I’ve shied away from compiling top prospect lists in recent years because it’s my belief that what they best measure are the list-maker’s biases. (Okay, and maybe I’m still feeling a little sheepish about ranking Jake Gautreau ahead of Jason Bay once upon a time.)
Other people like reading prospect lists, though, and I’m not prepared to be a curmudgeon without good cause, so what the hey. My general approach is to balance upside with proximity to the big leagues as best I can, then hope I get lucky.
I’ve seen six of my picks play in person, including four of my top five. For those guys, my evaluations include their statistical record, second-hand reports I’ve read, and personal observations, roughly in that order. The rest get only two-thirds of that equation (duh). For the kids who haven’t yet played full-season ball, I’m relying almost entirely on scouting reports, with a dash of whimsy thrown in because, really, what is a prospect list without a dash of whimsy?
I’m pretty confident that my top two guys will have solid big-league careers. I like the chances of my #3 and #4 prospects as well, although they are further away. After that, the crystal ball gets real cloudy.
10. Edinson Rincon
|Height: 6’1″||DOB: August 11, 1990|
|Weight: 185||School: Dominican Republic|
|Bats: Right||Acquired: Free Agent, Padres, 2007|
My crazy pick; pure upside, but so many unknowns. The fact that Rincon was playing pro ball at age 16 is impressive. One blemish: He tested positive for a banned substance during the season. At this point, Rincon’s career could go in so many different directions that it would be foolish to predict any one of them. Watch, and wait…
9. Nick Hundley
|Height: 6’1″||DOB: September 8, 1983|
|Weight: 210||School: U. of Arizona|
|Bats: Right||Acquired: Drafted 2nd round, Padres, 2005|
|Throws: Right||Comps: Jermaine Dye|
Best advanced in-house candidate to succeed Josh Bard. Although Hundley’s batting average dropped a bit in his second full pro season, his plate discipline and power both have improved as he’s moved up the ladder. Hundley won’t be a star, but he’s a capable defender who should hit enough to become a decent regular. Think Mike Macfarlane.
8. Will Inman
|Height: 6’0″||DOB: February 6, 1987|
|Weight: 200||School: Tunstall HS, Dry Fork, Va.|
|Bats: Right||Acquired: Trade with Brewers, 2007|
Good pedigree; needs to show a little more at higher levels. Part of the Scott Linebrink deal, Inman is a smallish right-hander who relies on command for success. His track record in the low minors is outrageous, but he stumbled a bit on first exposure to Double-A. That primarily was a function of elevated home-run and walk rates, which suggests that he wasn’t locating as well as he had in A-ball. More accurately, it suggests that the hitters did a better job of choosing which pitches to offer at and which to let go. That happens at higher levels. The encouraging sign is that Inman’s strikeout rate remained strong. Sure, it dropped a lot, but when you’re starting at such a high level, there’s margin for error. Inman needs more time at Double-A, but if he can re-establish some of the command that he displayed at lower levels, the Padres could have themselves a solid back-end option for 2009.
7. Wade LeBlanc
|Height: 6’3″||DOB: August 7, 1984|
|Weight: 190||School: U. of Alabama|
|Bats: Left||Acquired: Drafted 2nd round, Padres, 2006|
LeBlanc pitched well in his first full season of pro ball. He dominated the California League and didn’t slip much on being promoted to San Antonio. The usual small sample caveats apply, but I’m encouraged by the fact that his strikeout rate held even after moving up a level. The home runs and walks rose a bit, which is cause for some concern, but again, we’re talking about 57 innings worth of data. We’ll get a better idea of LeBlanc’s true level of ability after we’ve seen him work more at higher levels. LeBlanc throws strikes and changes speeds well. He could see action with the big club as early as the second half of 2008 and eventually settle in as a #3 or #4 starter.
6. Kellen Kulbacki
|Height: 5’11″||DOB: November 21, 1985|
|Weight: 185||School: James Madison U.|
|Bats: Left||Acquired: Drafted 1st round, Padres, 2007|
|Throws: Left||Comps: James Loney|
This one’s a reach, but I like his offensive potential. With his combination of power and plate discipline, Kulbacki draws comparisons to Brian Giles and Nick Swisher. Defensively there are questions, though the degree is a matter of debate. Playing a corner outfield spot at Petco Park is more challenging than at most other venues. The good news is that with his bat, even average work with the glove should be enough to keep him gainfully employed. Kulbacki might be the best hitting prospect in the organization. Given his age, it wouldn’t surprise me to see the Padres move aggressively with him.
5. Kyle Blanks
|Height: 6’6″||DOB: September 11, 1986|
|Weight: 270 lbs.||School: Moriarty HS, Edgewood, N.M.|
|Bats: Right||Acquired: Drafted 42nd round, Padres, 2004|
|Throws: Right||Comps: James Loney|
Sometimes called “Gigantor,” Blanks is a mountain of a man. There has been talk that he can play the outfield if needed, but nobody’s ever actually stuck him there. Because of his size, there are concerns about his conditioning. Blanks posted solid numbers in the California League at age 20, which is a good sign. He also improved just about every aspect of his offensive game in 2007 while moving up a level, another good sign. With Adrian Gonzalez entrenched at first base in San Diego, there should be no hurry to move Blanks up the ranks. If he can handle the outfield, great; if not, he could become a trading chip at some point. The power came in 2007; the next step for Blanks should be to tighten his strike zone. Experts have been slow to warm up to Blanks, but I think the kid can play.
4. Cedric Hunter
|Height: 6’0″||DOB: March 10, 1988|
|Weight: 185||School: King HS, Decatur, Ga.|
|Bats: Left||Acquired: Drafted 3rd round, Padres, 2006|
|Throws: Left||Comps: Shawn Green, Kenny Lofton, Shane Victorino|
Hunter was all the rage after his 2006 showing in the Arizona League. His star fell some last year, although he hasn’t changed much as a prospect. Hunter held his own in the Midwest League — a tough hitting environment — at age 19. There’s no shame in that. The only questions with Hunter are whether he’ll have to move to a corner spot at higher levels and how much power he’ll develop.
3. Mat Latos
|Height: 6’5″||DOB: January 20, 1986|
|Weight: 210||School: Broward (Fla.) CC|
|Bats: Right||Acquired: Drafted 11th round, Padres, 2006|
A draft-and-follow pick, Latos (pronounced “lay-tos”) is something of an anomaly in the Padres system in that he throws hard. Again, fewer than 60 innings doesn’t give us much to go on, but the high strikeout rate (it’s only short-season ball, but he was competing against older, more experienced players) coupled with predraft scouting reports are cause for hope. Latos has better upside than any other pitcher in the organization, and it’s not even close. He’ll make his full-season debut in 2008 season at age 20. If he can stay healthy and grow up a little (his maturity has been questioned, which isn’t surprising at that age), Latos could develop into a front-line starter for the Padres, which would be welcome in an organization that features mostly back-end types.
2. Matt Antonelli
|Height: 6’0″||DOB: April 8, 1985|
|Weight: 203||School: Wake Forest U.|
|Bats: Right||Acquired: Drafted 1st round, Padres, 2006|
|Throws: Right||Comps: Manny Ramirez, B.J. Upton|
He’s really more like 1A. The comps are for Antonelli’s time in the California League, although his numbers relative to league are virtually the same at Double-A. Antonelli reminds me of Bill Doran, who played second base for the Astros back in the mid-’80s. Good mix of on-base skills and gaps power. Antonelli hit zero home runs in his first exposure to pro ball before knocking 21 last year. My suspicion is that the truth lies somewhere between those two extremes and that whatever power Antonelli has might not manifest itself in the form of home runs at the big-league level right away, especially if he is pushed into a starting role to open the 2008 season. There’s plenty of talent here, but be patient.
1. Chase Headley
|Height: 6’2″||DOB: May 9, 1984|
|Weight: 195||School: U. of Tennessee|
|Bats: Both||Acquired: Drafted 2nd round, Padres, 2005|
|Throws: Right||Comps: Chipper Jones|
Headley offers the best combination of upside and proximity to the big leagues in the organization. Coming off a solid but somewhat disappointing season at Lake Elsinore, Headley moved up to Double-A and dominated. He hit for average and power, controlled the strike zone, and played strong defense at third base. Headley even got into a few big-league games in mid-June when Kevin Kouzmanoff was hurt. Headley draws praise for his intelligence and makeup. His overall offensive game calls to mind Jeff Cirillo (the good version, not the guy who played for the Padres in ’04), with a bit more home-run power. One of Headley or Kouzmanoff could shift to left field, although it’s not clear which — if either — is better suited to make the move. Regardless, Headley should provide the Padres or some other team with a potent bat in the not-too-distant future.
A few guys that other experts included in their Top 10 lists didn’t make mine. Here they are, in alphabetical order, along with my explanation of why I didn’t include them:
Yefri Carvajal, OF
Too much projection for my taste. I view short-season stats with extreme suspicion, but it bothers me that Carvajal couldn’t control the strike zone in the Northwest League last year. All indications are that this guy has sick talent; I just need to see him put it to use before anointing him a top prospect.
David Freese, 3B
I actually like Freese quite a bit — every time I saw him in ’07, he was pounding the ball to right and right-center. He reminds me of Kouzmanoff, although at age 24, Kouz was dominating the Eastern and International Leagues to an even greater degree than Freese dominated the Cal League last year. The Padres don’t have a great track record with mid-level corner guys — Tagg Bozied and Greg Sain come to mind — but we’ll see.
Steve Garrison, LHP
I don’t think he’s done enough yet. The ERAs last year looked nice, but the K/9 hovering around 6 doesn’t impress me. I didn’t rank guys past #10, but if I had to guess, I’d probably stick Garrison in the mid- to late-teens.
Josh Geer, RHP
He’s polished and he throws strikes but the 5.36 K/9 at Double-A scares the heck out of me. From where I sit, Geer looks like a poor-man’s Justin Germano. Possibly a useful short-term option, but very limited upside.
Chad Huffman, OF
Most people like Huffman more than I do. I’ve seen him play about a half dozen times, and he never once left an impression on me. That’s not a good enough reason to dismiss him (which I don’t; he’s probably #11 or #12 on my list), but it’s hard for me to shake. The other thing about Huffman is that he’s strictly a corner outfielder and he’ll need to mash at every level. He slipped a bit on moving to Double-A last year. This could be due to differences in league offensive levels or small sample, but it concerns me. I need to see more from Huffman at higher levels.
Drew Miller, RHP
I’ve never seen him pitch and I’m not comfortable making any judgments based on the limited data available. The strikeout rates are promising, but I hear rumblings about his off-speed stuff. I’d think Miller is a good candidate to make my Top 10 list next year, after he’s had more of an opportunity to show what he can do.
Nick Schmidt, LHP
I didn’t include him because he’s hurt and expected to miss the entire 2008 season. Before the injury, Schmidt would have been right there with LeBlanc and Inman.
. . .
There you have it. These guys and about 60 other minor leaguers will be profiled in the book. It’ll be grand…