MadFriars’ Top 30 - Conniff Edition

We start off with the first of our four Top 30 rankings on the top prospects in the San Diego Padres system for 2015. John Conniff will go first, followed by Ben Davey next week, then Kevin Charity with David Jay rounding out the rankings.

When the team you are covering is run by A.J. Preller, the list could look a lot different by the time we get around to our combined and final rankings on March 1.

With our usual caveat, the Top 30 rankings is a far from a perfect hierarchy 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 Tri-City) the emphasis is on ability/potential as opposed to consistency. The A-ball levels (Fort Wayne and Lake Elsinore) are 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 (San Antonio and El Paso), is 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 example, in this list I ranked the top six Padres’ outfielders as Travis Jankowski, Hunter Renfroe, Manuel Margot, Alex Dickerson, Rymer Liriano and Michael Gettys. The reasoning is Jankowski has not only the best chance of helping the big club this year, but the highest floor, which means he seems most likely to reach his potential. If the ranking was based on ceiling or the overall potential of a player as some analysts do, I would rank them as Gettys, Renfroe, Margot, Liriano, Jankowski and Dickerson.

Gettys has the potential to hit 25 home runs, steal 30 or more bases and play a great defensive centerfield; but until he begins to make consistent contact at lower levels it probably won’t happen at the big league level. Could he do it? Sure. Does anyone know for sure if he will be able to in a few years at the major league level? No.

Value in baseball is the ability to replicate a certain level of performance over a long season. Thus, the players with the most value are not the one who can do special things occasionally, but the ones who can knock out daily solid performances.

At the time this list is going on-line, the trading of relievers Joaquin Benoit and Craig Kimbrel greatly helped out the overall strength of the Padres’ system with four of the eight prospects acquired landing in my Top 30.

San Diego did not have a selection until the second round in this year’s draft, but still were able to acquire talent. The trades should move the Padres into about the middle for overall organizational strength with the rest of baseball, but the 2016 draft should produce a bigger bounty with higher round selections available and expect to see a few more international signings as A.J. Preller has been able to put more of his scouting department in place.

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.

Quick Glance Keep an eye on what should be a very talented Low-A Fort Wayne TinCaps’ staff with all five projected starting pitchers making the list. High-A Lake Elsinore will have a very slick defensive infield with Javier Guerra, Ruddy Giron and Luis Urias. Double-A San Antonio will have Manuel Margot in center, Nick Torres, who played very well in the Arizona Fall League, in right and Auston Bousfield in left. In Triple-A El Paso, Renfroe will probably be one of the bigger stories not only there but in the entire organization.

1) Colin Rea RHP/SP

2015 was the season when everything finally clicked for Rea as his performance matched the organizational hype that has surrounded him for years. The six-foot-five Iowan relies upon a two-seam fastball/slider combination to get batters out and developed a quality splitter for his third pitch. In six starts with the Padres Rea showed enough, especially in his last start to show his days in the minors are should be over.

2016:Rea was the MadFriars’ Pitcher of the Year> for 2015 and depending on what happens in the winter, he could be in the big league rotation.

So are there pitchers with more upside and velocity than Rea in the system? Sure, but none of them have his record of success at the higher levels of the minors, and more importantly are ready to help now with the big club in 2016. He profiles as a solid middle of the rotation starter and anyone has any questions about how much one is worth, Ian Kennedy turned down a one year $15.8 million dollar contract this winter.

2) Travis Jankowski CF

This past season now one came further than Jankowski whose career nearly ended in an outfield wall collision in Frisco in 2014. The two big improvements to his game was an ability to pull the ball to open up more of the field and an improvement in his two-strike approach which saw a significant jump in his on-base percentage. Jankowski was the MadFriars’ Player of the Year for 2015 and is a plus defender in center.

2016: With the Padres already having a high payroll Jankowski should at a minimum share the center field position next season with Melvin Upton, Jr. He is the prototypical lead-off hitter that can not only run, but has a real aptitude for stealing bases. The key for him will be to show enough power to hit the ball into the gaps but not get to pull happy and put the ball in the air for easy outs.

3) Hunter Renfroe OF

There is maybe no one in the organization that has a higher ceiling than Renfroe, but when he’s off it’s not pretty. At the end of May he was hitting .224 in San Antonio, but he did what anyone hopes young talented players do when they hit a roadblock; he made adjustments to his approach and his swing mechanics. It paid off and ended up with a blazing 21 games in El Paso hitting .333/.358/.633 with 13 extra-base hits, six of them that went over the fence.

2016: Renfroe is a true five-tool player and can play all three outfield positions, but is best suited for the corners. He has talent, but is going to need more repetitions against pitchers that try to get him out with secondary stuff instead of challenging him with fastballs. Look for him to return to El Paso for 2016 and how well he does a second time around the Pacific Coast League will speak volumes for his future.

4) Javier Guerra SS

If Guerra reaches his potential, the Kimbrel trade will be remembered right up there with the Adrian Gonzalez trade with the Texas Rangers in 2006. A left-handed hitting shortstop with power, Guerra is known for his advanced defense - and yes, to make A.J. Preller and his consigliere Don Welke happy - a truly plus arm. In Low-A Greenville he hit .279/.329/.449 in 116 games with 15 home runs and was named the Red Sox Minor League Defensive Player of the Year.

2016: Guerra will only be twenty years old next year in the Cal Leauge and should be part of a very talented defensive infield in Lake Elsinore in 2016. Look for Guerra, Ruddy Giron, Luis Urias and Josh VanMeter to all see time at third, shortstop and second base. However, Guerra is the guy that could get Padres’ fans attention with his defense and power.

5) Manuel Margot CF

Guerra edged out Margot by a whisker, mainly because an elite shortstop has more value than an elite centerfielder. Margot has the ability to play a solid defensive centerfield and at the plate is more of a gap-power hitter with an ability to steal some bags. In 2015 he hit .276/.324/.423 with 39 stolen bases between High-A Salem and Double-A Portland.

2016: Margot is only 21 and will be the everyday centerfielder in Double-A San Antonio. He profiles best as a top of the order hitter that can run with gap power in a strong, yet compact frame. He is going to have to improve his on-base percentage to truly realize his potential.

Both Guerra and Margot were great pick-ups by the Padres but are at a minimum still at least a year away from San Diego.

6) Ryan Butler RHP/SP

This is where the list begins to get interesting. Butler, a seventh round draft pick in 2014 was dominating as the Fort Wayne closer. In 2015 the Padres’ moved him into the rotation, where he also dominated in Lake Elsinore. Mid-season shoulder soreness cut down his season after his promotion to San Antonio, but still a six-foot-five pitcher that can consistently throw in the mid-90s nearly defines the term prospect.

2016: Butler should begin the season in San Antonio where the big challenge will not only be with stretching him out, but becoming more consistent with his fastball command and off-speed pitches. They are both there; it’s just a question of how often they both show up. If they do both show up, he will be in the major leagues sometime in 2016.

7) Ruddy Giron SS

Giron has come a long way in a very short time. He wasn’t on the opening day roster for any full-season team but was promoted to the TinCaps when the Padres finally gave up on playing Franchy Cordero at shortstop. Only 18, and the youngest player in the Midwest League, he hit .383/.442/.602 in 34 games in the first half.

The problem is the production fell off in the second half where he hit .233/.277/.304 in the second half (62 games). Defensively, he can play the position, but his potentially large frame could force a move to third base with higher offensive expectations.

2016: Despite the swoon in the second half Giron is a prospect that will get people excited. His early power numbers in the first half may have gotten him away from his line drive approach. When he’s on, he is gap-to-gap. Look for a big year from him in Lake Elsinore where with the inclusion of Guerra he will see some more time at second and third base.

8) Alex Dickerson OF

If there is a sleeper in the San Diego system, its Dickerson and his power left-handed bat. The six-foot-three 235 pounds Poway High graduate was one of the Pacific Coast League’s leaders in extra-base hits with 57 and even had nine triples. He can play both corners but offensively the key will be if evaluators believe he can pull the ball for more power.

2016: With the departure of Justin Upton in 2016 the Padres will find themselves with an opening in left field and not a lot of discretionary income. If they look at internal options it should come down to a battle between Dickerson and Rymer Liriano. Dickerson could have the advantage if he can hit the inside pitch.

9) Rymer Liriano OF

Among Padres’ fans who follow the minor leagues Liriano has always been the elusive great white whale; the five-tool player that will burst onto the scene and take the Padres to the promised land. Only 24, he has been in the system for the past six years and has developed into more of an all-around player with the ability to play three outfield positions and hit anywhere in the line-up. This year he was much better in the second half (.917 OPS) as compared to the first (.798 OPS). Best 2015 statistic for Rymer: a .383 on-base percentage in El Paso.

2016: As noted above, if the Padres look for an internal solution to replace Upton in left field it should come down to a battle between Liriano and Dickerson. He is out of minor league options, so if the team does decide to go with Dickerson look for Rymer to be moved.

10) Dinelson Lamet RHP/SP

Although he was slightly older (22) than most of the organization’s Latin stars debuting in a full-season league, Lamet showed plenty of talent for the TinCaps’ this season. At six-foot-four and 190 pounds he has the classic pitcher’s body and struck out 120 in 105.1 innings. Lamet, as with most top young prospects, starts off with a big fastball and has solid, but inconsistent, secondary offerings.

2016: Lamet should start the season in Lake Elsinore where he will learn the value of keeping the ball down. He threw more innings last season than he has in his career so the organization may be a little slower in his promotion to Double-A than with others.

11) Nick Torres OF

Next to Jankowski, the former Cal-Poly San Louis Obispo star made the biggest jump this season. Torres finished second overall in the minor leagues in doubles with 44 and the athletic former Mustang was a solid defender at both corner outfield spots. One of the harder working players in the system, both on the physical and mental side, his next big challenge will be to build a little more loft in his swing to turn a few of the doubles into a few more home runs. If he can do that, he could develop into a major league corner outfielder.

2016: The wind-sept caverns of Nelson Wolff Stadium in San Antonio are not the best place to develop power but if he can conquer that PETCO Park in San Diego won’t seem as daunting.

12) Jacob Nix RHP/SP

The Padres got a steal in this year’s draft when they were able to land Nix who would have signed with the Astros in 2014 if the Brady Aiken deal hadn’t blown up in their faces. After a full season with the IMG Academy, Nix only threw 19.2 innings in the Arizona League under mostly Spring Training conditions - although in his last two outings he did throw five innings.

2016: As the Sports Illustrated article states, he has all the pitches and should be part of a very good starting staff next year in Fort Wayne. If he stays healthy there is no reason why he could not be a top five prospect for 2017.

13) Michael Gettys CF

One could make a pretty good argument that Gettys, not Renfroe, is the player with the highest ceiling in the San Diego system, but it might be a little premature. Only 19, the Georgia native had an up-and-down season in Fort Wayne, but did show a lot of promise with 39 extra-base hits, 20 stolen bases and played a great defensive center field.

However, the numbers that are going to jump out is 162 strikeouts in 522 plate appearances which led to a .231 batting average. He has wonderful tools - he actually looks more like an outside linebacker for the Chargers - but he has to make contact for them to play.

2016: The Padres will probably move him to Lake Elsinore if they like what they see in in Spring Training. The front office has made pitch recognition and approach a priority for Gettys in the off-season and if it sticks he could take off.

14) Walker Locket RHP/SP

Locket would have been the top pitcher in Tri-Cities if he hadn’t been sent back to the AZL for undisclosed disciplinary reasons in mid-August. The 2012 fourth round pick has the size (six-foot-five, 225 pounds) that you want to see in a pitcher and had a 47/10 strikeout-to-base-on-balls ratio in the Northwest League to go along with a 2.83 ERA.

2016: Although he will only be 22 next year, he has been in the system since 2012. With the talent going to Fort Wayne, and his relatively “old” age the Padres may elect to challenge him and send him to Lake Elsinore and skip his third visit to Fort Wayne. If his past problems are behind him, this could be another sleeper.

15) Jose Castillo LHP/SP

By virtue of his size (six-foot-four), stuff (consistent mid-90s fastball) and being left-handed Castillo was going to show up in the upper reaches of these rankings. Acquired from Tampa Bay in the Wil Myers trade, the 19-year old Venezuelan spent most of the year in short-season Tri-Cities where he flashed some of his plus stuff in limited outings with a cameo in Fort Wayne.

2016: Castillo should spend the season in Low-A where the organization will gradually increase his work load. He should really benefit under both TinCaps’ pitching coach Burt Hooten and manager Francisco Morales as he makes the transition from a thrower to a pitcher.

16) Luis Urias 2B/SS/3B

As with Giron, Urias joined the TinCaps from Tri-Cities and gave the team a big lift hitting .374 in his first month with the team before slowing down. Like Giron, he was the youngest player in the league and capable of playing multiple infield positions.

Sam Geaney, the Padres’ Director of Minor League Development, has said he is one of the better fastball hitters in the organization but is going to need to get more weight on his five-foot-nine 160 pound frame.

2016: Urias should join Giron as his double-play partner in Lake Elsinore and it will be interesting to see how both adjust to the rigors of a full-season from what they accomplished last year.

17) Justin Hancock RHP/SP

Do you rank higher the guy with the great stuff/projection who has competed mostly against high school players or the one with lower stuff/projection but a good record against professional hitters?

I took the later and like Justin Hancock. As with his friend/roommate Colin Rea, Hancock relies upon a two-seam fastball/slider mixture but needs to be a more consistent with his breaking pitches and change-up. He was impressive this year with the Missions with a 3.59 ERA in 120.1 innings but struggled with his command with 49 walks.

2016: Hancock should be the top pitcher in El Paso this year, but will need to mix his pitches better than he did last year while cutting down on his walks. If his command and breaking pitches pick up he could join Rea in San Diego.

18) Austin Smith RHP/SP

Along with Nix, Smith is one of the reasons the Padres feel pretty good about their 2015 draft despite not picking until #51. As with Nix, the Padres limited him to two inning stints in the Arizona League where he made nine appearances, twice giving up five earned runs. Then again, the “games” in the AZL are much closer to intra-squad scrimages than real competitions; particularly for pitchers.

2016:Smith, 19, has great size at six-foot-four, 215 pounds but right now he is primarily all fastball with a developing curve and change-up. San Diego should throw him into the mix in Fort Wayne to start the year.

19) Jon Edwards RHP/RP

Edwards, a converted outfielder, came over in the Will Venable trade with Texas and could end up being a part of the big league bullpen in 2016. An imposing physical specimen at six-foot-five, 230 pounds has a big fastball (Edwards had 51 strikeouts in 36.2 innings) but there are some questions about his secondary pitches and command.

2016: He will definitely be in the mix for a big league bullpen spot this spring or at worst will be the top guy in El Paso. Edwards was a solid pick-up for San Diego at the trade deadline since it was unlikely that Venable would have been in the organization’s plans going forward.

20) Brad Zunica 1B

In every organization there is a prospect like this to dream on. The left-handed hitting Zunica is six-foot five and at least 260 pounds which should remind Padres’ fans of kind of a bigger version of Kyle Blanks. He left high school a year early to enroll at the University of Miami and then left the next season for junior college ball in Sarasota, Florida before being drafted by the Padres in the fifteenth round of this year’s draft.

At only 19, he hit seven home runs in August for the AZL Padres to finish up at .271/.329/.496. Does he have flaws in his swing? Yes. Can he get in a little better shape? Yes. Does he need work defensively? Yes. But as MadFriars’ David Jay noted after watching him in the Instructional League, “he can hit something off of the end of his bat and it’s going to clear the left field wall.”

“He’s that strong.”

2016: The Padres should start the big man in Fort Wayne where he will rotate between first base and designated hitter. Worst case scenario he’s in Tri-Cities by July or if he keeps his head down, makes some adjustments, he has the potential to hit twenty or more home runs.

21) Phil Maton RHP/RP/SP

Maton, a senior sign out of Louisiana Tech, had an amazing year coming out of the bullpen for the Dust Devils. He had a 1.38 ERA in 32.2 innings but the numbers that stand out are 58 strikeouts against only five walks. Maton has three quality pitches and as with Ryan Butler and Zech Lemond last year, the organization is going to explore his future as a starter before determining where he will fit best going forward.

2016: Maton, because of his age (22), dominance in the Northwestern League and the sheer amount of pitchers they will have at Fort Wayne, could land in the Cal League for 2016. Maton was a starter all throughout his collegiate career and was only put in the bullpen as a professional to ease the amount of innings, so it shouldn’t be that big of an adjustment.

22) Logan Allen LHP/SP

Allen is the player in the Kimbrel trade which everyone believes could be the sleeper. He was drafted in the eighth round of the 2015 draft by the Boston Red Sox who gave him third round money to get him to forgo his commitment to South Carolina. He’s only 18, throws a low-90’s fastball, with a plus curve and developing change. He showed some talent in the Red Sox complex leagues with 24 strikeouts against only a single walk in 20 innings for 0.90 ERA.

2016: Allen will be part of the strongest Fort Wayne pitching staff in years. The Padres are going to keep an eye on his innings, but there is a lot to like for anyone that age, with that kind of stuff and who is left-handed.

23) Jay Jackson RHP/RP

Jackson, a converted starter from a few different organizations, was one of the better finds by the Padres in 2015. Getting his wish to only be used in relief, he turned in the best year of his career with 70 strikeouts in 63.2 innings against only 17 walks in El Paso; earning a September call-up to San Diego.

2016:Jackson, a former position player in college, is one of the better athletes in the system and along with Jon Edwards, will be in the mix for a big league bullpen job in the spring.

24) Enyel De Los Santos RHP

The Padres not only got out of paying $7.5 million for a set-up relief pitcher in Joaquin Benoit - although he was talented - they were also able to pry away a quality arm in De Los Santos from the Mariners. Only twenty years old, the six-foot-three and 170 pounds the Dominican possess a live fastball that can touch 97 MPH and sits in the mid-90s. His breaking stuff and changeup are still developing, as would be expected at that age.

2016: The TinCaps staff should consist of Nix, Smith, Castillo, Allen and De Los Santos. All five are prospects with big fastballs, plus, yet inconsistent secondary pitches and all are under 21. It will be a fun team to watch a game in Parkview Field.

25) Jose Rondon SS

Depending on who you talk too, Rondon was either the main piece or a very significant one that came over in the Huston Street trade in 2014. At his best he is seen as a player that can stay at shortstop because of his plus arm and his contact skills at the plate that will eventually bloom into more power.

For the first half at Lake Elsinore, that is what the 21-year old Venezuelan did, hitting .300/.360/.414 but he struggled badly in 28 games in San Antonio hitting .190/.219/.230.

2016: This will be a pivotal year for Rondon, especially with the acquisition of Guerra in the off-season behind him in Lake Elsinore. There are some questions if he has the lateral quickness to stay at short, and if he can’t stay at short, he doesn’t have the bat to play second or third. The big learning curve for Rondon will be figuring out what type of hitter he is and learning to refine his approach at the plate to reflect it.

26) Auston Bousfield CF/OF

Bousfield made the jump from short-season Eugene last year to Lake Elsinore and looked pretty good in the first half hitting .300/395/.373 in the first 56 games but in the next 46 hit only .239/.317/.289. When he’s on, he can do a little bit of everything and has a simple repeatable swing. Defensively, he can play all three positions, but has the most value in center.

2016: If Bousfield can show some more power, he could have a chance at the big leagues. He needs to put on some weight and get a little stronger as he physically wore down as the year went on. He will begin the season in San Antonio, where he spent the final weeks of 2015, and can be a capable top-of-the-order hitter. However, with the trade for Margot in the off-season he may see more time in left field than in center, which will affect his value going forward.

27) Ryan Miller C

Miller was drafted out of San Bernardino Junior College in 2013, and despite only beginning to play catcher in his senior year of high school has made significant progress in his game calling, framing and ability to block pitches in the dirt. Miller has some pop in his bat and is playing winter ball in Australia attempting to get more balance and rhythm with his swing.

2016: Miller will be the everyday catcher in San Antonio and Double-A pitching will be a challenge for him. The Padres like his athleticism and work ethic and he will be given every chance to succeed.

28) Jimmy Brasoban RHP/RP

Brasoban had three starts for the TinCaps this season but his future going forward will be in relief. As a reliever in 59.1 innings he struck out 68 against only 17 walks and is considered to have the best curve ball in the organization.

2016: Brasoban will move up to the Cal League and discover the wonders of the wind blowing out in Lancaster and High Desert. Seriously, the young Dominican did well in some high leverage situations, showing that he is more than a one inning pitcher and could have a chance to move up quickly.

29) Peter Van Gansen SS

Van Gansen was a big reason behind the success of the Dust Devils this year. Only five-foot nine, he was solid up the middle defensively with only five errors and made all the routine plays and a few more. Offensively, the left-handed hitter profiles as top of the order hitter with an ability to get on base and steal a few bases.

2016: Whether or not you believe Van Gansen has a chance to be a major league player he is going to play a very important part for the organization in being the everyday shortstop for the TinCaps behind five very valuable Padres’ pitching prospects. Then again people have always doubted Van Gansen and he seems to thrive and enjoy in proving them wrong.

30) Colby Blueberg RHP/RP

Blueberg, a converted middle infielder out of Nevada-Reno, was one of the stars of this year’s Fort Wayne TinCaps. In 58.2 innings Blueberg gave up seven earned runs all year with 62 strikeouts against only 15 walks. He threw multiple innings and relies on a very good fastball to go along with his “currider” (a self-named curve/slider combination).

2016: His manager this season Francisco Morales liked the way Blueberg attacked hitters and his mentality on the mound. Blueberg relies more on command than velocity and his breaking pitch and change-up will have to improve as he moves up. Still, it’s hard to argue with his success this past year.

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