Top 30 for 2012 - Conniff Edition

Every year when the top prospect lists would come out I would immediately scan to see where certain players were ranked, disagreeing that the writer either put them too high or too low.

Don't do what I used to do.

The top prospect lists are both the most important and least important thing that goes on for people who follow the minor leagues.

On one hand it is an accurate grouping of the top players in the organization at a certain point in time and on the other side, as anyone who has read these lists in the past, they are all very fluid and players can move up and down the list very quickly.

The reason these lists are about perceptions is that they are not an "apples-to-apples" comparison. The minor leagues are essentially grouped into three different categories, the AAA and AA level where performance as opposed to projection caries greater weight, the short-season leagues where it is much more important about what someone could do and the most difficult, the A ball level where its a combination of age, performance and projection.

The hierarchy of the lists will come down to what the writer values more, what could be or what is more likely. Add in the fact that some may want to value recent draft picks, regardless if they have ever played a professional game and you are going to have some very different opinions.

For my rankings I try to look how well a certain player rises within one of the three categories and then rank the players based on that. Additionally I tend to give greater weight to players that perform at a higher level.

As anyone who follows the Padres knows they signed some very high profile high school picks in this years' draft namely Austin Hedges, Joe Ross and Mike Kelly and all had very minimal or no playing time this season.

While the organization invested a little under $6.5 million any ranking of them would mainly be on the basis of their ceilings based on what they did in high school and to me that is too much of a guess even for this ranking.

All of the ages listed are from 2011.

1) Robbie Erlin LHP/SP

Erlin, along with Joe Wieland, was one of the two players that came over in the big mid-season trade of star Padres' relief pitcher Mike Adams. Erlin, 20, really performed. In the Texas League with a 92/11 K/BB ratio but his most impressive statistic was only allowing 36 earned runs in 92.2 innings. With the Missions he was even better, only allowing four earned runs in six starts.

He doesn't have the world's biggest fastball at 89-92 but he commands it to all four quadrants to go along with a plus changeup and curve.

2012: Pitching in Tucson will be a challenge but his game is tailor made for PETCO Park in his ability to force lazy fly balls and keep runners off base.

2) Keyvius Sampson RHP/SP

Sampson was the best pitcher in the Padres' organization in 2011. The Florida native led the organization in strikeouts by commanding his fastball and adding a plus changeup. His curve and two seam fastball are still works in progress but the twenty year old was as good as anyone in the Midwest league this past season.

2012: He's going to be challenged in the Cal League especially if he doesn't learn to master the two-seam fastball but each year Keyvius has surpassed expectations. Since being drafted Sampson has put on nearly twenty-five pounds of solid weight and he's still not twenty-one.

3) Jedd Gyorko 3b

Critics have focussed on what they don't think Gyorko, 22, can do; bad body, doesn't hit with enough power and unsure of what position he can play on a major league level. However after hitting .333/.400/.552 with 25 home runs and 114 RBIs between the High-A Lake Elsinore Storm and AA San Antonio Missions - much of that has subsided.

Additionally he shed fifteen pounds and people both inside and outside the organization believe he can play third. How well he can play other positions - second and the corner outfield slots is debatable, but the bat isn't.

2012: Depending on what does or not does happen with James Darnell he will either be at San Antonio or Tucson. The key for Gyorko right now is refining his game but everything is there and we should see him in San Diego sometime this summer.

4) Jaff Decker LF

For the past four years Padres' fans have been reading about Decker, 21, as the next big prospect. While a .236 average in AA San Antonio May have dampened some of the enthusiasm but in reality he had two bad months (May and July) and in the other three he was pretty much the player we've seen before; borderline .300 batting average, on-base percentage around .400 with a slugging percentage in the .500's.

Additionally Decker put up some serious numbers in the Arizona Fall League and continues to get in better shape.

2012: He will be in one outfield corner in AAA Tucson next season probably for the full year. He's a better defender than most people know and with a strong arm it would be nice to see the organization give him a chance in right field.

5) Anthony Bass RHP/SP

Bass, 23, is one of the rare pitchers whose velocity has picked up as has come into the organization in 2008 with a fastball that can touch the upper 90s. He primarily throws a four-seam fastball a good slider and a developing change.

For the Missions he had a 62/21 K/BB ratio with a 3.75 ERA in 13 starts. In 24 relief appearances and three starts for the Padres he was even better with a 1.68 ERA but struggled with his command with a 24/21 K/BB ratio.

2012: Bass was very impressive in September with a 1-0 record and 0.98 ERA in three starts with the big club. Bud Black claims he will get an opportunity to compete for a starting slot but much will depend on how well his third pitch, the change-up, comes along in the spring.

6) Anthony Rizzo 1b

Rizzo, 21, after putting up some truly mind blowing statistics in the midst of some woeful offensive statistics by Padres' first baseman Brad Hawpe, became the catalyst for San Diego fans understanding that minor league stats, particularly those in the hitter friendly southern parks of the Pacific Coast League that don't always translate to the major league level. 2012: Rizzo, who was part of the group that the Red Sox sent over in the Adrian Gonzalez trade, has everything the team would want in a first baseman; ability to hit for average and power in addition to being a good defensive player. The problem is a .141 batting average in 149 plate appearances in the big leagues and a .312/.369/.478 line by Jesus Guzman complicates a position for him in 2012 with the big club.

7) Cory Spangenberg 2b

Spangenburg, 20, a second year player out of Indian Hills JC in Florida, was initially thought of as bit of an overdraft at number ten, the Padres' compensation pick for failing to sign Kartsen Whitson in 2010.

After hitting .384/.545/.535 in his first month in Eugene that line of discussion faded. Promoted to Fort Wayne in early July he struggled hitting .154 before regaining his stroke in August hitting .350/.402/.485. Overall he hit .316/.419/.418 to go along with 25 stolen bases in 33 attempts. He is still a little raw defensively but has plus speed and quickness and the ability is there at second.

2012: If he's healthy Spangenberg should have as good a season as anyone in the organization in Lake Elsinore with the hard infields that play into his strengths. The Padres think he could have the same trajectory as Gyorko and be in San Antonio by the end of the year.

8) Rymer Liriano OF

The Padres have been hoping for a long time to begin to see some returns from their significant investments in Latin America and Liriano, 20 is on the cusp of realizing them.

The 2011 Midwest League MVP and was among the league leaders in league leaders in average, slugging, on-base percentage, hits, doubles, triples, runs scored and stolen bases and most impressively had 50 extra-base hits to go along with 65 stolen bases.

2012: Liriano has an enormous ceiling and is capable of playing center too to go along with a truly special arm; but he is still a long term project. For all of his gifts he needs to take better routes defensively and mainly just play more games. The organization will probably leave him in the California League for the full year where he could set some single season marks.

9) Joe Wieland RHP/SP

If Wieland and Erlin pan out this could go down as one of the best trades the Padres have ever made. Between Frisco/San Antonio Wieland was 7-1 with a 1.80 ERA in 12 starts. In 70 innings pitched he only allowed 58 hits to go along with a 54/17 K/BB ratio.

As with Erlin Wieland, 21, is more about command than raw stuff although his fastball does sit in the low 90's with a very good change.

2012: Pitching in Tucson will test any pitcher but the inclusion of Erlin and Wieland to San Diego greatly increased the organization's pitching depth.

10) Blake Tekotte CF

Tekotte, 24, had his best season so far with 19 home runs, 36 stolen bases and a .393 on-base percentage. As good as he was offensively the true strength of his game may be the sparkling center field that the former Miami Hurricane plays which has gotten better as his arm strength has picked up. This year he was up and down with the big club five times without getting consistent playing time.

2012: The Padres took former top prospect Cedric Hunter off of the forty man roster in part to open a clear spot for Tekotte in AAA. Missions' announcer Mike Saeger believes he has the perfect game for PETCO; gap power, speed and plus defense. If San Diego believes having two center fielders in their outfield to go along with Cameron Maybin he could have a shot.

11) Donavan Tate CF

For the past few years Tate, 20, has been one of the main recipients of San Diego pundits criticism of Padres' failures in the first round and his month long suspension for drugs certainly didn't do anything to dissuade the general public from this perception.

However he finished third on the team in on-base percentage while hitting .283/.406/.409. He stole 17 bases in 22 attempts and dramatically cut down on his strikeouts with a 25/32 BB/K ratio in 152 plate appearances while playing a very good center field.

2012: If Tate is healthy and can avoid making bad off the field decisions he could put up some truly special numbers. An injured wrist, the result of being hit by a pitch in his first game back from his suspension hurt his power. If he can continue making the strides he did with pitch selection this is someone that could easily hit twenty home runs and steal forty bases. If he can play a full season, and that has yet to happen in his career, the numbers will be there.

12) Casey Kelly RHP/SP

By some accounts Kelly, 21, was the primary target of the Gonzalez trade and he put together a solid year in his second full season as a pitcher throwing 142.1 innings with a 3.98 ERA.

The reason many people are somewhat down on him is that his potential is still outpacing his performance. He throws a very easy 92 to 94 to go along with a truly plus two-seamer/sinker and a good change. He will pound the zone but sometimes catches too much of the plate as indicated by giving up 153 hits.

2012: He is still one of the Padres' top pitchers but he has quite a bit more company now than he did at the beginning of last season. His true development will come when he is able to incorporate what the team was working with in the Instructional League, how to pitch off of the plate for strikes.

13) James Darnell 3b/OF/1b

Darnell suffered a disappointing 2010 largely due to injuries in his non-throwing hand but came back with vengeance in the first half in San Antonio hitting .333/.434/.604 with 43 extra-base hits in 76 games. Additionally his fielding picked up with only ten errors, most of them on over throws.

On the fourth of July the organization promoted him to Tucson where he put up some mediocre numbers - .261/.344/.425 - while learning to play multiple outfield positions for the first time. This year he got a brief look in San Diego before his season ended early with left shoulder surgery.

2012: Darnell, 24, will probably return to AAA or even could be part of trade talks with Chase Headley above him and Jedd Gyorko behind him. Of the three he is the most athletic and not only can play left but also has the arm to play right.

14) Brad Brach RHP/RP

On August 31 of this year Brad Brach, 25, finally realized what many believe is the impossible for a forty-second round draft pick - he was put on the big league roster. Brach, who arguably is the most successful closer the Padres have ever had in the minor leagues with 112 saves and 283 strikeouts in 223 innings pitched during his four year minor league career is unlikely to return to Tucson.

2012: At the big league level he had a few bad outings but showed some flashes of ability. The big key for Brach will be to have the confidence to throw his splitter inside to right-handed hitters.

15) Matt Lollis RHP/SP

Last year Lollis rose as fast as anyone up the ladder going from extended spring to pitching in the playoffs for Lake Elsinore. This year he ran into a few bumps as he frequently caught a little too much of the plate as evidenced by giving up 135 hits in 119 innings. Still Lollis is only twenty and still posted an impressive 114/45 K/BB ratio.

2012: As he learns more on how to get strikes by pitching off of the strike zone with the continued development of his curve and slider Lollis' performance should begin to match the potential of his vast 6'9" 275 lbs. pound frame. Also going to pitch in San Antonio as compared to the x-box parks of the Cal League won't hurt either.

16) Nick Vincent RHP/RP

Although Vincent, 24, isn't a starter or a closer he may have put out one of the best performances of any pitcher in the Padres' organization this year. He is kind of a mini version of the Yankees Mariano Rivera in that he relies primarily on one pitch, his cutter which he just pounds the zone with. This season he only gave up 20 earned runs in 79.1 innings while striking out 89 against 20 walks.

2012: He'll be in Tucson to start the year but is beginning to get some notice from the guys at the top of the organization. Because he doesn't rely on the ball to sink as much as others we should see some good numbers from him in the PCL and see the Ramona native back in San Diego sometime during this year.

17) Vince Belnome 2b/1b/3b

Despite missing about six weeks of the season with a pulled oblique he put up quiet a year offensively hitting .333 with 19 doubles and 17 home runs in 75 games along with 62 RBIs in just 79 games. A college teammate of Jedd Gyorko, the left-handed hitting Belnome, 23, has seen time at three positions in his career with the Padres but probably profiles best at third as opposed to second.

2012: He should open the year in Tucson at second and if he can continue to show improvement defensively, primarily in his range, he could have a shot. A selective hitter who is very adept at hitting line drives into left-center he is someone to watch especially if people start to believe in him at a defensive position.

18) Jason Hagerty C

Hagerty, 23, followed up a big season in 2010 at Fort Wayne with a very solid first half in Lake Elsinore before slowing down in San Antonio. Still the organization was impressed with his continued improvement defensively and a switch-hitting catcher with power is always going to attract some attention. For the Storm he had 35 extra-base hits in 68 games while hitting .311 but only hit .231 in thirty-six games with the Missions.

2012: Hagerty should be back in San Antonio to begin the year. Scouts like the bat but he is going to have to continue to improve behind the plate if he is going to stay at catcher as he moves up.

19) Kevin Quakenbush RHP/RP

Quakenbush, 22, an eighth round pick in this year's draft, is the type of relief pitcher that rises rapidly in the minors. He has the ability to consistently pump a four-seam fastball down for strikes to go along with a decent curve and change. Between Eugene and Fort Wayne he struck out 71 batters in 42 innings pitched.

2012: He'll start the year as the closer in Lake Elsinore but should be in San Antonio sometime during the year. An easy bet to be the first member of the 2011 draft class to reach San Diego.

20) Simon Castro RHP/SP

Castro, 23, was the top prospect last year for MadFriars but a rocky start in Tucson to begin the year, which was exacerbated by injuries which led to mechanical difficulties with his motion caused his to take a step back this year. Castro is still 6'5 with a hard two-seam fastball that he can dial up to the upper 90's to go along with a very good slider but there are now questions about the effectiveness of his change-up and ability to repeat his mechanics.

He recovered to put up some good secondary stats in San Antonio in mid-June; 73/16 K/BB ratio but caught a little too much of the plate with 95 hits in 89.1 innings pitched.

2012: Simon will take another crack at Tucson in 2012 but there is much more competition now for a starting roster slot in San Diego with Erlin, Kelley, Wieland and others.

21) Miles Mikolas RHP/RP

The Padres converted Mikolas, 22, to a closer last year and haven't looked back. At 6'5", 230 lbs. he can bring it in the mid-90s and with the Storm had 42 strikeouts in 39.2 innings pitched against only 9 walks. With the Missions he gave up only six earned runs in 28 games with 9 saves in 11 save opportunities.

2012: He should begin the year in San Antonio but the organization could get aggressive and push him to Tucson. Once again the Padres' have impressive depth in the bullpen.

22) Jorge Reyes RHP/SP

Reyes was a late round pick with high upside who because of some inconsistent performances, off the field incidents and signability issues fell in the 2009 draft. This year he made twenty starts in San Antonio striking out 98 against 30 walks with a 3.12 ERA. Reyes, 23, has good velocity sitting in the low 90s with a decent slider.

2012: He has good size and many believe his best days are still ahead of him. He should be part of a good T-Padres staff next year.

23) Jeudy Valdez SS

Coming into the season Valdez was thought to be one of the Padres' few five tool prospects and the talented middle infielder gave his longest preview of what he could be capable off. For the Storm this year Valdez, 22, hit .295/.339/.481 with 15 homers and 34 stolen bases and looked much better defensively this season as compared to last in Fort Wayne.

2012: As in all cases the rubber meets the road in AA and its especially true in San Antonio for hitters. Valdez is an immense talent but is going to have to become more consistent in the field in addition to laying off of Texas League sliders.

24) John Barbato RHP/SP

Barbato, 18, was essentially the Padres top draft pick in 2010 as San Diego gave him $1.4 million to buy him out of his commitment to the University in Florida. This year in Eugene, as do many young prospects, he showed more with his potential than his performance.

He throws in the mid-90s and is still growing and developing into his body. When he is able to repeat his mechanics more consistently and more importantly learn to maximize his conditioning the performances will follow.

2012: Pitching in a full season league will be a challenge for Barbato, its a lot of innings and much better hitters than the Northwest League but the ability is there. His second full year as a professional should help him.

25) Juan Oramas LHP/SP

Oramas, 21, is the pitcher most who follow the Padres' organization regard as its biggest sleeper. At 5'10" and 215 lbs. he is not blessed with the traditional pitcher's body but he is with the ability to perform. This year with the Missions he led the starters with a 3.10 ERA and had a nearly four-to-one strikeout to base-on-balls ratio.

2012: A lefty with command and ability to strike people out is going to get a look somewhere down the road. Throw in the fact that the Padres' believe his ability of understanding how to pitch is off of the charts and we should see him in San Diego sometime next year in either a bullpen or starting role.

26) Matt Clark LF/1b

For the second year in a row Clark put up numbers. But being limited to left field and first base, behind Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Blanks, just kills him. This year in Tucson he had a .363 on-base percentage and hit 23 home runs. The 6'5" left-handed hitting Clark, 24, also played some right field in addition to left and showed some athletic ability in the outfield.

2012: If he's not dealt in the off-season he will probably start the year back in AAA and probably playing quite a bit of first base.

27) Reymond Fuentes CF

Because of Fuentes tremendous speed and power that shows up in batting practice he is regarded as another player whose ability on what he could become exceeds what we are seeing now.

This year in the California League we saw a premium defensive center fielder who at twenty years old stole 41 bases in 55 attempts. He is going to have to improve upon a .342 on-base percentage and the team wants him to become more proficient at hitting balls the other way and staying out of the air.

2012: A tremendous talent but he needs to refine his game more to match his ceiling. He still has a little too much loft in his swing but if he can learn to drive the ball to the opposite field his speed is going to turn them into extra-base hits. He occasionally took some bad routes in the outfield but he has a strong arm and is regarded as a plus center fielder.

28) Jace Peterson SS

When Peterson, 21, was selected in the first round of 2011 draft he ignited the classic debate of if the scouts valued athleticism at the expense of baseball skills. Although a .243 batting average in the short-season leagues isn't going to overly excite anyone he improved every month - in August he hit .287/.393/.376 - and led the team with 39 stolen bases.

A two-sport star at McNeese State this is the first year he's played summer baseball and the Padres believe the left-handed hitting Peterson has just scratched the surface of his ability.

2012: At Eugene he had a good BB/K ratio of 50/53 and combined with Instructs and additional instruction in spring training it bodes well for a solid season in the Midwest League. He has tremendous upside and could rocket up the charts by next year.

29) Luis Domoromo LF

For much of the year Domoromo, 19, was among the leaders in the Midwest League in hitting despite being one of its youngest players. The strongest part of his game is his advanced approach and he drives the ball to the opposite field very well. Only nineteen years old the team believes as he gets stronger the power will match the needs of the corner outfield positions where he projects.

2012: The organization is very deep in the outfield at the A ball level and its likely that Domoromo will return to Fort Wayne to start the year but should be a mid-season call-up to High-A.

30) Matt Andriese RHP/SP The best pitcher in Eugene this year with a strikeout per inning and holding batters to a .197 batting average. At 6'3" 205 lbs. he has good command of three pitches and pounds the zone. The big question is if one will develop into a truly plus pitch to propel him through the system.

2012: Andriese, 21, should perform well in the Midwest League as batters will be struggling with cold weather and wooden bats against someone that can place his fastball. He will however need better movement or increased velocity to have a chance.

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