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Padres Farm Report: Spotlight on Portland

Portland Beavers in a Box:
Record: 69-70
Runs Scored: 695
Runs Allowed: 764
BA/OBP/SLG: .265/.350/.431 (Pacific Coast League: .277/.347/.443)
ERA: 5.04 (PCL: 4.84)
DER: .632 (PCL: .637)
Source: Baseball-Reference.

This may be the weakest minor-league team in the Padres organization. In a league that emphasizes scoring, the Beavers’ offense is a little below average, while their pitching and defense are considerably worse.

The roster features a mix of legitimate prospects, suspects, guys who could have a career on the fringe if everything breaks right, and veterans who aren’t going anywhere soon. The best of the lot are second baseman Matt Antonelli (whom I ranked as the Padres #2 prospect entering the season), center fielder Will Venable, and left-hander Wade LeBlanc (#7). Others potentially in the mix include outfielder/third baseman Peter Ciofrone, first baseman Brian Myrow, infielder Craig Stansberry, right-hander Josh Geer, and left-hander Cesar Ramos.

Matt Antonelli: .213/.335/.314; .872 BB/K, .142 BB/PA, .101 ISO, .309 XB/H

Matt AntonelliAntonelli’s game fell apart this year, and I don’t know why. When he’s right, the 23-year-old out of Wake Forest possesses a broad base of skills that should translate into a top-of-the-order hitter at the big-league level. Unfortunately this season he hasn’t been right. He’s still showing a good batting eye, which is nice, but every other aspect of his game has fallen apart for no obvious reason. I’ve heard that he’s become too tentative at the plate, although I haven’t seen him in person this year, so I can neither confirm nor deny those reports. On the bright side, Antonelli seems to have reaffirmed his status as a legitimate second baseman and his numbers since the All-Star break are a respectable .264/.378/.408, which seems like a decent baseline for him going forward. Unless, of course, I’m being overly optimistic. ;-) Anyway, my inclination is to give the kid a mulligan and hope for better things (yes, possibly even a starting gig with the big club) in 2009.

Will Venable: .292/.361/.464; .427 BB/K, .089 BB/PA, .135 ISO, .341 XB/H

Will VenableI still have concerns about Venable — he’s old for a prospect (25), he’s inexperienced in center field — but he’s making it more difficult to maintain my stance, which pleases me. At worst, he’s solidifying his status as a future reserve outfielder in the big leagues; at best, he’s transforming himself into a destitute-man’s Jody Gerut, although that may be a stretch. Venable is hitting, hitting for power, and drawing a few walks. Venable has always played in pitching-friendly leagues, and now that he’s finally in an environment that favors offense, he’s not dominating in the way you’d like to see a guy his age dominate. His second-half fade (.250/.322/.390) isn’t real encouraging either. I like Venable’s chances a little better now than I did at the same time last year, but he still looks like a fourth outfielder to me.

Peter Ciofrone: .313/.388/.510; .581 BB/K, .090 BB/PA, .197 ISO, .309 XB/H

In the Ducksnorts 2008 Baseball Annual, I compared Ciofrone to ex-Padre Rob Mackowiak. The 24-year-old Ciofrone has decent on-base skills and some pop (although probably not as much as he’s showing this year), and can play multiple positions. The latter skill may eventually get him to the big leagues. Ciofrone exhibits no appreciable platoon splits and has improved his numbers as the season has progressed, which is always a good sign. He’s not a future star, or even a future regular, but he could have a career.

Brian Myrow: .315/.454/.497; 1.129 BB/K, .197 BB/PA, .182 ISO, .343 XB/H

Myrow is a 31-year-old first baseman who crushes baseballs. He made a brief cameo with the big club this summer and even hit his first career homer. He’s too old, he’s too limited defensively, he’s not the right build, but he just rakes. Once upon a time Myrow played a little third base. If he could’ve stuck there, he might have been Corey Koskie.

Craig Stansberry: .249/.356/.396; .818 BB/K, .140 BB/PA, .147 ISO, .338 XB/H

The first Saudi-born player to reach the big leagues, Stansberry can play anywhere on the infield. Offensively, he features a nice blend of on-base skills and gaps power. He was strictly a second baseman while in the Pirates system from 2004 to 2006, but has played a lot of shortstop and third base since joining the Padres last season. In fact, this year — thanks in part to the departure of Oscar Robles, and injuries to Luis Rodriguez and Khalil Greene (which forced Rodriguez to the big club) — most of his playing time has come at shortstop. At age 26, Stansberry isn’t a future regular, but he could have a career as a utility player. His best case is maybe a poor-man’s Mike Lansing.

Wade LeBlanc: 5.54 ERA, 2.87 BB/9, 8.95 K/9

There was some talk during spring training that the 23-year-old LeBlanc might break camp in the big-league rotation. I don’t know how serious that talk was, but what actually happened is he went to Triple-A, where he has struggled. There is no way to put a positive spin on his overall performance — the ERA is atrocious, and he’s coughed up too many home runs — but we can find a few bright spots if we dig a little deeper:

  • LeBlanc’s strikeout-to-walk ratio is better than 3-to-1. This isn’t a guarantee of future success, but it’s a fairly strong indicator. I like the fact that he is controlling the strike zone.
  • He’s allowing about a hit an inning. That’s not great, but it’s not like guys are constantly making contact against him. Again, most of his problems stem from the long ball.
  • After a miserable start to the season (7.88 ERA through May), he’s come on strong, posting a 4.29 ERA since — remember, the league ERA here is 4.84. LeBlanc has pitched particularly well since the All-Star break (3.16 ERA, 5 BB, 38 SO, .197 BAA).

I expect LeBlanc to vie for a spot in the 2009 rotation. Long-term he could be a Sterling Hitchcock type who slots in nicely toward the back end.

Josh Geer: 4.54 ERA, 2.43 BB/9, 5.78 K/9

I don’t get the fascination with Geer. He is hittable, his strikeout rate is terrible (5.60 in 567 1/3 career innings), and he is a bit long in the tooth (25) for a guy touted as a prospect. Sure, he won a lot of games last year at San Antonio and posted a nice ERA, but Geer looks to me like another Justin Germano, although Germano’s minor-league track record is stronger. I’m trying to think of things to say about Geer’s skill set, and all I can come up with is that it appears to be unexceptional in almost every way. As always, I hope the player proves me wrong, but I’m not seeing a lot to get excited about here.

Cesar Ramos: 5.26 ERA, 3.51 BB/9, 6.33 K/9

Cesar RamosHe’s 24 years old and a lefty. Otherwise, most of the comments in the section on Geer apply to Ramos as well (career K/9 of 5.43 in 507 2/3 innings — no thanks). His ERA looks pretty bad, but it could be worse: he’s also allowed 20 unearned runs this year.

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Elsewhere in the minors, the Padres have extended their player development contract with Lake Elsinore through 2012. I’m hoping to make the trip up there this weekend to get a look at Allan Dykstra, who collected his first professional hit — a double — at Petco Park on Wednesday.

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On another note, you’ll be happy to learn that I’m finalizing plans to reinstate commenting functionality early next week. We’re going with a different approach that represents a philosophical shift from the way we’ve done things in the past; I’ll have full details on Friday so everyone has a chance to let the new model sink in over the weekend before we get back to the business of talking about baseball.

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