With our usual caveat, the Top 30 rankings are far from a perfect ranking of the top prospects in the system. They are not an apples-to-apples comparison because the minor leagues generally have three different levels, each of which has different value points.
The short-season leagues (AZL and Eugene, now Tri-City) the emphasis is on ability/potential as opposed to consistency. The A-ball levels is always the toughest to gauge because performance is wrapped into full-season statistics with the age of the player being a huge factor. AA and above are in a way the easiest and most deceiving. At this level while we find many players have the capability of playing in the major leagues their ability to perform consistently is what separates them from a trip to Morton’s Steakhouse as opposed to finding the nearest Whataburger in Midland after a long bus trip in the Texas League.
Everyone who writes one of these lists has their own subjective view of what constitutes value. For me, I put more value on consistency over a 100 plus games at higher levels than I do on potential - but I’m still a sucker for the total package (see Franchy Cordero in 2014 and Michael Gettys this year).
As with last year the system does not have any sure-fire top prospect who is ready to light the major leagues on fire but it does have quite a few players that have the potential to be that guy. Recently departed scouting directors Chad MacDonald and Jason MacLeod put together strong drafts in 2011 through 2014 and the mid-season trade of Huston Street brought back some strong players.
The system is still stronger in pitching than for position players, but the gap is closer than last year. One piece of very good news is after missing badly on first round picks from 2005 through 2009 (Caesar Carrillo (2005), Matt Antonelli (2006) Nick Schmidt (2007) and Allen Dykstra (2008)) six of the Top Ten for 2015 were taken in the first round and two were taken in the second round.
So the scouting department is doing a better job of identifying talent and the front office is providing them with the resources to sign them.
For prospects we used the same grading criteria as Baseball America for eligibility, no more than 130 at-bats, 50 innings pitched or 30 relief appearances.
New for 2014:
Trea Turner, Michael Gettys, Zech Lemond, Ryan Butler, Mallex Smith, R.J Alverez, Auston Bousfield, Jose Rondon, Jake Bauers, Elliot Morris, Cody Decker, Brandon Alger, Colin Rea, Michael Kelly, Marcus Davis and Jerry Sullivan.
Out from 2013: Burch Smith, Joe Wieland, Franchy Cordero, Travis Jankowski, Juan Oramas, Keyvius Sampson, Donn Roach, Reymond Fuentes, Cody Hebner, Jaff Decker, Alberth Martiniez, Chris Nunn, Adrian De Horta, Rodney Daal and Pete Kelich.
1) Matt Wisler RHP/SP
I know he had an ERA of 5.01 in AAA El Paso, but Wisler, 22, improved every month and his ERA in August was a very respectable 3.90 with 32 strikeouts in 35 innings against only 12 walks. He is mainly a fastball/slider pitcher who will need an improved and more consistent change-up to reach his potential as a #3 starter.
2015 : In what will be a recurring theme, it really depends on how things shake out in the off-season. If the Padres do have an open competition for a fifth starter and want it to come from the organization, he will be the odds-on favorite.
2) Rymer Liriano OF
For years the Padres’ scouting and developmental staffs have been beat up by local pundits on their failure to develop a true five-tool prospect. Well, they are starting to get close.
After sitting out all of last year recovering from Tommy John surgery, Liriano showed some flashes of his immense potential, particularly in El Paso where he hit .452 in 16 games with 12 extra-base hits. In San Diego he struggled with 39 strikeouts in 119 plate appearances, but still showed enough to keep people excited.
2015: As noted above, Liriano, 23, is close but still could use a little more seasoning; especially adjusting to when pitchers challenge him inside with the fastball after years of having to feed on a diet of breaking pitches away.
A few early months in El Paso should do the trick.
3) Trea Turner SS
Turner, 21, was the Padres first pick in the 2014 draft and after getting off to a slow start in Short-season Eugene (.228) caught fire in Low-A Fort Wayne hitting .369/.447/.529 with 14 stolen bases in 17 attempts in the 46 games he played.
While his offensive statistics are impressive, the Padres loved his steady defense and the way he solidified a very shaky young TinCaps’ infield. He can still go for a little too much at the plate with 48 strikeouts, but right now he looks like the Padres may have gotten a steal with the thirteenth overall pick.
2015: Turner will start the year in High-A Lake Elsinore and depending on his performance and how aggressive new Director of Player Development Sam Geaney is, he could be in San Antonio by the second half.
4) Hunter Renfroe OF
Renfroe, 22, was last year’s top pick and showed light tower power with the Storm with 40 extra-base hits in 69 games. He slowed down in San Antonio and in the Arizona Fall League, but in his first full season of professional baseball he has come a long way.
Defensively, he has the ability to play center but is a plus defender when playing the corners. He has some speed, but because he hits in the middle of the order has not run much.
2015: As with Liriano, Renfroe is a true five-tool player that needs to improve upon his plate discipline and is still a very raw player in other facets of the game. Expect to see him back in San Antonio where he should put up better numbers after running out of gas in August.
5) Austin Hedges C
The good news is that Hedges, 21, actually got better defensively and he continues to be the defensive standard by which all of the other catchers, including on the big club are judged. The bad news is his performance at the plate this year did little to quite the skeptics who are unsure if he will be able to hit at the big leagues as he posted a .225/.268/.321 slash line in AA San Antonio.
2015 I am a charter member of the Austin Hedges bandwagon, but his offensive numbers this year should give everyone some concern.
Some in the organization believed that Hedges got into some bad habits, by getting a little to pull happy where the wind in Nelson Wolff Stadium kills fly balls to left field. During the instructs they emphasized better balance and going the opposite way.
In essence the model that they would like to see is of Yadier Molina when he first came up, don’t go for power but make solid contact. If he can do that, he will have a very long and profitable major league career.
6) Zach Eflin RHP/SP
Eflin, 20, is not a pitcher that is going to set the sabermetric/prospect crowd into raptures. His velocity has gone up, but is not elite, and he doesn’t generate the types of swing-and-miss numbers that sets hearts aflutter.
However, what he does do is pound the zone, eat innings and in the end he led his staff for the second year in a row in ERA. In 24 starts he only allowed 31 walks to go along with a 3.80 ERA and 93 strikeouts. Eflin’s go to pitch is his two-seam fastball which he will pound the zone with and mixing in the occasional four-seamer that can touch 97.
2015 After surviving the Cal League Eflin should put up his best numbers in San Antonio where his plus two-seamer is hard to loft in favorable conditions. Eflin at nearly six-foot-six and a solid 225 lbs. has the potential to develop into a middle of the rotation major league starter.
7)Joe Ross RHP/SP
Ross has as much upside as anyone in the Padres’ organization and this year everyone started to see glimpses of a pitcher that could become better than his brother; and when your brother is Tyson Ross that is a nice compliment.
In Lake Elsinore Ross essentially had four bad starts, including one where he gave up nine earned runs in High Desert, but for the most part was very good. Throw out three innings in a whiffle ball park and his 3.98 ERA moves to 3.30. He made four starts in San Antonio before being shut down in early August with a 3.60 ERA in 20 innings.
2015 Ross will begin the year in San Antonio and should be one of the anchors on the organization’s best and deepest pitching staff. He showed tremendous improvement this year in becoming more consistent. Now its time for the next step.
He has a plus fastball but his secondary pitches will be the difference maker.
8) Max Fried LHP/SP
Padres’ fans reacted with familiar horror when reports came out of spring training that Fried was resting a “minor elbow strain” and turned into a bad nightmare The Harvard-Westlake grad threw 10.2 innings between the AZL/Fort Wayne in 2014 before undergoing surgery in mid-August.
2015He will be out all of next year. He still has a huge amount of potential and will only be 22 when he comes back. Fried has three plus pitches, is left-handed, athletic and can dial it up to the mid-90s with his fastball.
He’s the type of player that you wait on.
9) Michael Gettys CF
Gettys, 18, was described by some as a lottery pick when he was drafted and many respected pundits, ESPN’s Keith Law being one, had major issues with his swing. How well he does in a full-season league is still very much an open question, but no one questions the tools package of the athletic centerfielder from Georgia.
This year in the AZL he posted a .310/.353/.437 line and hit .351 with runners in scoring position and by all accounts was one of the better defenders in the league. Athletically, he’s a better prospect than both Liriano and Renfroe.
2015 The Padres are going to start him in Fort Wayne and in many ways he is somewhat similar to shortstop Franchy Cordero who also put up big numbers in the AZL, the main difference is Gettys will not have the defensive issues that Cordero does.
Still this is a very big jump for a warm-weather kid to the late snows of Fort Wayne in April, but Gettys is truly a special athlete and the Padres’ brass doesn’t have the same concerns over his swing path as the pundits do. Gettys is easily the most interesting prospect to watch going into next season.
10) Cory Spangenberg 2B/3b/OF
Spangenberg, 23, came back from a second serious concussion to put together one of his best months as a professional and got his first taste of the major leagues. Cory was hit on the head sliding into third base on April 15 and wasn’t able to return to the Missions until July 2. After he came back he hit .343/.378/.494 before getting called up to the Padres in September where he hit .290/.313/.452.
2015 In addition to having some of his best offensive numbers Spangenberg also saw considerable time at third and in the outfield, which may help him land a job in the big leagues. His best position is still second base and if the Padres move Gyorko over to third, he could be in the lead for second if they go the internal route.
11) James Needy RHP/SP
Needy, 23, as with Eflin above is also not the type that excites a lot of minor league pundits, his velocity is good, but not great and he is never going to post huge strikeout-to-walk ratios. What he has done in the past two years is eat innings and rank among the league leaders in ERA.
I like that; it’s a big part of winning baseball games to try to not let the other team score. The six-foot-six Santana graduate relies on sharply tilting sinker that makes it difficult to get solid contact along with an improving slider/changeup.
2015 The Padres will send him to AAA El Paso where his ability to keep the ball down will be put to the test. If he can make it through El Paso and some of the other parks in the PCL, Needy has a shot to be in the rotation where PETCO would fit his game like a glove.
12 Zech Lemond RHP/SP
Former Padres’ scouting director Chad MacDonald may have pulled a coup when he was able to get Lemond in the third round of this year’s draft. Lemond, 21, was primarily a relief pitcher at Rice but San Diego believes he has the stuff to be a quality starting pitcher with three plus pitches.
In Eugene he struck out 34 batters against only five walks in 38 innings. He got a late season fill-in promotion to San Antonio and threw four scoreless innings.
2015 Under former Director of Development Randy Smith the plan was to give Zech a chance to compete for a starter’s job in Lake Elsinore. Given the depth of the pitching in Fort Wayne in 2014, that plan should still be on the table. The Houston native could be a fast riser through the organization.
13) Ryan Butler RHP/RP
Butler, 22, amazed the Padres and fans in Fort Wayne with his 100 mph fastballs as the TinCaps’ closer and is already looking like one of the better selections of the 2014 draft.
Tommy John surgery and three schools in three years kind of scared away some organizations, but the fastball is real and the slider and changeup are not bad either.
2015The real question is if he will start or be in the pen. If he’s in the bullpen, he may be the first in his class to get to San Diego.
14) Jace Peterson SS/2B/3B
Despite being yanked around more times than a piñata at a toddler’s birthday party, Jace Peterson didn’t have a bad year between San Antonio and El Paso as he hit .307/.402/.447. His numbers in San Diego are largely irrelevant because of sporadic playing time.
The real question will be if the new administration sees him as a shortstop or something else; which also seemed to be a problem between the development staff and the guys surrounding former Padres’ GM Josh Byrnes. If he is seen and can prove he can play at the major league level defensively at shortstop his value is much higher than his ranking.
The question is will he be given a chance?
2015He is still a better athlete than he is a defensive shortstop, but the gap is closing every year. What he needs the most right now is simply consistent playing time at shortstop.
15) Mallex Smith CF/OF
After being left off of the opening day roster at Lake Elsinore, Smith ended up passing everyone as the speedy left-handed hitter led all of professional baseball with 88 stolen bases. Along the way he also showed some pop with 41 extra-base hits, a .403 on-base percentage and solid defense in center.
2015 Mallex may be the best lead-off prospect in the system and will be a part of what should be a very strong outfield in San Antonio that should include Hunter Renfroe and Travis Jankowski. He’s a very good athlete who also has a keen understanding of what he needs to do on the diamond to improve.
16) RJ Alverez RHP/RP
Three of the four prospects that came over in the Huston Street trade with the Angels made this Top 30 ranking and Alverez, 23, may be the first to pay dividends on the major league level. He has a rather violent delivery, but also has a high 90’s fastball to go along with a good slider.
Overall he posted a 61/13 strikeout-to-base-on-balls ratio in 43.1 innings for a 1.25 ERA in AA Arkansas/San Antonio.
2015 In his brief stint in San Diego he showed some stuff with nine strikeouts in eight innings and depending on how the off-season shakes out could land a spot on the big club.
17) Auston Bousfield CF/LF
Bousfield, 20, was one of the youngest college players taken in the draft after a solid three year career at Ole Miss showed the type of all-around game that will get him noticed. In the Northwest League he hit .349/.440/.570 in August to go along with 12 stolen bases in 16 attempts for the season.
Bousfield is a solid defender whose greatest asset is his fundamentally well-rounded game. He walks, can steal a base and has some pop.
2015 With Michael Gettys in center for Fort Wayne the Padres may take a chance and push Bousfield to High-A Lake Elsinore. If he’s in the Cal League he will put up better power numbers than he did in his debut season. He’s the type of player that is really only going to be challenged once he reaches AA.
18) Jose Rondon SS
Rondon, not Taylor Lindsey, was regarded by many as the best prospect that the Padres snagged in the Street trade. Rondon, 20, is a gifted defender with the ability to make good contact, and even run into a few extra-base hits, to stick in the line-up at shortstop. The Padres believe as he matures he will get stronger and add more power.
2015 He will be the everyday shortstop in San Antonio but he is also going to have Trea Turner close on his heels in Lake Elsinore.
19) Kyle Lloyd RHP/SP
Lloyd was a late addition to the TinCaps’ squad and in the end the best pitcher on the tam and had one of the better years in the organization. The old adage “he is a horse” is particularly true in his account as Lloyd, at six-foot-four and 235 lbs., can eat innings and drive the opposition crazy with his hard splitter. He led the organization with strikeouts with 155 in 119.2 innings, but can sometimes catch a little much of the zone with 114 hits.
2015 Lloyd, 23, will get a crash course in learning how to keep the ball down in the Cal League and there is some concern with the amount that he throws the splitter could put undue stress on his elbow. Because of his age, if he is successful with the Storm, look for him to move up to AA San Antonio at the earliest opportunity.
20) Johnny Barbato RHP/RP,p> Before he got hurt in mid-June, Barbato, 23, had as good a year as any reliever in the system. A physically big pitcher at six-foot-two, 225 lbs., he has the ability to pound his fastball for multiple innings to go along with a developing change-up and curve.
The interesting thing about Barbato is he is as comfortable going two innings as he is one and could be an ideal candidate for a major league bullpen.
2015 If he’s healthy, he should be in El Paso to start the year and could have a shot of making his debut in San Diego later this year.
21) Elliot Morris RHP/SP
As with the acquisition of Jesse Hahn last year, in the end Elliot Morris may have the most upside of the four prospects that were brought over in the Huston Street trade. Morris is really just learning how to pitch and more than anyone else benefitted under the tutelage of Lake Elsinore pitching coach Bronswell Patrick in learning how to perfect his slider and two-seam fastball.
With the Storm, the six-foot-four Morris, showed an ability to go relatively deep in games , seven of his eight starts were over six innings, and not give up that many runs with a 3.56 ERA. This was mainly with just throwing one pitch, a four-seam fastball.
2015 Morris, 22, will be part of a very good Missions’ pitching staff and if he keeps improving on his slider and two-seamer could be the sleeper breakout pick. He has very good fastball command and if he can come up with secondary pitches to keep the opposition off balance, he will be someone to watch.
22) Cody Decker 1B/3B/C
Decker led the organization in home runs with 27 and finished third in RBI with 79; and it’s not his first rodeo where he has been among the leaders in the organization in these categories.
So why didn’t he get a chance at the majors? Your guess is as good as mine, but for one of the coveted 40-man roster spots frequently it just comes down to the subjective views of who is in charge. On the plus side, he seems like the perfect bench player for a National League team with his ability to play multiple positions and ability to hit for power.
2015 If he’s not moved in the off-season, he will be back in El Paso and in all probability playing multiple positions. The change at the top could help Cody, as someone different might see what many of us have all along.
23) Brandon Alger LHP/RP
On a squad filled with a lot of top flight pitching prospects in Lake Elsinore Alger, 23, put together a great year as the thin lefty showed he could close, pitch multiple innings and get hitters out from both sides of the plate. He does this with a nice mix of pitches all of which share a common denominator; they are all down in the zone.
This year he threw 63.1 innings with 77 strikeouts against only 19 walks for a 2.70 ERA in the Cal League. As with Barbato, Alger’s ability to go multiple innings should help him.
2015 If Alger has anywhere close to the type of year he had in 2014 in San Antonio he will be in the majors very soon. A lefty that can hold left-handed hitters to a .206 batting average and do even better against right-handed hitters at .178 has value.
24) Jake Bauers 1B
As with Lloyd, Bauers inexplicably did not make the opening day roster for the TinCaps but soon showed the Padres the error in their ways as he hit .362 in his first 44 games in the Midwest League. He slowed down in the second half, but still it was an impressive debut for someone that was the youngest player in the Midwest League at 18.
He is considered a plus first baseman defensively and was credited in cutting down many more errors from the left side of the infield with his ability to dig throws out of the dirt and move around the bag. His manager Michael Collins believes that he has the potential to also play on the outfield corners.
2015 He has some room in his body to get stronger and the experience of playing in a full season at such a young age should help. Bauers has a solid mental approach and the ability to make adjustments so he could be in line for a big year in Lake Elsinore.
25) Colin Rea RHP/SP
Rea, 23, finally put together the type of season many of the Padres’ brass thought he was this year with the Storm in one of the toughest leagues for pitchers. He relies on a good moving two-seam fastball but will have to improve upon his slider and find an effective third pitch to go further. Still, a 3.88 ERA in the Cal League over 28 starts and a 139 innings is an impressive.
2015 Rea has a decent curve but if his splitter comes around, which he started to throw in place of his change-up at the end of the season, his career could take a giant step forward in AA.
26) Michael Kelly
It’s been a long time coming but the former 2011 supplemental first round pick finally lived up to his ability with a strong season in Eugene. Kelly, 21, has always possessed good stuff, along with size and athleticsm, but his downfall has always been he has been too hard on himself mentally.
This year in Eugene, for the most part, he got past it. In nine of his fourteen starts he allowed one run or less.
2015 Kelly will start the year in Fort Wayne and could be in Lake Elsinore fairly quickly to make up for lost time. The key for him will be to maintain the mental approach that allowed him to dominate in most of his starts in Eugene.
27) Justin Hancock RHP/SP
Hancock, 23, missed much of the year with injury but when he was on he did show some promise with his mix of two-seam fastballs and sliders. As with most pitchers when he gets the ball up, he gets in trouble.
The big keys for Justin will be to stay healthy and learn how to bounce back when things aren’t quite going his way.
2015 When he’s on, Hancock can be as good as anyone in a system that features quite a few pitchers that depend on batters pounding the ball into the ground. Because of the depth of guys coming into San Antonio, Justin might be pushed up to El Paso where some of the parks could give him some problems.
28) Marcus Davis 1B/OF
After struggling in his first year, Davis had a huge bounce back year with the Emeralds as he finished in the top five in the league for batting average, on-base percentage and extra-base hits and led everyone in slugging percentage. He has the ability to play in the outfield too and hopefully will get a chance because it is a long slog up the chain if he is limited to first base.
2015 Marcus will be the everyday first baseman in Fort Wayne to begin 2015 and will have a chance to show that the past year wasn’t a fluke. As with Bauers last year, he is more of a gap hitter that can take the ball the other way than a pure power prospect.
29) Casey Kelly RHP/SP
I’ve always liked Casey Kelly, 24, when he’s healthy; the problem is that he has had a tough time doing that the past two years. He has only been able to throw twenty innings in the past two years since he had his Tommy John surgery in 2013. When he’s on he is an athletic pitcher with a very good moving two-seamer/sinker that can eat innings and force a lot of bad contact.
2015 If he is healthy he will almost certainly begin the year in El Paso where the Padres will be very careful with his innings so he doesn’t have a repeat of this year. As stated above, he is very talented and if he is healthy is much more valuable than his ranking.
30) Jerry Sullivan RHP/RP
Since moving to the bullpen Sullivan, a third round pick of the team in 2009, has thrived. This year he had a 2.29 ERA in 59 innings between San Antonio and El Paso with 66 strikeouts against only 20 walks. He relies move on movement with his two-seamer than power but he can dial it when needed.
2015 If he’s still with the Padres, he will be part of a strong bullpen in El Paso and part of some good relief depth the Padres will have available to them.