While drawing comparisons of young prospects to current and/or former big leaguer's is always hit or miss, it didn't stop the Padres' Player Development staff from taking aim at Ceda's potential early on in his career.
"He's a big Lee Smith-type guy with a power arm," Padres Roving Instructor Tom Gamboa said of Ceda. "His delivery is getting better and better."
The Cubs' Player Development group only agreed with Gamboa's evaluation.
"He's a great-looking kid with a body like that of a Jose Mesa or a Lee Smith," Cubs Farm Director Oneri Fleita said.
The Cubs would settle for results similar to those of either Mesa or Smith.
Smith finished his career as baseball's all-time career saves leader with 478 over 18 seasons. (He was recently passed by San Diego's Trevor Hoffman.)
Mesa, still going strong with the Colorado Rockies at age 40, has a 3.58 ERA in the high altitudes of Coors Field this season. His days as a closer are likely done after saving 70 games for the Pittsburgh Pirates between 2004 and '05, but he has appeared in a career-high 76 games for the Rockies after first breaking onto the scene with the Baltimore Orioles in 1987.
For his part, Ceda first came to the Padres in November, 2004. He was signed by the organization as a non-drafted free agent out of the Dominican Republic by scout's Felix Francisco and Randy Smith.
Smith, the Padres' Director of Professional and International Scouting, got the first look at a then 17-year-old Ceda two years ago in the Dominican.
"Jose Ceda is a guy we basically signed in a rain storm throwing in the Dominican inside the batting cage," Smith recalled. "Last year, he hit 99 (mph) a few times. It doesn't necessarily mean success, but it sure is a nice way to start."
Indeed, in his first professional season with the Padres' Dominican Summer League squad in 2005, Ceda struck out 83 and held opposing hitters to a .174 average against in 60 innings. He posted a 1.50 ERA and had two complete game shutouts in his nine starts.
Ceda, who compliments his fastball with a slider and changeup according to Fleita, got off to a rocky start in his first two appearances with the Padres' rookie squad in 2006. He allowed nine runs in his first five innings, but settled down to go 2-0 with a 2.00 ERA and .190 average against over his final six outings before being dealt to the Cubs.
With the Mesa team, Ceda put up a 0.75 ERA and had 21 strikeouts to seven walks in 12 innings. He limited hitters to a .154 average.
The right-hander then made three starts at Boise after being promoted from Mesa. Excluding a shaky post-season start with the team in the Northwest League Championship Series against Salem-Keizer, he went 1-0 with a 3.27 ERA and .139 average against in 11 innings with the Hawks – striking out 11 and allowing only two walks.
The Cubs believe the potential for success is there.
"It will be interesting to watch him develop," Fleita says. "His arm works real well. He throws in the mid 90's. We love the guy and think he has a great ceiling. We're excited to have him."