Austin Hedges headlines a deep crop of high-ceiling prospects.
The Padres’ farm system is one of the finest collections of high-ceiling talent among all 30 teams, highlighted by Austin Hedges, the top-ranked catching prospect in the minor leagues; Max Fried, one of the more projectable left-handed pitchers; and the criminally underrated right-hander Matt Wisler.
The organization addressed its lack of power-hitting prospects last June when it selected Mississippi State outfielder Hunter Renfroe in the first round of the draft. Meanwhile, fellow outfielder Rymer Liriano will make his highly anticipated return to the field next year after Tommy John surgery cost him the entire 2013 season.
The Padres also have a pair of right-handed pitchers looking to return to the major leagues next year. Burch Smith finished 2013 with a strong showing in the rotation after he was rushed to the majors earlier in the year, and Casey Kelly—who also missed the entire 2013 season after Tommy John surgery—will try to regain the form that helped him reach the majors in late 2012.
And for what it's worth, I still consider Joe Ross to be a high-ceiling pitching prospect and believe he's poised for a breakout performance next season.
Here’s a look at the San Diego Padres’ top 10 prospects for 2014.
DOB: 01/06/1991 (Age: 23)
Height/Weight: 6’0”, 185 pounds
Drafted: Fourth round, 2009 (Forest HS, Fla.)
ETA: Late 2014
Undersized, 6’0”, 185-pound right-hander benefitted from an uptick in velocity last season; fastball works in the low-to-mid 90s and plays up in short bursts; slider is above average with good depth and tilt; highly effective against same-side batters; changeup is at least average; plays up when fastball is around the plate; fringy command overall; fastball-slider combo and effectiveness against right-handed batters likely will lead to a late-inning role.
Projection: No. 4 or 5 starter; setup man
DOB: 04/12/1990 (Age: 23)
Height/Weight: 6’4”, 215 pounds
Drafted: 14th round, 2011 (Oklahoma)
ETA: 2014 (Debuted in 2013)
6’4”, 215-pound right-hander has an excellent frame; potential to add more strength; athleticism and body control shows in his quick delivery; fastball sits in the 92-95 mph range and bumps several ticks higher; command is above average but can serve as a detriment when secondaries aren't sharp; changeup is primary secondary offering, thrown with deceptive arm speed and good fading action; lacks consistent release point with curveball; development of pitch should improve entire arsenal; average command profile that depends on fastball execution.
Projection: No. 3 or 4 starter
DOB: 05/09/1990 (Age: 23)
Height/Weight: 6’0”, 205 pounds
Drafted: First round supplemental, 2011 (McNeese State)
Physical athlete at 6’0”, 205 pounds; intriguing blend of average across-the-board tools and mature baseball skills; strong defensive shortstop with average range and arm strength; demonstrates a feel for position; plus instincts and first step; left-handed batter is a tough out; works deep counts and uses entire field; can hit same-side pitching; efficient base stealer who knows how to read pitchers and pick spots; below-average power but plenty of doubles and triples; gets the most out of his tools.
Projection: Second-division shortstop
DOB: 10/04/1989 (Age: 24)
Height/Weight: 6’3”, 210 pounds
Drafted: First round, 2008 by Red Sox (Sarasota HS, Fla.)
ETA: Mid-2014 (Debuted in 2012)
A former first-round pick of the Red Sox (as a shortstop) in 2008, traded to Padres in Adrian Gonzalez deal; missed large chunk of 2012 season with elbow injury; underwent Tommy John surgery last April and missed entire 2013 season.
Excellent athlete who was drafted as a position player; pitchability is his calling card; fastball sits in the low-90s; was touching mid-90s before elbow injury early in the year; thrown on solid downhill plane; induces ground balls; curveball is above average with depth and late break; above-average potential; changeup continues to improve and adds another secondary weapon; command-oriented right-hander; reliant upon getting ahead in the count and sequencing pitches; lacks an elite offering.
Projection: No. 4 or 5 starter
DOB: 06/20/1991 (Age: 22)
Height/Weight: 6’0", 225 pounds
Signed: 2007 (Dominican Republic)
2013 Stats (DNP—Tommy John surgery)
A physically mature player at 6’0”, 225 pounds with tons of raw strength; boasts at least average tools across the board; hit tool will never develop into anything beyond average; toolsy outfielder’s plus bat speed and raw power suggest plenty of untapped potential; keeps his hands inside the ball; extensive plate coverage can work against him by generating too many weakly hit outs.
Due to his plus speed and strong, accurate arm, Liriano has a future in right field; will need to feature more power and power frequency for a favorable long-term projection; routes and jumps are average; covers more ground in the outfield than one would expect; demonstrates good closing speed; raw talent loaded with upside; breakout candidate in 2014.
Projection: First-division regular
DOB: 05/21/1993 (Age: 20)
Height/Weight: 6’3”, 185 pounds
Drafted: First round, 2011 (Bishop O’Dowd HS, Calif.)
6’3”, 185-pound right-hander has a big arm with plenty of room left for physical projection; still raw and more of a thrower than pitcher; does an overall impressive job keeping the ball low in the zone; tends to rip open early with his front side, which prevents him from getting on top of secondary offerings; loses too many fastballs high to the arm side.
Athletic, clean mechanics generate a plus fastball in the low-to-mid 90s; maxes out around 96-97 mph; chance to add a few more ticks as he adds strength and durability; ball jumps out of his hand and on opposing hitters; establishes pitch early in games, counts; slider flashes above-average potential in the low-to-mid 80s with sharp break; changeup is raw and used sparingly; he utilized the pitch more this past season as he worked deeper into games; still learning to turn it over; at least a future average offering.
Projection: No. 2 or 3 starter
Video courtesy of Baseball Prospectus
DOB: 01/28/1992 (Age: 21)
Height/Weight: 6’1”, 200 pounds
Drafted: First round, 2013 (Mississippi State)
ETA: Late 2015
6’1”, 200-pounder has upright setup and stance that utilizes strong core and lower half; generates excellent extension after contact; gets through the ball really well; back foot comes off the ground; rotational swing; not overly handsy; pitch recognition is fringy; will unnecessarily expand his strike zone at times; doesn’t always see spin well; improvements in recognition and approach may ultimately determine whether he reaches hit-tool ceiling.
Plus raw power; may showcase plus-plus power at maturity; physical specimen with strength throughout frame; strong core helps create torque in rotational swing; drives the ball to all fields with backspin carry; robust and effortless power to the pull side; crushes mistakes and offerings left up in the zone; power will play at the next level.
Plus runner showcases speed on both sides of the ball; average base stealer; moves well enough to play all three outfield positions; could conceivably lose a step if he gets too bulky; has all the makings of future right fielder in major leagues; takes aggressive routes; natural instincts; feel for positioning; plus arm strength with excellent carry.
Projection: First-division right fielder
Video courtesy of Baseball Instinct
DOB: 09/12/1992 (Age: 21)
Height/Weight: 6’3”, 195 pounds
Drafted: Seventh round, 2011 (Bryan HS, Ohio)
Still growing into projectable 6’3”, 195-pound frame; good athlete; delivery involves moderate effort; will jerk with upper body and head at times, though it doesn’t impede his ability to throw strikes; will need to be cleaned up a bit; maintains balance and posture; quick arm; stays in line with the plate.
Fastball is a present plus in the low-to-mid 90s; will run it as high as 95-96 mph; lots of late life to the arm-side; improving sinking action; pitch flattens out when elevated; lacks consistent downhill plane; has a feel for working both sides of the plate; command projects to be average.
Slider is a future plus offering; thrown with excellent depth and pace at 82-87 mph; two-plane breaker; swing-and-miss potential; feel for adding and subtracting; shows confidence in pitch both in and out of the zone; tight spin and sharp bite; still learning to locate against left-handed hitters.
Changeup is a fringe offering that projects to be at least average at maturity; generates two-seam-like fade and sink in the mid-80s; repeats arm slot well; throws it on the firm side; weapon against left-handed hitters; became more comfortable using it against righties this season; plenty of room to improve; employs a usable mid-70s curveball as his fourth pitch; used sparingly.
Projection: No. 3 starter
Video courtesy of Jason Cole
DOB: 01/18/1994 (Age: 19)
Height/Weight: 6’4", 185 pounds
Drafted: First round, 2012 (Harvard-Westlake HS, Calif.)
The 6'4", 185-pound left-hander is athletic with a projectable build and considerable polish for his age; has a smooth delivery and fluid arm action; works from consistent three-quarters slot; maintains good posture with good body control; will tend to drift towards front side and overextend towards the plate; has time to clean up mechanical inefficiencies.
Fastball ranges anywhere from 88-93 mph with arm-side action; will top out around 94-95 mph; has the frame to develop more velocity; mixes in both two- and four-seamers; pounds strike zone when he’s on; inconsistent command overall.
Left-hander’s curveball is easily his best offering with a big break and the potential to draw lots of swing-and-misses; potential to be plus or better; feel for adding and subtracting, throwing variations of the pitch anywhere from 72-78 mph; future average command; adept at burying the pitch to induce whiffs; changeup flashes at least potential to be above average in low-80s; thrown with deceptive arm speed; impressive feel for turning the pitch over to create sink and fade; utilizes offering against both right- and left-handed hitters; advanced three-pitch mix and overall polish relative to age.
Projection: No. 2 or 3 starter
Video courtesy of Baseball Prospectus
DOB: 08/18/1992 (Age: 21)
Height/Weight: 6’1”, 190 pounds
Drafted: Second round, 2011 (J Serra Catholic HS, Calif.)
The top defensive catcher in the minor leagues—hands down; Hedges’ defensive prowess alone will get him to the major leagues; stifles opponents’ running game with a plus arm and quick catch and release; consistent plus pop times; outstanding receiver with little movement behind the plate; gives the umpire an ideal look at every pitch; blocking continues to improve; has received praise from both his pitchers and managers for his game-calling skills and ability to slow down the game.
Hit tool projects to be average to above average; has held his own against advanced pitching; will get beaten by velocity on the hands; mature approach for his age; shows willingness to coax walks; plenty of gap power; over-the-fence pop should continue to emerge; more speed and athleticism than typical catcher; instincts should allow him to approach double-digit stolen bases totals.
Projection: Potential All-Star