I had a chance to visit Petco Park the other day. Still needs a little work, but it’s looking real good. Genius that I am, I forgot to bring my digital camera so no pix.

Tried to circumnavigate the stadium by foot, but thanks to all the construction, that’s nearly impossible. Of course, I didn’t figure that out till I’d reached 13th and K. If you don’t know where that is, it’s where the guy with three teeth walks up to you and says, without provocation or explanation, "They busted Al Gore’s kid for weed." [Editor's note: Much to my surprise, I've discovered that this is a true story.] You smile, thank him for the information, and keep moving.

To more important matters, Baseball America released its version of the Pads’ Top 10 prospects last week. Here’s the list:

  1. Josh Barfield, 2b
  2. Khalil Greene, ss
  3. Freddy Guzman, of
  4. Tim Stauffer, rhp
  5. Ben Howard, rhp
  6. Jon Knott, of/1b
  7. David Pauley, rhp
  8. Kennard Jones, of
  9. Tagg Bozied, 1b
  10. Chris Oxspring, rhp

My first thought is, gee this system has become thin. Only Barfield, Greene, and maybe Stauffer or Howard project as impact players. My second thought is, the Padres have graduated the likes of Sean Burroughs and Jake Peavy in recent years, so for as weak as the farm system may be, there is some really good young talent now at the big-league level. And they did manage to turn Jason Bay, Oliver Perez, and Cory Stewart into Brian Giles, a franchise-type player.

It really is a mixed bag. On the one hand, it’s hard to be disappointed with the continuing development of Burroughs and Peavy, and the acquisition of Giles. On the other, a team like the Padres pretty much needs to be constantly replenishing their farm system. So the Top 10 list released by BA is a little discouraging when viewed in that light.

The list also seems a little weird, at least from my perspective. Barfield and Greene are pretty obviously #1 and #2. Which is which can be argued depending on whether you’re looking at proximity to the big leagues or upside. Barfield has offensive potential that Greene can only dream of, but Greene will be the Pads’ starting shortstop this year while Barfield likely will spend most of the season at Double-A. The placement of those two is a matter of philosophy.

But Guzman at #3 baffles me. Here’s what BA has to say about him:

He has a nice stroke from both sides of the plate and the patience required of a leadoff man. No one on the big league club can chase balls down in center field like him. Guzman chases pitches in the dirt and at times tries to drive the ball, which isn’t his game. His arm is well below-average. He’s not lazy but must learn the importance of playing hard every day. The Padres don’t have a true leadoff man or center fielder in their lineup. Though Guzman isn’t ready to fill those voids, he should be by 2005, if not earlier.

I’ve seen Guzman play a few times, and he’s an exciting ballplayer. But I don’t envision him as a starter. He’s more of a fourth outfielder type in my book. Gary Pettis without the spectacular range or quite so many strikeouts. Maybe Otis Nixon lite. Could he be a useful part of a big-league ballclub? Certainly. Do you want him playing every day? Probably not. It’s also worth noting that Guzman has some experience playing second base, which could enhance his value as a prospect in an Eric Owens kind of way. Personally, I think I would push Stauffer and Howard ahead of him.

Speaking of Stauffer, here are their comments on him:

Stauffer’s fastball usually sits no higher than 91-92 mph, but it’s an out pitch because of its outstanding life. His curveball and changeup are plus pitches, and his cutter gives him another solid option. He commands all four offerings for strikes. Stauffer’s shoulder obviously is worrisome. The good news is that he hasn’t required surgery and San Diego hopes to have him ready for spring training. But until he gets on a mound, shows his former stuff and proves he can stay healthy, he’s a question mark.

He also gets high marks for admitting that he had a shoulder problem, which cost him almost $2M.

And, finally, their thoughts on Howard:

Before he hurt his elbow in June 2002, Howard could touch 99 mph with his fastball. He now sits in the low 90s and tops out around 95. His slider has improved, and at times it’s an out pitch. His changeup looked better than ever in the majors. He trusted it more under the guidance of pitching coach Darren Balsley, who turned his career around when they were in the minors together. Howard has trouble repeating his delivery, so his command fluctuates. He has dialed down his velocity to throw more strikes, but gives up too many walks and homers when he’s off. In the minors, he threw his changeup too hard and didn’t use it enough. If he regains his power fastball and never masters the changeup, he eventually could become a closer.

I haven’t seen Stauffer pitch, but I’ve had the chance to watch Howard at Elsinore and in San Diego. They’ve got him pegged. Howard actually reminds me a little of Jay Witasick. He’s a guy who should be given every opportunity to make it as a starter. But if he doesn’t, let him go to the bullpen and air out his two best pitches for an inning or two.

The back end of the list is where things get a little wonky (yes, that is the technical term). Knott is intriguing, in a Bubba Trammell/Brian Buchanan way. Realistically, he’s probably a right-handed bat off the bench at best. Pauley is a kid with decent velocity and a good curveball. He’s similar to, though less advanced than, Justin Germano, who didn’t make the list. Jones is Guzman without the base-stealing technique or infield experience. His upside is Juan Pierre. How many guys with Pierre’s skill set have regular gigs in the bigs nowadays? Bozied is compared to Eric Karros, which sounds about right to me. Oxspring is an intriguing kid with a good arm, but he’s 26 years old and he hasn’t pitched above Double-A. Could be useful in the right circumstances, but has limited upside.

Personally, I think I’d have knocked Guzman and Knott down a notch or two, and replaced Jones and Oxspring with Germano and Javier Martinez.

Finally, check out Jim Callis’ chat about the list and the Padre system in general. Excellent work, as usual. Some nuggets:

  • About the #1 pick in the draft next year, Callis says: "San Diego has a preference for college players, and my guess is the Padres will opt for a pitcher such as Jeff Niemann or Wade Townsend (both Rice), Jered Weaver (Long Beach State) or Jeremy Sowers (Vanderbilt). Local high school product Matt Bush, a SS/RHP, might be pretty tempting as well."
  • In response to a question about which prospects in the system that didn’t make the list but could next year, Callis mentioned LHP Rusty Tucker, RHP Jared Wells, RHP Javier Martinez, and C George Kottaras.
  • Callis envisions Barfield hitting for a .300-plus average, with 40 doubles, 25 homers, and 110 RBIs in his prime. Calls him the real deal and compares him favorably to Nomar Garciaparra.
  • Of bullpen import Akinori Ohtsuka, Callis says, "He’ll probably fit in at No. 5 for the Prospect Handbook."
  • Callis projects Khalil Greene in the .250 range this year, with 8-10 homers. Eventually he sees Greene "becoming a .275 hitter with 12-15 homers and 30-plus doubles."
  • Couple more young arms to watch: RHP Wilmer Villatoro and RHP William Ponce.

And with no more graceful way to get out of this entry, I’ll simply end it here.

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