A year of surprises in the Padres' system

Certainly not a sleight to any player mentioned, these San Diego Padres' prospects simply outperformed, outshined, and outplayed the competition.

The key was the question marks each had coming into the year based on the unknown. Some came from the Independent League. Some came from the draft. Even a Canadian in the mix.

We knew they all had talent.

All were fantastic this year and perhaps none were a surprise at all.

A coach's favorite friend is the catcher. He keeps the pitchers in line, creates a nice buffer zone and helps in spinning the magic formula. Luke Carlin performed those duties to perfection – and don't forget the advancements he made with the stick and his patience at the plate.

Portland wasn't kind to Jack Cassel but something changed when he was sent to Mobile. He was a rock in the rotation down the stretch and his pitching was one of the reasons that the team almost pulled off the impossible in gaining a playoff berth. It is no surprise he was re-signed as a six-year free agent.

Struggles in Fort Wayne were followed by dominance in the desert. Rayner Contreras wasn't good in the Midwest League but clutch in Arizona. If there were men on base and Contreras was at the plate it meant there were runners touching the dish.

It wasn't that long ago that Richie Daigle was shagging fly balls in the outfield. It took a year for the right-hander to become a pitcher – being molded from his "thrower" mentality. It is a credit to Daigle for his hard work and ear for more knowledge about the game.

Line him up anywhere and you have an instant sparkplug. Brett Dowdy is a utility player extraordinaire. He was a catalyst at the top of the lineup in Mobile and provided solid defense at any number of positions. The only positions he didn't play this past season were catcher and first base.

When they called his name it had the words "second baseman" attached to it. But Chad Huffman didn't play a single game at that position, lining up in left and centerfield instead. The surprise? His defense. He showed great agility and an ability to read the ball off the bat while also displaying a solid arm.

High school players take a longer time to develop. Someone forgot to tell Cedric Hunter. Arizona League MVP. Instructional League MVP. Stud in the making. Surprised? Never again.

He went undrafted. He was a starter. So, what was he doing closing games? Slamming the door, of course. R.J. Rodriguez was 14-of-16 in converting save opportunities and allowed less than one baserunner per inning pitched. Pretty good for a guy no one else wanted.

His delivery wasn't pretty when he started throwing in the Padres' minor leagues but Nathan Staggs' stuff became better and better as the season wore on. A hard worker that takes in everything he hears, Staggs was a rock in long relief for the Fort Wayne Wizards.

The running joke in the clubhouse may have gone something like this, "I am going to dial it up to 80 tonight.' And Kyle Stutes would take the field and baffle hitters with his soft tossing magic.

Basketball players make great tight ends in football. See Antonio Gates. Will Venable is becoming the Gates of the diamond. It took a year for him to show his stuff, much like Gates rookie season in the NFL, but boy did he bust out in year two. Gates in year two? New NFL record for touchdowns by a tight end.

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