Padres Top 50 Prospects: #30-#26

Two outfielders and a reliever dot the next five in our countdown of the Top 50 Padres Prospects. An on base percentage of over .400 will raise some eyebrows and how does challenging a perfect game sound to start your Padres' career?

26. Chris Kolkhorst is a table-setter. He does everything that one wants in a leadoff hitter, most importantly getting on base. His defense in centerfield was also a pleasant surprise and after a solid career at Rice, which included a National Championship, Kolkhorst is already turning heads in the Padres' system.

The funniest part of Kolkhorst's game is he seemed to get better as he moved up through the system. An early injury set back his debut and he started off with Peoria before stints with Eugene and Fort Wayne.

He is a player who makes everyone around him better, simply by being a catalyst for the offense. Minus his stats in Peoria, Kolkhorst walked more times than he struck out and had an on base percentage over .400.

He will have his first full season league in 2005 and how he prepares this offseason for the rigors will setup his future. If he is hot out of the gate and then settles down, he may have to go back to the drawing board next offseason. Given his ability to take pitches and get on base that seems unlikely. He could be a fast riser in the system.

27. Corey Smith is a former first round pick of the Cleveland Indians in 2000. He was dealt to the Padres because he was deemed a disappointment by his former club. Like the man he was traded for, Jake Gautreau, Smith had to repeat Double-A in 2004. Unlike Gautreau who was moved up to Triple-A by midseason, Smith spent the majority of his time playing Eastern League ball with Akron.

A nine-game hitting streak early in the year had him hitting .355 but he slumped through May and June, hitting just .178 in those two months before turning it on for the final two months, hitting .307.

As streaky as they come, Smith was terrible when leading off an inning or with the bases empty but hit well with runners on base. He ended up batting in six different spots in the lineup while playing third base in all but three of his 128 games.

Smith gets a fresh start with the Padres and they are looking for him to show off the skills that made him a highly coveted prospect coming into 2000. He hits for power, smacking 19 homers last year, and is prone to striking out. He drew 63 walks, a decent number, and was three years younger than Gautreau. He has over thirty errors in every year he has played which has prompted some talk about moving him to the outfield. The system, however, is perilously thin at third base.

28. Natanael Mateo began his Padres' career in 2004 with the Lake Elsinore Storm. The right-hander adapted well to the air of the California League and was a steadying force coming out of the bullpen.

The most important stat for a relief pitcher is often how they perform with runners on base. They are called into duty with the game on the line and are often sent out to bail another pitcher out. Mateo excelled in that role. He limited the opposition to a .209 average with runners on base and was even better with runners in scoring position, allowing a .183 average against.

Mateo mixes a fastball that reaches 91 with a curve, slider and sinker. He ended the year with 59 strikeouts and 11 walks in 51.2 innings of work for the Storm, going 6-3 with a 2.79 ERA.

He enters 2005 with increased expectations and will likely start the year in Mobile. While he limited righties to a .183 average, lefties hit .293 off him. He won't be able to get away with that in the Southern League. He spent three years in Japan and even considered giving up his career when lower back injuries hit and he had not heard from a Major League squad. Luckily, he was convinced by friends to give it another shot and the Padres have been rewarded.

29. Kennard Jones may be one of the hardest working players in the minors. He has speed, a good eye and is an above-average defender in centerfield. Last year in Mobile, he simply couldn't put it all together.

Jones began the year in Lake Elsinore and hit .291 with a .369 on base percentage. While he hit under .200 against lefties, he hit .353 off righties. He was promoted to Mobile and struggled mightily at the plate.

At the end of August, Jones was hitting just .218 through 76 Mobile games. If it wasn't for a hot September, where he went 9-for-20 to raise his average to .234, his Southern League debut would have been a complete disaster.

Jones is a cerebral player who relies heavily on his workout regimen on game days. It isn't uncommon to see him at the facility waiting for the administration to open the doors. When he is down, it is hard for him to come out of his shell because he thinks too much. He has one of the better eyes in the system but when the struggles come, Jones becomes too aggressive and forgets what made him so successful in the lower minors.

30. Vern Sterry quietly established himself as a prospect with his fearless presence on the mound and ability to attack and challenge hitters.

A right-hander out of North Carolina State, Sterry began his career with the Eugene Emeralds of the Northwest League. In his first start, Sterry flirted with a perfect game, tossing 7.2 innings of one hit ball. He kept the opposition to two earned runs or less in six of his nine starts with the Ems.

His strength was in the first five innings where he allowed batters to hit .184 off him. In the sixth inning, however, he was tagged, as hitters swatted .545 off Sterry. While they got on base, Sterry was effective at keeping the runs to a minimum, allowing a .227 average against with runners in scoring position.

Sterry was shipped up to Fort Wayne in early August and made five starts for the Wizards. He never allowed more than three earned runs and continued to limit hitters through five innings, allowing a .208 average in the first five frames.

Sterry consistently throws strikes, commanding three pitches well, and therefore does not walk many batters, 16 in 80 innings of work. His best pitch is a changeup modeled after Trevor Hoffman.

"I decided to try and perfect that pitch," Sterry admitted. "Just like Trevor Hoffman because that is what helped him get there so I am going to do the same thing. That is my best pitch."

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