The Padres have one of the deepest systems in all of baseball at this point, thanks in large part to shrewd trades and a willingness to spend to acquire amateur talent. The decisions to trade Adrian Gonzalez, Mat Latos and Mike Adams netted the club six of it’s top fifteen prospects and have helped beef up and already solid system. Though the list lacks true star power, there are so many prospects with big league potential that the Padres are well positioned to begin seeing production from their minor league pipeline.
1. Rymer Liriano (OF)
The start of the 2011 season was brutal for Liriano as he struggled in High-A. He followed that up with a monster campaign in the Low-A Midwest League after being sent down. Liriano shows four plus tools at times, including his hitting ability, power, speed and arm strength. He has the potential to hit .290+ and 20+ home runs at his peak. He is a poor defender but it won’t matter if the bat lives up to its potential.
2. Jedd Gyorko (3B)
He doesn’t look impressive when you first see him, but the minute you see Gyorko in the batter’s box, you understand why he’s a prospect. He is an impressive hitter with tremendous contact ability, a good approach and plus bat speed. He has average raw power and the ability to hit for a stellar average. He’s improved dramatically at third base and should be able to stick there long term. The bat will carry him to the big leagues and it could very well make him an above-average everyday guy.
3. Joe Wieland (RHP)
This ranking may surprise some, but I’m a believer. Acquired as part of the Mike Adams trade with Texas, Wieland offers an above-average fastball that bumped up to 92-94 consistently during the playoffs. He also threw his slider harder late in the year and it showed as a potential plus pitch if he can gain consistency. A solid change-up rounds out his arsenal. He throws all three pitches for strikes and has a high pitching IQ, giving him a very good chance to be a number three starter and possibly a tick more.
4. Yasmani Grandal (C)
Acquired in the Mat Latos trade, Grandal was the best prospect received and projects as the Padres catcher of the future, possibly as soon as late 2012. He is a good receiver with solid catch and throw skills. He has a plus hit tool from both sides of the plate and the potential for average power once everything comes together. He should be an everyday catcher with a very good average, plenty of doubles and his share of home runs once he reaches the Major Leagues.
5. Cory Spangenberg (2B)
Spangenberg was the Padres top pick last June. He signed very quickly and could rocket throught he club’s minor league system. Offensively, Spangenberg is a 70-runner with the ability to steal more than 30 bases every year. He has the hand-eye coordination, bat speed and pitch recognition to hit for a high average and work counts, getting on base at a high clip as well. He could profile as a very nice leadoff hitter. While he is still rough at second base, he should be a solid defender for the position.
6. Robbie Erlin (LHP)
Erlin was the other piece in the trade that send Mike Adams to Texas last summer and in some opinions he is a better prospect than Joe Wieland. Erlin sits 89-91 mph with his fastball and can touch 93 when he needs a little more. He command his fastball – and all of his pitches – exceptionally well. He has a filthy change-up that he throws with excellent arm speed as well as an average curveball. He has a keen understanding of pitch sequencing and location that enables his arsenal to play up. He has a tendency to work up in the zone which could hurt him in the end. His ceiling tops out as a potential number three starter.
7. Yonder Alonso (1B)
Like Grandal, Alonso arrived in the Mat Latos deal and with the subsequent trade of first baseman Anthony Rizzo to Chicago, he should be the first baseman of the future in San Diego. Alonso is a very good hitter with a strong approach at the plate and at least average home run power. His line drive swing could be highly conducive to the Padres’ home park and he could pile up doubles as a result. He is a good defender at first base and the move back there from the outfield should allow him an added level of comfort. Alonso should be a significant contributor at the big league level in 2012.
8. Austin Hedges (C)
The Padres went way over slot to buy Hedges out of a commitment to UCLA, ultimately giving him a reported $3 million bonus. Hedges is an extremely polished defender with tremendous receiving skills and blocking ability to go along with an arm that garners 80’s from scouts. His bat is not nearly as polished, leaving many scouts wondering how much he will ever hit. Though he has some natural strength and bat speed, his hitting ability doesn’t project to allow for much average or power down the line. Despite those offensive flaws, he still has a chance to be a big leaguer on the back of his glove alone.
9. Casey Kelly (RHP)
Nothing has really changed with Kelly’s profile over the last two or three years, and frankly, that’s part of the reason he keeps slipping on prospect lists. He still has a sinking fastball that sits 91-93 mph and a darting curveball that both grade as plus pitches. He is highly athletic, repeats his delivery well and throws tons of strikes; almost too many strikes. His change-up lags behind his other two pitches and is a below-average offering. While some of the loft projections originally tossed at Kelly have not come true, he still has a chance to be a very nice fourth starter in the big leagues.
10. Joe Ross (RHP)
Ross was another of the Padres over-slot signings last summer, signing for a robust $2.75 million bonus late in the first round. He is a scouts dream as a right-handed pitcher with a prototypical frame and tons of projection. His fastball can work consistently in the 91-93 mph range and touch 96 with ease, leaving scouts projecting him for consistent 94-96 mph heat down the line. Both his breaking ball and change-up show some promise but need additional work. Ross is more a thrower than a pitcher and he could require significant developmental time to hone his craft, but if patience is granted the payoff could be significant.
11. Reymond Fuentes (OF)
Fuentes is one of the best pure athletes in the system but that premium athleticism doesn’t completely mitigate the concerns surrounding his game. He is an outstanding defender with plus to plus-plus speed and tremendous instincts. He can go get it from gap to gap and could be a serious asset in San Diego’s spacious home park. For all of his defensive abilities, scouts have plenty of questions about Fuentes’ bat. They wonder if he will hit for enough average and power to more than a defensive specialist in the big leagues.
12. Keyvius Sampson (RHP)
While durability problems stunted his development early on, Sampson finally took a big step forward in 2011. Though he’s a little under-sized as a right-hander he still pumps fastballs at 92-94 mph with some movement. He has a dynamite change-up that can induce feeble swings from right-handers and left-handers alike. He has struggled to gain consistency with his curveball, a pitch he will need to improve to remain a starter. Despite his breakout 2011 season, there are still plenty of scouts that believe Sampson is destined for relief where he could be a powerful late inning arm.
13. Adys Portillo (RHP)
Portillo offers a high ceiling and an enormous amount of risk along with it. He has progressed extremely slowly since signing out of Latin America but he still shows tremendous arm strength that is enough to make you sit up and take note when he steps on the mound. Several scouts I spoke with indicated Portillo touched 100 mph on multiple occasions last year and that he sits in the 94-96 mph range consistently. That said, he doesn’t know where the ball is going and his slider is still very much a work in progress. He looks like a reliever in the end due to his control problems and even that projection has serious question marks.
14. Donovan Tate (OF)
Continuing to rank Tate at this stage is a pure play on his freakish athleticism and top end raw tools. He shows the potential for plus speed, raw power, arm strength and even defense. His approach at the plate is actually quite good considering how raw he is but he still has a lot of swing and miss in his game. At this point Tate needs to stay on the field and get back some of the lost development time he’s accrued over the last couple of years. Though it’s an extreme long shot at this point, if things come together Tate still has a chance to be a superstar caliber player.
15. Jaff Decker (OF)
Decker can hit the ball hard and control the strike zone, projecting as a player with plus power and plenty of walks. The swing and miss in his game will always be there but some of it should be mitigated by the potential for 80+ walks and 20-25 home runs annually. Decker is a very poor athlete and well below-average defender in the outfield, leaving him as a bat only prospect that truly profiles best as a designated hitter. He could use a full year in Triple-A to try and find some modest gains in his contact ability but he basically is what he is at this point.