Top 30 San Diego Padres Prospects of 2010

Jaff Decker

Ranking prospects is always the highlight for anyone that covers a major league team's minor league system, in this case the San Diego Padres, and while it is the most viewed and discussed, it is also the most misunderstood.

These lists are more about a grouping of top prospects right now; it's a fluid process. All of the players can move up and down pretty quickly depending on how well they adjust to better competition and their ability to stay away from injuries.

Why are all these lists really a false hierarchy? Mainly because the criteria one player is being evaluated on is different from another. What makes a player a solid prospect at second could change if he is forced to move to third or the outfield. While a corner outfielder may do everything that is asked of him, a potential #2 major league starter still may rank higher because of the premium value put on pitching.

The minor leagues themselves are divided into three very different categories, short-season, where the emphasis is much more on potential than actual production, A-ball leagues which is a hybrid of numbers and age related potential, and finally the upper levels, Double-A and Triple-A, where the potential question is about whether a player will be able to replicate what he is doing in San Antonio or Portland at the major league level.

Someone who may be at the top one year, as Ced Hunter was last year for MadFriars.com, could be much further down the list for an inability to make adjustments and rise to the competition. What makes a player dominant at one of the three levels may not necessarily translate to the next.

So is the top guy in the upper divisions the top prospect? No, because many times scouts and analysts believe a player in the lower levels has the potential to do even better. Keep in mind what is unknown, however, always appears brighter than reality.

In essence, this is not an apples-to-apples comparison; all of the players are at different points in their careers. How well they rise or fall will be based upon their ability to improve upon parts of their game that have allowed them to reach the point where they are. What carries the most value is the players potential to make an impact in the major leagues.

The best way to read this ranking, or really any listing of prospects, is try to find what the players do well and what they need to improve upon; which could cause them to go up and down the system. The rankings represent a snapshot or a point in time for the value of the players. As anyone who has followed the Padres' organization knows, this could be a very different list next year.

This year there is a pretty good separation from Castro, Decker and Darnell to the rest of the players. It doesn't mean any of the players that are on the list, or not on the list, could not surpass the top three, but right now Castro, Decker and Darnell have done the most to place themselves in the best position. Still, all three have parts of their games that they need to improve to keep moving up.

1. Simon Castro – RHP/SP

After Mat Latos, Castro was the best pure pitching prospect in the Padres' system in 2009. The 6-foot-5 Dominican has always had a big fastball, but now has a much better idea of where it is going along with command of a good slider and developing changeup. The result? This year, he led the Midwest League in strikeouts with 157 in 140.1 innings against only 37 walks. He had a WHIP (walks plus hits per innings pitched) of only 1.10, which was good enough for second in the league.

2010: As good as Castro was this year, he is not as developed as Mat Latos was and will take some more time to reach the majors. The California League is brutal on pitchers, but Castro has top of the rotation potential and his two-seam fastball is a challenge to any hitter. He has improved by leaps and bounds every season, and this year could be the big breakthrough. The key for him this year is the continued development of his changeup.

2. Jaff Decker – OF

Throughout his life, people have always doubted that Decker is the same guy that put up all those numbers. Each time, he has responded by being among the best everywhere he has played. This year was no exception, as the 19-year-old led the Midwest League in on-base percentage and finished second in slugging percentage while hitting .299, which was good enough to finish in the top 10 of the league in batting average. An underrated fielder, he held his own in left field and has the arm to play right.

2010: In the thin air and hard infields of the California League, he may put up some staggering offensive numbers, particularly in a park like the Diamond that favors left-handed hitters. He has a thick frame, but is aware that his fitness level will determine what his future will hold. A truly advanced hitter that is a much better all-around player than given credit for.

3. James Darnell – 3B

Another product of a very strong 2008 draft, Darnell destroyed the Midwest League before inflicting similar damage in the Cal League. He had a better OBP in the Midwest League at .448 but hit with more power in the Cal League with a slugging percentage of .553. Darnell is another example of the type of hitter San Diego is attempting to develop – patience and power. The big question is will he be able to stay at third? If not, he has the arm for right field.

2010: Should begin the year in San Antonio, the toughest place to hit in the organization - and really just about anywhere in the minors - particularly for right-handed hitters. While the jump to Double-A is always the biggest in the minors, Darnell is also going to have to prove that he can handle the third base position defensively.

4. Cory Luebke – LHP/SP

A big step forward for the lefty, rebounding from a disappointing 2008 campaign. Luebke dominated the Cal League and was the starting pitcher for the California-Carolina League All-Star game. In Lake Elsinore, he struck out 80 against only 17 walks in 88.1 innings for a 2.34 ERA. While he wasn't as effective in the Texas League, he still allowed less hits than innings pitched and his 3.70 ERA was inflated by two bad outings in his nine starts. The 6-foot-4 Luebke relies on a good two-seam fastball that comes in around 89-92, mixed in with a slider and improving change. He doesn't have a true plus pitch, but he keeps the ball down and commands his fastball.

2010: He should start the year in San Antonio, and with improved mechanics and growing confidence, he may have a shot to be in San Diego by mid-season. He profiles as more of #3 or #4 starter.

5. Logan Forsythe – 3B

A huge year in Lake Elsinore, which was essentially his first year in professional baseball. The former Razorback had 24 extra-base hits and 61 walks in 66 games as he reached base at a .472 clip. Promoted in mid-season, his power slowed down in the Texas League, especially at home where he hit .246/.324/.323. A good athlete he can also play second, but third is his best position.

2010: With Darnell behind him, it's likely he will begin the season in Portland where he should spend the full year. A solid all-around player, the only real question about him is if he can hit for enough power to stick at the hot corner.

6. Lance Zawadzki – SS

Zawadzki took as big a step forward as any Padres' farmhand, starting to show the potential five-tool talent that the switch-hitting shortstop possesses. Eighteen extra base hits and a .360 OBP in 36 games caught everyone's attention in the Cal League before his promotion to San Antonio, where he continued to hit, finishing among the team leaders in extra-base hits and on-base percentage. Notable for Zawadzki – his defense picked up quite a bit from last year.

2010: He'll turn 25 next year, so he will be slightly old for the minor leagues, but by the end of the year, he could be the best candidate to take over for David Eckstein in 2011 at second base.

7. Aaron Poreda – LHP/SP

The massive lefty at 6-foot-6 and 240-pounds with a mid-90s fastball. The big problem is he frequently doesn't know where it's going and doesn't have the secondary stuff to pitch effectively as a major league starter right now. The number of lefties that are his size with his raw stuff, however, are rare, and his previous minor league numbers indicate that he does have better control than he exhibited this year, where he walked 37 batters in 32.2 innings in Portland.

2010: He should begin the year in Portland after the team works with him on a plethora of mechanical issues. Despite the challenge, if they can get his command back with some mediocre secondary pitches, he has top of the rotation potential; but that is a very big "if".

8. Edinson Rincon – 3B

A huge year for an 18-year-old in a predominately college league. The most impressive aspect of Rincon was his patience, which is not often seen in a young Latin American player. Rincon had a .415 on-base percentage and showed big power potential. The big downside on him was 22 errors in 70 games.

2010: The cold weather and the uneven infields of the Midwest League will be a challenge for the young Dominican, but he has as much ability as anyone in the Padres' system. He's a long-term project and the defense causes some questions about where he will eventually end up, but the offensive potential is as bright as anyone.

9. Wynn Pelzer – RHP/SP

Pelzer is the one pitcher that everyone in the system believes is going to be much better than he has shown so far, and so far, what he has shown is pretty good. In Lake Elsinore, he struck out nearly a batter an inning and had a 147/59 K/BB ratio. Pelzer has a very good sinking fastball and biting slider but how far his changeup comes along will determine how quickly he can make the majors.

2010: He could put up some great numbers in San Antonio, which is heaven for right-handed pitchers. If Pelzer can continue to solidify his mechanics and develop an effective off-speed pitch, he could be in San Diego next year. The big question is will it be as a starter or out of the pen?

10. Sawyer Carroll – OF

Carroll made the biggest jump of anyone in the Padres' organization going from Fort Wayne all the way to San Antonio. The left-handed hitting Carroll began using more of the whole field, and the team believes that more power will show up this year as he becomes more comfortable with what he incorporated into his game during 2009. He has a decent arm and can play either right or left and may have moved into the best position of any corner outfielder to challenge for a big league job.

2010: As noted, San Antonio is a brutal place to hit, but it is a little easier for left-handed hitters. A good first half could lead to a promotion to Portland and maybe some major league opportunities. He has the potential for much more power than we saw this year.

11. Eric Sogard – 2B

Sogard is not someone that is going to wow anyone at first glance, but if you watch him play and see the professional at-bats that he takes and the end result, he is impressive. He hit .293 with a .370 OBP and finished second on San Antonio in extra-base hits. Defensively, there are some questions about his range and ability to turn the pivot on the double play, but he is a very solid player.

2010: Sogard should be at second in Portland next year, but the continuing struggles of Padres' first round pick Matt Antonelli could complicate things. If given a chance, he could be in a horse race with Zawadski for the big club's starting second baseman in 2011.

12. Jeremy McBryde – RHP/SP

Before hurting his back, McBryde was well on his way to proving he was the most talented hurler on the Lake Elsinore staff. The big Oklahoma native relies on a very heavy sinker that he throws in the low-90s with an improving slider and change. He struck out 82 batters in 75.1 innings against only 19 walks and controlled the number of hits allowed per inning to 72. Throw out the one ridiculous outing at the toy ball park in High Desert where he allowed 11 earned runs and 13 hits in 4.2 innings and he was even more impressive.

2010: If healthy, he should be the most dominant pitcher on San Antonio's staff. If he can continue the development of his ability to change speeds, he profiles as a solid #3 starter and could be better than every pitcher in the organization with the exception of Castro.

13. Drew Cumberland – SS

If he had been able to stay on the field more, Cumberland may have been the most improved Padres' minor league player. He put on 10 pounds of solid weight and improved his arm strength with some mechanical adjustments to his throwing motion. Possibly the best athlete in the system, the former Florida State defensive backfield recruit has more range than any other shortstop in the system and has some pop at the plate.

2010: If he's healthy, he could put up some big numbers in the high desert air of Cal League stadiums. The big question is his ability to stay on the field.

14. Rymer Liriano – OF

A specimen; pure and simple. Liriano is a true five-tool player and put up some blazing numbers this year in the Arizona Rookie League, hitting .350/.398/.523. The only real area of concern is 52 strikeouts in 249 plate appearances. Defensively, he is more of a corner outfielder, but does have the ability to play center field. Only 18, he is very much someone to watch.

2010: Despite the number of young talented outfielders the Padres have, they may decide to push Liriano to Fort Wayne for 2010 if they are confident he has improved his plate discipline from last year.

15. Adys Portillo – RHP/SP

Portillo was the team's big bonus baby in 2008 that helped to cement the team's growing importance within Latin American. Only 17, he flashed plus stuff, but also caught too much of the plate, which was evident in a 1-9 record and 5.13 ERA. Still, it's important to remember he was only the equivalent of a high school senior facing much better competition than he ever had before.

2010: This is another long-range project, and we should see noticeable improvement next year after a bout in extended spring and then onto Eugene.

16. Keyvius Sampson – RHP/SP

Many believed that Sampson was a borderline first-round pick, and San Diego was extremely happy to see him still around in the third-round of this year's draft. Sampson has a very live arm with a fastball that moves in the strike zone. As with many young pitchers, the key is to get a little more consistency with his mechanics and better secondary pitches, but there is a lot to like.

2010: Despite a late signing, the team was aggressive with Sampson, giving him a taste of Eugene at the end of the year. Depending on how the spring counts and what the new farm director's philosophy is on innings for high school arms, he could start the year in Fort Wayne.

17. Everett Williams – OF

Another high 2009 draftee that was able to get in some games at the end of the year. Williams is an athletic left-handed hitting center fielder that showed some ability in the AZL and was also promoted to Eugene at the end of the year. The speedy Williams has been compared to Michael Bourne with more power.

2010: He'll start the year in frigid Fort Wayne, always a big test for young players from warm weather states. Depending on what the team determines to do with Donavan Tate, he'll either be in center or left.

18. Jerry Sullivan – RHP/SP

The Padres have had some luck getting pitching out of Oklahoma with McBryde and Jeremy Hefner, and Sullivan was no exception. At 6-foot-4 and 220-pounds, Sullivan pressed a little at first before settling down in August with a 3.54 ERA and 34 strikeouts in 28 innings. He needs to tighten up his breaking ball and change, but he does throw a nice 90-94 mph fastball.

2010: Normally he would have a shot at being in Lake Elsinore next year, but better depth should have him begin the year in Fort Wayne with a possibility of being in Lake Elsinore by the half.

19. Luis Durango – OF

Durango, as the three-time batting champion of the Dominican Summer League, Arizona Rookie League, and Northwest League, has always been well known to followers of the team's minor league system but this a late season promotion to the major league club caught many others attention as well. Durango is easily the fastest player in the Padres' organization and has a very good eye, a .390 OBP and walked more times (81) than he struck out (71) while hitting .281. His two biggest concerns is that he will have to improve his stolen base percentage, 44 out of 61 and show more power, only 11 extra base hits in 537 plate appearances. His defense has improved quite a bit and he now has the arm to play a serviceable center.

2010: He should begin the year as the everyday center fielder and lead-off man for Portland. If he can get a little stronger and hit more balls into the gaps, he could be someone to watch.

20. Blake Tekotte – CF

Maybe the best defensive center fielder in the Padres' system, he survived two miserable months in the beginning of the season to put up some good offensive numbers by the end of the year. Tekotte led all Midwest League outfielders in total chances and putouts, and his defense was a big reason for the TinCaps success. He finished second on the team in extra-base hits, and as he continues to hone some mechanical issues, he could put up better offensive numbers.

2010: Tekotte should thrive in the Cal League, which not only is a hitter's paradise but the Diamond tends to favor left-handed hitters. The key for him will be to not try to do too much at the plate, which got him in trouble early last year.

21. Aaron Breit – RHP/SP

Breit has always been one of the more talented players in the system, and although he always threw hard and for strikes, the big question is where he threw strikes. This year he had 110 strikeouts in 107.2 innings against only 45 walks. At 6-foot-4, Breit has good size and has always had the big fastball, but throwing more inside and trusting his curveball and changeup led to his best year yet.

2010: Regardless of a 2-6 record, there is much to like with anyone of his size and ability that appears to be on the brink of putting it altogether. It's very difficult to predict what he may or may not do this year with his ability and previous track record, but he has the type of ability that is certainly worth an opportunity to find out.

22. Chad Huffman – OF

A long time favorite of Grady Fuson, Huffman has never really put up the overall type of season many believe is within his potential. At Portland this year, he put up solid numbers, leading the team in extra base hits, walks, and RBI while smacking 20 home runs. He really was two different players, however, for much of the year. In May/August and the first week of September, he hit .324/.433/.546 while in April/June and July it was .221/.294/.403.

2010: He should get another opportunity in Portland, mainly because there aren't a whole lot of other alternatives. He has some talent, but his path to the big leagues is narrow because there are some questions about his power and his ability to play a position other than left field.

23. Brad Brach – RHP/RP

The most important statistic for a closer is the number of saves in save opportunities, and this year, Brach was 33-for-34. The 6-foot-6 Brach, 23, is not a power pitcher, but instead relies upon a lethal mix of sliders and splitters with the occasional well-placed four-seamer. Brach has the perfect temperament for the bullpen, and with his ability to throw his slider and splitter for strikes, he could go places. The biggest negative on him is that he doesn't have a real power pitch – something most closers possess.

2010: Lake Elsinore is a big proving ground for talented college pitchers, but Brach who throws everything around the knees has a good chance to succeed in this environment.

24. Cole Figueroa – 2B/SS

Figueroa comes from a baseball background and was one of the more polished players in the organization this year. Capable of playing either shortstop or second, the team kept him at second for most of the year in Fort Wayne where he impressed the organization. They raved about his range, athleticism and ability to put the ball into the gaps. There are some questions about how much power he has and if his knee will hold up over a full year, but there is much to like.

2010: He will team up with Cumberland to form one of the more athletic double play tandems in the Cal League.

25. Anthony Bass – RHP/SP

Bass was one of the Padres best pitchers this year, going 12-3 between Fort Wayne and Lake Elsinore. The former Wayne State star is not the biggest of guys, nor does he have a singular dominating pitch, but he throws four pitches effectively and keeps the opposition off-balance.

2010: He should begin the year in Lake Elsinore where he thrived in limited innings last year. Because he doesn't have a dominating pitch, guys like this are hard to project. The one thing that is apparent is that his performance has earned him an opportunity to show what he can do at the next level.

26. Cedric Hunter – CF/LF

Hunter was MadFriars.com's top prospect last year and had a tough season, hitting .261/.294/.331 in Double-A. His biggest strength is his greatest weakness; superior hand-eye coordination, which allows him to get his bat on many balls that others can't, but also gives him a lot of weak contact by hitting pitcher's pitches. The result? Twenty eight extra-base hits and 25 walks in 566 plate appearances. He started to make some changes late in the year and this could bode well for next year.

2010: Although he had a bad year statistically, Hunter still has a world of talent and is very young. The key is whether he will be able to make the necessary adjustments to get on base more and send more balls into the gap? If he can't, it's hard to see him making the majors. He should begin the year in San Antonio in 2010.

27. Dexter Carter – RHP/SP

Carter was one of the four super-size pitchers that came over in the Jake Peavy trade from the White Sox. While he struggled in Fort Wayne, he thrived in the South Atlantic League with Kannapolis where the 6-foot-6 Carter struck out 143 in 118 innings against only 32 walks with a 3.13 ERA. He has a fastball that sits in the low-90s and can hit the mid-90s occasionally. He has a solid curve and a developing changeup.

2010: The Padres and the Storm hope the pitcher that shows up in 2010 was the one in Kannapolis, not Fort Wane. At 23, he has the raw stuff and size to make a big leap in the coming season.

28. James Needy – RHP/SP

Another big pitcher that the Padres now have in their system from the 2009 draft. Needy was a sixth-round local draft pick out of Santee High School and performed well in limited time in the Arizona League. The 6-foot-6 Needy has a body that is still filling out, but he has good velocity, and with most young pitchers needs to tighten up his secondary pitches.

2010: He has a good chance of starting the season in Fort Wayne where the organization will carefully monitor his innings. A good prospect but very much a long-range project.

29. Craig Cooper – 1B/OF

Cooper returned after a so-so season in 2008 to put up his best numbers since his short-season debut in Eugene in 2006. The Notre Dame grad led the team in hits, doubles, home runs and RBI and was also the season long leader in OBP and slugging percentage. He is considered the best defensive first baseman in the system. in addition to being a solid corner outfielder. He's a good player, but because of the positions he plays, most teams usually want to see more than a .451 slugging percentage.

2010: He is one of the few lefties that bats from the right side and his offensive numbers should jump up next year in the hitter friendly Pacific Coast League. Cooper is a very versatile player that with a slight uptick in his power numbers should find his way onto a major league roster somewhere.

30. Cody Decker – 1B/OF

Decker had a monster season, leading the AZL in home runs (16), RBI (63), total bases (142) and extra-base hits (39). His .717 slugging percentage was 75 points above the second place finisher in the league. The stocky right-handed hitter at 5-foot-10, 230-pounds demonstrated at UCLA that he could hit, but his age and doubts about his ability to play positions other in first base led him to fall to the 22nd-round of this year's draft.

2010: Regardless of what anyone projects or thinks, he's earned an opportunity at the next level, and the organization is toying with trying him in the outfield or even behind the plate. The odds maybe against him, but his numbers were too good this year to not be included. If he keeps hitting, and hitting with power, the organization is going to find a place for him.

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