The Top 50: #20-#16

<p> continues it's countdown of the best in the system.&nbsp; The NCAA is down to their final four, and we've graduated to our Top 20.&nbsp; From here on out you'll want to quiz yourself, because these kids are on the fast track to PetCo Park.&nbsp; We've grabbed <b>#20-#16</b> from Down Under, over the top, deep in the hole, the fountain of youth, and slid them right in the backdoor like a good slider...oh, and we've got one of those too.</p>

20. R.D. Spiehs was acquired in a trade with the Giants for Matt Herges in 2003. The player to be named later in the trade turned out to be Spiehs and he had an excellent season in Mobile, setting the game up for Brad Baker in the closer's role.

The Padres spent a good amount of time working on ensuring he is fundamentally sound in his mechanics. Spiehs had a tendency to get wild and that stemmed from varying release points and various angles that he would go through as he released the ball. Now he keeps the flow of his delivery in sync and the results have been noticeable.

He combines a 90's fastball with a sharp biting slider and a changeup that looks like it is in slow-motion. The change is a pitch he doesn't use often enough, saying, "I'm working on it, it will be an effective pitch eventually, but I don't want to get beat by my third best pitch."

Spiehs was the ultimate setup man in Mobile and when he was given the closer's role late in the year when Baker was promoted, he began to nibble instead of attack. That allowed hitters to get ahead in the count and forced Spiehs to be perfect.

The right-hander will likely begin the year in Portland, claiming the eighth inning as his own. It is a role he is comfortable with and one that he has proven he can excel at. As long as he continues to attack, Spiehs will continue his winning ways.

19. Matt Bush never seemed to get his show on the road after being selected with the first overall pick in the 2004 draft. The former Mission Bay High School product got a late start after being suspended by the Friars and when he did play it was nothing to get excited about.

Bush struggled getting out of the gate, both at the plate and in the field. Switching from the aluminum bat to the wooden bat was one of the obstacles he had to overcome. He never got comfortable with the different feel and coupled with the improved pitching he faced, it meant the Mendoza line all year. He was moved up to Eugene late in the year, not based on merit, but so he could see what a crowd looked like.

"My swing got real long in high school because of the aluminum bat," Bush admitted. "Everyone is always swinging for the fences. With the wooden bat – that didn't help out at all. I was flying out to right a lot."

In the field, the faster play provided by what would be a college level all-star team made the balls get to him quicker and his instincts were put to the test. Bush ended up forcing the play and trying to do too much rather than just fielding and throwing. He was also getting caught in between hops. He has been working out at San Diego State this offseason to overcome his on-field troubles.

The microscope will always be on Bush after a shaky start to his Padres career. His maturity will be in question as he makes his journey through the system. Being taken first overall has its drawbacks and that in itself will be the ultimate test of his success. With a year under his belt and maybe some of the shadows gone from a tough rookie year, Bush should begin his ascension up the minor league ladder.

18. Chris Oxspring has two drawbacks, his age and his mental health. He knows each one is an albatross on an otherwise stellar future. His age truly is a non-issue since he picked up a baseball late and every scout we surveyed thought he would make it to the Big Leagues, once he finally settled into a healthy frame of mind.

Ironically, this is the same guy who pitched Australia into the Gold Medal game in the Olympics this year in Greece. Yet, sometimes he loses focus on the mound and that causes him to be wild in the strike zone. He will go through streaks where he gives up no homers and then be burdened with three in one outing.

When a bad inning settles in, he has trouble closing the door. The anguish settles in and deteriorates an otherwise acceptable outing. It is that which he must focus on and the plan is to bring part of his family over to the states to help him out.

He throws four quality pitches and can drop any of the four over the plate. Confidence remains the sticking point.

"It is easy to pitch with confidence when you are on a high and everything is going well," said Oxspring. "When you have had a rough time and you struggle and you are scuffling you know that if you don't have confidence the hardest person to beat is yourself. That is a big thing for me. Feeling confident with myself and my stuff, anything is possible for next year."

17. Dale Thayer checked into Lake Elsinore with an ERA of 27.00 after his first appearance. He came back to allow one earned run over his next 31 appearances and just three more earned runs allowed over his next 18 outings.

Thayer has pinpoint control of his fastball, offers up a sharp slider that can freeze a hitter and adds in a curveball and changeup for good measure. When the hook is working for him, he is downright nasty.

Thayer has minimized how many men reach base and that has turned into success. He has kept his WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched) to less than 1.00 in each of the past two seasons. If they don't get on base, they won't score. Doesn't get any simpler that that.

Thayer actually gets a break this year as he will begin play in the Southern League, a known pitcher's league. But the talent jump also goes up another notch, as he saw late last year when he allowed three runs in eight outings. Thayer can again rock the house if he brings his secondary pitches along for the ride.

"Just hitting your spots," Thayer said of his expected stint in Mobile. Last year, you could miss more and they would not hit it. This year you just have to make sure you hit your spots. If you don't they are going to hit the ball harder."

16. Luis Cruz turned 21 in February and he is slated to be in Mobile in 2005. With youth on his side, Cruz turned in a surprising year in Lake Elsinore last year. After hitting just .231 in Fort Wayne, Cruz hit .278 with the Storm.

Cruz is a contact hitter that is still developing his power stroke. He hit 35 doubles with Lake Elsinore, good for seventh most in the league. While he doesn't strike out much, 56 times in 512 at bats, he walks even less, 24 bases on balls.

While his .277 average was a plus, his .310 on base percentage was below average. Pitch selection and the ability to take a walk could turn him into a .300 hitter with a .360 on base percentage. Given his youth, that is something that many feel is possible.

His defense wasn't quite up to snuff again in 2004. For the second straight year, Cruz committed 42 errors. That figure led the California League. Defense is a trait that is stressed in the Padres' system. He can be too flashy at times and will get caught on the routine plays. That must be eradicated if he expects to move up in the system.

Entering Mobile, Cruz faces a tougher pitcher's league. The adjustment begins at the plate where he must focus on taking pitches and swinging at his pitch. In the field, he must make strides towards perfecting the routine. The Padres' staff has faith in the talented shortstop and worked hard in the Instructional Leagues on his defense. This is the year it must pay off or it could stunt his growth.

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