1) Khalil Greene – 23 years old – shortstop - Mobile (AA) and Portland (AAA)
As expected, the Padres' #1 pick from 2002 shot his way through the system and now looks to take the reins as the starting shortstop in 2004. It seems this kid has relatively few weaknesses and his level-headed demeanor is extremely impressive. Starting the season at Mobile in the pitcher-friendly Southern League, Greene hit .275 with three homers and 20 RBI. After a call-up to Portland in June, Khalil really turned it on hitting .288 with 10 homers and 47 RBI in only 76 games. When they drafted him, the Padres already knew Khalil could hit, but several scouts questioned his defense. After his 2003 season, I believe Greene answered those questions and then some. Portland Manager Rick Sweet likened Khalil to Omar Vizquel and Ozzie Smith and while he probably will never reach that level, I think he has the chance to be an All-Star caliber shortstop for the Padres for the next 10-12 years. (projected date to majors – 2004)
2) Josh Barfield – 20 years old – second baseman – Lake Elsinore (A)
The son of former major league slugger Jesse Barfield, Josh made his own name for himself this season in the California League putting together one of the greatest offensive seasons in Padres' minor league history. Barfield was one of the finalists for Baseball America's Minor League Player of the Year award, was named the Cal League MVP and played in the Futures All-Star Game in July with #1 on this list, Khalil Greene. Barfield finished in the top 5 in eight offensive categories and led the entire minor leagues with 128 RBI. Barfield only seems to have two aspects of his game that he needs to work on in his defense and his strikeout rate. Barfield committed 20 errors at second base and struck out 122 times. He is only #2 on this list because Greene is further along in the development process. (projected date to majors – late 2005)
3) Javier Martinez – 20 years old – right-handed starter – Lake Elsinore (A)
Martinez is part of the Padres push to reap the benefits of our neighbor to the south, Mexico. He is a native of Merida in the Yucatan and joined the Padres' organization in 2001 at Fort Wayne (A). After the trade of the Padres' other high-profile Mexican pitcher Oliver Perez, Martinez remains a marketers' hope to cash in with San Diego's close proximity to Mexico. Martinez has tremendous stuff with a sinking low-90s fastball, an above-average curve and a very good change up. I believe the only think standing in the way between him becoming a very solid major league starter is injuries, which has cost him significant time in his brief professional career. Limited to 16 starts in the hitter-friendly California League in 2003, Martinez went 6-3 with a 3.23 ERA striking out 70 in 83 2/3 innings. (projected date to majors – mid 2005)
4) Jon Knott – 25 years old – corner outfielder/first baseman – Mobile (AA) and Portland (AAA)
On the surface, Jon Knott's 2003 season doesn't look too spectacular. But do NOT be fooled. He finished second in the pitcher-friendly Southern League with 27 home runs and proceeded to hit one more for good measure upon his call-up to Portland. But in the old-school viewpoint, a .252 batting average doesn't cause baseball people to "oooh" and "aaah". Let's look closer at this late-bloomer whom the Padres' signed as an undrafted free agent before the 2002 season. Knott walked 87 times and was hit by a pitch 17 times, good for a very solid .387 on-base percentage. Knott also drove in 82 runs while scoring 83. Simply put, he's a run producer who had a very fine season. I expect more of the same in Portland with a significant bump in batting average in 2004. (projected date to majors – late 2004)
5) Ben Howard – 24 years old – right-handed starter – Portland (AAA) and San Diego
Since his breakout season in 2002 and high-ranking at the beginning of 2003, Howard's stock has consistently dropped. Well, I'm here to tell you he's back where he should be near the top. To me, he's the front-runner for the Padres' #5 spot in the rotation in 2004, which garners this high ranking. Howard threw much better at Portland this season than his ERA would indicate. He allowed many less hits than innings pitched and limited his walk totals, which was a problem for him in the past. His strikeout rate was rather low, but actually increased in his six starts for the Padres. He features a very solid repertoire of pitches that include a mid-90s 4-seam fastball, a high-80s sinker, a good slider and a developing change. (projected date to majors – 2004)
6) Tim Stauffer – 21 years old – right-handed starter – Richmond University
Stauffer has yet to throw a pitch in professional baseball, but from everything I have read, he deserves to be at this spot in the rankings. Drafted in the first round (4th overall) out of Richmond University, the former Spider has all the makings of a reliable #2 or #3 starter for years to come, something extremely valuable and hard to find. In fact, he was labeled the pitcher closest to the majors from this year's draft. Stauffer, who signed for cheap after disclosing that he had a shoulder injury that should not be serious, has every pitch in the book. He can throw his 4-seam fastball anywhere from 87 to 93 mph and can run it up to 95 when he wants to. He also features a knuckle-curve, a changeup, a cut-fastball and a 12-to-6 curve. To top it all off, he has a tremendous head on his shoulders and a great work ethic. If he's healthy, he should start the season at Lake Elsinore (A) and move quickly through the system. (projected date to majors – 2005)
7) Jake Gautreau – 23 years old – second baseman – Mobile (AA)
As I wrote in my introduction, on most other organizational top 20 lists Gautreau would be much higher. But unfortunately for Jake, he sits behind both Mark Loretta at the major league level and Josh Barfield in the minors. Yet with all that working against him, I am not going to write Jake off that easily. The left-handed hitter has a sweet power stroke, but struggled the past two seasons with a stomach ailment that hampered his numbers. At Mobile in 2003, Gautreau hit .242 with 14 homers and 55 RBI in 122 games. The good news is Gautreau is apparently becoming a very solid defensive second baseman and his impending move to Portland in 2004 will do wonders for his stats so long as he remains healthy. Still, I think Gautreau's future may include a trade to another organization simply because of the Padres' logjam at second. (projected date to majors – mid 2005)
8) Sean Thompson – 20 years old – left-handed starter – Eugene (A)
With the trades of both Oliver Perez and presumably Cory Stewart to Pittsburgh, the Padres organization is suddenly short of lefty prospects. Thompson, a 2002 5th-round pick, leads that small group. The diminutive 5'11" Colorado native has blown away the competition his first two seasons in professional baseball. In 2002, Thompson struck out 69 in 56 1/3 innings at Idaho Falls (R). In 2003, the lefty was 7-1 with a 2.48 ERA in 15 starts at Eugene. In 80 innings, Sean allowed only 58 hits while whiffing 97. There are always opportunities for lefties and especially ones that have the good stuff Thompson does. Though he doesn't throw hard (high 80s), he locates the ball well with good movement and features an above-average curveball. Scouts have compared him to Ron Guidry as he is a bulldog on the mound that wants the ball. If his strikeout rate continues to remain the same and he can limit his walks, he should move quickly through the system. (projected date to majors – late 2006)
9) Freddy Guzman – 22 years old – outfielder – Lake Elsinore (A), Mobile (AA) and Portland (AAA)
Just as he runs the bases, Guzman traipsed through the Padres' organization in 2003 with reckless abandon. Playing at the top three levels of the system, Guzman stole 90 bases in 107 attempts. That mark was the most in minor league baseball. The Padres lack speed and Guzman may be the man to give it to them in the future. He does not show too much power, but seems to make decent contact and gets on base more that 35% of the time. The switch-hitting Dominican actually aged and experienced a name change after the 2001 season, but his spot as a true prospect remains the same. He has game-changing speed and seems to have become a favorite of Padres' GM Kevin Towers. (projected date to majors – late 2004)
10) Humberto Quintero – 24 years old – catcher – Mobile (AA) and San Diego
The slick-fielding Venezuelan got a quick cup of coffee with the Padres in September and I am sure the Padres loved what they saw. Built like a fireplug, Quintero takes control behind the plate with his brains and the missile attached to his throwing arm. Acquired in mid-season last year with outfielder Alex Fernandez (#18) for D'Angelo Jimenez, the knock on Humberto had always been his hitting. But something seemed to click in 2003 as Quintero finished tied for 7th in the Southern League with a .298 average. He was named the best defensive catcher in the league and was named to both the mid-season and post-season All-Star teams. If he can hit around .260 in the majors with the defense he brings to the table, he just may be the Padres' catcher of the future. (projected date to majors – late 2004)
Dave Holtzman can be reached at email@example.com
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