Best Starting Pitching
1) Lake Elsinore
2) Fort Wayne
Reasons - Lake Elsinore by a nose over Fort Wayne. The starting staff of Tim Stauffer, David Pauley, Gabe Ribas and Brian Whitaker is the best in the system. Fort Wayne could possibly contend if Clark Girardeau and Eddie Bonine develop after Jared Wells and Sean Thompson. There is a big drop off after Lake Elsinore and Fort Wayne. Portland has Dennis Tankersly and Chris Oxspring, then its gets very thin with a lot of "4A" pitchers. Mobile's only starting pitcher prospect is Justin Germano, a back of the rotation starter at best.
2) Fort Wayne
3) Mobile and Lake Elsinore
Reasons - The Padres do have some talent in their bullpens for 2004. Portland will have several relief pitchers who may be able to help the Padres in 2004, the most likely candidates could be Edgar Huerta, a hard throwing left hander out of Mexico. Also look for Blaine Neal, Bart Miadich and Brandon Puffer to potentially contribute to the Padres in 2004. Fort Wayne has Ryan Klatt, who put up some spectacular numbers last year in Idaho Falls and Aaron Coonrod, who can throw up to 100 MPH, they both could be very good. Both Lake Elsinore and Mobile have strong closers in Brad Baker and Mike Wodnicki, but many question marks for their set up men.
3) Lake Elsinore
4) Fort Wayne
Reasons - Mobile has prospects at every position and probably even a few on the bench. Already the team has put up some good numbers, even with second baseman Josh Barfield in a mini slump and without center fielder Freddy Guzman, Baseball America's #3 prospect. Portland's team also has quite a bit of talent, but Mobile gets the overall edge in a position by position analysis. Again, a big difference between the top two teams and the bottom two. Lake Elsinore has some good hitters, Michael Johnson, Kennard Jones and Paul McNulty, but too many question marks in the daily line-up. Fort Wayne is worse, with a very weak infield. A guess is sooner or later they will move Billy Hogan back to third base in order to generate more offense on an already weak hitting team.
Best Prospect by Team
Fort Wayne - Jared Wells (RHP)
Reasons - 6'4", 200 lbs and throws between in the low 90's, with the ability to touch 97 mph. You have to like that premise right at the start. Wells came to the Padres after a very long season in which he helped lead his San Jacinto team to the Junior College World Series. He's had the whole winter to recover, so he should be fresh for 2004. Jared just has too much potential to ignore, but he needs to work on his slider and change up.
Runner-up - Sean Thompson - (LHP)
Had a great year at Eugene, going 7-1, with 97 strike outs in 80 innings. Rated by Baseball America as having the best curve ball in the Padres' system, along with a good change-up. His fastball is in the low nineties. The only negative on Sean is his slight stature at 5'11" and 160 lbs.
Lake Elsinore - Tim Stauffer (RHP)
Reasons -The Padres number one pick in 2003, and number four pick overall. Tim is 6'2" 205 lbs, and scored a lot of points with the Padres by admitting an injury to his shoulder before signing with the Padres. His curveball and change up are plus pitches, along with a fastball that sits in the low nineties. Seems to have fully recovered from his injuries in the spring, he could be in Mobile after the all star break.
Runner-up Michael Johnson 1b
Could be the answer to the Padres need for a left handed power hitter. Johnson, a teamate of Khalil Greene's at Clemson, was injured most of last year. Johnson has the potential to be the type of selective power hitter teams crave. Michael is pretty much limited to 1b, and at 24 in order to be a realistic prospect needs to make the jump to Mobile this season. With a few breaks, Johnson could be the starting 1b for the Portland Beavers in 2005.
Mobile - Josh Barfield (2b)
Reasons -The number one or two prospect on everyone's list of Padres prospects in 2004. Josh had a huge year at Lake Elsinore last year hitting .337 with 16 home runs and 128 RBIs in a 135 games. Josh needs to prove he can succeed in the Southern League, one of the toughest leagues for hitters in the minor leagues. Also, look for continued defensive improvement by Josh who wants to make the major leagues as second baseman. Because Josh is only 21, he will probably be in Mobile for the full year, followed by a full year at Portland in 2005. Also, having Mark Loretta on the Padres gives the organization the opportunity to take its time with Josh.
Runner-up - Greg Sain (1b, C and 3b)
Simply too much power and too versatile to ignore. Greg hit 19 home runs and drove in 100 in his first full healthy year in the Padres' organization. Sain needs to improve his defense, especially at 3b, but if he continues to improve his defensive abilities at all three positions and hit with power, he will be in the major leagues.
Portland - Jon Knott (OF/1b)
Reasons - The Padres minor league home run champion in 2003 and led the Southern League with 59 extra base in 2003. Knott accomplished this while playing on the Padres worst offensive team in the minor leagues. With the line-up surrounding him at Portland much better, Jon could hit 30 home runs in a full season and return to a batting average well over .300 that he posted in Fort Wayne and Lake Elsinore in 2002. Knott can play both corner OF positions and 1b, will definitely be a candidate to make the Padres in 2005, however we could see as early as 2004.
Runner-up - Xavier Nady (OF/1b)
A very close call between Knott and Nady, but I give the slight edge to Knott because he has a little more power potential than Nady. Nady is in a tough position, as a corner OF and 1b and is stuck behind Brian Giles, Phil Nevin and Ryan Klesko. A key for Nady being promoted will be to prove to the Padres he can consistently hit, and hit with power, Pacific Coast League pitching and become a serviceable fourth OF, which means the ability to play some Center Field.
John Conniff can be reached at Conniff@sandiegosports.net