Although both John and I (it's me, Denis, the bald guy - by choice, mind you) think we do the best job of covering the Padres' minor leagues, we also like to read what others have to say about the system. We asked three of our favoritie writers who also cover the San Diego system to give us their top prospects, using the same criteria that we do; the basis of the rankings, how the differentiate from production versus potential, and, moreover, why they value one player over another.
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.
We also looked at the league competition (pitchers league/hitters league etc…), age of the player compared to the league, their numbers last year, “five tools”, the position they play, leadership on the club, first-hand accounts, interviews from the front office, player interviews, and, of course, some personal favoritism.
Some factors will be weighed more heavily than others depending on the player, and even then there are about 15-to-20 players that one could make a case for being in the to-10, and another 10 players that were left off the list only because of injuries (Nick Schmidt and Matt Bush).
Without further ado:
1) Kellen Kulbacki
The reason Kulbacki shot straight to the top of the charts is pretty simple, the bat. The Padres really don’t have a “polished” five-tool player, but Kulbacki has four of these tools, and excels at them all. After starting the year off slow (hitting only .164/.260/.295/.555 in the MWL), Kulbacki got better as the months passed, culminating with a batting average of .405 in July before a “down” .324 in August which was cut short by injuries. Not only did he destroy Cal League pitching .332/.428/.589/1.017, he annihilated left handed pitching to the tune of .382/.489/.671/1.160. With RISP he hit .356/.451/.711/1.162, which is amazing. Combine those numbers with a solid right field and a good throwing arm and you have yourself a top prospect.
Next Year: Look for Kulbacki to become a household name in San Antonio, as he will be tearing up the Texas League. A call up will probably not be in order, but… look for him to be in PETCO by early 2010.
2) Mat Latos
I thought this year would be his breakout year. We all know that Latos has incredible stuff, with a fastball in the mid-90s, and a lot of places had him as one of the top pitching prospects in baseball. He started the year slowly, going 0-3 in seven games at Fort Wayne, despite having a 3.28 ERA. He did show promise in limited action; 24.2 IP, he had 23 K and 8 BB before injuring his oblique. After dominating in a rehab stint in AZL, the Padres inserted him in short-season Eugene to try and help them finally beat Salem and get into the playoffs. Latos dominated in three starts, going 2-0 with a 1.04 ERA in 17.1 IP, 23 K, 1.56 BB/9 IP, and 11.94 K/9. His overall numbers for the year (between AZL, Eugene, and Ft Wayne) 3-3, 2.57 ERA, 56 IP, 49 H, 13 BB, 69 K.
Next Year: We’re looking forward to seeing what Latos can do in the hitter friendly Cal League next year, and he should get a midseason call-up to the next level.
3) Kyle Blanks
Blanks could have easily been #1 on this list because 1) He wasn’t injured and 2) He didn’t have an off year. He had a tremendous year in San Antonio and is only 21. He was both a mid-season and post-season Texas League All-Star, Texas League Player of the Month for August, and was the final Player of the Week. In fact, in that week, he was 19-for-33 (.576) with 8 RS, 3 2B, 3 HR, and 15 RBI (9 in one game). All of the above things indicate that he should be #1, but there was one thing that dropped him down to third, his lefty-righty splits. He mashed against righties (.348/.430/.547/.977) but struggled against lefties (.238/.294/.386/.680).
Next Year: If all things stay the same, Triple-A Portland. Not only will he be the starting first baseman, but with Adrian a mainstay in San Diego, look for him to stay in Portland and contend for league MVP.
4) Matt Antonelli
Going into the year, Antonelli was ranked as the #2 prospect in the Padres organization, and the best second base prospect in baseball (by Scout.com). Despite a rough year in Triple-A, I still have him ranked fourth solely on what he did last year from what I’ve read in interviews with and about him and seeing him on the field with the Padres. Antonelli was also the youngest prospects on the Beavers roster this past season, and in August hit .290/.391/.473/864 with 4 HR and two stolen bases, showing everyone what he could be capable of in San Diego.
Next Year: By the end of the year he should end up the Padres’ starting second baseman. They may start Travis Denker, but either way he will be in San Diego for a majority of ‘08.
5) Cedric Hunter
Hunter is an interesting case. Two years ago he lit up the AZL (league MVP), and was viewed as a top 3 prospect. Last year in the hard to hit Midwest League, he struggled, or at least didn’t excel. This year was a redemption year for Hunter, hitting .318/.362/.442/ in the Cal League and even better with RISP .406/.432/.594/1.026. He hit over .300 for every month of the year except June (.273), hit over .300 vs. lefties and righties, both home and away, day and night. The even better news is that he improved on his BB:K ratio (nearly 1:1), he also had more steals (12) and HR (11). Defensively he is a gazelle, great first step and just glides to the ball effortlessly. He accomplished this all while still not being able to legally drink (20 years old). Honestly the only reason why he’s not ranked higher is the surplus of great talent in the organization. Also for a centerfielder, who doesn’t hit for great power, I’d like to see a few more stolen bases. But considering the way he has played this past year, no complaints.
Next Year: Double-A San Antonio here we come. If he can put up similar numbers next year as he did this year, he will be knocking on the Padres door.
6) Jaff Decker
What is not to like? AZL League MVP (same as Hunter), had over a .500 OBP, more walks than strikeouts, basically what didn’t he do. Despite looking like P-Mac, for an 18-year-old, this guy has the moxy of an MLB vet. Very polished, is showing the ability to hit for average (.352), power (18 extra base hits, .541 SLG), OBP (.523, 55 BB, 36 K), speed (9 SB/1 CS), and can play all three outfield spots with an above average arm (can touch 92 mph on the gun off of the mound).
Next Year: If it was four years ago and Decker hit like he did, I’d imagine he would be in Lake Elsinore to start the season. But because of guys like Carvajal, Carroll, Tekotte, Robertson, and Perry, it’s a safe bet that you will see him in the Frozen Tundra that is the Midwest League (although I expect a midseason call up).
7) Wade LeBlanc
Leblanc had a tale of two seasons. His overall numbers (11-9, 5.32 ERA) are not that great for a top prospect, even when factoring the PCL being a great hitters league, but there are indications that he could become much better. When he was with the Padres in September, reports were that San Diego pitching coach Darren Balsley was coaching him on how to alter his arm angle on his changeup and avoid tipping off hitters. He ended the 1st half of the season at 7-7 6.46 ERA, 94 IP, 37 BB, 93 K. As the year wore on, like every other prospect above, he improved. His post All-Star numbers were fantastic. LeBlanc went 4-2, 2.86 ERA, 44 IP, 30 H, 5 BB, 46 K, hitters were hitting just .191 against him and he had over a 9:1 K:BB ratio which is INSANE. (And the only reason why his 2nd half numbers were even that bad is because he had one bad start where he gave up 8 ER in 6 IP). In fact, he probably had the best start of the year for Portland on Aug 2, going 8 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 11 K. He’s playing in the majors right now, and I seem him staying.
Next Year: A lot depends on what the Padres do in the offseason. The injury to Geer helps his chances of making the rotation, as does the prospect of trading Peavy. If he does start in Triple-A, he will not stay there long.
8) Will Inman
Inman is another one in line with Antonelli. Last year, he was ranked as the 41st best prospect in baseball (18th best pitcher), this year he was off the list. He was, however, both a midseason and postseason All-Star in the Texas League. He is another guy that is rather young for the league at twenty-one. Even with an “off year”, he still led the league in K’s (140) and was 4th in ERA (3.52). He also held batters to a .234 BAA. In fact his pre All-Star break numbers were fantastic (8-3, 2.96 ERA, 2 CG, 85 IP, 92 K, .206 BAA). His post-break numbers were far from good, going 1-5 with a 4.47 ERA. It seemed that he was partially hampered with injuries, and that was none more apparent in the walks he gave up (71 in 135 IP compared to 58 in 160 IP last year). The Padres still have high hopes for him, and I think he will end up being a solid #3 pitcher and similar to Chris Young.
Next year: I was thinking he would be promoted to Triple-A and help anchor that rotation, especially with Garrison out till June, but it seems John and Dennis are saying that he will stay in Double-A.
9) Mitch Canham
Offensively, he is far and away the top catching prospect in the Padres organization. Hit .285/.382/.434/.816 with 8 HR and 13 SB while walking 66 times to 73 K. Defensively, he is very raw. He threw out only 18.6 percent of runners (30-161), and led the league in passed balls. From the few games I saw, however, he had more trouble catching the fastball than the curveball in the dirt. He gets very low, and people in the Padres organization think he will turn into an average defensive catcher. Combine that with what he can do offensively and you have a top 10 prospect.
Next Year: He will be the everyday starting catcher in Double-A San Antonio. He spent time in the instructional league so an improvement there could equate to more starts.
10) Allan Dykstra
When I saw him play in August my 1st impression was, “paint him green and call him the hulk, this guy is massive.” He was the Padres 1st-round draft pick in 2008 and most of this ranking is based more on what he did in college and what the front office believes him to be rather than production. His college numbers are impressive, as he basically led the Deacons in every offensive category, and among the ACC leaders in HR, OBP, and BB. His numbers did go down slightly from the year before but that had more to do with the lineup around him than his performance. From what management is saying we could easily see another massive 1B.
Next Year: This one is tough as you generally don’t see a draft pick start his first full season in Double-A. I think one of the reasons they put him in LE was because of Felix Carrasco’s presence in Ft Wayne. And with the staff wanting Carrasco to play everyday in Lake Elsinore, I’m guessing there is a good chance he is the starting 1B/DH in San Antonio.
11) Drew Cumberland
If Cumberland could have a solid arm at short, he would easily be a top ten prospect. He is basically what the Padres want in a shortstop; he hits for a high average - .286 is tough in the MWL, and is incredibly quick, 16 stolen bases in 56 games. He is also only 19 and playing against people 3-4 years older than him. The reason why he is not there just yet is that he was injured for most of the second half of the year, and is far from accurate with his throws. There were talks earlier in 2008 about moving him to CF, but Fuson reported that he will now stay at short.
Next Year: Despite the errors, Cumberland will be the starting shortstop in Lake Elsinore next year. If he can show solid defense, he can stay at short or he could move to second to make way for Lance Zawadzki, who took over for him last year in Fort Wayne when he was injured. A strong year will mean a lot for this high ceiling prospect.
12) Yefri Carvajal
A top 10 ranking a year ago, Carvajal didn’t really do anything bad. He was just passed up by added depth and not having a great year. He was only 19, but we all kind of expected more (even if it was in a bad hitters league in Ft Wayne)
Next Year: Carvajal will get a chance to redeem himself more than likely going to Lake Elsinore. There is a chance that he stays in Fort Wayne, but with Robertson/Carroll/Tekotte/Dacker all contending for a spot, I think he gets the promotion.
13) Chad Huffman
Coming into this year, Huffman was a top ten talent in the Padres system. In fact, he was named as one of the potential breakout prospects of the year, but unfortunately his numbers didn’t warrant the ranking. The Texas League is tough for power hitters, but after hitting seven home runs in forty-three games in Double-A in 07’, he had only nine in 119 games this year. The good news, however, was that he did hit .284/.383/.419/ overall. Combine that with a good BB/K ratio (67/83) and you have a guy who is still a solid prospect.
Next Year: Huffman will go from pitcher’s park to hitter’s park as he moves to Triple-A. If he can continue his solid BA and OBP numbers and combine that with much needed power, he can regain his top prospect status.
14) Luis Durango
Durango is a very intriguing prospect. What he does, he does really well, and that’s get on base. Last year, he won the batting title in Eugene (.367) and was named co-MVP, This year, he was in Ft Wayne and led the team in hitting (.305) would have finished in the top 10 (not enough at-bats). He was promoted to Lake Elsinore and didn’t stop getting on base. He hit a ridiculous .431/.506/.514/1.020. He is another “Padres-type” prospect, as he had 62 BBs to 50 Ks over the year. He also had 15 SB, and has a lot of speed both on the base paths and in the outfield. The downside, and the reason he is ranked 14th, is that in over 400 ABs, he only had 20 extra base hits (1 HR). He also has a Juan Pierre arm, which normally limits him to LF. As he moves up in leagues it seems like the power will not be there, but the speed, average, and OBP could be enough to make him well…Juan Pierre
Next Year: Another tough decision that the Padres have to make. There is a chance that they move him up to Double-A, but with only 17 games in High-A, I’m guessing they give him at least a couple more months in Lake Elsinore.
15) Adys Portillo
Normally I would never consider putting a guy who has never thrown one pitch in professional baseball anywhere on the rankings let alone 15th. But this kid looks like “some kind of nice.” In the instructional league this year he wowed the Padres players and brass, and it appears that this 16-year-old is on the fast track to the majors.
Next Year: He is only 16, but from what I here, they think he can be a Padre in three years, so my guess is that means he is playing stateside, probably in the AZL when he turns 17.
16) Drew Macias
Jumped back on the prospect map after a lackluster 2007. Even though at 25 he was old for the Texas League, he was a force with the bat and the glove. Entering the 2008 campaign was thought of as the best defensive outfielder in the Padres system as well as having an above average arm. The question was always the bat. This year .288/.393/.423/.816, 42 extra base hits, 18 SB, and more BB (83) to K (81), all in the Petco like Texas League.
Next Year: Will be the starting CF in Portland, provided Venable is not in Portland also, and unless the Padres trade for an MLB ready outfielder he will probably be the first outfielder recalled from Portland (ETA June).
17) Dan Robertson
NWL MVP and set a new single season hits record in the league. Not to mention he stole twenty bases, had as many walks as strikeouts (34), plays an above average CF and led the team in most categories. The only reason he is not ranked higher is that it seems to be a popular opinion in the front office that he was playing WAY over his head. That may be, but you put up those type of numbers, it merits a ranking.
Next Year: Time to see if it was a flash in the pan or the real deal. He will be Fort Wayne’s leadoff hitter, so if he can do nearly as well as he did this year, he can go from lucky to breakout prospect.
18) Cesar Carrillo
Former #1 pick, had great stuff before Tommy John called. Call me an optimist, but I think that this year will be his breakout year, as he finally returns to his previous form. (Hence the high ranking). He has recently been clocked at 86-88, which is a really bad sign. Carrillo needs to get the arm strength and speed back in his pitches. This might have been achieved as his last start (11/4/08) he pitched 2 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 6 K.
Next Year: Make or break year for Carrillo. He will likely go to Double-A, and a strong year could put him back to his former glory as a top 5 prospect.
19) Jeremy Hefner
10-5 in Ft Wayne, 140 IP, 144 K and at 6-foot-4, 215 lbs, he dominated the competition. Doesn’t really have the stuff of a dominant pitcher, so it will be a question as to whether or not he can keep up this pace. Best case scenario, he makes a mid rotation starter in the bigs, at worst…he is another Josh Geer/Justin Germano, either way he is a solid prospect.
Next Year: Time to move to the hitter’s league that is Lake Elsinore. He could be the anchor of a solid High-A rotation.
20) Jeremy McBryde
The kid has great stuff, a low to mid-9’s fastball and pinpoint control. Despite the high ERA and 8-9 record his 158/24 K/BB ratio is outstanding. The only reason he is as low as he is because of the numbers, and a lack of a quality secondary pitch. He has a tendency to just pump fastballs in hope of throwing it past people, which will not work over a full game. The Padre brass worked on teaching him a change, which is turning into a great pitch to compliment the fastball.
Next Year: We will be seeing him up the I-15 at the Diamond in Lake Elsinore and he could do much better than last year.
21) Will Venable
The front office is in love with him, and he didn’t disappoint as his power numbers almost doubled. His seven stolen bases, though, are a bit of a letdown after 21 in Double-A the year before.
Next Year: No idea. He could probably use another year in Triple-A but could also be the Padres opening day CF.
22) James Darnell
A 2008 signee who, like Dykstra, didn’t sign until mid-August. But when he did…wow. He hit .373/.462/.582/1.044 in short-season Eugene, although it was in only 67 at-bats, I liked what I saw. Additionally, the 11BB/12 K ratio will make the front office ecstatic.
Next Year: Tough call. He was the top 3B the Padres drafted, so he would have the inside track on starting in Fort Wayne. But they may also put him in Lake Elsinore, splitting time with Justin Baum who had a great year in Fort Wayne.
23) Sawyer Carroll
Another 2008 draft pick, he was the anchor of the Ems lineup. At the time of his promotion to Ft Wayne, he led the Ems, and was in the top three of the Northwest league, in almost all offensive categories including home runs (8) extra-base hits (25), triples (3), RBI’s (39), runs scored (41), OBP, SLG, and OPS. He struggled in Fort Wayne, but I’m not too worried about that
Next Year: I’m going to say Lake Elsinore, just because the Fort Wayne outfield really struggled this year, outside of Carvajal. A hitter’s league,will show us what Carroll can do.
24) Eric Sogard
Seemingly every hitter in the Cal League put up amazing numbers and Sogard is no exception. Hit over .300 and is another front office choice as he had 79 walks to 62 strikeouts Solid defense plus great offensive hitting skyrocketed him onto the charts.
Next Year: He will be the Double-A second baseman and combined with Antonelli’s struggles could find him as the #1 prospect at that position if he keeps it up. A lot of that will depend on his play in the pitcher friendly environment of the Texas League.
25) Felix Carrasco
Fort Wayne All-Star; home run derby champ; has the best pure power in the organization (maybe 2nd to Blanks). The only reason he is not higher is a tale of two halves. 1st half: .258/.319//493/.812, 12 HR, 19 BB, 85 K. 2nd half :.212/.359/.296/.655 4 HR, 40 BB, 77 K. Aside from the walks, everything went down in the last few months. It has me worried that someone is tampering with him, causing him to walk more and lose a lot of his power.
Next Year: Will be Lake Elsinore’s starting 1B. Let’s hope the power is back, and the strikeouts go down.
26) Steve Garrison
Not the most impressive season, as he went 7-7, with a 3.82 ERA. But only 37 BB in 130 IP is very good. His rotator cuff surgery is a bit alarming, but I am confident that he will recover nicely and end up being a solid mid rotation starter.
Next Year: If/When he gets healthy it will not be till June/July. Hopefully he can rehab and join the Triple-A rotation in late June.
27) Blake Tekotte
Recently named Instructional League MVP. Was a late signing last year but still got into 47 games, hitting .285/.379/.456/.835 7 SB, 15 2B, 6 HR. All this while playing an above average CF. The front office loves this kid, as with Venable, and thinks he has the power and speed to be a 20-20 guy in the majors while playing an above average CF. The bar is high on him.
Next Year: More than likely will start in the outfield in Fort Wayne. It might be a crowded OF between Tekotte, Robertson, and Decker, all ranked in my top 30, and all can play an above average CF, and of the three, Tekotte has the best chance to be pushed to Lake Elsinore, but we will see.
28) Matt Buschmann
I really wanted to rank him higher. In fact, he went 10-6 with a 2.98 ERA and 118 K in AA. He is another in the long range of sinker-slider guys that the Padres seem to love. They throw strikes, top out in the upper-80s, and seem to look amazing on paper. I think he still has the chance to be a MLB player (or else he wouldn’t be ranked), I just compare him to Justin Germano or Josh Geer, which explains the ranking.
Next Year: We will see if he is an AAAA player or a big leaguer. He will be in a hitter’s league in the PCL. If he can do well here, he might be one of the first call ups to the big show.
29) Wynn Pelzer
Here is a prospect that, if healthy, could have found himself a good 14 spots higher, in fact I am sure a lot of my colleagues will. He had the lowest ERA of any starter in Fort Wayne (3.19) and has a low-90s fastball with great movement, also allowed fewer hits than IP, and had over a 3:1 K/BB ratio. He missed all of 07’ with an injury, and I am not overly optimistic that he will stay healthy, but if he does, he could become a solid #3 starter as well.
Next Year: He will join Hefner, and McBryde in Lake Elsinore, which, if you add Latos, will be a great rotation.
30) Robert Lara
Post season All-Star in the AZL where he hit .344/.490/.484/.974 in 49 games. He had a 37/30 BB/K ratio, a favorite statistic of management. He surprised everyone as being this good, and everyday I looked at the boxscores it was Lara and Decker leading the charge for the AZL Padres.
Next Year: Lara will be the starting catcher in Fort Wayne, although will probably split time with a higher draft pick Adam Zornes. He needs a good year to prove that it wasn’t a fluke.
There are also a few prospects that I think would have made the list (in some cases top 10) had they actually been healthy for the entire year.
1) Matt Bush- A fastball between 96-98, with an above average changeup and curve (maybe it’s a slider). If he was healthy and played the season, he should have been top 10. 2009: I believe they still want to make him a reliever, so that he can climb through the charts faster. The question is where do they put him? My guess is they start him in Lake Elsinore (so they can monitor him closely), than after he proves himself is moved up to Double-A San Antonio.
2) Nick Schmidt- 2007 1st round pick Schmidt was the #2 SEC pitcher in the draft behind David Price, who everyone saw pitch in the World Series this year. A big solid lefty who throws around 88-92 mph for the fastball, but his best pitch is by far the changeup. He is coming off elbow reconstruction surgery and missed all of 08’. Many project him to be a mid-rotation starter, and I think the Padres would gladly take that. Look for him (if healthy) to begin in Fort Wayne and will hopefully end up in Lake Elsinore if all goes well.
3) Euclides Viloria- A young Lefty who is only 19. In 2007, he fanned 73 in 54.1 IP (AZL). Still has control problems, and missed the entire 2008 campaign due to injury. If he is healthy in 2009 will be a great boost and rebound probably in Eugene.
4) Logan Forsythe- Got hurt in the first week of pro ball. Forsythe is a great athlete and hitter. He was able to come back at the end of last year but wasn’t quite 100%.
Note: Normally the front office doesn’t promote nearly as much midseason promotions as I have projected. A lot of the call-ups are for former high round draft picks (Schmidt, Bush, etc…) and the front office has a slight sense of urgency in getting these players through the system and showing to the fans that the picks were not a mistake. (Also Matt Bush is on the 40 man roster so as not to be drafted in the Rule V)
Ben Davey covers the San Diego minor league system for Friar Forecast, a website that takes a sabermetric approach to the team. He takes a slightly different approach from his colleagues on Friar Forecast in that he attempts to blend statistics and traditional scouting to predict who could be the next big thing for the Padres.
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