I really don’t know the answer to that.
I have yet to figure out a way to divine which set-up relievers will get a chance and which won’t, so I’ve left out several guys at the top of the system who will almost certainly see some big league service time in the next 18 months. I also prefer guys with one standout tool (even when paired with some significant problems) compared to guys with multiple solid tools. Ultimately, I think the guys with that one defining plus ability will always get more chances to advance.
In general, the Padres’ system is, on paper, weaker than it has been in the last few years. Much of that drop is because of question marks around health. If it was clear that Kelly, Fried, Smith, Wieland and others were ready to take the ball every fifth day, the organization would be in much better shape. But they aren’t. So, we’ve got to give it our best shot at ranking these guys given what we do and don’t know about their health today.
1) Matt Wisler, RHP
The big righty from Ohio had a brutal start to his Triple-A campaign, but the hiccups in El Paso are really a reminder that development paths are rarely linear. The 22-year-old’s fastball has both the velocity and movement you want to see, his changeup is a swing-and-miss pitch, and the breaking ball is nasty when he stays on top. He was among the youngest players in the PCL, pitched in unfriendly environments, and he improved every month he was in El Paso.
I’m not ready to pencil him into the 2015 rotation to start the year, but I expect to see him in Petco by mid-year.
2) Rymer Liriano, RF
It seems like he’s been in the system since the Reagan administration, but the toolsy Liriano arrived in Triple-A soon after his 23rd birthday – even after a season lost to Tommy John surgery in 2013. While some talent evaluators still whisper about focus for the true right fielder, it was his work in Surprise last summer while he was rehabbing that showed me his ability and willingness to put in the time and dedication needed.
Yes, his big league debut was challenged, but every new stop has been that way since he was 17 years old. If the organization will give him consistent at-bats (clearly not a guarantee) to make his adjustments, he’s going to hit.
3) Hunter Renfroe, RF
With scouts and executives lamenting the lack of right-handed power in the game today, Renfroe has arrived in the pro ranks at just the right time to be coveted. A beast of an athlete, the Mississippi native beat up on the Cal League for the first few months of his first full season before his approach got the better of him in Double-A.
With more than enough power to get the ball out of any stadium, it would be nice to see him temper his swing slightly to allow for more contact. After sharing the Arizona Fall League home run crown, Renfroe should return to San Antonio with confidence to open the 2015 season. How the Padres handle him if he gets off to a strong start will be an interesting early look at the new regime’s approach to player development.
4) Joe Ross, RHP
Though he’s not as physically imposing as his brother, Joe’s mechanics are less wince-inducing and may help him unlock his ability a bit more easily. The effectiveness of his diving fastball shows up in having given up only six homers in 101 innings at Elsinore this year.
The 21-year-old was shut down early, always an ominous sign for an organization which has a poor track record of long layoffs preceding surgery, but it sounds like he’ll be ready to open 2015 in San Antonio. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to think he might make the jump directly to the bigs from there if things go well.
5) Austin Hedges, C
When he was drafted, scouts generally agreed that his defense would be ready long before his bat. While this would have suggested to most that a slow development path would make the most sense, the 22-year-old was pushed very aggressively by the most recent front office brain trust. The gamble definitely didn’t pay off, for the player or the club.
With another return to San Antonio awaiting him in 2015, the Orange County native needs to get back to a sound approach and not worry about trying to do too much at the plate. If he can reach base at a .320 clip, he’ll be a valuable big leaguer. If he can avoid over-thinking and can stay short to the ball, he will ultimately be much more than that.
6) Trea Turner, SS
Coming out of North Carolina State, there were questions about a swing that tends to get long to the ball. However, after a getting-acclimated stint in Eugene, the 21-year-old tore up the Midwest League and kept it going as a shuttle player Arizona.
While he’s not going to continue to sport an average on balls in play well above .400, his line drive rate and plus speed mean his numbers in Ft. Wayne weren’t a complete fluke either. Though he’s not Andrelton Simmons, his actions, range and arm are all plenty to be an asset in the field in the Majors. He’ll be tested by the rough infields in the Cal League to start 2015, but if he continues to take his retooled swing to the plate with him, he probably won’t have to worry about being there all year.
7) Zach Eflin, RHP
The big Floridian doesn’t always look fluid in his movement, but the results over the last two years are hard to argue with. The only one of the 10 high school pitchers signed in 2012 on a positive trajectory, the 20-year-old doesn’t have big strikeout totals and still needs to refine his breaking ball enough to get more advanced hitters to chase.
Even with those development areas, he has enough to work with to stay in the rotation and could be a reliable innings-eater in the big leagues. As Padres’ fans know, that’s a valuable commodity.
8) Michael Gettys, OF
It’s amazing that college football recruiting in the Atlanta metro area is so productive, because there is a seemingly never-ending stream of uber-athletic outfielders coming out of the region. Gettys showed both his immense tools and his in-game flaws in his AZL debut, ranking among league leaders in average, stolen bases… and strikeouts.
Particularly in today’s game, the high whiff rate isn’t a death sentence, but he will ultimately need to rein in the wild swings. There will be growing pains for the 19-year-old, but there are few players in the system who can match his raw ability.
9) Casey Kelly, RHP
The last remaining piece of the Adrian Gonzalez trade, Kelly has now worked a total of only 86.2 innings since the start of the 2012 season. He returned from Tommy John surgery in May, made four appearances, and then disappeared completely.
While subsequent MRIs reportedly didn’t show damage, Kelly’s status is very unclear at this point. If he’s healthy – a massive if given his and the organization’s track records – he can be an important building block for the rotation. At 24 years old and having already logged big league service time, Kelly has remarkably little actual in-game experience to his credit since he began his career as a two-way player.
10) Jake Bauers, 1B
Sometimes, a player is so reminiscent of another that it’s almost impossible to watch him and NOT see the same outcome. The descriptions of 18-year-old Jake Bauer are almost verbatim what was written about Daric Barton a decade ago – right down to their high school (no word on a pending Mark Mulder trade though).
If you DON’T overlay Barton though, what you have is an incredibly young guy with an incredibly strong approach at the plate and defensively at first base. You have a guy whose frame says he’ll add strength pretty well over the next few years. And you have a guy who has nobody in front of him for a few levels. Bauers will be, by a long shot, the youngest guy in the Cal League to open 2015, and as long as he doesn’t get homer-happy in the launching pads around the league, he’ll be among the best performers on the circuit as well.
11) Max Fried, LHP
While Fried won’t pitch in front of a paying crowd again until April, 2016, he’s still the top lefty in the organization. The organization can hope that he’ll take full advantage of the rehab year to pick the brains of the development staff in Peoria. With his plus fastball and a devastating changeup he only started throwing in 2013, he has the building blocks for a strong career. However, it’ll be quite some time before you should even think about seeing him in San Diego.
12) Jace Peterson, SS/2B
If the way Austin Hedges was handled was puzzling, the Jace Peterson saga in 2014 was downright stupefying.
After spending all of 2013 in Lake Elsinore, the organization inexplicably decided to try to turn him into a big league utility player in spring training in 2014. He shuttled all over the place throughout the year, never getting anything like regular playing time. For a guy who was universally considered a player who – because he had been a two-sport guy in college – would need plenty of development time, the results were predictably bleak.
While he won’t be a Gold Glove winner at shortstop, he has enough tools to make the position work, if the club decides they want to. Otherwise, he’ll kick around for the next few seasons, and then hope for a real chance somewhere else down the road.
13) Mallex Smith, CF
The Padres front office thought they got a potent top-of-the-order outfielder on day one of the 2012 draft. It’s beginning to look like they did – it just happened about 120 picks later than they originally believed.
The diminutive speedster added strength last offseason to hit the ball with enough authority to keep opponents honest at the plate, and he is always a threat on the basepaths. He still takes curious routes on fly balls in the field sometimes, but his legs can make up for most mistakes.
He’ll be challenged by better breaking balls in the Texas League in 2015, but with continued refinement of his approach, he could assert himself as a true top-of-the-order threat for the big league club as soon as 2016.
14) Fernando Perez, INF
A native of Ensenada, a product of Otay Ranch high school, and a 2012 pick out of junior college, the bat-first Perez is my pick for the system’s biggest 2015 offensive breakout.
After a thumb injury short-circuited his 2013 campaign, the 21-year-old paced the Tin Caps with 18 homers and over 200 total bases last season, hitting the ball with authority without a high-effort swing. He’s not going to draw a ton of walks, but he’s not Diego Goris either. His ultimate spot on the defensive spectrum isn’t entirely clear yet, but if he hits like he’s capable of, he’ll be a valuable guy at either second or third.
15) Burch Smith, RHP
Even if Burch Smith’s right arm is still attached to his body – a fact that’s not necessarily guaranteed after a lost year in 2014 – his ultimate role on a big league pitching staff is still an open question.
Smith has a big fastball, but he still thinks he can throw it past anyone. Nobody can do that, including the big Texan. If he’ll rely more on his viable breaking ball and remember the San Diego maxim that off-speed kills, he can be a starter. If he insists on being a one-pitch guy, he’s going to have trouble getting many high leverage innings.
16) James Needy, RHP
Needy may be the first member of this list to disappear from it as he’s been left exposed to the Rule 5 draft.
Though he doesn’t have a gasp-inducing fastball like 40-man addition Tayron Guerrero, he also has the advantage of knowing what’s happening when the ball leaves his hand. The big righty from Santee is a groundball machine with his boring two-seamer, and his sub-three ERA for the Missions this year is no fluke. There will always be more glamorous prospects in the system, but if the opportunity comes along at the right time, Needy has all the tools to be a reliable, quality big league starter.
17) R.J. Alvarez, RHP
The first pure reliever on my list, Alvarez has the profile of a shutdown closer. His fastball pushes triple digits and he has a nasty slider. I’ve always struggled to properly read the tea leaves for relievers, but he’s pretty much a lock to be in the big league pen to open 2015, and it’s unlikely Benoit or any other vet is going to stand in the way when he and Kevin Quackenbush are ready to take the mantel.
18) Alex Dickerson, 1B/OF
What’s this? A Padres prospect whose ultimate value is clouded by injuries? Shocking!
The 24-year-old from Poway came back to his home town organization in a trade last winter and promptly missed most of the campaign after a fluke injury revealed a structural problem in his heel. He got back on the field faster than expected and was productive down the stretch in San Antonio. While there’s been some noise in local media about him beginning the 2015 season in the Majors, he and the organization would both seem to be better served by a trip through the PCL where he could focus on unlocking his natural power a bit more.
19) Joe Wieland, RHP
Wieland went a mere 28 months between appearances on the Padres mound, but finally made it back from his 2012 Tommy John surgery and collected his first big league win in September.
He’s probably the only arbitration-eligible player ever to appear on a top prospects list, but he won’t use up his rookie eligibility until his next big league start. It’s still somewhat hard to know what the Padres have in Wieland at this point since he’s had such limited exposure and development over the last few years, but his performance in Double-A back in 2011 gives a hint at what he can do when things are right. With the Padres dangling starting pitchers in the trade market, Wieland is likely to get plenty of opportunities to work in the majors in 2015.
20) Franchy Cordero, TBD
Yes, his work at shortstop is enough to make you pine for the halcyon days of Edinson Rincon in the infield.
Yes, his swing is weird to watch. But the 20-year-old Dominican can hit the ball with authority. He has plenty of fast-twitch power. He’s a plus runner. It’s not clear whether the organization will give him one more shot at shortstop in 2015 (there’s not another obvious candidate for the job in Ft. Wayne unless Josh VanMeter stays behind), but the tools will get him all the chances in the world.
He may never make it out of the Cal League, but he could also put together the tools and thrive.
21) Cory Spangenberg, 2B/3B/CF
After another round of injury issues, Spangenberg made up for some lost time with a torrid run at Lake Elsinore in the second half of 2014, earning himself a late season call-up. His success was driven, though, by an unsustainable .421 batting average on balls in play. To be effective at the top of a lineup, Spangenberg will need to walk more while simultaneously finding a way to put more of a charge into the ball with some frequency. That’s a lot to ask of a guy who has not yet topped 100 games in a professional season.
22) Jose Rondon, SS/2B
For the second time in three years, the Padres acquired a solid but unspectacular middle infielder from the Angels in exchange for a closer. Though Rondon would likely sell more jeans doing it, he plays the game with a skill set relatively similar to Alexi Amarista’s. I’m not sold that his slap-and-dash swing will play at higher levels, but he’ll be one guy to keep an eye on in San Antonio in 2015.
23) Carlos Belen, 3B
The recipient of a million-dollar bonus to sign out of the Dominican in 2012, Belen flashed the talents that earned him the payday in his stateside debut in 2014.
The 18-year-old was the most prolific hitter on the Peoria team, finishing third in the circuit in slugging percentage. Of course, he also struck out in 40 percent of his plate appearances. Obviously, that all-or-nothing approach is tough to sustain. But with a lot of usable power from the right side of the plate, Belen’s calling card is the skill that’s in most demand around the sport today.
If he’s sent out to Ft. Wayne to open 2015, it will be because the organization sees a more refined approach at the plate during spring training.
24) Kyle Lloyd, RHP
While he was a tough matchup for Midwest League hitters all year, Lloyd was especially dominating down the stretch when he averaged more than 13 strikeouts per nine innings pitched. The big righty looks the part on the mound, but he has several strikes against him, most notably his age.
Though they’re different guys on the mound, he reminds me of Anthony Bass as a guy who added velocity since he ended his college career at a smaller program. He’ll need to work his other stuff in more consistently to keep moving through the system.
25) Zech Lemond, RHP
The only organization with a worse track record of pitcher arm injuries than the Padres is Rice University. Lemond has both on his résumé. He slipped to the third round because of… a sore arm. Yet he wowed scouts during his brief stint in the Owls’ rotation this year.
If there was a strong likelihood he’d be a starter long-term, I’d have him 10-12 spots higher. But it’s hard to be too optimistic that he’ll ultimately wind up somewhere other than the bullpen.
26) Jordan Paroubeck, OF
He looks the part, he has a great background in the game, and when he finally got on the field this year, he was very effective. His shoulder still wasn’t 100 percent in the Arizona League, limiting his play in the field. However, he should be ready to go without restriction in 2015. It will be interesting to watch whether the organization decides to push the 20 year old to full-season ball, or if he’ll stay back and head to Tri-Cities in June.
27) Juan Oramas, LHP
I just can’t quit the 24-year-old lefty from Mexico.
The longest-tenured Padre farmhand (yes, really!) was brutal in El Paso this season, both before and after his brief demotion to San Antonio. Yet he’s a lefty strikeout machine, and he’s pitching really well in Mexico this winter. There’s certainly room for him in the Tucson rotation in 2015, and I just can’t help thinking/hoping he’ll put it together. If doubts persist about him, he still could slot into a LOOGY role at the big league level.
28) Rafael DePaula, RHP
It’s not coincidental that the guy who came back in the Chase Headley trade is one notch above Tayron Guerrero. Both have the potential to be devastating. But they rarely have enough command to actually dominate a game. DePaula lasted a bit longer in the starting role, so he gets a slight edge in the rankings, but chances are pretty good he’s headed to the pen as well.
29) Tayron Guerrero, RHP
While ranking players in general is fraught with conditional statements, it’s particularly true of relief pitchers. Watching Carlos Marmol a decade ago, a reasonable person might have said his command would keep him from being effective. Another reasonable person might have thought that if he could just improve his command a bit, he could be a serious weapon.
That’s Tayron Guerrero (and 100 other guys in the mid-minors today). If he times it well and keeps things in check early in his career, he’ll probably get an opportunity to close. If he chucks the ball all around the ballpark on his first pass, he’ll probably wind up a journeyman getting mop-up innings from a succession of clubs who hope he might figure it out with them. So, he’s either 20 spots too low or 50 spots too high on this list.
30) Franmil Reyes, RF
The last spot on the list is always a wildcard. And as a guy who’s still waiting for Kyle Blanks’s monster season in the Majors, I have to stick with Reyes this year.
The monster 19-year-old really floundered in the second half of his first full season, but the Dominican has plenty to build on going forward. If he responds to his struggles by committing to a serious conditioning program, he could make people forget 2014 pretty quickly. He is prone to trying to do too much, ultimately taking the bat out of his own hands sometimes, but when he trusts himself enough to stay short to the ball, he can do some serious damage. He’s probably headed back to Ft. Wayne in 2015.