The Padres offer one of the deepest systems in baseball. Last year at this time the Padres system was deep but lacks the punch you like to see from a great system. This year, that punch is present in the form of players like Austin Hedges, Max Fried and Rymer Liriano. On top of that high-end punch, the Padres are stockpiling the system with high-ceiling arms at the lower levels and could be on the verge of a long stretch of producing in-house pitching options.
1. Austin Hedges – C (Last Year’s Rank: 8)
Hedges was highly thought of heading into the 2011 draft and he only enhanced that picture with a breakout 2012 season. Already an exceptional defender, Hedges has room for improvement and could be absolutely drool-worthy when he reaches his peak. Every part of his defensive game grades out well and he could be truly special. Offensively, he showed more than expected during his full-season debut, with scouts elevating their projection of him to a .270-.280 hitter with 15 homers a year. That type of production combined with his excellent defense could make him a star-level backstop.
2. Max Fried – LHP (NR)
In the view of some scouting directors, Fried should have never made it to the seventh pick in the draft. He has tremendous feel for pitching for his age and his present stuff is very good as well. With a fastball that sits in the low-90s and can reach 94 from the left side, he can blow the ball by hitters and then confound them with a true plus curveball. He shows some feel for a change-up that should give him a third quality pitch. Fried could max out as a number two starter, making him a tremendous prospect.
3. Casey Kelly – RHP (9)
The path from splitting time between pitching and hitting to reaching his ceiling on the mound hasn’t been an easy or quick one for Kelly. Despite that he reached the big leagues in 2012 and could be a key member of the Padres rotation going forward. He projects to settle in with three pitches that grade out as at least average and an ability to pound the strike zone that helps all three pitches play well. He doesn’t have the ceiling of Fried, but he could be a really strong number three starter.
4. Rymer Liriano – OF (1)
Last year’s top prospect, Liriano is still a superb talent. He will show all five tools at various times, including three tools with plus grades. His arm and speed both play at the plus level and should work very well in right field. He also has plenty of raw power in his bat but must improve his feel for hitting to tap into the power in game situations. Liriano is still an aggressive hitter that must continue developing at the plate but he has made good progress in the last two years. At his peak, Liriano could be a very good everyday player.
5. Jedd Gyorko – 3B (2)
Jedd Gyorko can flat out hit. Let me repeat that; Jedd Gyorko can flat out hit. That’s the long and short of his scouting report and it will be enough to get him to the big leagues. He is a plus hitter with some scouts believing he can perform even better than that and he shows good gap power with the potential for 15-20 home runs at his peak. He is still raw defensively and remains unsettled between second base and third base. He doesn’t project well at either position but if his bat comes through, it won’t really matter.
6. Joe Ross – RHP (10)
Ross has a ton of risk and is a long way from the big leagues but his raw potential is incredibly difficult to ignore. His fastball already reaches the mid- to upper-90s when he needs a little extra and he should settle in the 94-95 mph range at physical maturity. His slider and change-up both flash as above-average to plus pitches, making him a complete threat. He still needs to become a pitcher rather than a thrower and that represents a considerable part of his risk profile, but if it all comes together he should be a number three starter.
7. Fernando Perez – 3B (NR)
The amateur and proffesional scouts I spoke with last year absolutely loved Perez and wondered why he lasted until the third round. At his best, he shows an ability to use the whole field with authority and projects as a plus hitter with above-average to plus power. That’s a dynamic offensive player that also has the hands and arm to stick at third base. He needs time to develop, particularly with the glove, but Perez has big potential at the hot corner and could ultimately be a steal in the third round.
8. Robbie Erlin – LHP (NR)
What Erlin lacks in ideal size he makes up for in the feel he has for his craft. He shows exceptional command of his fastball and change-up and continues to improve in his ability to locate his curveball. All three pitches earn average grades from scouts and he is able to mix and match them very well. Because his stuff sits in the average range, Erlin maxes out as a number four starter, but that projection comes with far less risk than several of the pitchers ahead of him on this list.
9. Matt Wisler – RHP (NR)
A seventh round pick in 2011, Wisler started cruising up prospect lists with a strong full-season debut. His fastball could be a plus pitch once he matures and gets stronger, and both his curveball and change-up are average pitches with some potential to continue improving. Wisler doesn’t have a huge ceiling but he could be an inning-eating number four starter once his development is complete.
10. Adys Portillo – RHP (13)
Portillo has some of the best arm strength in the Padres system, consistently flashing 98-99 mph heat when he reaches back for everything he has in the tank. In short stints, his fastball can sit in the upper-90s and as a starter he will work everywhere from 92-98 mph. He lacks a consistent slider but it will flash in the above-average range and could give him a second reliable pitch in relief. Portillo’s control lags behind everything else and will be the key to him being successful in any role.
11. Zach Eflin – RHP (NR)
Eflin was another first round pick of the Padres in 2012 and while he doesn’t have the polish of someone like Max Fried, he still offers plenty of intrigue. His fastball can bump the 94-95 mph range but also dipped into the upper-80s at times during the spring. He has great size and gets good downward plane on his fastball. Both his curveball and change-up have potential as well, giving him a chance to be a quality mid-rotation arm..
12. Cory Spangenberg – 2B (5)
Spangenberg is a natural hitter but also employs an aggressive approach that is more contact-oriented than focused on driving the ball. He has the strength for gap power but is often content to slap the ball the other way and use his plus speed to get after it. He defends well at second base and should be an asset at the position. Spangenberg must adjust his offensive approach against better pitchers or he will plateau and may not be much of a factor in the big leagues.
13. Keyvius Sampson – RHP (12)
Sampson may have posted a 5.00 ERA in his first taste of Double-A, but he still showed an ability to induce weak contact and even miss bats. His fastball can reach the plus-plus range and his change-up also gets plus grades from scouts, giving him a deadly combination that will allow him to profile in a relief role at a minimum. He lacks a consistent curveball but will occasionally snap one off that makes you take notice. If he can pull together his breaking ball, Sampson could be an intriguing fourth starter.
14. Walker Weickel – RHP (NR)
A third pitcher taken in the first round, Weickel was popped in the supplemental round and has as much or more projection as any pitcher in last year’s draft. Already the owner of a 90-93 mph fastball with quality sink, his 6-foot-6 frame oozes projection and leaves him as a possible monster down the line. He shows some feel for both a curveball and change-up but needs to continue working on both pitches. Weickel is a project for the Padres but he bears watching as he starts down his developmental path.
15. Travis Jankowski – OF (NR)
Jankowski was the third of four first round picks in 2012 and while he may have the lowest pure ceiling of the four, he still projects as a big leaguer. Jankowski is a tremendous athlete with plus speed and plus defense in center field. His arm works at the position and he plays the game hard, maximizing his abilities. He is a very good contact hitter but lacks the strength to consistently drive the ball. Jankowski has the floor of a quality fourth outfielder and if he can make more solid contact, he could be a plus defender up the middle that hits toward the bottom of the order.