And so it begins. Today marks the first Top 10 prospect list offered here at The Outside Corner. If you didn’t see the explanation of how this will work, please read the explanation here as things will look a little different.
A poor season in the NL West saw the Padres introduce a couple top prospects to the major leagues to mixed results (as if it would ever go perfectly). Anthony Rizzo struggled as concerns over his slider-speed bat seemed to cause issues against major-league heaters, but it could just as easily have been a tough introduction for a young man that just turned 22. Cory Luebke, however, looked amazing, even improving once moved into the rotation. Those two no longer fit on a prospect list, but even with the loss of two top prospects, the Padres still have a deep farm system.
Down on the farm, the Padres saw mixed results on the pitching end. Simon Castro collapsed early before recovering to have a mediocre last few months, and Casey Kelly was just mediocre all season, a long way away from the expectations that come from being a major part of a trade for a superstar. Keyvius Sampson, however, helped save the pitching side of the ledger by staying healthy and performing well, and adding Joe Ross has added some ace potential to go along with all the middle-of-the-rotation starters. The biggest disappointment may have been Adys Portillo, the live-armed Venezuelan that hurt himself all season by missing the zone and hitting the middle of it when he did. The Padres, however, retain quite a few good arms, though only Ross has front-of-the-rotation potential.
Offensively, most of the top prospects had pretty good seasons. Donavan Tate was a lost cause yet again, but the Padres saw solid seasons from Jaff Decker and James Darnell. Jedd Gyorko and, after getting drafted, Cory Spangenberg added a boost to the system by performing above expectations. With Rizzo graduated to the majors, the Padres no longer have any impact bats in the system, but they have several guys that look like solid everyday players. It would help to have more up-the-middle talent (Fuentes is one, and though Spangenberg plays second now and could probably play center, the end result may have him in an outfield corner anyway), but few systems have that luxury.
Overall, the system is actually pretty good, especially as it was bolstered by a mid-season trade that brought in Robbie Erlin and Joe Wieland. There aren’t a lot of huge upside prospects, but they have plenty of depth on both the pitching and hitting sides of things (I had two or three more guys that I thought could be in the “Good” tier). There is still work to do in converting these guys from prospects to players, but things don’t look as gloomy as this past major-league season was.
Joe Ross SP
Age/Level (4/2012): 18/Low-A
You’ve probably heard by now that Joe is related to Tyson Ross, who pitches for the Oakland A’s, and you should also know that Joe has a good chance of being better than his brother. Armed with a low-90s fastball that can scrape 95-96, Ross has the beginnings of an ace, but he’ll need to sharpen his power curve and change-up that flashes above-average. His mechanics are extremely smooth, and his arm action screams easy velocity. It wouldn’t surprise me to see his stuff tick up and move quickly, but he’s still a long, long way from making any of this a reality. Ross’ explosive potential gives him the top spot.
(Author’s note: When I was trying to decide between players in the 10th and 11th spots, I accidentally cut and paste too far down, missing Liriano. He’s now back in his rightful spot with my apologies, and the Padres now have 11 players on this list. Oh well.)
Rymer Liriano CF
Projection: 2-4 WAR
Essentially repeating Low-A, Liriano had a much more successful season this time around. Showing a strong bat, an improved approach, and more power, Liriano threw himself into the discussion for the best prospect in the system. Defensively, Liriano plays center with above-average speed and an equally good arm, but as you can see from the measureables, he’s getting big and will probably only get bigger. If he was to stay in center, he’d be a tier higher, but because he’ll probably need to move to a corner (probably right), the bat will need to play. And it’ll take more than a good repeat to make me believe it will stay.
Reymond Fuentes CF
Age/Level: 21/ AA
Projection: 2-4 WAR
Fuentes is a personal favorite, as I like guys that you can dream on. Fuentes has plus to plus-plus speed, and he uses it well in center and on the basepaths (though the basepaths could use some improvement). In center, he could be a plus defender, though his arm is nothing special. Offensively, he can hit with improving plate discipline, but he likely won’t hit for much power. That being said, you can see him filling out and adding power, and if he can eliminate a slight bat wrap at the beginning of his swing, he should have the bat speed to hit a few more dingers. Even though I love him and toiled over what tier to put him in, I want to see him produce in AA.
Robbie Erlin SP
Part of the mid-season trade involving Mike Adams, Erlin had an excellent season in which he dominated in High-A and AA. Erlin does it with an average fastball (88-91) and two above-average secondary pitches in a curve and a change. What makes Erlin special is his pinpoint command which comes from an easy, compact, and repeatable delivery. His stuff screams back-end starter, which he may end up being, but the plus to plus-plus command makes one wonder if he’s a bit better than that.
Casey Kelly SP
The poor boy didn’t ask to be a centerpiece of the Adrian Gonzalez, but he’s being scrutinized like one. With a low-90s sinking fastball that can touch 93, a solid change, an average breaking ball, and above-average control, he has all the makings of a solid starter, but people want him to be an ace. Unless the curve becomes the power curve that he flashes, he won’t be that. He’s still 22 all next year and still building arm strength, and It wouldn’t shock me to see him take off at AAA next season. But it’s probably time to adjust our expectations from the young man, and lots of teams would like guys to put in the third spot in the rotation. Performing at a higher level gives him a slight edge on Sampson.
Keyvius Sampson SP
Projection: 2/3/4, Relief Ace
Coming into the season, the biggest question about Sampson was his ability to withstand a season’s worth of pitching, and while 118 innings isn’t a whole lot, getting through it without an injury is a step forward. Otherwise, Sampson has a live arm with a fastball in the low-to-mid 90s, and he improved his change and breaking ball on his way to a 11 K/9 and 3.7 BB/9. Although his control and command are somewhat of an issue, his mechanics look smooth enough to improve that over the next couple seasons. The 20-year old should start next season in AA, which should be a significant challenge, and despite the stuff, he’s likely to be a one level a year guy. I really like this kid, but performing well and staying healthy for 140+ innings is the major hurdle.
Jedd Gyorko 3B
Age/Level: 23/AAA or AA
Projection: 2-3 WAR
Gyorko was arguably the surprise of the system as he transitioned to the hot corner, at which he should be able to stick. Offense, however, is what will carry him, and the boy can hit with an excellent approach, and the power has come along a little better than expected, though I worry that he transitions forward a bit too much which could hurt against better offspeed pitches. That being said, he’ll be playing in Petco, and that will hinder his main asset, which might restrict his overall value. He stays above Spangenberg because he’s performed at AA, and I’d like a little more data on Spangenberg before I move him up further.
Cory Spangenberg 2B
Projection: 2-4 WAR
Spangenberg was probably the first “reach” of the draft, but it’s hard to blame the Padres for their crush as Spangenberg had an impressive run through Low and High-A. He’s been playing second base, at which he’s not very good, but he’s probably best suited in center with his plus speed (maybe they let him get acclimated to pro ball by letting him stay at second?). Offensively, he’s an above-average hitter with an excellent left-handed stroke, but while he has an advanced approach, he probably won’t ever hit 15 homers. Spangenberg might get a promotion to AA to start next season, and he may not have to spend much time in the minors, though it might be delayed if they wait to have him move positions.
Jaff Decker LF/RF/1B
Projection: 2-3 WAR
He’ll never sparkle in the outfield, but despite concerns about his size, he’s actually pretty athletic and can handle a corner, especially with a plus arm. Decker’s offense, however, will be his calling card. His batting average over the past few seasons has called his hit tool into question, but even if it isn’t as good as hoped (I think he’ll be fine), he draws lots of walks and can bang a few homers. His defense won’t be an asset, but he should hit enough to be a regular in an outfield corner. Heading to AAA to start next season, he probably won’t be down there all year, but the questions about his position and ultimate offensive production places him down on the list.
Simon Castro SP
Projection: 3/4, Relief Ace
Castro has impressive stuff–a low-90s fastball along with a solid curve and change. The problem, however, is his control, which took a massive step backward early in the season. He righted the ship after a demotion back to AA, but with a delivery that requires a lot of effort, you have to wonder if he will continue to run through patches where he becomes his own worst enemy. Castro has the potential to slot in as a 2, but I don’t see him reaching that point. I could see a 3/4, but I could also see him ending up in the pen, though the frame and stuff indicate him being able to handle a starter’s workload. He was the hardest Padre to rank as I could make arguments for him at the top of this tier as well.
Austin Hedges C
Projection: 2-4 WAR
The second catcher taken, but the only one of the two signed by the Padres from the past draft, Hedges is an excellent defensive backstop, with good receiving, blocking, and throwing skills. The questions begin on offense, but he looks to have a nice swing. As he fills out his wiry frame, I expect the bat speed and power to improve to help him be an everyday catcher. But as with all high school draftees, he has a long way to go, especially because he’s a catcher. He could move up significantly by showing he can hit.
Big Question – Donavan Tate
Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink. Tate has plenty of tools to make him an All-Star center fielder, but they’ve become unusable due to on- and off-the-field make-up issues and injuries. Tate has a high ceiling, but at this point, his chances of reaching that are extremely unlikely. We’ll give him another shot, but if he fails to accomplish anything again, we won’t next season. And he was raw to begin with.