Conniff: The Second Tier 11-20

A few remarks on some comments that I have received on the top ten list, specifically how could I have not rated pitcher Cesar Carrillo the Padres top prospect?

The main criteria factor I used when ranking the players was who would help the Padres the most this year in addition to the overall potential of a player. Josh Barfield and Ben Johnson, because they will probably see significant playing time this year with the Padres, will probably have more of an impact with the Padres in 2006 than Cesar Carrillo, who will probably spend at least half of the year in Mobile.

This is not to say that I don't think Carrillo could end up being the best player in the end, but I just don't think you're going to see his full impact in 2006.

Carrillo should be in the Padres' rotation by the end of the year, and his mid-90's fastball should keep him there.

All ages are based on the age of the player on April 1, 2006

11) Nick Hundley
Age: 22
6-foot-1, 210-pounds
Bats-R Throws-R
NWL: .250/.453/.391
MWL: .222/.278/.310

2005 Highlights : Drafted in the second round of the 2005 draft, Hundley represents another in the new breed of Padre draft picks who hit with power and know how to take a walk. The only offensive stat that was down for Hundley was a rather pedestrian batting average. He was, however, impressive with every other offensive statistic for someone's first year of professional baseball. He walked (33) nearly as many times as he struck out (35), and had an .844 OPS. Hundley's defense is coming along, and Padres catching instructor Joe Ferguson, who will move to coach Eugene this year, was impressed with the improvement that he saw throughout the season.

Negatives: He needs to make more consistent contact, and will have to improve defensively if he is going to compete with prospects such as George Kottaras and Colt Morton.

Ranking Justification: Outside of Carrillo, both Hundley and Headley were the stars of the Padres 2005 draft class. A solid first season with the bat and glove and a tremendous upside.

Conniff's Assessment: The Padres improved their strongest position in 2005 with the addition of Hundley. If he produces in Fort Wayne, he could be moved up to Lake Elsinore very quickly depending on when the Padres promote Kottaras from Mobile. A solid player who represents the middle ground between Morton and Kottaras, he has a little more power than Kottaras and a better command of the strike zone than Morton.

12) Chase Headley
Age: 21
6-foot-2, 195-pounds
Bats-S Throws-R
NWL: .268/.441/.375
MWL: .200/.200/.250

2005 Highlights : A good opening professional season after a solid collegiate career. It's easy to see why the Padres were excited about Headley after his last year at Tennessee where he hit .387/.530/.689 with 14 home runs, and most impressively had a 63-to-23 walk-to-strikeout ratio. A mirror image of Hundley, Headley also has ability to take a walk and hit the ball hard.

Ranking Justification : The only thing that held Headley back is the same as Hundley, we need to see them both perform at a higher level than a short-season league. If each can put up similar statistics in a full season league in 2006, they will be in the Top ten next year.

Negatives: He got a little tired as the season wore on, and playing third base professionally was a little more of challenge than the SEC. Needs to make a little bit more consistent contact, but really not much to pick on.

Conniff's Assessment: While Hundley is in the strongest position in the organization, Headley is in by far the weakest. At this time it appears he will be given the job in Lake Elsinore and he will be given every chance to advance rapidly because there isn‘t a whole lot in his way. He may even end up in Mobile by the end of the season.

13) Sean Kazmar
Age: 21
5-foot-9, 170-pounds
Bats-R Throws-R
MWL: .267/.386/.329

2005 Highlights : Despite being overshadowed by Matt Bush, Colt Morton and the "Grit Man", Sean Kazmar stepped up with a very good season brimming with an even brighter future. Kazmar showed some decent pop with the bat, but really seemed to put it together in the last month of the season hitting .299/.506/.398 in August. A converted shortstop Kazmar has exceptional range and a very strong arm for a second baseman, and just turned 21.

Ranking Justification : A bit of a stretch, but Kazmar's second half provided an indication of what may be in the future, a second baseman with plus range who can hit the ball into the gap. Playing against players two to three years older than him Kazmar put up better offensive numbers in a tougher league than the year before.

Negatives: He needs to learn how to hit left-handers better (.211 compared to .286 against righties) and he could tighten up a little more defensively, but 17 errors in 125 games isn't bad for a player in his first season out of the short-season leagues.

Conniff's Assessment: This should be the year Kazmar starts to emerge in more rankings. Look for him to put up some big numbers this year in Lake Elsinore.

14) Geoff Vandel
Age: 19
6-foot-1, 190-pounds
Bats-L Throws-L
AZL: 1-1 0.43 ERA 5 BBs 32 Ks
NWL: 0-0 0.90 ERA 1 BBs 11 Ks

2005 Highlights : Only 19, but posted some ridiculous stats in the short-season leagues with his BB/K ratios. Drafted by the Padres in the 34th round out of Columbus Georgia, Vandal has impeccable control and throws in the low 90's. In the Arizona League he dominated as a relief pitcher holding batters to a .164 average and notched two solid starts at Eugene to close out the season.

Ranking Justification : Very young, dominant in both short-season leagues as a relief pitcher and a starter and left-handed. Vandel will go into full season A-ball when most people his age are beginning their freshman year.

Negatives: Need to see if his arm can hold up for a full season, and there are some questions about his velocity and ability to command the breaking ball, but not a whole lot to pick on right now.

Conniff's Assessment: Vandel should be in Fort Wayne for the full year, and with his control and ability to change speeds should again find success. Like Kazmar, Vandel could have a bigger season this year than in the last and emerge on many prospects lists for 2007. One of the best arguments for the Padres to become more aggressive in late rounds with drafting high school players as opposed to relying as heavily on college players as they have in recent drafts.

15) Michael Johnson
Age: 25
6-foot-3, 225-pounds
Bats-L Throws-R CAL: .295/.618/.366

2005 Highlights : Johnson had two monster months, April where he hit .346/.769/.411, with eight home runs and 31 RBIs in 20 games and August .319/.707/.382 with 11 home runs and 30 RBIs in 28 games, sandwiched between a nagging wrist injury which landed him on the disabled list.

Ranking Justification : After McAnulty, the best left handed power bat in the organization. When he was healthy, was as good as anyone in the organization this year.

Negatives: Age, age and age. Johnson's decision to return to Clemson for his fifth year after acrimonious negotiations with the Padres in 2002 really hurt him. Combine this with his injury filled career and Johnson really doesn't have that much time.

Conniff's Assessment: Johnson really needs to stay healthy, and if he does should be in Portland by mid-season. He has the combination of power and patience that the Padres like and could contend for a job on the big team in 2007. However, these are a lot "ifs", the biggest being his health.

16) Kyle Blanks
Age: 19
6-foot-7, 290-pounds
Bats-R Throws-R
AZL: .299/.500/.420

2005 Highlights : "Gigantor" captured the imagination of many who only follow the minor leagues with his eye popping size and dominating first month in which he hit .414/1.069/.455. Throw in the fact that everyone was enamored with the Bunyonesque stories of the big guy from the small town with the remarkable athleticism. Blanks slowed down as the season progressed as pitchers began to pitch around him.

Ranking Justification : Athletic at his size? Also, see his first month.

Negatives : It was reported that Blanks was pushing 300 lbs in the Instructional Leagues, so his weight may be a problem in the future. Also he is still a very raw and has some problems with off-speed pitches.

Conniff's Assessment: A great story, but very much a long term project because of lack of experience against big time competition. He has plenty of time.

17) Dale Thayer
Age: 25
6-foot, 195-pounds
Bats-R Throws-R
SL: 3-5 2.34 ERA 26 BBs 59 Ks 27 Saves

2005 Highlights : Another solid season for Thayer who for the third straight year posted solid numbers for a closer. Thayer doesn't have the big fastball or post the overpowering strikeout numbers that you want to see in a relief pitcher, but forces batters to drive the ball into the ground. Thayer went 3-5, with a 2.34 ERA and 27 saves. He did experience some troubles at the beginning of the year, especially in April when he posted a 5.90 ERA with all of his losses coming before June 9. However, after that loss Thayer only two more runs for the rest of the year to give him an 0.64 ERA for the rest of the year.

Ranking Justification : The best closer pitcher in the organization, and a fastball he locates well.

Negatives:A little too hittable, 60 hits in 57.2 innings pitched for a closer and there are concerns if he has enough in his secondary pitches to compliment his fastball.

Conniff's Assessment: Thayer isn't a great strikeout pitcher, but the sink on his ball does force batters to drive the ball into the ground and his ERA speaks for itself. The difference between Thayer and Brad Baker, Portland's closer this past year, is that Thayer throws harder and has been a mark of consistency as a closer as opposed to fooling people with a change-up as Baker did and struggling from year to year. He will battle to be Portland‘s closer for 2006 and could be a potential call-up.

18) Kennard Jones
Age: 24
5-foot-11, 185-pounds
Bats-L Throws-L
SL: .281/.351/.375
PCL: .212./.242/.257

2005 Highlights : A weak first half, followed by a very strong second half in Mobile which he hit .308 for July and .342 for August, but most importantly posted a plus .400 on-base percentage for each month.

Ranking Justification : A lot of athletic ability, and the Padres started to see some of it in the second half of the season in Mobile.

Negatives: Needs to become much more successful at stealing bases (23-for-37) and continue to improve upon his understanding of not only what he can do, run, put the ball in play, but what he can't, hit for power. Jones ticket to the majors is as a leadoff hitter and centerfielder.

Conniff's Assessment: Jones has always been someone the Padres have been high on, good athlete, great speed, and he even made a few top ten lists going into 2004. However, a sub par season in 2004 and he seemed to be heading down the same path in 2005, until his last two months in Mobile put him back on track. The difference for the turn around was Jones finally started to focus on putting the ball more in play, drawing walks instead of hitting so many into the air. The outfield situation is muddled and he could end up in Portland or Mobile again.

19) Chris Kolkhorst (OF)
Age: 24
5-foot-9, 180-pounds
Bats-L Throws-R
MWL: Fort Wayne 282/.392/.342
CAL: Lake Elsinore .327/.419/.458

2005 Highlights : Kolkhorst was the only Padre farmhand to walk more than he struck out in 2005. Its hard to understand why the Padres returned him to Fort Wayne instead of starting him in Lake Elsinore in 2005, but he did make the Midwest League All Star game before being promoted to the California League.

Ranking Justification :Kolkhorst is not going to be a burner stealing a lot of bases as most would associate with a leadoff hitter, but that is about the only negative one can find in this classic leadoff hitter. In two years in the organization his one base percentage is well over .400 and he has a surprising slugging percentage of .392. Throw in the fact that he has walked more than he has struck out, 115-to-105, and he's earned the right to be included in any discussion of Padres prospects.

Negatives: People have been telling Kolkhorst what he can't do his whole life, so this really won't be any different. He's been too old for the leagues, he's too short and doesn't hit for enough power for the position he plays. There are also doubts about his ability to play centerfield.

Conniff's assessment : Kolkhorst has shown that he can perform at every level the Padres have put him at and deserves a chance to be given a shot at climbing the organization ladder. One of the Padres greatest needs in the organization is for a leadoff hitter, with Freddy Guzman and Kennard Jones being the leading contenders. The only thing holding Kolkhorst back from being included in these discussions is a lack of playing time above A-ball and speed. Hopefully the Padres will rectify that situation so they can have a few more options to select from in 2007.

20) Seth Johnston (2b/3b/SS)
Age: 23
6-foot-3, 200-pounds
Bats-R Throws-R
NWL: Eugene .253/.301/.347

2005 Highlights : Drafted in the 5th round out of the University of Texas, Johnston, after a slow start hit .310/.460/.365 in his last month in Eugene.

Ranking Justification : A big infielder who can play all four positions, Johnston could end up playing 2b or shortstop for the Padres next year in Fort Wayne.

Negatives: His swing is a little long right now, and he is still adjusting to wooden bats. His defense is also going to need to tighten up as he goes further up the season, but eight of his 13 errors were in his first month. Despite playing shortstop this year in Eugene, Johnson is going to have to convince people that he has the quickness to play second base, the position where he has the most value.

Conniff's assessment: If Johnston starts hitting with a little more power, we are going to start hearing a lot about him. Part of a very good draft class that values a walk and puts a charge into the ball when its hit. Johnston, Hundley and Headley should make up the nucleus of a strong Wizard's team in 2006.

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