Top 30 for 2012 - Jay Edition

As John and Ben have already noted, prospect ranking lists tell you at least as much about the person doing the ratings as the players themselves. While I'm not nearly the "tools whore" that a guy like Kevin Goldstein is, I do tend to favor high upside over steady certainty.

In looking at players through the lens of the Padres in particular, being able to develop a superstar is all the more important given that the club will never be able to go out an acquire one on the open market. I haven't seen as many of the guys in person as John this year, but I've watched video on many of them and taken input from a variety of sources in and out of the system. So, with that, here's my Top 30 for the Padres.

1) Keyvius Sampson, RHP
In his first year of full-season ball, Keyvius Sampson was everything the club could have hoped for and more. The athletic righty opened the year with a bang, striking out 10 hitters over six no-hit innings, and kept up the torrid pace all year. Last offseason, an unresolved elbow injury scared off many prospect evaluators, but Sampson showed no ill effects this year despite opting not to undergo surgery. With a big fastball, above average change and two different curves, Sampson's arsenal should give him plenty to work with as he has to, for the first time in his professional career, start getting through lineups three times or more in 2012. With the number of talented arms ahead of him in the system, the Padres have the luxury of promoting Sampson slowly, but once he arrives in the majors, he will be a front-of-the-rotation asset.

2) Robbie Erlin, LHP
The 21-year-old is an artist on the mound, working his fastball to any spot at will. Although his fastball doesn't have the velocity of their other top pitchers, Erlin is not simply a crafty lefty whose stuff won't play against more advanced hitters either. In reaching Double-A just two years after he was selected out of high school, Erlin has established himself as one of the safest bets in the minors to become a reliable big league starter, and he could arrive in the majors before the end of the year if things break right for him.

3) Jedd Gyorko, 3B
Heading into the 2010 draft, the consensus was that Gyorko's was one of the top college bats available, but his body type and uncertain defensive future suppressed his value. Since his debut, the 23-year-old West Virginian has not only exceeded offensive expectations, but delivered solid if unremarkable defense at third base as well. Despite an aggressive Cal League posting to begin the year, Gyorko demolished High-A pitching until earning a mid-year promotion, where he hiccupped briefly before finishing on a tear. After destroying the AFL this winter, he may be looking at a spot in Tucson to open the 2012 season.

4) Rymer Liriano, OF
After a monumentally disappointing 2010 season, Liriano opened 2011 hitting into incredibly bad luck in the Cal League (his .167 batting average on balls in play would be almost impossible to replicate). So when Donavan Tate and Everett Williams went down, he downshifted a level for the second straight year. But this season, he responded to the demotion with a vengeance, terrorizing the Midwest League with his bat and legs. While there's some concern that he'll lose some of his speed as he continues to fill out, the 20-year-old is also just beginning to harness his in-game power and could ultimately be a 30-30 threat while offering plus defense in right field.

5) Jaff Decker, OF
While the jump from the hitter-friendly Cal League to the oppressive offensive environment of Wolff Stadium is tough for everyone, the downturn in Decker's performance this year was about more than just environment. The 21-year-old outfielder was generally seen as too passive at the plate, waiting himself into too many pitchers' counts. The good news is that is a correctable problem, and even in a disappointing offensive campaign while hitting into bad luck, Decker was 12% above league average. It wouldn't be a shock to see him return to San Antonio to open 2012, and if he does, I wouldn't bet against him pulling a Darnell in his return performance.

6) Anthony Rizzo, 1B
The headliner from the Adrian Gonzalez trade, the 22-year-old cancer survivor obliterated the PCL in his first campaign for the organization, but struggled mightily in two shorts stints with the Padres. The lefty was supposed to spend the offseason working on a shortened swing in the Dominican Winter League, but a leg injury sent him home after only six games. It remains to be seen whether he can make the adjustment he'll need to keep big league pitchers from exploiting the inner half too often, but the club will learn nothing by sending him back to Tucson.

7) Joe Wieland, RHP
The "other half" of the Mike Adams trade last summer, the righty from Reno broke out in the first half of 2010 in Low A, then took things to another level this year. The 21-year-old walked as many hitters all year as Aaron Poreda did in May. In the Carolina League, Wieland had an utterly absurd 96-to-4 ratio in 85.2 innings, then followed that up by dropping his ERA when he was promoted to the Texas League. His stuff is above-average if not great across the board, and he clearly understands the difference between throwing and pitching. The organization might choose to be conservative with him and have him open next year back in the Texas League since he had only 70 innings on the circuit in 2011, but the club won't have to wait long until he is ready to help at the big league level.

8) Cory Spangenberg, 2B
Much like Gyorko last year, Spangenberg was considered one of the best pure college bats in the draft, yet slid a bit in ratings based on concerns about what he might not be able to do. After the Padres took him earlier than most expected him to go – but in the only slot they had a chance of getting him – he signed quickly for an at-slot deal which allowed the 20 year old to get a head start on many of his peers. His performance in Eugene was nothing short of amazing. After a slow start in Ft. Wayne, he rebounded strongly over his last month and is well positioned to open next year in the Cal League. His combination of on-base skills and great baserunning instincts make him an ideal candidate for the top of the lineup in Petco Park.

9) James Darnell, OF
Darnell returned to San Antonio this year after a hand injury contributed heavily to a disappointing 2010 for the former Gamecock. The 24 year old made sure the assignment didn't last long by blasting the Texas League to the tune of a 1.038 OPS. That's the sort of hitter the club thought they were getting with their second round pick in the 2008 draft. The biggest question is whether Darnell has a spot on the field given his defensive shortcomings at third base and the club's glut of corner position players. He will likely open the year roaming a corner outfield spot for Tucson if he isn't used as a trade chip to strengthen positions of greater need in the offseason.

10) Casey Kelly, RHP
Drafted as a two-way player, the Red Sox paid Kelly a big bonus and gave him the chance to try to prove himself at shortstop to woo him away from his college commitment. Having demonstrated fully by 2009 that his future was – as virtually all scouts already agreed – on the mound, he became the most recognizable name in the Adrian Gonzlez trade last winter. Kelly's performance continues to lag behind his prodigious talent and athleticism, but many observers remain convinced he's not far from putting it all together and becoming a reliable big league starter. He will need to miss more bats when he works in the thin air of the PCL's western circuit, but Kelly remains an intriguing talent.

11) Anthony Bass, RHP
The first pitcher the Padres took in 2008 (and amazingly, the only starting pitcher still in the system from the draft), Bass was an under-the-radar guy from the snow belt who has added velocity every year in the system. While he outperformed his peripherals out the bullpen for the big club this year(his was more than 2.5 runs above his ERA) the early control problems likely aren't a concern going forward, and he could very well follow the path Cory Luebke blazed from uncertain Cal League commodity to valuable big league starter in just two years.

12) Donavan Tate, CF
The biggest wildcard in the system, the former number three overall pick remains both supremely talented and supremely frustrating. When he was on the field this year, Tate outperformed most expectations, walking almost as often as he struck out and reaching base more than 40 percent of the time. Of course, he continued to miss significant playing time through a combination of bad luck and stunningly poor decision making. The club will likely need to push Tate to Elsinore to open 2012 even with only 23 Midwest League plate appearances on his résumé. Where he goes from here is entirely in Donavan's hands.

13) Austin Hedges, C
Widely recognized as an elite defensive catcher heading into the draft, Hedges was observed by at least seven different Padres talent evaluators before they selected him out of San Juan Capistrano. In his brief cameo after signing and during instructs, the righty also exceeded his reputation with the bat. As Yadier Molina has proved for some time, catchers don't have to bring much offense to the stadium to be incredibly valuable. If the bat plays up the way some in the organization think it will when he heads out to Ft. Wayne next year, Hedges could quickly become an elite prospect.

14) Juan Oramas, LHP
On a staff of highly-acclaimed pitchers in San Antonio, the best Double-A strikeout rate and second-best league ERA belonged to the undersized lefty. As a 21-year-old, the Mexican national has remained under the radar despite striking out more than a batter per inning, in part because he spent his age 19 season pitching for Mexico City. Scouts don't like his body type, but his velocity and command are hard to argue with. Having already had the experience of pitching at altitude in a brutal environment Oramas is a decent bet to hold his own in Tucson, which could position him for a big league job sooner than most observers might expect.

15) Simon Castro, RHP
A disastrous start to 2011 in Tucson blew up Castro's self confidence, mechanics and prospect status, and things didn't immediately improve when the 23-year-old was sent back to Double-A. While, Castro did bounce back some at the end of the year, the emergence of so many other pitchers on the Missions' staff is likely to push Castro to the bullpen, where some have argued his future lies for several years. If he can stay on top of his pitches and keep his big body's mechanics consistent, Castro could wind up as a major piece at the end of games.

16) Joe Ross, RHP
The club's second first-round pick this year, Tyson's younger brother suited up for only inning after signing late. With plenty of room on his frame to fill out still, Ross already pumps his fastball in the mid-90s and shows a good power curve as well. A smart student of the game, he has very good mechanics and offers a nice balance of current ability and future projection. It will be interesting to see whether he opens the year in Ft. Wayne or if the club keeps him in the desert for more hands-on coaching through instructs for 2012.

17) Brad Brach, RHP
The former Monmouth University starter could conceivably bypass Kyle Blanks as the best 42nd round pick for the Padres last decade. Given that no other 2008 signee from his round is still in affiliated ball, Brach's ascent to the big leagues this year is all the more remarkable. But Brach is more than just a draft novelty. Since moving to the back of the bullpen in the Padres system, he has become a force, striking out 11.4 hitters per inning while walking almost nobody. While the new front office explores life after Heath Bell, their long-term answer at closer may already be in their locker room.

18) Adys Portillo, RHP
Considered the second-best pitcher in the international free agent class of 2008, Portillo remained very much a work in progress through his age 19 season in the Midwest League. The still-growing righty was hitting 100 MPH with some regularity this summer, but his command doesn't quite measure up to the velocity. Portillo's twin obstacles remain repeating his mechanics, and avoiding the tendency to try to throw the ball past every hitter every pitch. If he can harness his approach just a bit when he returns to Fort Wayne next year, he could quickly shoot up prospect lists. Daniel Cabrera's frustrating career path isn't hard to imagine.

19) Matt Lollis, RHP
After posting a sterling ERA in Eugene and Ft. Wayne in 2010 and a strong showing at the offseason invitational camp for minor leaguers at Petco Park, Lollis was a popular helium pick heading into 2011. And while his age 20 season in the Cal League wasn't the stellar breakout some were expecting, it also wasn't as bad as his 5.28 ERA and 1.50 WHIP might imply. The mountain-sized righty saw his strikeout rate increase and his rough stat line was impacted by a high batting average against. As with most guys his size, he needs to work hard to keep his mechanics consistent, and there was some concern about his approach when things didn't go his way this year. But when he can put things together, Lollis is an intimidating force on the mound and his numbers in San Antonio in the coming year will certainly look much better.

20) Duanel Jones, 3B
After a rocky start to his career that included a voided contract with the Giants and suspension for a banned substance, Jones arrived stateside this year and proceeded to pound the Arizona League, leading the circuit with eight homers when he was promoted to Eugene. A big-bodied slugger, Jones may need to move across the diamond at some point, and his strikeout totals this year were certainly staggering, but when he stops trying to hit every pitch 600 feet and trusts his natural plus power, Jones has as much slugging upside as anyone in the system.

21) Pedro Hernandez, LHP
If Oramas is the Padres' under-the-radar lefty pitching prospect, Hernandez is virtually subterranean. The 22-year-old Venezuelan worked at three levels in 2011, posting a 3.49 ERA and striking out more than four hitters for every walk he issued, but went largely unnoticed because of the depth of similarly-talented pitchers. While the Padres opted to protect him from the Rule 5 draft, a roster crunch in Tucson may point him back to San Antonio to open 2012.

22) John Barbato, RHP
Considered a first-round talent entering the 2010 draft, the Padres took Barbato out of high school in Florida as a hedge in case they couldn't sign A.J. Vanegas away from Stanford. It turned out the big righty was the consolation prize for getting neither Vanegas nor first-rounder Karsten Whitson. While his 2011 campaign for Eugene was nothing too thrilling on the field, he was among the youngest pitchers in the league, having turned 19 in May. He still needs to refine control of his offspeed offerings, but he should be at the front of Ft. Wayne's rotation in 2012.

23) Blake Tekotte, CF
Although he doesn't have any one exceptional tool, the 24-year-old has a wide array of very good ones both at the plate and as a true defensive centerfielder. The left-handed hitter shuttled back and forth to the majors all year in 2011, but put up a very strong .891 OPS and swiped 36 bases in 106 games for the Missions. His readiness for a big league job and perfect profile as a 4th outfielder makes the signing of Mark Kotsay all the more baffling, but if given a legitimate shot, expect the former ‘Cane to provide significant value to the big club in 2012.

24) Vince Belnome, 2B
Flying way under the radar since signing as a 28th-round pick in 2009, Belnome has done nothing but hit, posting a 301/418/500 cumulative line while shooting up to Double-A in two and a half professional seasons. Belnome missed significant playing time with an abdominal strain this year, but when he was on the field, he was every bit the offensive force James Darnell was. Having acquitted himself as a playable second baseman, Belnome could arrive in the majors by the middle of 2012. His offense-first, doesn't-look-the-part profile reminds some of a poor man's version of Dan Uggla.

25) Jason Hagerty, C
Switch-hitting catchers with offensive upside don't exactly grow on trees, but Hagerty slipped to the Padres in the fifth round in 2009 because he was the third defensive option behind the plate at the University of Miami. But the 24-year-old Missourian has acquitted himself nicely defensively while blasting the lower minors offensively. Following a fantastic first half in Elsinore however, Hagerty struggled badly when he was promoted to San Antonio this summer and underwhelmed in limited exposure in the AFL. Hagerty will head back to San Antonio to see if he can rebound in 2012.

26) Jace Peterson, SS
The former McNeese State cornerback turned his attention to baseball exclusively for the first time after the Padres tapped him in the supplemental round of this year's draft. The uber-athletic 21-year-old improved his performance each month he was in the system and impressed many at how quickly he was able to convert his tools into skills, perhaps attributable to being a coach's son. Peterson has few obstacles at shortstop in front of him in the system and will be given every opportunity to put himself into the future mix when he heads out to Ft. Wayne for 2012.

27) Jonathan Galvez, 2B
Signed as part of the strong 2007 international class, Galvez (known by his mother's family name Spraud at the time) has the potential to offer solid offense up the middle. The lanky Dominican's OBP has dropped each year he's moved up, but his isolated power rate remains strong and in Elsinore, he converted his above average speed into a great in-game asset. The big question for Galvez is whether he will be able to remain at second base long term. If he can, he would be a very valuable commodity. If he can't, his margin for error as a corner outfielder is much smaller.

28) Logan Forsythe
He could provide value in the big leagues as soon as this year if things break right for him, but it's hard to envision the one-time Razorback holding a starting job in the majors. Forsythe is the embodiment of the "patiently aggressive" mantra of the former regime, helping him to a career OBP above .400, but his defense remains a question and he may not have enough power at the plate.

29) Jose DePaula, LHP
Now two years post-surgery, the Dominican lefty's overall numbers in Elsinore were nothing to write home about, but his strikeout rates are finally coming back and he's once again showing three above-average pitches. Over the second half of the year his ERA was down more than two runs and his K rates were back well above 20 percent. In 2012, he'll have a chance to post much more impressive numbers in San Antonio, even if he doesn't make the progress I expect.

30) Yoan Alcantara, OF
While we may not know his real name or his age, there is no doubt that the athletic outfielder dazzled both with his performance and skillset in his stateside debut this year. The club will certainly have to re-evaluate any development plans once they've figured out the truth, but Alcantara has significant upside and could have appeared 10-15 slots higher without the revelation about his identity.


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