#5) At just 22 years old and with 170 lb frame that could easily be 190 with another year in the weight room the Padres are high on Ruben Mora. Signed in 2000 as an undrafted free agent out of Panama Mora has good speed and an improving bat, but what makes him stand out is the cannon right arm he uses to great effect in right field. That arm very well might be the best in the entire Padres farm system, and the only reason we question that statement is that we are including the pitchers.
When he was first signed it was based almost solely on athletic ability and now four years down the line it looks like the gamble might finally be paying off. After stints with both of the Padres Rookie League squads, and another with Short Season-A ball Eugene where Mora never hit better than .240 he broke out in '04 to the tune of a .281 average in time split between Eugene and Lo-A Fort Wayne. As with any youngster gifted with a rocket arm but not necessarily a big bat there was speculation he might move to the mound, and that's still a possibility, but the Padres were pleased enough with his '04 improvement to give him at least one more year in right.
#4) Coming out of the University of California-Riverside Brian Wahlbrink looked like project, and has proven to be one. 6'0" tall and 200 pounds are good numbers to start with, excellent speed (43 steals in 54 chances over his first two pro seasons) continue the intrigue, and a whopping 242 strikeouts in 789 at bats gets us to the project part. Wahlbrink will spend the better part of the next three seasons trying to make contact, but when he does good things seem to happen around him.
After hitting .300 at Eugene in his first year in pro ball the Padres felt a promotion was in order and off to Fort Wayne he went. The average dipped and strikeouts soared, but the Padres still felt it was a productive move, as it seems to have made Wahlbrink realize just how far away he is. Taken in the 42nd round of the 2002 draft by the Padres he has consistently beat out their expectations, and they feel he has enough natural bat speed to learn the patience and pitch selection necessary to compete on higher levels.
#3) If his instincts were better Yordany Ramirez would very likely be on the 'Centerfielders' portion of these rankings, but as the 20 year old prospect from the Dominican Republic adjusts to a new culture, team, country and organization the Padres have tabbed Ramirez for the right side of the outfield, where he can take advantage of good arm strength and fantastic accuracy. After three straight years of Short Season ball Ramirez is poised to make the jump to Lo-A Fort Wayne where the biggest test for the youngster will be at the plate.
Coaches it the organization were surprised at just how quickly he started learning the nuances of the game, and insist his repeating with Rookie League Idaho Falls had much more to do with his age than it did with his talent. Still, there will be questions about Ramirez's bat until he hits better than the .266 he posted at Idaho Falls in '03. He'll likely return to Eugene, where he finished '04 but could see action at a higher level as early as June. The Padres have made a conscious effort not to rush him, but are very quietly high on this kid.
#2) If the ladies love the long ball, they are going bonkers over Ben Johnson. Johnson hit the weights between '03 and '04 and the results were tangible. Even after a slow start he nearly doubled his previous career high in homers, crushing 23 in 475 at bats and continued to improve while pulling double time in the Instructional League and the Arizona Fall League after his power filled '04 season. Johnson fits the mold of the traditional right fielder, big, not blessed with blazing speed, but with a strong arm and a monstrous bat.
Johnson had been regularly mentioned as a top prospect until 2003 when he struggled so badly in his second go around with Double-A Mobile that he was demoted back to the Hi-A California League's Lake Elsinore storm. Nagging injuries played a part, but better breaking balls went more to the core of Johnson's struggles. He needed a big '04 to keep him in the forefront of the Padres' plans, and got one. Power will continue to be the name of the game for Johnson, and with big swings come big misses, he struck out 136 times in 2004, but the Padres, and Johnson, are willing to live with higher than usual strikeout numbers as long as they come alongside higher than usual power numbers.
#1) If you have heard of Xavier Nady, you remember. Just read the name again. If not you missed second half of the Padres 2004 season, where Nady ended up after destroying the Pacific Coast League during the first half of the season. Nady barely qualifies as a prospect now that he's spent part of the last two seasons up with the big league club, and by this time next year it seems much more likely he'll be in the Padres starting lineup than on any sort of prospect list. Athletic, lean, and with better than average speed Nady could fill in third base as well as all three outfield slots if he makes the big league squad coming out of Spring Training, and that versatility is just what the Padres are looking for.
But he lands as our #1 right fielder because if things had gone the way Kevin Towers had hoped that would have been his position to keep for as long as he could. Nady was a prime reason the Padres were comfortable trading either Phil Nevin or Ryan Klesko, but since there were no takers there was no place to put him and that's when the words 'super sub' and 'Nady' started finding their way into the same sentences.
After hitting .333 with 22 homers in just 291 at bats with Triple-A Portland last year it doesn't really appear that Nady has anything left to prove in the minors, the question this Spring will be if there is a hole he can't fill for the Padres. Already a capable outfielder with a strong, very accurate arm the Padres had him working at third base (where he played in college) and second for a short stint, just to see how he would handle it. Apparently the 26 year old handled it well, because more than one front office official has said that trade or no trade, Klesko might want to start looking over his should, but 'X' is coming.