter the organization loves.

2009: He was the MVP of the Padres Instructional League and has the inside shot to jump a league and be in center for Lake Elsinore. He could put up some big number in the desert and will add to the team's substantial depth of centerfielders.

18) Jeremy Hefner – RHP

This year, Hefner was the best starting pitcher in the organization with a 10-5 record and a 3.33 ERA. Hefner throws three pitches for strikes, fastball, changeup and a slider. His velocity is in the high-80s, touching 90 to 91. He understands that to have the same success at higher levels that he has experienced in the Northwest and Midwest Leagues he is going to need to throw his two-seam fastball much more than his four seamer.

2009: He'll be one of the mainstays of the Storm's rotation in 2009 and the Padres like the development of his two-seam fastball and a curveball, which will replace his slider. He throws harder than many believe and has been the best pitcher on his team in both his two years in the organization.

19) Steve Garrison – LHP

Kevin Towers thought Garrison was the best pitcher that he saw in San Antonio last year as the left-hander flashed his command of four solid pitches. Early in the year, he threw a 7-inning no-hitter but began to tire as the second half wore on. He doesn't have a big fastball, but is athletic and cerebral and could be the best pitcher from the Scott Linebrink deal.

2009: No one is sure when he'll be able to return after shoulder surgery early in the off-season. He should be back in San Antonio by June of 2009.

20) Drew Miller – RHP

This year was supposed to be the breakout year for Miller, who arguably has as much talent as anyone in the system. With the exception of a few good months, however, he struggled. He has much more ability than he showed last year in Lake Elsinore where he struck out 100 against only 46 walks, but also allowed 172 hits in 134 innings for a 6.10 ERA. As Grady Fuson said in an end of the year interview with Madfriars.com, "It's starting to get to the point with Drew its more about performance than potential, and he hasn't done it yet. "

2009: He should start the year in San Antonio, but he's going to have to start putting together consistent performances to have a shot.

21) Mike Ekstrom – RHP

No one turned around his season more than Ekstrom. He was demoted to the bullpen in June and then proceeded to become the best pitcher on the team, finishing with 9-3 record and a 2.34 ERA in the second half while striking out 53 batters in 50.1 innings. The big change for Ekstrom form the pen was that it seemed to free him to just focus on getting a batter out rather than worrying about an overall game plan.

2009: He has an outside shot to make the big club out of spring training. If not, he will bounce back and forth between Triple-A and San Diego. Ekstrom throws hard and low with a quality slider and the ability to pitch more than one inning at a time.

22) Lance Zawadzki – SS

Zawadzki had as big a breakout as any prospect this year, hitting .292/.370/.442 in the second half at Fort Wayne. Even though he put together a big senior year at Lee College, a NAIA school, he was an unusual pick by the Padres in that he was more of a "tools" pick by the team. He has a very good blend of power and speed; he stole 28 bases in 31 attempts. He has a cannon arm, good quickness, but, as with most young middle infielders, needs to become much more consistent in the field. He was a little better at second with a .965 fielding percentage than at short with a .920 fielding average.

2009: Zawadzki will start next year at Lake Elsinore, mainly playing second but also playing some short. He could put up some very big offensive numbers, but defensively his performance will need to begin to approach his ability. He has a chance to be one of the breakout players next year with his talent.

23) Will Inman – RHP

The good news is in the Texas League Inman led the league in strikeouts with 140 in 135.1 innings. The bad news is he also led the Texas League in walks with 71. As one major league scout noted on Inman, his success begins and ends with his velocity. When he is setting around 91 to 93 mph, it makes his changeup and curveball very difficult to hit. When he's in the high-80s, he gets hit and then starts to nibble a little too much. At 21, he was very young for the Texas League and an unorthodox motion makes it difficult for him to repeat his delivery.

2009: He could start the year in Portland, but a return trip to San Antonio is more likely. Inman has the talent but needs to find a way to become more consistent if he is going to become a major league starting pitcher.

24) Sean Kazmar – SS

Kazmar has always been known for being among the best defensive middle infielders in the system with a potential to become a solid hitter with gap power. Unfortunately, he's only shown flashes of his ability at the plate and last year endured a tough two months in San Antonio before being sent down. After another difficult April and May, Kazmar showed what he had, hitting .357 in June and .275/.329/.353 in the second half to earn a promotion to San Diego.

2009: Kazmar should be the everyday shortstop at Portland next year, and while he has improved substantially, he will be the first to tell you he can become much better at the plate. The Padres plan to play him at a few other positions, third and in the outfield, to increase his versatility. As with Macias, he's a good athlete who has turned the corner with the bat.

25) Matt Buschmann – RHP

While he didn't get as much attention as Inman and Garrison, Buschmann was the best starter with the Missions. He finished second in the Texas League in ERA and third overall in strikeouts. His walks were a little high in his K/BB ratio of 118/58, but his hits to innings pitched was solid at 137/148. The Vanderbilt grad is not going to blow anyone away with his velocity, but he has good fastball command, a solid slider and an improving changeup.

2009: Buschmann is another in a long line of Padres' pitchers who makes his living keeping the ball down – mainly because if he doesn't it gets crushed. He'll begin the year in Portland, and the PCL can be a tough place to pitch for anyone without a big "out" pitch.

26) Jackson Quezada – RHP

Quezada led the organization in saves with 27 and dramatically improved his changeup and slider to go along with a hard sinking fastball that sits in the low-90s. The big right-hander from the Dominican is only 22 and the Padres expect his body to fill out more with an increase in his velocity. The big key for him is the continued development of his slider.

2009: It is a very big jump for pitchers from the Midwest League to the deserts of the California League. He improved significantly from last year, however, and with his stuff, there is no reason why he couldn't have another big year with the Storm.

27) Dan Robertson – OF

Robertson is the type of story everyone likes to read about. A 33rd-round pick, undersized, and essentially given a new pair of spikes and gas money as a signing bonus, Robertson went out and was both the Northwest League Player of the Year and Madfriars.com Hitter of the Year. He can play all three outfield position and despite being only 5-ffot-8, the OSU grad has some gap power, finishing third in the league in doubles and OPS to go along with 20 stolen bases in 27 attempts.

2009: It's unclear whether Tekotte or Robertson will start the year in center at Lake Elsinore or Fort Wayne. What is important is that Robertson did more than anyone ever imagined he could, and he's earned the opportunity to play every day in a full season league.

28) Greg Burke – RHP

Burke had 23 saves in 26 opportunities with a 92/17 K/BB ratio. Additionally, he threw 84.1 innings, more than any other closer in the system. With the exception of a very bad July, where he had all three of blown saves and three of his seven losses for the year, he was automatic. The Duke grad is a former starter who significantly improved his velocity thanks to a rigorous off-season conditioning program. He throws a very good fastball with exceptional command and has an above average slider but needs a third pitch.

2009: He should be the closer in Portland and has come as far as anyone in the organization this year. The PCL is a much tougher environment for pitchers and many Padres' relief pitchers that have put up big numbers in Double-A have struggled with the promotion.

29) Rob Musgrave – LHP

Musgrave was named to the NWL All-Star team at the end of the season and posted a solid K/BB ratio of 66/11 and only allowed 34 hits in 42 innings pitched. He was an All-American at Wichita State where he went 12-1 his senior year with a 2.51 ERA as a starter. He throws three pitches, his best being a changeup.

2009: He'll start the year in Fort Wayne and in the rotation. He'll need to use his secondary pitches more than he did in Eugene to experience the same type of success that he did in 2007.

30) Eric Sogard – 2B

In April, June, and August, Sogard set the world afire hitting .381, .343 and .344, but in May and July, he hit .243, but his monthly OBP only dropped below .361 once. He led the Cal League in doubles with 42 and was second in walks with 79 – for a 79/62 K/BB ratio. The left-handed hitting Sogard has good power for a second baseman, but there are some questions if he has the range to stay at second. If he can prove that he has the range to be a major league second baseman and continue popping doubles, his value will increase substantially.

2009: He will be the starting second baseman for the Missions and will have to address questions about his glove while continuing his solid approach at the plate and avoiding the valleys that he went through last year.

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