With the 2009 season right around the corner (and not much for Padres fans to be looking forward to), there seems no better time to look to the future and break down what’s ahead.
These rankings are inclusive of the entire Padres minor league system and are my personal opinions taken from a combination of scouting reports, statistics and first-hand observations.
For each player I’ve written a scouting report summary and a short projection on where they’ll be this season.
The ages listed are baseball age (age on July 1 of the coming season) and just to recap for you the Padres’ minor league affiliates are Portland (AAA), San Antonio (AA), Lake Elsinore (A+), Fort Wayne (A), Eugene (A-) and Arizona (R). I would love to hear your feedback.
1. Kellen Kulbacki – OF
Acquired: 2007 draft, supplemental round (40th overall, James Madison)
Kulbacki tops this list for one reason: his bat. He had a slow start to his pro career in ‘07 adjusting to the wooden bat, but once he figured it out there has been no looking back.
Last season at Lake Elsinore, he terrorized Cal League pitching, hitting .332/.428/.589 with 20 homers in just over 300 at bats, before injuries cut his season short. There was a stretch this last summer where it just seemed unfair for opposing pitchers. He hit .405 in the month of July and .379 in the second half of the season.
Some will knock him for his defense, which is average, but he should be fine as a corner outfielder with an above average throwing arm.
2009: He’ll start the season in San Antonio and bat in the middle of the order for the Missions. I’d expect him to keep hitting and possibly earn a call-up to Portland.
2. Kyle Blanks – 1B
Acquired: 2004 draft, 42nd round (Moriarty (NM) HS)
Blanks was very impressive as a 21-year-old in AA, hitting .325 with 20 homers and 107 RBI with San Antonio. He’s not your typical, one-dimensional, power-hitting first baseman. He knows he can’t hit the ball out of the park every time and is a selective, good all-around hitter that chooses his pitch to drive.
Blanks is a huge man, and there will always be people that knock him due to his 6’6” 270 lb build. However defensively he’s been solid at first base and should be fine as long as he watches his weight to some extent. His future with the Padres is obviously blocked by Adrian Gonzalez.
Some have suggested a move to a corner outfield spot, although with a guy his size that could be an adventure.
2009: Blanks will spend the year at AAA Portland, which should be a good test for the youngster. There’s no need to rush his development, but if he replicates the numbers he had at the lower levels the Padres will have some decisions to make. He’d likely be called up if anything happened to Gonzalez.
3. Mat Latos – SP
Acquired: 2006 draft, 11th round (Coconut Creek (Fla.) HS)
Latos is the prototypical power-pitcher in the system and although he hasn’t pitched much due to injuries, he maintains the potential to be a top of the rotation starter someday. His fastball reaches the mid 90s and he has good control, especially for someone his age.
Last year he began the season with Fort Wayne, before getting hurt and finishing the season in the two lowest levels. His final line was an encouraging 2.57 ERA with 69 strikeouts over 56 innings.
2009: With no lingering effects from the injuries, it will be interesting to see how Latos performs in a full season against quality competition. He’s expected to begin the year in Lake Elsinore and should be well worth the trip up I-15.
4. Cedric Hunter – CF
Acquired: 2006 draft, 3rd round (93rd overall, King (Ga.) HS)
Hunter enters his third full season of pro ball and the young center fielder is coming off his best season to date. He played a full season at Lake Elsinore, batting .318 with 11 home runs, 33 doubles, 84 RBI, and 12 stolen bases. He also hit .406 with runners in scoring position and struck out just 47 times.
He’s a very good contact hitter and actually led all minor leaguers in hits with 186. He’s one of those guys pitchers hate to face because of his ability to foul off pitches until he puts one in play.
I would like to see a few more steals out of him, as his speed is above average but not quite what you’d want from a center fielder. He gets a good jump on the ball defensively though.
2009: Hunter continues to be right on schedule and his next challenge is AA San Antonio, where he’ll likely bat leadoff.
5. Jaff Decker – OF
Acquired: 2008 draft, supplemental round (42nd overall, Sunrise Mountain (AZ) HS)
It really is Jaff, not Jeff, and the Padres were thrilled when the highly touted left-handed high-school prospect fell to them in last year’s draft.
Decker is another player known first and foremost for his bat, and did not appear to have any problem adjusting to pro-ball, as he won the Arizona Rookie League MVP after hitting .352 with an incredible .523 OBP.
Decker is not known for his athleticism, but did steal nine bases in 10 tries. He projects as a corner outfielder. He also touched 93 mph on the mound in high school, but the Padres are set on developing him as a hitter.
2009: Decker has all the tools to get to the big leagues, starting with his bat and strike-zone judgment. Look for him to start his first full professional season in A-ball with Fort Wayne and be one of the Midwest League’s better hitters.
6. Matt Antonelli – 2B
Acquired: 2006 draft, First round (17th overall, Wake Forest)
Antonelli saw his stock fall dramatically after a lackluster 2008. Following his 2007 season, many had him rated as the top prospect in the entire organization and he was expected to compete for the second base job in San Diego.
The former first-round pick ran into a road block in AAA though, seeing his batting average fall below the Mendoza line for much of the season. He ended up with a .215 average, seven home runs and six steals, a far cry from what he’d done at previous levels.
He did hit .290 in the season’s final month, before being called up to the Padres where he hit .193 in 57 at bats.
To his credit, he still managed a lot of walks. Overall, Antonelli is still a five-tool prospect and tremendous athlete with good plate discipline.
2009: Antonelli will begin the season in Portland and if he performs will earn a call-up to San Diego. The Padres still consider him the second baseman of the future, but he’ll have to hit better in ‘09 and prove that last year was a fluke.
7. Drew Cumberland – SS
Acquired: 2007 draft, supplemental round (46th overall, Pace (Fla.) HS)
Having just turned 20, Cumberland still has a long way to go in his development, but his speed and ability to hit for average make him an intriguing prospect. Last season he started slow at Fort Wayne, then began to hit very well before suffering an injury that sidelined him for the remainder of the season.
His final numbers included a .286 batting average and 16 steals in 56 games. He did have his share of struggles on defense, but he is a great athlete and very quick, giving him the potential to play multiple positions (second base and outfield).
The Padres' plan to keep him at shortstop for the time being.
2009: The Padres could start him in Fort Wayne, as they may want him to get more at-bats at that level than he did last season. It’s more likely though that he’ll begin the year with Lake Elsinore and should be an exciting player to watch for the Storm.
8. Allan Dykstra – 1B
Acquired: 2008 draft, First round (23rd overall, Wake Forest)
We have yet to see much of this guy because he signed so late after the draft. What we do know is that he is a 6’5”, left-handed, ripped guy with potential for massive, Petco-proof, power. He also displayed good plate discipline in college, leaving as the all-time walks leader for Wake Forest.
2009: I’m not entirely sure where the Padres are going to start Dykstra. He had a few at-bats with Lake Elsinore last season and could start there, but it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to see him in San Antonio.
9. Yefri Carvajal – OF
Acquired: Signed in 2006 (Dominican Republic)
Carvajal is definitely an intriguing prospect, as one of the first of many Latin American players we will see in the coming years. The Dominican outfielder turned 20 last month, and is still very raw in terms of his development.
At this point, he’s a good contact hitter with a great outfield arm. Many scouts believe, because of his bat speed and physical makeup, that he has great power potential down the road.
Last season he hit .268 with just four homers in 456 at-bats at Fort Wayne, while showing impatience at the plate, striking out 100 times compared to 25 walks. But you have to consider his age for the level he was playing at, as well as his having to deal with the adjustment to life in the States.
Overall he has great upside.
2009: This will be an important year in Carvajal’s development. Last year’s draft added a lot of outfield depth to the Padres’ system. So the team will have the option of giving Carvajal another year to develop at Fort Wayne, but there’s a good chance they move him up to Lake Elsinore.
10. Mitch Canham – C
Acquired: 2007 draft, supplemental round (57th overall, Oregon State)
This last spot came down to Canham and starting pitcher Wade Leblanc. Ultimately I couldn’t get the image of Leblanc getting shelled during his brief stint in the majors out of my head (although there’s still hope for him to turn it around with that nasty changeup).
Canham is a guy I’ve been big on for a while and not just for his on-field performance. He was a leader on the national championship Oregon State teams and has the knowledge of the game you want from a catcher. He’s also fought through adversity, including the death of his younger brother.
In his first full season of pro ball, Canham hit .285/.382/.434 in 417 at-bats at Lake Elsinore with eight home runs, 81 RBI and 13 steals. Defensively he has a long way to go as a catcher, which may keep him in the minors for a while.
Here’s a very well-done feature from ESPN on Canham’s life you should check out.
2009: He’ll be the starting catcher in San Antonio and coaches will be specifically working with him on his defense. He must stay at catcher or his stock as a prospect will plummet.
Others considered: Wade Leblanc (SP), Will Inman (SP), Chad Huffman (OF), James Darnell (3B), Eric Sogard (2B), Will Venable (OF), Luis Durango (OF), Sawyer Carroll (OF), Blake Tekotte (OF), Dan Robertson (OF), Jeremy Hefner (SP), Logan Forsythe (3B), Cole Figueroa (SS), Jackson Quezada (RP).
The Padres also have two highly regarded international prospects, shortstop Jonathan Galvez and pitcher Adys Portillo, who have yet to play stateside but could shoot up this list in a hurry once they do.
There is also a group of pitchers that may have made this list if they were not currently injured or recovering from injuries that may affect them long-term. (Nick Schmidt, Cesar Carrillo, Steve Garrison).