Padres Farm Report: Spotlight on Fort Wayne

Let’s take a quick look at what’s going on down at the Padres’ lowest full-season affiliate, shall we?

Fort Wayne Wizards in a Box:
Record: 52-50
Runs Scored: 472
Runs Allowed: 449
BA/OBP/SLG: .258/.347/.373 (Midwest League: .251/.323/.373)
ERA: 3.90 (MWL: 3.69)
DER: .630 (MWL: .650)
Source: Baseball-Reference.

This is a team that does a good job of putting runs on the board in an unfavorable environment (4.63 R/G is third in a 14-team league). The pitching is below average (the range in the Midwest League is 2.98 – 4.15, with only four teams sporting a higher ERA than that of the Wizards), as is the defense (only Beloit has a lower DER).

The big prospects at Fort Wayne are right-hander Mat Latos (whom I ranked #3 in the system entering 2008), outfielder Yefri Carvajal, and shortstop Drew Cumberland. Secondary names include first baseman Felix Carrasco, outfielders Luis Durango and Brad Chalk, and right-handers Jeremy McBryde, Jeremy Hefner, and Wynn Pelzer. Two other highly regarded pitchers — Corey Kluber and Cory Luebke — struggled at Lake Elsinore before returning to the Midwest League.

Yefri Carvajal: .280/.320/.376; .296 BB/K, .056 BB/PA, .096 ISO, .247 XB/H

The main things to remember about Carvajal are that he’s 19 years old and this is his first full season of pro ball. Word on the street is the kid has plenty of power potential. Right now he’s hitting a fair amount of doubles, but that’s it. His plate discipline could be better, although it’s improved already from last year. Carvajal has been in left field about two-thirds of the time this season and in right the other third. He’s putting up league-average numbers against players that typically are 2-3 years older than he is. Cedric Hunter did the same thing in Fort Wayne in 2007, which caused some folks to be surprised by his “rebound” this year at Lake Elsinore. Carvajal isn’t the same type of player as Hunter, and his approach isn’t nearly as polished, but there’s a lot to like here. In 27 games since the Midwest League All-Star break, Carvajal is hitting .320/.384/.410, with 10 walks against 18 strikeouts. That’s a small sample, but encouraging nonetheless.

Drew Cumberland: .286/.348/.350; .708 BB/K, .075 BB/PA, .064 ISO, .169 XB/H

Another 19-year-old, Cumberland struggled mightily in the early going before catching fire in June, when he hit .432/.500/.523 in 12 games. Unfortunately he landed on the disabled list shortly thereafter thanks to an oblique strain and hasn’t played since June 25. In addition to controlling the strike zone, Cumberland also has shown usable speed, swiping 16 bases in 20 attempts. In the field, the Padres began the season by shuttling him between second base and shortstop. That experiment didn’t last long, though, as the vast majority of Cumberland’s time has been spent at short. The .922 fielding percentage looks ugly, and it is, but given his age and level of experience, it’s excusable for now. He also has a 4.70 range factor, which seems reasonable (Khalil Greene is at 4.16; NL average is 4.45), but I have no idea how that compares to the rest of the Midwest League, so I can’t say for sure. Right now Cumberland’s biggest challenge is getting and staying healthy so he can continue to develop.

Felix Carrasco: .242/.337/.436; .347 BB/K, .126 BB/PA, .194 ISO, .400 XB/H

This guy is a freak. The 21-year-old Carrasco mostly played third base before 2008, but nobody was impressed by the .796 fielding percentage in 71 career games there and now he’s a first baseman (more on this a little later). If you’re into Three True Outcomes, this is your man. Carrasco has homered, walked, or struck out in a mind-blowing 53.2% of his plate appearances this year. It will be exceedingly difficult for him to maintain any kind of production at higher levels without making serious adjustments (striking out 36% of the time in the Midwest League just doesn’t impress folks — in the way you want to impress them, anyway). That said, I can’t wait to see him at Elsinore in 2009. He may never amount to anything, but I’m betting he’ll be fun to watch. Carrasco has some of the largest home/road splits you’ll see: .305/.411/.560 at home, .182/.262/.318 on the road.

Luis Durango: .303/.399/.365; 1.222 BB/K, .138 BB/PA, .062 ISO, .146 XB/H

I wonder if Durango has Juan Pierre’s tiny head, too. Anyway, Durango is a 22-year-old top-of-the-order type who has split time between the outfield and designated hitter in 2008. This is his first crack at full-season ball, and he’s doing pretty much what he did in short-season leagues: hit a lot. In 823 career plate appearances Durango owns a .345/.423/.422 line. The trouble is, he needs to hit .345 every step of the way to have value. Durango has no power, doesn’t use his speed very well (career 68% success rate in stolen base attempts), and apparently isn’t a stellar defender (unless you have another explanation for 30 games at DH for a guy with his skill set). I love his ability to get on base, but as Sean Burroughs reminded us, that’s not enough to build a career. And come to think of it, Burroughs actually showed more at the same level, at a much younger age.

Brad Chalk: .277/.371/.357; 1.000 BB/K, .124 BB/PA, .080 ISO, .246 XB/H

If Durango is a poor-man’s Pierre, then this guy might be the new Jason Tyner. In 420 career plate appearances, the 22-year-old Chalk owns a .368 OBP and has hit zero homers. In my book, this is not an exciting skill set, though he gets bonus points for swiping 14 bases in 14 tries this year.

Mat Latos: 3.28 ERA, 2.92 BB/9, 8.39 K/9

Latos is supposed to be a stud, but thanks to injuries, we have insufficient data (24.2 IP) with which to make a judgment at this point. If healthy, he’s got the highest upside of any pitcher in the organization. Latos is 20 years old, so we’ll call this a mulligan and hope for better things in 2009.

Jeremy McBryde: 4.91 ERA, 1.57 BB/9, 9.62 K/9

The 21-year-old McBryde has been around the plate a lot this year, maybe too much. I love the walk rate, but when the league is hitting .309 against you (and we’re talking about a league that hits .251 against everyone) it might be time to make the hitters a little less comfortable. In seven starts since the All-Star break, McBryde has struck out 36 batters while walking only two. Seriously, he’s got some real nice peripherals, in a Jon Lieber/Shane Reynolds/Kevin Tapani kind of way.

Jeremy Hefner: 3.36 ERA, 2.48 BB/9, 9.47 K/9

Hefner is 22 years old and posting nice numbers, although there is concern that his stuff may not translate to success at higher levels (more later). The right-hander has enjoyed greater success this year against lefties (.214 BAA) than righties (.260 BAA), so I’m guessing he changes speeds well, which could confuse some A-ball hitters.

Wynn Pelzer: 3.10 ERA, 2.48 BB/9, 7.14 K/9

The ERA is a bit deceptive, as Pelzer has given up 17 unearned runs as well. Still, I love this guy. A ninth-round pick out of South Carolina in 2007, Pelzer has rebounded from a broken left kneecap incurred in the Cape Cod League last summer and been shifted from the bullpen to the rotation with nice results. He has fairly extreme lefty/righty splits (.294 BAA, 18 BB, 22 SO vs LHB; .188 BAA, 6 BB, 47 SO vs RHB), so an eventual return to relief work shouldn’t shock anyone.

* * *
At the beginning of July, I had a chance to talk with‘s John Conniff, who had just returned from Fort Wayne to watch the Wizards. Due to life circumstances I’ve been sitting on this for longer than anticipated, but now here it is, in all its glory:

Ducksnorts: Felix Carrasco is a… very large man. Is the move to first base permanent, and do you think he’ll ever control the strike zone enough to take advantage of his prodigious power at higher levels?

John Conniff: He is a big man. My guess is at least 6’2″ and somewhere around 250 lbs., so yes I do think the move is permanent. He is in a bit of a power slump right now, but he is making good progress on controlling the zone with his OBP in the .340-.355 range. The other day he drew four walks, which would have been unheard of last year. Remember it’s his first full year of full-season ball against much better competition; so far he’s doing pretty well — much better than I would have expected at the beginning of the year.

He won the Midwest League Home Run Derby and to see him take batting practice is a show; he seems to hit every ball hard. An interesting tidbit: his “natural” side is his left side, he’s always been a left-handed hitter, which is strange because he throws right-handed. He only began switch-hitting a few years ago, which is one of the reasons he has trouble from the right.

Ducksnorts: Mat Latos hasn’t been able to stay healthy this year. What’s the latest on his situation?

John Conniff: Pulled oblique. The Padres thought he was over it and they sent him back to Fort Wayne. According to some of the guys who saw him he was really unleashing some fastballs in the first inning. A few pitches into the second he threw one and just called everyone over and came out. He’s going to be in Arizona until they are sure he is 100% healthy.

When he has pitched he has been impressive. However, both Doug Dascenzo, the manager, and Tom Bradley, his pitching coach, worry that he throws too many fastballs, which will get batters out at this level, but not at higher ones. His slider and change have been improving this year according to Bradley, who was his pitching coach last year in Eugene.

Ducksnorts: Beyond the usual suspects — Yefri Carvajal, Carrasco, Drew Cumberland, Brad Chalk, Latos — who should we be aware of at Fort Wayne?

John Conniff: I’ve really been impressed with Robert Perry, an outfielder who was a late round pick out of Long Beach State last year. He struggled in Lake Elsinore at the beginning of the season and was sent down to Fort Wayne. When he got back to working with Tom Tornincasa, the hitting coach, he straightened out a minor flaw in his stroke and has really hit — .343/.425/.448 [Ed note: he's cooled off since we spoke and now hitting .274/.363/.394]. He can play all three outfield positions, has a strong arm and speed, and is a very bright guy. Because the Wizards have Carvajal, Danny Payne, Chalk, and Luis Durango in the outfield, I think there is a chance they will send him back up to Lake Elsinore soon.

On the mound Jeremy Hefner has put together a nice year, but much of his success is due to his ability to throw three pitches for strikes. Some of the scouts weren’t impressed by his inability to get many batters to swing and miss at his fastball. Wynn Pelzer has done a nice job after missing most of last year with a knee injury, and Jackson Quedeza, a big Dominican with a good two-seam fastball and slider, may be the best closer in the organization.

* * *
There you go. Thanks, as always, to John for dealing the goods…

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37 Responses »

  1. I saw Durango last summer in Eugene … here’s a short video …

  2. And Cumberland at the end of the (short) season …

  3. GY, thanks for the minor league update! This is an area I never have learned to follow, but it is very interesting becasue it is so important to our big league success given market factors and front office philosophy. I always appreciate it when you or one of your guest writers (and the many knowlegeable posts from readers) shares these insights on the blog.

  4. ESPN is reporting that the Pads and Mets are talking more seriously about a trade of Brian giles

  5. #6@Loren: Not sure who the Pads would want in return, the mets kind of cleaned out thier farm system…

    Would the Pads be able to get Fernando Martinez in the deal?

  6. Awesome post, Geoff. I hope you’re doing this for all the levels. At night when I’m flipping through the minor league scores Ft. Wayne is always the team that depresses me to look at. I guess that’s what happens when your top prospects are injured (Latos, Cumberland) or expected to struggle (Carvajal, Cumberland).

  7. #7@Steve C: Maybe. It’ll depend on what other teams are asking for, though. Giles is having an awfully good year, but he’s probably 4th or 5th on most wish lists. If Martinez gets you Bay or Nady (and recent reports say the Pirates are only looking for one elite prospect), then it seems like the Mets would lean that way. I’d bet we’d target Heilmann. That trade would suggest the Padres aren’t so optimistic about their chances next year, which may be the right reaction even though it’s not pretty to think so.

    Brad Chalk: He’s a guy I “chatted” with DePo about. The Padres seem to think there’s something in that bat that nobody else has ever seen or even imagined they saw after a quart of bad tequila. They did work with Antonelli on his load before 2007, but Antonelli had shown power before. Chalk’s shown none.

  8. #9@Tom Waits: Giles alone wouldn’t get it done.

    And I really, really hope it’s wouldn’t be for Heilman.

    #6@Loren: Did they elaborate any further?

  9. The Mets really need a corner outfielder, so Giles would be a great fit for them. But giving up Giles means the Padres are punting 2009, and Martinez seems like the only Met prospect worth giving up a resonable chance of making the playoffs in 2009 for. But it doesn’t seem likely the Mets would trade Martinez for Giles. So I don’t see it.

  10. #10@Dalton: Well, Giles could, but as I said, it doesn’t seem likely if more coveted targets are available. If the Mets feel like they’re one offensive player away from going to the playoffs, Fernando Martinez is not going to stand in their way. Who knows if the Mets feel that way or if they believe that missing player could be Giles.

    Heilman’s not a big return, but it would be shocking if we’re not looking at him. Very strong historical record, a down year this year despite good peripheral numbers. Him and Niese (AA pitcher) would be about the best we could hope for if we’re not paying any of OG’s salary / bonus.

  11. From Buster Olney:
    The Padres hold a $9 million option on right fielder Brian Giles for 2009 and they could keep the right fielder, who is hitting .301 with a .397 on-base percentage — or they could swap him to a contender, which could keep the former All-Star for a relatively modest one-year obligation of $11 million for next year (his salary will escalate to $11 million in 2009 if he gets traded). The Mets and Padres have had some contact about a possible deal.

    Might’ve overblown it writing it for which I apologize, still considering its not a bad thought. Put Ambres out there, call up Venerable, lets see what the kids do.

  12. #13@Loren: Doesn’t sound like you overblew it. Heh.

  13. Really cool interview by King Kaufman with resident non-prospect Dirk Hayhurst.

    (I think you have to watch an ad for a view seconds before getting to the article).

  14. #13@Loren: I know that Will Venable is a bit old for AAA … but he’s not *that* old …

    … nice typo ;-)

  15. Good pitching for the AZL Padres today … a 6-2 victory …

    … Jaff Decker was 1-for-3 + a walk + SB … ho hum ;-)

  16. #17@LynchMob: Heh, again.

    #16@Ben B.: I’d love to see the Padres promote Hayhurst this year, even if they don’t see him in their future plans. He’s had a good year and is a great story. Besides, it’s not like we couldn’t do without Bryan Corey, who has proven that he is, indeed, Bryan Corey.

  17. #9@Tom Waits: Defensively Chalk is a pretty impressive guy in center. At the plate he does a lot of things that they like, good eye, good BB/K ratio and has yet to be caught stealing with 14 bags. Also he can really run. It seemed that any ball hit to the left side he had a 50/50 shot of beating out.

    On the downside, as you wrote, he has no power and tends to get most of his hits in the 5.5 slot. When I was in FW the Padres were working with him extensively on pulling the ball and Chalk is well aware that his ticket to the big leagues will be how well he can use the whole field.

    He’s an interesting prospect and we’ll see if he’s able to significantly change his swing and approach without losing his on-base strengths.

  18. I just slog’d thru all the comments on DePo’s recent posting about the Wolf trade …

    … best part is that DePo has responded to a couple of them … best one was this response to an inquiry about how/why Thatcher is (was) pitching for the Padres …

    I completely understand your frustration. Everyone is frustrated about Joe’s ML performance so far in 2008… Joe being chief among that group.

    His situation is a strange one, quite frankly. Last year we brought Joe to the big leagues after the trade because we thought he could help us, and we had a need. However, we also thought that we might be rushing him. After all, at the time of his recall, he had fewer than 50 career innings pitched above A ball. A pitcher usually might just be on the cusp of being ready for AAA at that point.

    Nevertheless, Joe came up and pitched remarkably well – 21 ip, 13 h, 6 bb, and 16 k’s with a 1.29 ERA. His performance this year has been quite the opposite. I would say that he was probably a bit lucky last year (very low hit percentage for balls in play) and he’s definitely been unlucky this year (outrageously high hit percentage).

    What makes this more puzzling is that Joe’s performance in AAA this year has been outstanding and in line with his history – 22.1 ip, 13 h, 8 bb’s, and 25 k’s. His AAA totals between last year and this year are: 1.54 ERA, 53 ip, 42 h, 16 bb, and 69 k’s. In short, he’s been spectacular there, especially when you consider that the environment is not favorable for pitchers.

    The fact is that he is still relatively inexperienced (22 ip in AA, 53 in AAA, and 47 in the ML), and lady luck has had him on a yo-yo. Nevertheless, his continued excellence in AAA speaks well for the future. I’m not saying this is how he’s going to turn out, but just look at Heath Bell’s track record in the minors and early days in the Majors – a lot of similarities.

    … I had hoped he toss in a few notes from a scouting report … it seems like that’s gotta be what’s keeping the Padres interested. For me, the bottom line is that many pitchers seem just be “up and down” guys … ie. good year one year, bad year the next year … and/or “late bloomer”. I’d like to think that the key is to have the “down years” at AAA and the “up years” in MLB :-)

  19. #16@Ben B.: Except for a somewhat bad month in June, he’s pitched very well all year.

    He’s a very interesting guy and a genuinely nice person.

  20. #20@John Conniff: Yeah, it’s all about his pop. Without any power he looks like a very good 5th outfielder (good defender, even in CF, can pinch-run, won’t give away at-bats)…..who was drafted in the second round. The opportunity cost is the thing that is likely to bite us.

    I don’t know how far that 300K would have gone, but you’d think it would have more than made the difference with Toledo, and might have been enough to get Colon.

  21. #23@Tom Waits: Yeah with Toledo I think they just lost a game with chicken. Also Danny Payne, whom they signed $517,500 is the same type of player as Chalk, so that does seem redundant.

    Toledo didn’t have a great year at Florida, but I would sure like to have seen him in the system.

    A guy whose numbers don’t look great, but who impressed me was Jeremy McBryde. His problems are mainly due to that he needs to learn how to throw a change and use his slider more, but he has a big time fastball with good size. If he learns how to pitch he could be something.

  22. #24@John Conniff: It seems like Payne is the kind of player they’d hope Chalk might become, except that Chalk had been healthier in college.

    What did Hefner’s fastball look like when you saw him? He supposedly had it up to 94 last year. I’m wondering if “some” scouts saw him on an off-day, because it’s hard to get 107 strikeouts if people aren’t missing the fastball.

  23. #25@Tom Waits: It was consistently in the low 90′s, and he said later he didn’t feel that he had the really good fastball. What helped him was that day he felt good about throwing his slider and change, and he was very hard to touch.

    He gets in trouble when he wants to throw everything hard at the same speed. Even though its consistently down, you will still get torched with that approach.

    I do like him, if he can get more confidence during games with his slider and change he could really become a prospect.

  24. #12@Tom Waits: Meant to add a more pleasant sounding “IMO” to that.

    That Martinez wasn’t included in the Johan trade I think speaks to how much the Mets value him.

  25. Rob Neyer on the Wolf deal:

    Me, yesterday: “If the Astros trade even one promising young player for Randy Wolf, it’ll rank among the worst deals of the year.”

    Well, they’ve done it. And it might wind up looking like one of the worst deals of the year. Yes, Chad Reineke is 26 and still pitching in Triple-A. He’s also struck out a batter per inning throughout his minor league career and is exactly the sort of pitcher the Padres like. The odds are against Reineke becoming a good major league starter, but he might be yet another of the organization’s bullpen gems. Meanwhile, apparently Astros management sees their team as a legitimate contender. Glory be.

  26. #27@Dalton: No worries. The Mets did hold onto him in the Santana trade, but to do so they gave up 4 other prospects. If Boston or the Yankees had stayed in the bidding, Martinez would have probably been a precondition.

    I don’t see a great fit with the Mets, or with any team, really. Our pitching is weak (and trading OG could help there) but our offense without OG is weak too.

  27. #28@Kevin: I was on vacation this week with nothing but ESPN. When the “Padres trade Randy Wolf to Astros” line scrolled across the screen, I just about spit up my beer.

  28. #30@Tom Waits: The Padres have a better shot of winning their division than the Astros do theirs.

  29. #24@John Conniff: Good to know about McBryde. As someone who knows little beyond the numbers about these guys, I like McBryde because he’s got excellent peripherals (98-16 K/BB ratio in 91 IP). It’s great to hear these are backed up by some good stuff.

  30. Great report Geoff. Just when I thought I was the last person paying attention on the ‘zards’ year, you had to go and do this. Seems they lost a lot of momentum when they fell just short of the playoffs in the first half. Funny story about Durango: During one of the games while John was out here, Durango tried to bunt for a single and he made it easily . . . but he was called out because he was about a foot out of the box before he made contact. Hehe.

  31. #13@Loren: “Venerable” – just because he’s a little old for a prospect…

  32. #34@Chad Gramling: I remember that – went forward, then flew down the line. One thing about FW as compared to last year is they have quite a few guys that can run.

  33. Good stuff, Geoff.

    If you ever have any questions, let me know. I’m the Wizards beat writer for the News-Sentinel in Fort Wayne.