One of the best things about writing for Madfriars.com is getting to follow a players' advancement…
The three writers we selected: Geoff Young of Ducksnorts, Peter Friberg of Padres' Rundown and Ben Davey of Friar Forecast all write on the Padres minor leagues everyday during the season. They all read every bit of information they can find on the daily activity of all the players; we thought they would have some interesting comments and were correct in our assessment.
We hope you enjoy reading their articles as much as we have.
Seriously, though, I start with my own statistical analysis (K-rates, on-base percentage, K/9, hit-rates, etc.), I look at scouting reports, other experts' opinions, etc. and develop my own blended approach to why I think player ABC is better than player XYZ.
For instance, in 2007 the Padres drafted second baseman Eric Sogard. Eric did not perform well in his pro debut (.256/.354/.376 in Eugene). Despite his struggles, I ranked Sogard at 18. I liked his collegiate production. I liked his walk-rates. I liked his power potential. This year, Eric moved further up the list (despite a deeper system) as his production caught up to my opinions… Keep reading to find out where Eric and the rest of the Padre prospects rank.
1. Kellen Kulbacki, 5'11" 185, OF, Bats: L, Throws: L, Born: November 21, 1985
In 2006, I was doing research for the then-upcoming MLB amateur draft. I found this player from James Madison University in the midst of a .464/.568/.943 season. I talked to a few experts I knew and discovered he was only a sophomore (I hadn't previously bothered to check his class).
Kulbacki is compared to Brian Giles for a lot of reasons. He's more athletic than his stocky body would suggest, he is somewhat short, and he can flat-out rake.
The one difference between Giles and Kulbacki is defense. While Giles once manned CF for the Pirates, Kulbacki is merely an above-average LF or an average RF.
Despite limited defensive ability, Kulbacki's bat will play. Going into this season, Kulbacki was battling some nagging injuries. When he did start his 2008 campaign, he was in Low-A Fort Wayne instead of High-A Lake Elsinore as we were told to expect. Adding insult to injury, Kulbacki struggled at Low-A and only hit .164/.260/.295 in 61 at-bats. Despite those struggles, the Padres promoted Kellen to Lake Elsinore in May. Kellen continued to struggle through most of May and only hit .221/.361/.309 for the month. Then Kulbacki exploded. His batting averages by month: .329, .405, and .324. Despite playing only 84 games in Lake Elsinore, Kellen hit 20 HR and 18 2B.
Kellen is a premiere hitter and should be in San Diego by the start of 2010.
2. Cedric Hunter, 6'0" 180, CF, Bats: L, Throws: L, Born, March 10, 1988
Cedric Hunter is the forgotten man among Padres prospects. Hunter was originally described as a tweener with not enough power for a corner OF and not enough wheels for CF. After his second full season, however, people are no longer questioning his ability to play CF. And in 2008, with a stronger group of hitters around him, Hunter again showed why he is among the Padres top prospects.
3. Kyle Blanks, 6'6" 270, 1B, Bats: R, Throws: R, Born: September 11, 1986
If you ranked hitters by their contact-ability, Kyle Blanks would be an easy top-5 Padres prospect. And when it comes to power, his only competition is Allan Dykstra. When it comes to hitting, Blanks is the Padres best prospect. Then why isn't he the top prospect? Kyle is #3 because he is not considered a top defensive first baseman and because we're unsure if he could handle LF. If I knew Blanks (who is considered athletic, for his size) could play the outfield, he would be the Padres #1 prospect.
4. Jaff Decker, 5'10" 190, OF, Bats: L, Throws: L, Born: February 23, 1990
Jaff Decker maintained the second best batting average in the Arizona League, had the top on-base percentage, and was fifth in slugging. As a result, Jaff was named MVP of the Arizona League.
Decker is generally regarded as having a non-athletic body and is compared physically to Matt Stairs. As a high school pitcher, however, he was clocked at 93 so he has the arm for RF. And he is more athletic than he is given credit. As evidence, Decker was successful in 9-of-10 stolen base attempts and even shared time in CF. In two years, people may wonder why I ever had Decker rated so low.
5. Mat Latos, 6'5" 210, SP, Bats: R, Throws: R, Born: December 9, 1987
After a solid debut in 2007, in which Mat tossed 56.0 innings, Latos dealt with injuries in 2008, limiting him to – you guessed it – 56.0 innings. Latos is the premiere power-arm in the system. He only pitched 24 innings in Low-A Fort Wayne, and he did not dominate that level. I probably have Latos too low, but pitching prospects flame out at a high rate, so I'm tempering my enthusiasm until I see him hold up for more than 56 innings in a season.
6. Drew Cumberland, 5'10" 175, SS, Bats: R, Throws: R, Born: January 13, 1989
Drew is easily one of the best all-round athletes in the system. There's a question if he's reliable enough to stay at SS. If not, his pure athleticism will handle CF nicely. He only had 216 at-bats in 2008, so he needs to stay healthy; hitting prospects need more than 200 at-bats per year to develop. Overall, he had a good batting average (.296) and on-base numbers (.354), but his power numbers (.380) leave a lot to be desired. Keep in mind Cedric Hunter also posted a .380 slugging percentage as a 19-year-old in Fort Wayne.
7. Allan Dykstra, 6'5" 215, 1B, Bats: L, Throws R, Born: May 21, 1987
Dykstra was a controversial first-round selection by the Padres this past June. Because of controversy surrounding a previous medical condition, Dykstra signed late and only managed 24 professional at-bats. A couple things we know for sure, he's powerful (at least a 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale) and he's patient. Dykstra's power rivals (if not exceeds) Kyle Blanks'.
8. Chad Huffman, 6'1" 200, LF, Bats: R. Throws: R, Born: April 29, 1985
Chad Huffman's 2008 season reminds me a lot of Cedric Hunter's 2007 season. In 2007, Cedric played in pitchers' league and after an amazing 2006 season, Cedric's solid '07 numbers looked disappointing. In 2008, Huffman played in an extreme pitcher's park and after robust numbers in High-A, Huffman's solid 2008 numbers look disappointing…
Huffman is not an above-average defender, but he controls the strike zone well, hits for a solid average, and has some pop. His career minor league numbers are .298/.394/.476.
9. Will Venable, 6'2" 205, CF, Bats: L, Throws: L, Born: October 29, 1982
There have been a few knocks on Venable as he progressed through the Padres system; some legitimate, some not so much. First (and legitimately), Venable is old. He played the ‘08 season as a 25-year-old and has already turned 26. Secondly, most experts said Venable had neither the speed to play CF nor the power to handle a corner. In 2008, Venable dispelled the "wheels" question by admirably handling CF in spacious Petco Park. As for the age-criticism, Venable isn't young, however, if he keeps producing it isn't an issue.
10. Blake Tekotte, 6'0" 166, CF, Bats: R, Throws: R, Born: May 24, 1987
A third-round draft pick in 2008, Tekotte may be the best defensive CF prospect in the organization. …And the bat ain't bad either. There are other centerfielders in the organization, and just above Blake in this ranking, the Padres have Venable (#9) who is ready to assume the big league job and Hunter (#2), who should be ready by 2011. And then Blake will likely be ready in 2012-13.
11. Mitch Canham, 6'2" 215, C, Bats: L, Throws: R, Born: September 25, 1984
Scouts still question whether he'll become reliable enough defensively to stick at catcher, but if he does, he'll be one of the more athletic and better offensive catchers in the big leagues. Canham did not display the power that is expected of him, but he is also dealing with emotions of having lost a brother (to whom he was close). If he improves defensively, he'll climb up this list.
12. Wade LeBlanc, 6'3" 200, SP, Bats: L, Throws: L, Born: August 7, 1984
Kevin Towers was asked in an interview why Wade Leblanc struggled so much early in his 2008 campaign (6.46 pre-All Star ERA). Towers indicated that against more advanced Triple-A hitters, LeBlanc nibbled early in the count thereby hurting his ability to get ahead and use his devastating changeup. In the second half of the season, Wade got ahead and kept hitters off-balance (2.86 ERA). Wade is expected to challenge for big league rotation slot in '09, but he might be better served with a couple more months of Triple-A seasoning.
13. Matt Antonelli, 6'0" 200, 2B, Bats: R, Throws: R, Born: April 8, 1985
No prospect had his star tarnished as much as Matt Antonelli. Antonelli hit 25 doubles and 21 home runs last year while batting .307. This year Matt hit 19 doubles and seven home runs while only batting .215. Most experts are unable to explain why Antonelli struggled so much. Matt will likely be back in Triple-A in 2009 trying to regain his 2007 form. Matt is an outstanding athlete, but there is no consensus as to whether he can be a legitimate defensive second baseman. If Matt can rebound offensively and answer concerns about his defense, he would regain his status as a top-5 prospect.
14. Simon Castro, 6'5" 203, SP, Bats: R, Throws: R, Born: April 8, 1988
Castro is another player I'm both excited and embarrassed to rank this low. His upside might rival or even exceed that of Latos. His fastball can touch 95, and he's learning/developing his secondary stuff. This year will be very interesting, as Latos and Castro may be on the same rotation in Fort Wayne.
15. Yefri Carvajal, 5'11" 190, OF, Bats: R, Throws: R, Born: January 22, 1989
That Yefri Carvajal ranks this low speaks volumes as to how far this organization as come in the last 2-3 years. Carvajal's power potential is not on par with Blanks' and Dykstra's, but it probably rivals any other Padre prospect. Carvajal is not your prototypical Padre prospect; his patience is developing but still just barely registers. We should know a lot more about Yefri's future-status as a prospect after this season.
16. Eric Sogard, 5'10" 180, 2B, Bats: R, Throws: R, Born: May 22, 1986
Offensively, Eric Sogard is a Dustin Pedroia clone. Eric walks more than he strikes out, hits a ton of doubles, and steals a fair number of bases… Unfortunately, while Dustin is a reliable defensive second baseman, Eric is somewhat less reliable. If Eric can improve defensively, I would expect him to pass Antonelli as Padres' second baseman of the future. In fact, if Sogard was sound defensively, I would rate him 6-8.
17. Wynn Pelzer, 6'1" 200, SP, Bats: R, Throws: R, Born: June 23, 1986
"Hello, nice to meet you. I'm Wynn Pelzer."
Pelzer was a 9th-round pick in the 2007 draft. Thanks to an injury in the Cape Cod League, Wynn was not able to pitch professionally in 2007. Because he wasn't a top draft pick and because he didn't pitch professionally last year, he was unknown even to most prospect mavens. Pelzer's strikeout numbers aren't as strong as I would like, he allowed nearly a hit per inning (which is good, but not dominant), and he allowed a lot of unearned runs (some "unearned" runs are not the pitcher's fault, but others should count, in my opinion). Like others, we'll know more about Wynn after 2009.
18. Cesar Carrillo, 6'3" 180, SP, Bats: R, Throws: R, Born: April 29, 1984
Carrillo is often misused as a data point to criticize the Padres for going after low-risk/low-reward collegiate pitchers. The reality is Carrillo was almost undefeated as collegiate and featured a four-seam fastball that could touch 94-95 and two-seamer that sat around 88-91. He is now recovering from Tommy John surgery and struggling to regain the form that led to his selection as the 18th overall pick in the 2005 draft. If he can regain that form, he has the upside to be a 2nd or 3rd starter in a rotation.
19. Nick Schmidt, 6'5" 220, SP, Bats: L, Throws: L, Born: October 10, 1985
Schmidt, like Carrillo, is recovering from Tommy John surgery. Carrillo is ahead of Schmidt and pitched in 2008, Schmidt did not… Schmidt is currently pitching in winter leagues and expected to be ready to by Spring Training. He features a high-80s to low-90s fastball and good secondary pitches. In college, Schmidt was the "Friday starter" (staff ace) all three years in the underrated (for baseball) SEC. His upside is probably as a third starter – assuming he can make a full recovery (we're more likely to know after 2010 than after 2009).
20. Jonathan Galvez, 6'2" 175, SS, Bats: R, Throws: R, Born: January 18, 1991
Like other Padres middle infielders, there is debate over whether Galvez can stay at his current position. If the bat continues to develop, the Padres will find a spot in the lineup. When you look at Galvez' numbers, keep in mind that the Dominican League is a pitcher-friendly league (mostly because at 17, 18, 19 years old, the pitchers are ahead of the hitters).
21. Cole Figueroa, 5'10" 180, 2B/SS, Bats: L, Throws: R, Born: June 30, 1987
Coming into the 2008 collegiate season, Figueroa was considered a lock first-round pick. He struggled his junior year and the Padres drafted Cole in the 6th-round. He probably profiles better as a second baseman than as a shortstop, but he easily has enough defensive ability to play the keystone. If his bat continues to look like it did in college and in his brief professional debut, the Padres may have another late-round gem.
22. Jeremy Hefner, 6'4" 215, SP, Bats: R, Throws: R, Born: March 11, 1986
Hefner is often the forgotten guy because he wasn't a first-, second-, or third-round pick (quick, who were the last three Padres fifth-round draft picks?) and because he did not attend a major university (Oral Roberts U.) All Hefner does is perform. As a professional, he has a 9.73 K/9 rate, 7.43 H/9 rate, and a 3.56 K/BB rate. His fastball velocity isn't impressive enough to garner top prospect discussion, but all he does is get impressive results.
23. Anthony Bass, 6'2" 180, SP, Bats: R, Throws: R, Born: November 1, 1987
MadFriars.com already posted the interview… But to summarize, Bass watched Lincecum pitch and decided to play around with Lincecum's throwing motion. According to Bass, his fastball velocity rose from 88ish to 94. As a professional in 2008, the Padres used Bass exclusively as a reliever – due to how many innings he had thrown in college. He is scheduled to move back to the rotation in 2009. Expect Bass to make a big jump up this list next year.
24. Evan Scribner, 6'3" 190, RP, Bats: R, Throws: R, Born: July 19, 1985
Scribner was acquired from the Diamondbacks for Tony Clark on July 17. He is exactly the type of reliever Kevin Towers is famous for grabbing. Scribner strikes out more than a hitter per inning (he has a 12.14 career minor league K/9 rate) and doesn't give up many hits (career 6.62 H/9 rate). Scribner began the 2008 season in the Midwest League, but I think he needs less than two seasons until he's ready to relieve for the big league club.
25. Logan Forsythe, 6'1" 195, 3B, Bats: R, Throws: R, Born: January 14, 1987
Coming into the 2008 draft, the Padres wanted to improve the quality of hitters in the system. Forsythe was one of two collegiate third basemen the Padres drafted in the first three rounds (Forsythe in the 2nd round and James Darnell in the 3rd). Part of the allure of each of hitter was that they are athletic enough to move to other positions (rumor is, Forsythe will see time at second base and catcher this off-season).
Peter Friberg has been writing on the Padres' minor leagues for several years most recently on his own site, Padres Rundown; where he breaks down the days stars with some commentary. Those of you that follow his site know the ground rules, where he doesn't give the award to players that are too old for the league or whom he considers "non-prospects", although he is flexible about moving players in and out of that category. Regardless of his opinion or your own, his site is well worth the daily scan for your morning routine.