Furious Five Padres Prospects

After a brief hiatus for excursions to Fort Wayne and Lake Elsinore, the Furious Five within the San Diego Padres minor league system is back. This week however, the rankings are coming in two's.

1) Jon Knott (OF) and Xavier Nady (OF) - Portland -Knott reached base for his 26th straight time at Portland this year. Jon, 25, continues to put up good numbers in Portland, .314/.402/.601, with 15 HRs and 53 RBIs in 59 games, as he has throughout his career. . Despite not having as much fanfare as Xavier Nady or Tagg Bozied coming in, Knott has consistently outperformed all of the Padres power prospects throughout every step of the minor league ladder. Depending on what, and if, the Padres can do anything with Ryan Klesko in the winter; Knott should have a shot at the everyday job in LF job for 2005.

Until he was called up to replace Phil Nevin this past week, Xavier Nady,25, was also putting together a very solid season in Portland, .311/.371/.562, with 10 HRs and 32 RBIs in 47 games. Nady has only struck out 27 times in 180 ABs and 25 of his 56 hits have been for extra bases. Still a few questions if Nady's long swing, which has gotten shorter this year, will succeed in the majors.

2) Josh Barfield (2B) and Greg Sain (1B)- Mobile - Both Barfield and Sain have been near the top of the Southern League in RBIs, despite both hitting below .250 for much of the year. Josh, 21, has shown the power that was predicted before the season, 28 of his 75 hits have been for extra bases. However, he also has struck out 73 times in 313 ABs, but his selectivity has increased in recent weeks at the plate, his walk total is now a respectable 31 in 313 ABs.

Sain's average has climbed up recently too, to go along with his league leading 23 home runs. Greg, 24, has a slugging percentage of .524, but like Barfield needs to cut down on his 84 strikeouts in 275 ABs. Like Josh his walk rate has increased in recent week, now standing at 42 in 275 ABs. We should see Sain's average, .225, continues to climb in the second half of the Southern League season.

3) Fernando Valenzuela (1B) and George Kottaras (C/DH) - Fort Wayne - Offensively both of these players are starting to separate themselves from the rest of their teammates. Valenzuela and Kottaras are showing not only power, but selectivity at the plate as reflected in their base-on-balls to strikeout ratios. Valenzuela, 21, is hitting .304/.383/.404, with 7 HRs and 42 RBIs in 78 games and has struck out only 35 times in 286 ABs to go along with 28 walks. Kottaras' has posted even better numbers .313/.403/.486, with 5 HRs and 34 RBIs in 53 games. George has struck out 30 times in 179 ABs to go along with 28 walks. Additionally, Kottaras, 21, is a very good defensive catcher who hits left handed. He will represent Greece in the Olympics and we should see him rising very quickly within the system next year.

4) Sean Thompson (LHP) and Dirk Hayhurst (RHP)- Fort Wayne - Thompson, 21, is the Padres only bona fide left handed starting prospect. So far this year Thompson is once again putting up solid numbers as he did last year in Eugene. Sean has 84 strikeouts in 84 innings, while only walking 34. His ERA is 2.79, with a 5-3 record. Hayhurst, 23, has really put up some surprising numbers, who wasn't even much of a consideration in any of the preseason rankings. This year Dirk has 76 strikeouts in 84 innings while walking only 9. He has a sparkling ERA of 2.13 with a 7-2 record. Both should be promoted by the end of the year to Lake Elsinore.

5) Clark Girardeau (RHP) and David Pauley (RHP)- Lake Elsinore - After starting out the season slowing in Fort Wayne, Giradeau,22, has begun to pick up. The seventh round pick by the Padres in the 2003 draft, Clark has turned in two very good performances since being promoted to Lake Elsinore, winning two of the three games he has started with a 0.89 ERA. He has struck out 18 while issuing only 6 base-on-balls in twenty innings of work. Pauley, 21, who came into the season ranked the number seven prospect in the Padres system by Baseball America also started out slowly, but has begun to find his groove in the California League. Pauley has struck out 73, while only walking 35 batters in 89 innings. His ERA is still high, 4.45, as a result of early season struggles, but he has definitely been on the right path in his recent starts.

Single Outliers: Both Freddy Guzman, 23, and Brad Baker, 23, could easily be in the top five based on their recent and season long performances. A few doubts about how they project at the next levels held them back this week.

1) Freddy Guzman - Portland - Has cooled down some from his traditional fast start at new levels, but still showing that he can play a good CF and steal bases. Guzman is 26 for 27 in stolen base attempts and has a .344 OBP. He could be drawing a few more walks (14) and his lack of power, .331 Slugging Percentage and only 6 extra base hits in 145 ABs could be a concern.

2) Brad Baker - Mobile - Still putting up great numbers in Mobile, has a league leading 21 saves and 49 strike outs in 39 innings pitched. Baker only given up only 6 earned runs all year. The big question remains does he have enough of a fastball to go along with his great changeup at the higher levels? He should be in Portland by now.

Honorable Mention: Tagg Bozied, Jake Gautreau, Dennis Tankersly, Brian Sweeney, Chris Oxspring, Ben Johnson, R.D. Spiehs, Chris Rojas, Brian Whitaker, Paul McAnulty, Josh Carter, Casey Baker, Drew Macias, Ryan Klatt, Brett Burnham and Matthew Thayer.

Editorial Note: The Padres this year have had weakness in LF, lack of power, average and RBIs, and at the fifth slot in the rotation. So far this year both Jon Knott and Xavier Nady are having good seasons in Portland for power and average while Dennis Tankersly pitched as well, if not better, than most of the current staff in his limited four starts with the Padres. What is unusual about this situation is that for the past few years Padres General Manager Kevin Towers has constantly told anyone within earshot about how the Padres minor league system would eventually generate nearly all of their future players. Hence, the "commitment" to developing talent from within, as opposed to signing expensive free agents, was used an excuse for some miserable seasons the past few years.

The real question now is what is he waiting for? Both Khalil Greene and Humberto Quintero have demonstrated that they deserve to be in the everyday lineup not for what they can do in the future, but for how well they play, now. By continuing to trot out Ismael Valdez every fifth day instead of Tankersly, or giving Terrence Long playing time (Terrence recently broke a 2-36 slump with runners in scoring position) at the expense of either Jon Knott or Xavier Nady, Towers is not only contradicting his oft stated philosophy, but the hurting the current team for which these players were purportedly developed. Towers, in allowing Padres manager Bruce Bochy's to continue his myopic stated preference for using veteran players at the expense of younger players, seemingly regardless of how well they are currently performing, is not only a simplistic and wrong philosophy; but could end up costing the Padres the division.

Instead of looking to take on some over the hill veteran in the fifth slot, such as Andy Ashby, or continuing to play Long or Klesko in LF, Towers should show some faith in what he has developed and demonstrate that his actions match his rhetoric, start Tank and give Knott or Nady some consistent playing time.

John Conniff can be reached at Conniff@sandiegosports.net

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