Top 10 Prospects for 2008

Ducksnorts Top 10 ProspectsI’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.

Take this list with giant buckets of salt. Comps are described here, league offensive levels can be found here. Enjoy!

10. Edinson Rincon

Biographical Data
Height: 6’1″ DOB: August 11, 1990
Weight: 185 School: Dominican Republic
Bats: Right Acquired: Free Agent, Padres, 2007
Throws: Right
2007 Stats
DSL 141 .295 .383 .402 .654 .121 .107 .250
AZL 53 .178 .302 .200 .636 .132 .022 .125

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

Biographical Data
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
2007 Stats
AA 422 .247 .324 .475 .568 .100 .228 .478

Nick HundleyBest 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

Biographical Data
Height: 6’0″ DOB: February 6, 1987
Weight: 200 School: Tunstall HS, Dry Fork, Va.
Bats: Right Acquired: Trade with Brewers, 2007
Throws: Right
2007 Stats
Level IP ERA H/9 HR/9 BB/9 SO/9
A+ 78.2 1.72 6.41 0.46 2.63 11.21
SOU 39.2 5.45 8.62 1.59 3.63 9.53
TEX 41 4.17 7.49 1.36 4.31 9.08

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

Biographical Data
Height: 6’3″ DOB: August 7, 1984
Weight: 190 School: U. of Alabama
Bats: Left Acquired: Drafted 2nd round, Padres, 2006
Throws: Left
2007 Stats
Level IP ERA H/9 HR/9 BB/9 SO/9
A+ 92 2.64 7.03 0.49 1.66 8.80
AA 57.1 3.45 7.53 1.26 2.98 8.63

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

Biographical Data
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
2007 Stats
A- 262 .301 .382 .491 .482 .103 .190 .353

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

Biographical Data
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
2007 Stats
A+ 531 .301 .380 .540 .449 .083 .239 .421

Kyle BlanksSometimes 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

Biographical Data
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
2007 Stats
A 549 .282 .344 .373 .603 .086 .090 .207
AAA 5 .500 .600 1.250 1.000 .200 .750 .500

Cedric HunterHunter 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

Biographical Data
Height: 6’5″ DOB: January 20, 1986
Weight: 210 School: Broward (Fla.) CC
Bats: Right Acquired: Drafted 11th round, Padres, 2006
Throws: Right
2007 Stats
Level IP ERA H/9 HR/9 BB/9 SO/9
A- 56.1 3.83 9.27 0.16 3.51 11.82

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

Biographical Data
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
2007 Stats
A+ 406 .314 .409 .499 .914 .131 .185 .294
AA 223 .294 .395 .476 .833 .135 .182 .345

Matt AntonelliHe’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

Biographical Data
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
2007 Stats
AA 522 .330 .437 .580 .649 .142 .250 .441
MLB 21 .222 .333 .278 .500 .095 .056 .250

Chase HeadleyHeadley 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.

Notable Omissions

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…

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69 Responses »

  1. #51: Adding to your list, several players also showed up: Adrian, Kouz, Wolf, Jake, and Hoffy. Good times.

  2. Now that Fukudome Watch 07 is over and we missed out, I will obsess over tomorrow’s non-tender deadline, and cross my fingers that the Cubs don’t offer Prior a contract. Then we can swoop in and sign him to a two year Lieber like deal and see what he can do. He may not be in shape to start the season but if he can regain even 75% of his former form, he would make for a solid mid to late season addition to the rotation. I guess Josh Towers is also a non-tender candidate. Perhaps we will take a look at both.

  3. I’m very nervous pending what happens trade-wise. I know that it’s still early and KT has an excellent track record but this team isn’t shaping up nearly as well as I thought it would by now. Judging by the media coverage, everyone on the planet seemed to know the Cubs would outbid the Padres for Fukudome, so why didn’t they just spend the extra one mil to keep Bradley?

  4. 56 … Thanks! I like Sickels’ conservative approach …

    Of particular note is that he rates both Guevara and Gardner as “excellent Rule 5 pick”s … full Rule 5 details here:

  5. So sad I missed the meeting last night…I have so enjoyed those over the past years…

    Very happy about Iggy…I think he is a great fit for what we need!

    Not so sad about Fukudome…that kinda cash would make it way too risky for me…wonder what it would take to trade with the Yanks for Godzilla…hmmmm.

  6. #40 Ben

    Matt has never played the outfield doesnt think he would like it but if thats where the Padres want him then I guess thats where he will play.

  7. From the UT:

    “If the Texas Rangers non-tender reliever Akinori Otsuka the Padres are a potential destination.”

    That would be great but why would the rangers non-tender Aki?

  8. 60: Aki blew out his elbow last year and, according to Rotoworld, is “a candidate for Tommy John surgery”.

    It looks like Fukudome signed for $12 million per year, and Bradley signed for $5 million plus incentives. Neither guy is a true centerfielder. Wouldn’t Andruw Jones at 2/$36M been a better fit for the Padres?

  9. re 61: Yup A Jones was a no brainer considering this teams needs…they could have used Headley/Hairston in LF.

    The question is where they spend the money now because it is obvious that they have at least 20M more in the budget(10M Fukodome, 5M Bradley + pitchers)

  10. Mark…unless a trade comes soon, you would have to expect Cameron to get a chunk of that money…

    Corey Patterson can’t really be on their radar…right?

  11. as Kraslovic mentioned in his article this morning The Pads may make a deal with the Pirates. Does this make since to anyone else, Morris ($9.75M, $1M buyout for 09), Bay ($5.75M 08, $7.5M 09) and Nate McLouth for Barrett, Headley and Huffman?

  12. Re: 63 the Pads will put Hairston in CF before they overpay for Cameron.

  13. re 64: Chunk? I would think Cameron ends up with about 6M for 2008 when the suspension is taken into account.

    To be honest, I think the deal with the Pirates is more likely then Cameron coming back, especially considering the icy reception last night.

  14. If we’re trading Headley, I can guarantee that they don’t need to take back a 12M terrible SP for a corner outfielder coming off of a .750OPS season