San Diego Padres Top 30 Prospects for 2011

When I read a top prospect lists my eyes always go first to the individual rankings of the players and whether or not I agree with them...

But that really isn't the only way anyone should look at them. The key to understanding any rankings is to understand the criteria that the writer uses to create a hierarchy.

Any list will try to strike a balance between what players have done in certain leagues relative to their age and competition and the potential that they may have on the major league level.

For this list, I put more emphasis on potential but also an equal amount on who is most likely to reach that level based on what they have done against professional competition.

The most obvious omission from my list is Donavan Tate, whom San Diego invested a little more than $6 million dollars on in 2009.

Do I believe Tate is not a prospect?

Of course not; but with a career total of 105 sporadic at-bats in the Arizona League coupled with multiple injuries leaves me little to go on with the exception of his performances in high school with an aluminum bat against players for the most part that will never play at a higher level.

To rank him above or below anyone is simply too big a guess even for a project such as this that is predicated on informed speculation. As with recent draftees John Barbato and Jose Dore, both very interesting prospects, but again any analysis is based on what they did against non-professional competition.

Eligibility was determined if players had less than 130 major league at-bats or less than 50 innings pitched. All of the ages listed are from 2010.

1. Simon Castro – RHP/SP

Castro, 22, had a strong year in only his second full season in the AA Texas League. An imposing 6'5" and 225 lbs. he has the best raw stuff of any pitcher in the system and proved his durability by making over 25 starts and throwing a 130 + innings for the second year in a row. He relies on a good two-seam fastball that arrives in the low 90's, good slider and a change-up that has improved each year. Castro is potentially a top of the rotation starter.

2011: He should start the year in AAA Tucson and after mid-year could be the Padres next starter in waiting.

2. Cory Luebke – LHP/SP

While not as much upside as Castro the big difference is Luebke, 25, is ready right now and has a more than fair chance of landing in the big league rotation by the end of spring. Luebke was 10-1 between San Antonio/Portland and only allowed 24 earned runs in 113 innings pitched. He doesn't have overpowering stuff but keeps the ball down and away and has improving velocity for a lefty.

2011: Luebke should emerge as the best option for the fifth slot coming out of spring training and could put up some good numbers. He has improved every year as a professional and the trend should continue as he moves to PETCO.

3. Jaff Decker – LF

Despite a hamstring injury that cost him all of spring training and the first six weeks in the Cal League; Decker is still by far the best hitter in the organization even with an early end to his season in August with a broken hand. Throw out the first fifteen games in May and he hit .292/.421/.558 at twenty years old; which is significantly younger than the players he was competing against. Additionally he came into the season in much better shape along with a much more streamlined swing mechanics.

2011: If Decker hits in San Antonio, and if the previous three seasons are any type of indicator at all he should, it is hard to see him not being given some sort of opportunity on the big league level in 2012. He is a much better fielder than given credit for and easily fits into the Padres' philosophy of patience/power.

4. Casey Kelly – RHP/SP

Arguably the main component in the big Adrian Gonzalez trade Kelly, 20, was one of the top prospects in the Red Sox organization. A tremendous athlete, he was recruited as a quarterback by the University of Tennessee in addition to as a shortstop/pitcher. Last season was the first in which he concentrated solely on pitching after splitting time at shortstop in his first two years. While most observers believe his stuff was improved from previous years he caught a little too much of the plate giving up 118 hits in 95 innings pitched last year in AA Portland, Maine; a pitcher's park.

2011: Kelley should begin the year in San Antonio and should flourish in one of the best pitcher's parks in baseball. He has tremendous talent but needs to prove himself at the AA level and above before everyone pencils him into the big league rotation.

5. Anthony Rizzo – 1B

If Kelley was prospect "1A" then Rizzo was certainly "1B" and possibly of potentially equal value. Both Rizzo and Adrian Gonzalez played at Portland in the Eastern League at twenty years old and Rizzo actually put up better numbers with an OPS of .815 to Agon's .781. Rizzo, 20, has already overcome major adversity in his life surviving a bout with Hodgkin's lymphoma in 2008. In 2010 he had 50 extra-base hits, twenty of them over the wall, in 107 games.

2011: He'll go into the season as the starting first baseman at the Padres new AAA affiliate in Tucson, traditionally a launching pad, and could put up some huge numbers. A potentially interesting situation could arise if Kyle Blanks fully recovers from his off-season Tommy John surgery on who will be the Padres' first baseman of the future.

6. Matt Lollis – RHP/SP

No one came further than the giant 6'9" 290 lbs. Lollis last year and few can match his potential. Splitting the season between Eugene and Fort Wayne he improved as the season went on, giving up only up ten earned runs in nine starts with the TinCaps. Lollis, 19, is one of the few Padres' prospects that throws both a curve and slider but primarily relies upon a hard two-seam fastball. He pitched so well he was given a playoff start with Lake Elsinore where he threw 5.1 IP, striking out 7 against only one walk and one run.

2011: The Padres might be aggressive with the big twenty year old by putting him in San Antonio as they did with Castro last year, but he will more than likely start the season in Lake Elsinore. The big key will be for him to keep up his conditioning but it's hard to not like someone with his size and control.

7. Drew Cumberland – SS/2B

Cumberland is a tremendous athlete who would be ranked higher if he had played in more than 80 games once in his four year career with the organization. This year Cumberland provided the best glimpse of what he is capable of with his performance in the Cal League hitting .365/.404/.542 with 20 stolen bases in 29 attempts in 60 games. He played in fifteen games in San Antonio before injuring his knee going after a foul ball. The left-handed hitting Cumberland probably profiles more as a second baseman on the major league level but the accuracy and strength of his arm have improved enough to make the possibility of him playing shortstop not out of the question.

2011: He should begin the year in San Antonio and ff he can stay healthy it's impossible for the Padres to design a player that would fit better into the PETCO profile.

8. Ernesto Frieri – RHP/RP

Last season the Padres moved Frieri, 24, one of their better starting pitchers for the Missions in '09, to the closer's role in Portland where he struck out 49 batters in 37.2 innings to go along with 17 saves in 19 opportunities. Called up to San Diego in mid-July he didn't give up an earned run until his eleventh appearance. Frieri has a unique motion where he throws a sinking fastball across his body which is much more effective, and with more velocity, than as a starter.

2011: Frieri earned a place in San Diego's bullpen on the basis of his performance last year and the Columbian native should continue to have success.

9. Jason Hagerty – C

The first comment most people make about Hagerty is that he was "old for the league" which may or may not be true at 22, but his numbers, especially in the second half of .351/.479/.586 in a pitcher's league are hard to argue with. Randy Smith, the Padres' Vice-President of Player Development believes he was the most improved player in the system not only for his offensive numbers but how much his development behind the plate.

2011: Hagerty should begin the year in Lake Elsinore to continue to build on what he accomplished in the second half. Although the bat is what gets everyone's attention catcher is a premier defensive position and his advancement will be based on his prowess with the defensive intricacies of the position.

10. Keyvius Sampson – RHP/SP

So far Sampson, 19, has emerged as the best of the Padres' heralded 2009 draft class which saw them take three high school players with their first four picks. This season in Eugene he struck out 58 batters in 43 innings pitched, allowing only 17 earned runs in ten starts. Sampson is not the biggest pitcher in the world at 6 feet and 185 lbs. but he generates tremendous arm strength and deception with a fastball consistently in the low 90's.

2011: Some late season shoulder stiffness ended his year sooner than he would have liked but he didn't experience any problems in the Instructs. The organization is going to be careful with him as they slowly build up his innings at Fort Wayne.

11. Jeremy Hefner – RHP/SP

Hefner, 24, rebounded from a tough year in Lake Elsinore after two successful seasons in Fort Wayne and Eugene to post his lowest ERA of his career in San Antonio. The big right-hander benefitted from pitching in San Antonio but the Padres also saw an uptick in his velocity to go along with an improved curve and change-up.

2011: Success in Tucson will go a long way to proving too many that he has the ability to be a big league starter. At 6‘4" Hefner has the size and stuff to compete and could surprise people.

12. Blake Tekotte – CF

Tekotte's game is somewhat similar to Cumberland's only with a little more power and better defense. The former University of Miami product put together some solid numbers in Lake Elsinore with 25 extra-base hits and 22 stolen bases in 59 games before slowing down when he got to San Antonio. As with most players Tekotte, 23, struggled with the swirling winds of Nelson Wolff Stadium hitting .203/.288/.407 at home and .290/.356/.476 on the road. His arm is his weakest tool but he covers as much ground as anyone in the organization in center.

2011: Tekotte should be back in San Antonio with Cedric Hunter in Tucson. The key for him is to keep from getting too power happy and concentrating on his strengths; hitting the ball into the gap and running.

13. James Darnell – 3B

Darnell, 23, had a huge year in 2009 but struggled with injuries and the winds in San Antonio until a big month in August that saw him hit .349/.432/.547. He has the ability to be a good defender, and did improve from last year, but still had 24 errors in 101 games. The Padres believe that it was not only getting healthy but tweaking his approach at the plate to become more aggressive led to his big month.

2011: Darnell will probably put up better numbers in Tucson than he did in San Antonio but a big question will be is his overall performance enough to push Chase Headley off of third in San Diego?

14. Jedd Gyorko – 3B

Gyorko, 21, was a shortstop in college, was drafted as a second baseman but played all but one game at third between Eugene and Fort Wayne. He tore up Eugene and performed well in Fort Wayne although his slugging percentage went from .528 to .389 in the Midwest League. Defensively he doesn't have the range to play second but he does have the hands, quickness and arm to play third.

2011: Gyorko is an extremely gifted hitter with a very good idea of the strike zone and should perform very well in the Cal League. However he is limited to third base and the big question is going to be if he can hit with enough power to become an everyday major leaguer at that position.

15. Brad Brach – RHP/RP

This season Brach, 24, set the Cal League record for saves with 41 and was the Cal League Pitcher of the Year but the season ended badly for him as he gave up the game winning double to end the Storm's season. Still, Brach has been dominant in both the Midwest and Cal Leagues relying upon a four-seam fastball that can consistently paint the outside corner to along with a sweeping slider. In the past two years he has struck out 189 batters in 128 innings pitched against only 22 walks.

2011: After pitching in the worst pitcher's park Brach will go to the best and should continue to have success. The key for him this year will be to develop a swing-miss pitch that he can throw to the inside part of the plate as he advances.

16. Cedric Hunter – CF/LF

Hunter, 22, bounced back from a disappointing 2009 improving his on-base percentage by 81 points. He was the only regular on the Missions to hit in San Antonio with a .299/.364/.453 line before being promoted to Portland in late June. Some minor injuries and fatigue hurt his overall numbers in Portland; but still a solid year.

2011: Hunter is still very young and should be the everyday center fielder in Tucson. In order to have a chance to break into San Diego's outfield he is going to have to continue his improvement with his secondary offensive skills; getting on base and hitting for more power into the gap. Also with the Padres' emphasis on stolen bases and his speed he should put up better stolen base numbers than he has so far.

17. Adys Portillo – RHP/SP

Portillo was one of the Padres first big signings in Latin America to kick off their new facility in the Dominican Republic. Portillo, 18, if he was born in the U.S., would have been a high school senior and for the most part had a good year in Eugene. He averaged a strikeout per inning but also struggled with his command at times with forty walks in 62 innings pitched.

2011: Portillo has the size, athleticism and plus fastball everyone wants to see in a pitcher. The organization loves his work ethic and the improvement they have seen in him. His future in the big leagues is still very far away, but he is on the right path.

18. Matt Clark – 1B

Clark, 23, hit more home runs in San Antonio than anyone since Kyle Blanks and was particularly effective in the second half hitting .303/.382/.539 as he drastically cut down on his strikeouts. The 6‘5" former LSU star has now performed at every stop but his biggest problem may be that he is limited to first base.

2011: With the trade of Anthony Rizzo and the probability that Kyle Blanks will be seeing the majority of time at DH in AAA the Padres are either going to have to attempt to find another place for him to play or look for a trade.

19. Rob Musgrave – LHP/SP/RP

Musgrave, 24, was a 14th round pick by the Padres in 2008 and this year showed that he could also be effective as a starter. Overall he struck out 113 batters in 98 innings pitched against only 27 walks and 27 earned runs. Musgrave's improvement was due to an improvement in his mechanics and the development of his cutter.

2011: Musgrave has value as a reliever but his success as a starter in August and September may have propelled him into San Antonio's rotation.

20. Anthony Bass – RHP/SP

Bass, 22, has been very good in his three seasons with the Padres' and this past year was no exception in Lake Elsinore. He threw 132 innings with a very good 109/20 K/BB ratio with a 3.13 ERA. Bass has the one attribute that the San Diego organization is very focused on he can command his fastball to go along with his plus slider.

2011: In sixteen of his starts in Lake Elsinore he allowed two runs or less in a much more difficult pitching environment than he will be facing this year. The Padres are very high on Bass and believe he has the stuff to be a major league starter.

21. Mike Baxter – OF/1B

Drafted in the fourth round of the 2005 draft Baxter, 25, has slowly and steadily worked his way up the system which culminated in his call-up to San Diego in August. In 2010 he has a good first half and a great second, hitting .358/.450/.610 for the Beavers with 28 of his 67 hits going for extra-bases.

2011: Although he probably won't break with the big club out of spring because of his ability to play three different positions and being a left-handed hitter he should find his way to San Diego more often in 2011.

22. Logan Forsythe – 2B/3B

Forsythe, 23, went into the season as one of the Padres' top prospects on the basis of a big first half in Lake Elsinore in 2009. But for the second consecutive year he struggled at the plate in San Antonio, the minor league park that closest remembers PETCO, hitting .189/.300/.245. The good news is the transition to second went well and on the road he was the type of player the Padres' believe he can be, hitting .316/.449/.429.

2011: Getting out of San Antonio is going to help his offensive numbers but for an organization that seeks to find plus defenders at positions up the middle and values speed he's going to have a tough time supplanting Orlando Hudson on the big squad or keeping Cumberland from down below.

23. Juan Oramas – LHP/SP

After starring with the Mexico City Red Devils Oramas, 20, came out of nowhere to emerge as one of the better pitchers in the system. Blessed with a fastball that he can dial up to the mid 90's he had 90 strikeouts in 84 innings pitched. In twenty-one starts he only gave up more than two runs three times.

2011: Oramas will be part of a strong rotation in San Antonio. He's going to need to develop a better third pitch and needs to keep his plus fastball out of the big part of the plate.

24. Evan Scribner – RHP/RP

When Craig Italiano went down with injuries and control problems Scribner, 24, stepped into the void and again posted his usual solid numbers. One of the rare Padres' pitchers that doesn't have a change-up he relies on a four-seam fastball and curve to pound the zone. He struck out 81 batters against 15 walks in 66 innings pitched.

2011: Scribner should go into the year as the closer in Tucson and his unflappable ability to consistently throw strikes could make him the first call-up in the bullpen to the big club.

25. Nate Freiman – 1B

The 6'8" Duke grad led the TinCaps in total bases, hits (154), extra-base hits (57) and RBIs (84). Frieman, 23, crushed left-handed pitching at a .347/.403/.581 and was the league leader for first basemen in fielding percentage at .993. He was "old" for the league but many times it takes taller players longer to put it all together and Freiman has made considerable progress since being drafted in 2009.

2011: Because of his size, plus power and approach he may have the most potential upside of any first baseman in the system.

26. Dan Robertson – OF/2B

Robertson, 24, is the type of player that everyone roots for; only 5'8", late round draft pick and plays the game the right way - full tilt. The problem was he as a corner OF it was hard to see a clear path for him to the majors despite doing quite a few things the Padres like; getting on base, stealing bases and hitting the ball into the gaps. In the Instructional League the team tried him out at second base and the off-season trade of Cole Figueroa could open some opportunities. He has the unique ability to play better with runners in scoring position this year hitting .343/.420/.504.

2011: Robertson can play all three outfield positions but if he can play second, and he is a very good athlete, he could have a chance.

27. Nick Vincent – RHP/RP

Vincent, 23, is a great example of why the Padres could afford to trade so many relief pitchers in the off-season. The Ramona native returned to the Storm this year despite putting up very good numbers in 2008 in the Cal League. He only allowed 17 earned runs in 81 innings pitched with 76 strikeouts against only 60 hits and 23 walks. Vincent relies on an ability to change speeds and spot a quality fastball.

2011: He should be one of the set-up guys for Brach with another strong bullpen in San Antonio.

28. Miles Mikolas – RHP/RP

In the spring the organization moved Mikolas, 22, to the bullpen and his velocity and curveball picked put resulting in a solid season with the TinCaps. He was 13 for 16 in save opportunities and struck out 78 in 81.2 innings.

2011: At a solid 6'5" and 220 lbs. he has the raw velocity that people like to see in a relief pitcher. As he becomes more comfortable coming out of the pen he could become another one of the organization's quality relievers.

29. Allan Dykstra – 1B/DH

In the second half at Lake Elsinore Dykstra, 23, was the type of player that many thought he would be when he was drafted out of Wake Forrest in 2008; and on-base machine who hits with power hitting .268/.401/.512. He's improved defensively and seems to have finally been able to incorporate all the adjustments the organization wants him to with his swing.

2011: He's going to have to battle Cody Decker for playing time in San Antonio but with Blanks, Rizzo and Clark all playing the same position it's also hard to see an unobstructed path to San Diego for him.

30. Cody Decker – 1B/DH

After destroying the AZL in 2009 the organization made the unusual step of skipping Decker, 23, all the way to the Cal League where he tied for the organizational lead in home runs with 28. He led the team in extra-base hits (65), home runs (28), RBIs (90) and total bases (260).

2011: First base is a crowded position but Decker has also played left field in the past. He was one of the better hitters in the Cal League this year and should be able to find some place to play.

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