The Top 50: THE TOP FIVE

For months now the question that has been on the mind of all those who read has been simple.<br><br> Who's #1? The question is finally answered this week as Denis Savage reveals the Top Five Prospects in the Padres Minor League System. Spreading the wealth we gets starting pitchers, infielders, and of course the most important position on the diamond, catcher. These are the five to watch, these are the <b> Top Five.</b>

1. Josh Barfield is the top prospect in the organization, despite a down year by standards that he established for himself.

After tearing through the California League, Barfield was grounded in Double-A. Barfield hit just .248 for Mobile but established a career high in homers with 18 and led the Southern League in RBI's with 90. It was the second consecutive year that he led the league where he played in RBI's.

His batting average drop was, in part, due to a hamstring injury that claimed most of his spring training. While others were hitting their prime, Barfield was just starting to find his stroke – and it alluded him for a good part of the season – except when men were on base. He admitted that when the bases were peppered with teammates, he bore down and focused. With runners in scoring position, Barfield hit .331 – a testament to his clutch ability.

"Hitting-wise, he hit when it counted most," Padres Director of Player Development, Tye Waller, said. "That tells me more about a hitter than anything. That means he can raise his level of play. Twenty-one years old in the Southern League with those numbers, I see that as a plus – a successful year. Will he hit for a better average down the road – most definitely."

Barfield has always put enormous pressure on himself to succeed, as the son of a former Major Leaguer. And this spring he went 0-for-11 with the Padres but he is slowly coming into his own in Portland. He is hitting .287 through 12 games with two homers and seven RBI's.

Now that he is the top prospect in the organization, Barfield accepts in stride.

"It actually helps me, because when someone says, 'You're the top prospect,' it doesn't faze me," Barfield said. "I've dealt with the expectations all my life, it just becomes another challenge."

2. Travis Chick has true number one potential. Things can happen between now and when he is ready for the Majors but the early signs point to his dominance continuing.

At the tender age of 20, he turns 21 in June, Chick has become the cornerstone for the future. Armed with a power fastball that hits the mid-nineties, a changeup that is getting better and a slider that is becoming an out pitch, Chick mowed down hitters in the Midwest League in 2004.

He went 5-0 with a 2.13 ERA in seven starts for Fort Wayne, striking out 55 in 42.1 innings of work while walking nine. Three times he struck out ten or more in a game. Minus one outing where he allowed six runs in five innings of work, Chick gave up four earned runs in 37.1 innings.

Chick pitched in just one spring game for San Diego, logging one inning of scoreless work. His hard work in the offseason paid off as he skipped Lake Elsinore and was shipped directly to Double-A. In two starts, Chick has a 2.45 ERA while keeping the opposition to a .184 batting average.

His success will depend heavily on his secondary pitches.

"They are always important, my changeup and slider," said Chick in an interview during the offseason. "I really got comfortable with my changeup a lot more towards the end of the season and in Instructional League. That is definitely important. My slider – it was a pretty good pitch – it was on and off. We worked on it a lot in Instructs and apparently it got a lot better. They said they loved it a lot more than in season."

3. George Kottaras is the next in line at the catcher position for the San Diego Padres. An advanced hitter for his age, Kottaras simply needs experience behind the plate, calling games and getting a handle on the pitching staff.

He caught just 50 games last year and spent the rest of his days as the designated hitter. Building on the rapport with his staff and gleaning information from catching instructor Joe Ferguson is vital to his success.

Kottaras played in 78 Midwest League games and also spent time on the Greek Olympic team in 2004. For the Wizards, he hit .310 with seven homers and 46 RBI's. He also walked 51 times while striking out 41 times, becoming the only player in the Padres system to walk more than he struck out (Chris Kolkhorst accomplished the feat when his Rookie League stats were ignored).

He has a smooth swing at the plate and patience that belies his age. There are some in the organization who would like to see him become a tad more aggressive at the plate. He will take the walk in any situation but they would like to see him attack the ball when runners are in scoring position because of his ability to make contact. He seems to have done just that in the early going.

In seven games with Lake Elsinore, through games of April 17, Kottaras is batting .348 and is 3-for-3 with the bases juiced. Kottaras went 4-for-10 this spring while playing for the Padres.

At 21 years old, he will turn 22 in May, Kottaras knows he has the ability but realizes he is just reaching his potential.

"There is room for improvement in every area," Kottaras admitted. "I don't see myself as being a total baseball player yet. That is the thing. Major Leaguers are baseball players. They know what they have to do. They are fine tuned in every aspect of their game. I have a long ways to go. I know I do because being so young and not being around the game as other people have makes a difference. I am still learning on my catching. I feel progress in my catching and my hitting but I always know there is always room for improvement."

4. Tim Stauffer breezed through Lake Elsinore and Mobile on the way to his home for most of 2004, Portland. After allowing four earned runs in each of his first two starts, Stauffer went 14 straight without allowing more than three earned runs, going 6-3 with a 3.54 ERA.

Stauffer has command of four pitches, a low nineties fastball, a cutter, changeup and curveball. He can throw each of those pitches for strikes.

"I just try to be a control guy who gets some good movement and gets some quick innings," said Stauffer. "I think I have enough stuff that if I need a strikeout I would be able to get it, but I wouldn't say I go up there each time trying to strike a guy out, you are just wasting pitches that way."

"Watching this guy pitch – he locates the ball as good as any pitcher we have in the organization," Waller said. "He is a competitor and that is what you like to see. He wasn't intimidated by the lineups and he pounds the strike zone."

He does have a tendency to leave the ball up when behind in the count and it has resulted in some home runs. That will get better with experience and trusting in his ability to control the zone in any count.

Stauffer pitched in 14.1 innings this spring and allowed nine runs. He has battled back with Portland, surrendering five runs in his first three starts.

5. Paul McAnulty is the best pure hitter in the San Diego Padres system. In Lake Elsinore, McAnulty hit .297 with 23 homers and 87 RBI's. He tied for the California League lead in walks with 88 and owned a .403 on base percentage.

He combines patience at the plate with a raw hitting mentality. McAnulty had three hitting streaks of ten plus games in High-A and had 42 multi-hit affairs.

He moved on to Mobile and the Southern League where he helped lead the BayBears to the Championship. One scout openly admitted that Mobile would not have won their first round series without his services.

His outfield defense has improved immensely since being inserted into left field from first base. McAnulty logged the majority of his starts in left while getting a few games in right field and 22 games at first base. Although he was not designated for the Instructional Leagues this past fall since he played in the Arizona Fall League, he still dropped by there to work on his defense.

The left-handed hitting outfielder has a confidence that came from hard work and a new image. Once thought of as strictly a first base prospect with little agility, he dedicated this offseason to increasing his flexibility and speed. He went into spring training with a new body and the dividends have paid off.

Through April 17, McAnulty was batting .385 with a healthy .667 average with runners in scoring position. His on base percentage is .478. That came after a spring training where he hit .438 in 16 at bats for the Padres.

"I did not feel overwhelmed by any means," McAnulty said of his spring training experience. "The way things are going right now, I can't complain about anything. I just have to continue to work hard and one day I will be in San Diego."

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