Top 20 Padres Prospects for '07

At, the annual player rankings are the most anticipated, fun, and challenging thing we do all year. Needless to say the rankings strike quite a few debates among us and we settle the disagreements the same way we always do in these types of situations.

Cage fight, middle of the night - undisclosed location.

Three geeks armed with personal knowledge having seen every player live, laptops containing statistics, management and player interviews, coupled with strong personal viewpoints on the meaning of everything from strikeout to base-on-balls ratios to projections of a wide variety of Latin American teenagers engage in a spirited debate about baseball minutiae. First one to spit out Eric Cyr's stats in Lake Elsinore for 2001 wins.

Seriously, after trying, and failing, to convince our wives that we have some sanity, we sit down and have a fairly involved discussion on how we each ended up where we did.

What makes the rankings so difficult is that we are attempting to combine three different methodologies into a single hierarchy and, at the same time, try to take into account the value of players not only for this year, but for the future as well.

What is worth more – a player that will probably be a solid if unspectacular player at the Triple-A level or a 19-year-old phenom with more potential than actual performance in the Northwest League? Who will be more valuable in the end?

Do you go with the pitcher with the 95 MPH fastball but questionable control, or the quintessential "crafty lefty" whose fastball may not break a pane of glass?

The three different methodologies are the way in which we look at players' progress through the minor leagues. The Padres essentially have six minor league teams, more if you count the Dominican league team, but, for our purposes, it's really six teams – the ones we have seen.

The six teams can be put into three general categories, the rookie or short-season leagues [Arizona and Eugene] the A-ball leagues [Fort Wayne and Lake Elsinore] and the advanced minors, Double-A and Triple-A, Mobile, now San Antonio, and Portland, respectively. At all three levels there are different ways for evaluating what we believe constitutes a top prospect, or a player that we believe will eventually have an opportunity to play in the major leagues.

At the short-season or rookie league levels (Arizona/Arizona Rookie League and Eugene/Northwest League) the performance, as always, is important, but a top prospect at this level is more defined by a projectable future, or the tools they posses, and the age of a player. A player or pitcher may not put up the best season statistically but still draws raves for the potential or ceiling that they posses rather than their actual performance. On the other hand, regardless of how well a player does that is in their early 20's, frequently a four-year player just out of college, is not going to generate much excitement because it's unlikely they are going to develop more physically or as a baseball player.

This year, all three of us where in agreement that the best player at this level was outfielder Cedric Hunter. Why? He's 18, possesses four of the five tools [hitting for average, speed, fielding and arm strength] and may in the end hit for power. What pushes him to the top is his performance on the field helped to validate beliefs about what his future may be.

On the other hand, Kyler Burke had a poor year, a .209 batting average, .283 slugging percentage, and struck out nearly one of three plate appearances, but may have a higher "ceiling" [Burke posses the five tools, hit, hit for power, speed, fielding and arm strength] than Hunter. Player such as Burke are limited disappointments simply because they are so young and so far away, the belief is there is still large room for improvement and an opportunity for them to reach their potential.

Conversely, a player such as Jeremy Hunt, who had a .923 OPS and led the team in slugging percentage, is 22-years old in the Arizona Rookie League and as a first baseman it's tough to see much of a future five levels away from the major leagues for him – despite the early encouragement of signs. A big part of evaluating prospects is the understanding the role of age. A younger player doing the same or a little less than a player a few years older is always going to have the advantage. Around the time a player hits 25, it becomes tougher to convince the big leagues that you are a player.

The A-ball leagues (Fort Wayne/Midwest League and Lake Elsinore/California League) are in the middle, where performance is as important as age/projectability. A frequent refrain you will read after a player has a good year is either that he "was old for the league" which is damning praise or "he was young for the league" which is an indication that a player may be even better in the future than what he has shown so far.

As this level, for Fort Wayne and Lake Elsinore, we were all in agreement that third baseman Chase Headley was the best prospect. All of us liked the all-around skills of Headley, his age (22) and the lack of any third baseman above him indicates that he will get every opportunity to go as far as his ability takes him.

Conversely, players such as left fielder Will Venable and third baseman David Freese had big years at Fort Wayne, but at 23 also grabbed the dreaded "old for the league" tag. Does it mean a player lacks a future? No, but it does create doubts that the player may be able to repeat his success at the next level.

At this level, you can also find college pitchers who will post very good numbers, but will be described as a "control specialist, whose best pitch is a change" or "he knows how to pitch". Former Padres pitching prospects such as Gabe Ribas, Brian Whitaker put up good, even great numbers in the Midwest League only to see their stock rapidly plummet once they reached the upper levels? Why? At this level with hitters still not in full command of the strike zone or entirely comfortable with wooden bats, a pitcher that throws strikes and doesn't have a dominant pitch can frequently appear to be much better than they really are. Batters at the upper levels force pitchers to throw strikes and pitchers need to usually have a dominant pitch to beat them.

On the opposite end, you sometimes find a pitcher who simply throws a big fastball, without any other pitches, that simply blows batters away. Once they hit Double-A that doesn't work anymore because everyone at that level can hit a fastball, especially if it's straight.

All of us liked the Storm's Mike Ekstrom, not only for the success that he had with Lake Elsinore this year, but by reports that his sinking fastball consistently set in the low-90s. Those two factors led us to believe that Ekstrom has a chance to do well at the upper levels and possibly the major leagues. All of us like Fort Wayne's Wade LeBlanc and Lake Elsinore's Brent Carter but had serious reservations about how well their "stuff" translates out of A-ball.

At the upper levels (Mobile/Southern League and Portland/Pacific Coast League), what someone actually does on the field is given more weight than what their potential may or may not be. There are players that may be much better than their statistics currently indicate, but at this level, especially if you are considering them for a major league job, you want to see the production on the field. Each of us liked Paul McAnulty for several reasons, his numbers, left-handed bat, age, ability to play a few positions, as well as come off of the bench. Outfielder Jack Cust had a nice season, but a combination of being sub par defensive player at left field and first base, age, and questions about their respective swings led us, and the Padres, to have questions about the major league viability.'s Rob Neyer is known for stating their really isn't such a thing as a pitching prospect. You look at the numbers, see what they throw and hope for the best. Neyer is being a little bit facetious but this is one of the hardest projections to make. Generally you try to ascertain if a pitcher has at least one or two "plus" pitches, a go to pitch that he can get players out. For example, Cesar Carrillo has two plus fastballs, a curve and a rapidly improving changeup. When he was healthy, we also liked his hits to innings pitched ratios as well as his base-on-balls to strikeouts, which indicate he was missing quite a few bats. Tim Stauffer, on the other hand, throws four pitches, but just one is considered a plus pitch. For us, it was an easy choice picking Carrillo as the top pitcher at this level.

So where are the disagreements?

The main one is what is more valuable – what someone is now or what a player may become. For example, Denis and David were a little higher in their individual selections of Cedric Hunter than I. Their belief was that Hunter has the potential because of his age and performance to be much more valuable to the team in the long run than players I ranked ahead of him. My point was that I liked what Hunter did as much as they did, but to rank him ahead of players who had put up good numbers in much tougher leagues was a little too much for now.

There were several other disagreements which mainly come down to the old "Lets Make a Deal" television show, do you like what you see now or do you want to take a chance behind door number three?

In the end, the top 20 is an interesting mix of potential and performance of what may or may not be in the Padres future.

Since we published our original Top 60 prospects, some things have changed, primarily the Padres acquisition of third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff from the Cleveland Indians who shot to the top of our rankings – other than that, not much. So with the onset of baseball season we decided to run our final pre-season ranking for 2007, the Top 20 for 2007, the players in the minor leagues you are most likely to hear about this year.

For each player listed, we provided some basic statistics, their 2006 Highlights, things they need to work on, why they were ranked where they were and a brief synopsis of what we believe this season has in store for them.

The Padres' system is generally much stronger at the lower levels, a consequence of two very bad drafts in 2003 and 2004 with only three of the top 10 spending the majority of their time last year at Double-A or above.

Kevin Kouzmanoff in Cleveland.
1. Kevin Kouzmanoff (3B)
Ht/Wt: 6-foot-1, 210-pounds
Age: 25
Bats: Right
Throws: Right
How acquired: Acquired for Josh Barfield with minor league relief pitcher Andrew Brown from the Cleveland Indians

Akron: .389/.449/.660
Buffalo: .353/.409/.647
Cleveland (MLB): .214/.279/.411

2006 Highlights: Simply crushed the ball at two levels within the Indians organization. Kouz is a career .332/.395/.556 in four minor league seasons, so he can hit. Kouzmanoff was blocked in the Indians organization by third baseman Andy Marte, who is considered a better overall prospect.

Negatives: He's not a particularly gifted fielder and in his last two years has not reached a .950 fielding percentage. A bad injury in the Arizona Fall League two years ago where he landed on his back while attempting to catch a foul ball still affects him, although he has worked hard to strengthen his core.

Ranking Justification: Kouzmanoff will easily have the most impact of any minor league player on the Padres this year. The team has penciled him into the vacant third base job. assessment: The Padres have been searching for a big right-handed bat with power at third base for some time, and Kouz may be the answer. Barfield was moved because the Padres felt a second baseman was easier to find than a third baseman. A good move financially since the team will control Kouz's rights for the next six years. How well he plays, especially defensively, and whether he stays healthy could go a long way to determining how successful the Padres will be this year.

Cesar Carrillo throws a pitch in Mobile.
2. Cesar Carrillo (RHP)
Ht/Wt: 6-foot-3, 180-pounds
Age: 23
Bats: Right
Throws: Right
How acquired: First-round, 2005

Mobile: 4-0, 3.23 ERA, 7 BB, 35 K
Portland: 0-0, 6.75 ERA, 3 BB, 1 K (2.2 IP)

2006 Highlights: Carrillo was the Padres' number one pick in 2005 and had the most successful debut of any pitcher selected in the draft, and maybe anyone the Padres ever selected, but 2006 was a disappointment, mostly for health reasons. After starting out strong in April, where he walked only six batters and only allowed 23 hits in 28 innings pitched, Carrillo was promoted to Portland where he was hit hard in his only start. He then sat out the rest of the season attempting to rehab a sore elbow. The good news is he is throwing on the side without any pain as he looks to avoid surgery.

Negatives: His health will be a year-long watch and he's not the biggest guy, sparking even more questions about his health. But, if he's back to where he was in 2005, he will not disappoint.

Ranking Justification: Easily the best pitcher in the system, regardless of injury. assessment: The Padres are going to be careful with Carrillo and he's going to need some time to regain his form after essentially sitting out last season. Look for Carrillo to spend at least half the year in Portland before coming to San Diego.

Cedric Hunter leads off from second base at Padres' Instructs.
3. Cedric Hunter (OF)
Ht/Wt: 6-foot-0, 185-pounds
Age: 18
Bats: Left
Throws: Left
How acquired: Third-round, 2006

AZL: .371/.467/.481
Eugene: .267/.331/.267

2006 Highlights: The best debut of any of the Padres 2006 draft picks. A gifted player who was a "tools" selection backed up his potential with a better performance than anyone expected, won the AZL MVP award and led the league in OBP, runs and hits. He also was the MVP of the Padres' Instructional League. The Friars believes Hunter has a chance to be the team's centerfielder of the future.

Negatives: A great start, but the success came in the Arizona League and a sore arm kept him out of the outfield for a significant amount of time.

Ranking Justification: The only player with possibly more upside than Hunter is Carrillo. A very potent combination of speed and gap power, and he does not turn 19 until mid-season. assessment: The Padres are going to take their time with Hunter, but recent talk has the team challenging the youngster with a move to High-A Lake Elsinore. That might be a tad much and San Diego would best be served by seeing him repeat his success in Fort Wayne.

Chase Headley at batting practice in Lake Elsinore.
4. Chase Headley (3B)
Ht/Wt: 6-foot-2, 200-pounds
Age: 22
Bats: Switch
Throws: Right
How acquired: Second-round, 2005 (Supplemental)

Lake Elsinore: .291/.389/.434

2006 Highlights: The Padres took a bit of a gamble with Headley, skipping him from short-season Eugene straight to the California League in an attempt to improve the organization's weakest position, third base. After struggling in April where he hit .238/.321/.337, he rebounded to finish off a strong season. Also, Headley played well at third base (third base is where the motocross jumps are held, so its rather torn up).

Negatives: Power. A .434 slugging percentage in the California League raises doubts about his ability to put the ball over the wall at a position that usually requires the ability to do so. Also, hitting .111 from the right side doesn't help.

Ranking Justification: Before Kouzmanoff, Headley was the heir apparent at third base, but now the road is going to be a little tougher. Still one of the team's best position prospects. assessment: A good, but not great season by Headley. Unfortunately, to get a real shot at the major leagues you have to put together a great season. Headley's on-base percentage, makeup and solid defense gives him a chance. In order to begin to push Kouzmanoff he's going to have to continue his sold defensive play and push his slugging percentage higher in San Antonio in 2007.

Will Venable leads off first base in Fort Wayne.
5. Will Venable (OF)
Ht/Wt: 6-foot-2, 205-pounds
Age: 24
Bats: Left
Throws: Left
How acquired: Seventh-round, 2005

Fort Wayne: .314/.389/.477

2006 Highlights: After a year of learning in 2005, the Padres gamble on Venable paid off. Venable focused on baseball for his first time and under the tutelage of his father Max Venable, the hitting coach at Fort Wayne, and he put together a fine season, including a bit of a power surge at the end of the year. Venable finished second in the Midwest League in batting average (.314), RBIs (91) and fourth in doubles (34) and total bases (225). A former All-Ivy League guard at Princeton, Venable is one of the better athletes in the Padres system. He led the winter league Hawaiian Leagues in batting average (.330).

Negatives: Venable's arm is going to have to improve, or he will be limited to left field, which is a very difficult position to make it in the majors. He is still working on refining his baseball instincts in the field and at 24 he is going to have to move quickly through the system.

Ranking Justification: Venable has four of the five tools one wants in the outfield, he can hit, hit with power, run and field. assessment: A player to watch. The Padres are very high on him and how much he improved in 2006 is amazing – they may push him to Double-A San Antonio, skipping High-A in the process. If he begins to hit with a little more power and improves his arm strength we could be looking at Brian Giles replacement in a few years. Also look for the team to see if he has the ability to play some centerfield.

Paul McAnulty smiles at Padres' spring training.
6. Paul McAnulty (OF/1B/3B)
Ht/Wt: 5-foot-10, 220-pounds
Age: 26
Bats: Left
Throws: Right
How acquired: 12th-round, 2002

Portland: .310/.388/.521
San Diego (MLB): .231/.333/.538

2006 Highlights: The best pure hitter in the Padres' system. In 479 at-bats in Portland he had a BB/K ratio of 62/79 while posting a .500 plus slugging percentage, bouncing between four positions. Showed some ability as a pinch hitter in his most recent go-around in San Diego. McAnulty is a better fielder than given credit for with a solid arm, but a stocky frame limits his speed regardless of how much desire he has.

Negatives: Not a bad fielder, but not a great one either. His two best positions are left field and first base, the two toughest positions to make it in the major leagues.

Ranking Justification: The best hitter in the Padres system, but time is starting to run out. assessment: P-Mac could have an outside shot at the left field job in San Diego this year, especially if Terrmel Sledge falters in spring training. He should be able to earn a job on the team; he has little left to prove in the minors.

Kyle Blanks waits for a pitch at Padres' Instructs.
7. Kyle Blanks (1B)
Ht/Wt: 6-foot-6, 280-pounds
Age: 20
Bats: Right
Throws: Right
How acquired: 42nd-round, 2004 (Draft-and-follow, signed in 2005)

Fort Wayne: .299/.420/.500

2006 Highlights: Folk legend "Gigantor" a.k.a. Kyle Blanks made a big jump from the Arizona League to Fort Wayne, bypassing Eugene and had a nice year. Blanks hit .292/.382/.455, which for a 19-year-old is an extremely good year – just ask Matt Bush. A solid defender with good strike zone discipline, Blanks is another hitter who is going to have to hit with a little more power to handle the power requirements for first base and also get in a little better shape.

Negatives: Although a lot of people will focus on his conditioning, which does need some work after a promising start in spring training, the big question is whether his performances actually match his power potential. A first baseman with a .455 slugging percentage is not going to push anyone on the MLB level.

Ranking Justification: Despite not posting great power numbers, Blanks did have a good year, especially considering the fact that he was only 19 and playing against players much more experienced than him.'s assessment: Blanks has shown that he has the ability to get on base and is a capable defensive player. The big question, and for a first baseman it is a major one, is will he hit for more power than he has shown? If he can't put the ball over the wall on a consistent basis at the Diamond in Lake Elsinore, Blanks stock will decline.

Mike Ekstrom poses for a photo in spring training.
8. Mike Ekstrom (RHP)
Ht/Wt: 6-foot-1, 205-pounds
Age: 23
Bats: Right
Throws: Right
How acquired: 12th-round, 2004

Lake Elsinore: 7-4, 2.30 ERA, 21 BB, 68 K
Mobile: 3-7, 3.84 ERA, 11 BB, 44 K

2006 Highlights: Mike Ekstrom quieted a lot of critics who wondered it he would turn into a long line of college pitchers the Padres have previously drafted that had success in Eugene and Fort Wayne, then got shelled in the California League. That didn't happen with Ekstrom. Instead he went 7-4 with a 2.30 ERA, struck out 68 batters in 82.1 innings while only allowing 76 hits. In addition, Ekstrom proved that he could throw in the low-90s, change speeds to go along with a very effective sinker. He struggled in Mobile, mostly due to a lack of run support, after being promoted in late June, hit a lull in July, but bounced back in August.

Negatives: At 6-foot-1, he's not the biggest guy in the world and there are a few questions about his raw stuff. He will also have to improve his stamina to make it through the long seasons.

Ranking Justification: A complete pitcher that understands the game and has a plan of attack going in, Ekstrom mixes his pitches well and keeps the ball down in the zone as well as anyone in the system. assessment: A ground ball inducing right-hander, who is a bit undersized, and keeps everything down in the zone. He reminds some people of Clay Hensley.

Chad Huffman swings at a pitch in Eugene, Oregon.
9. Chad Huffman (OF)
Ht/Wt: 6-foot-1, 205-pounds
Age: 21
Bats: Right
Throws: Right
How acquired: Second-round, 2006

Eugene: .343/.439/.576
Fort Wayne: .214/.313/.357 (5 games)

2006 Highlights: After David Freese, Chad Huffman a former football/baseball star at Texas Christian University, tore up the Northwest League. A right-handed hitter who hit righties [.331] nearly as well as he did lefties [.381], Huffman showed the power that the Padres believed him to have when they drafted him in the second round [.343/.439/.576]. Twenty-seven of his sixth-eight hits were for extra bases, while demonstrating impressive plate discipline, a BB/K ratio of 25/34. He has a level swing and the ball carried well of his bat – even his outs seemed to be smoked.

Negatives: The Padres are still unsure where he will play defensively. Reports on his arm vary, but right now he's played only in left field.

Ranking Justification: A big bat, young, a lot of power. A lot to like. assessment: Huffman is a good athlete who played the infield in college and its still unclear if the Padres will keep Huffman in left field or maybe put him in the infield. He should begin the year in Fort Wayne.

Nick Hundley catching at Padres' Instructs.
10. Nick Hundley (Catcher)
Ht/Wt: 6-foot-1, 210-pounds
Age: 23
Bats: Right
Throws: Right
How acquired: Second-round, 2005

Fort Wayne: .274/.355/.474
Lake Elsinore: .278/.357/.403

2006 Highlights: With George Kottaras being moved at the end of last year, Nick Hundley is now the Padres top catching prospect. The Padres seemed a little more enthusiastic about Hundley's ability behind the plate, as compared to Kottaras. He is a vocal leader with his pitching staff and puts in the extra study time. He has improved his footwork and release but will have to work on a more consistent release and his ability to block balls, or lack thereof, has been an enigma. Offensively, he has some pop and fairly good control of the strike zone as evidenced by his on-base percentage.

Negatives: Consistency. Hundley was up and down throughout much of the season and his defensive work has regressed since college.

Ranking Justification: The best catcher in the Padres system, a solid athlete who has a chance to be the total package offensively and defensively. assessment: The Padres will probably start Hundley back in Lake Elsinore hoping to see a little more consistency. Look for him to be promoted in mid-season, depending on the health of Colt Morton.

Sean Thompson throws a pitch in Mobile.
11. Sean Thompson (LHP)
Ht/Wt: 5-foot-11, 170-pounds
Age: 24
Bats: Left
Throws: Left
How acquired: Fifth-round, 2002

Mobile: 6-10, 3.86 ERA, 46 BB, 134 K

2006 Highlights: Despite a losing record, Thompson actually had a better year than his record indicates. In 154 innings he struck out 134 batters, which led the organization, against 148 hits and 46 walks. He averaged nearly six innings a start and had close to a three to one K/BB ratio. What killed Thompson was lapses in concentration, as evidenced by the 18 home runs that he gave up, which was second among active players to Tim Stauffer's 20. He may have answered a few questions this year that physically he has the ability to go deep into games and has the "stuff" to get through the grind. A change of scenery to the cooler climates of Portland may help Thompson, who has always been vocal about his distaste for the heat, realize his full potential. Thompson's best pitches are a big curveball and a very good changeup, but Thompson's future depends on his fastball. When he is on, he can spot his fastball to set up his two best pitches and be very tough to hit. When he misses, however, he tends to elevate the fastball, which advanced hitters take advantage of.

Negatives: Command of his fastball and its velocity. If Thompson can keep it down, hit his spots, and maintain it in the high-80s, he's going to be effective.

Ranking Justification: The organization's best left-handed starter with an outside chance of seeing San Diego in 2007. assessment: Thompson matured last year in Mobile and should pitch much better in Portland in 2007. What we liked most about Thompson this past year was that he ate innings, went deep into most of his starts, and demonstrated that he may have the ability to be a major league starter. He has a chance to develop into a major league starter or at the least an effective lefty set-up reliever.

David Freese prepares to swing at Padres' Instructs.
12. David Freese (3B)
Ht/Wt: 6-foot-2, 220-pounds
Age: 23
Bats: Right
Throws: Right
How acquired: Ninth-round, 2006

Eugene: .379/.465/.776
Fort Wayne: .299/.374/.510

2006 Highlights: Freese, as a fifth-year senior, was the Sun Belt Player of the year in 2006, mashing to a rate of a .414/.503/.661. He walked more times than he struck out [34/27] and knocked in 73 runs, which was good enough for second on the all-time Jaguar leaders list, surpassed only by Arizona Diamondback Luis Gonzalez. Between Eugene and Fort Wayne, Freese hit .317/.395/.569 with 47 extra base hits, played a solid third base defensively (he had a .963 fielding percentage in 53 games in the Midwest League) and may have answered the Padres desire for a power hitting right-handed third baseman.

Negatives: He's a little old for both leagues he's been in and there is some question if he can handle third base defensively.

Ranking Justification: One of the best debuts of any of the Padres' 2006 draft picks; he could end up in Double-A by mid-season. assessment: Freese has the combination of patience/power that the Padres have been searching for some time. There has been some talk of moving him to other positions, but the team seems committed to finding out if he can handle the defensive challenges of third base.

Aaron Breit practices his mechanics in Eugene, Oregon.
13. Aaron Breit (RHP)
Ht/Wt: 6-foot-3, 194-pounds
Age: 21
Bats: Right
Throws: Right
How acquired: 12th-round, 2005 (Draft-and-follow, signed in 2006)

Eugene: 2-3, 3.08 ERA, 22 BB, 69 K

2006 Highlights: The prize of the Padres' "draft and follows" this year, Breit proved to be well worth the wait. His fastball tops out at 95 MPH and sits in the low-90s. He led the Emeralds in strikeouts with 69 in 64.1 innings pitched against 22 walks, for a three to one strikeout ratio. A late bloomer, Breit's body began to fill out going into his senior season and matured with two years at Garden City Community College. Throws a very good curveball with a developing change-up.

Negatives: Right now, not a whole lot. His curveball and changeup are going to have to improve as he moves upward.

Ranking Justification: Tremendous upside, has everything going for him with tools and youth. He begins his first full year of professional baseball with Fort Wayne this year. assessment: Another pitcher whose stock could move up very rapidly within a year. Breit's biggest competition this year will be with himself with an increased workload and enduring the long season of the Midwest League. His stuff should be more than sufficient for the Midwest League and he probably won't begin to be pressed until he arrives in Lake Elsinore. The Padres will most likely keep him in Fort Wayne for the whole year and be very careful with him.

Jared Wells throws a pitch in Mobile.
14. Jared Wells (RHP)
Ht/Wt: 6-foot-4, 210-pounds
Age: 25
Bats: Right
Throws: Right
How acquired: 31st-round, 2002 (Draft-and-follow, signed in 2003)

Mobile: 4-3, 2.64 ERA, 27 BB, 49 K
Portland: 2-9, 7.27 ERA, 46 BB, 55 K

2006 Highlights: Around mid-June there was some talk that Wells could potentially be called up to the Padres; he was pitching that well. He was allowing less than two runs per start and only gave up 53 hits in 61.1 innings. What did cause some concern, and would come back to haunt him in Portland, was an inability to put guys away, frequently going too deep into counts which resulted in a rather bland BB/K ratio. At Portland, the wheels came off as Wells too often tried to blow the ball by hitters instead of mixing in his change-up and slider, which had led to his success in Lake Elsinore and Mobile. The Padres thought he had turned the corner, but he regressed in Portland.

Negatives: He needs to use his off-speed pitch more effectively, work in his plus slider and pick up a lot less of the plate or he‘s going to get hammered, as he did in Portland. He also needs to open up his mind to teaching.

Ranking Justification: Has the potential to be a No. 3 or No. 4 starter, but a bad half season in Portland caused his stock to sink. assessment: A solid prospect, but his performance is going to have to begin to match his potential. Wells has the tools to be a solid major league pitcher, but he needs to learn to rely on his pitching knowledge as much as his physical ability.

Luis Cruz finishes off a double play in Mobile.
15. Luis Cruz (2B/SS/3B)
Ht/Wt: 6-foot-0, 180-pounds
Age: 23
Bats: Right
Throws: Right
How acquired: Acquired in 2002 from the Boston Red Sox for Cesar Crespo

Mobile: .261/.310/.415

2006 Highlights: After a truly dismal 2005 season which saw him shipped out to the Mexico City Red Devils after a pretty awful performance [.159/.215/.245], Cruz rebounded to post a solid season in the Southern League. Playing mostly second base, Cruz has excellent range and has the ability to put the ball into the gaps.

Negatives: Cruz did have some good months, but a .301 OBP and a BB/K ratio of 29/62 in 499 at bats is an indication he still has trouble controlling the strike zone.

Ranking Justification: With the departure of catcher George Kottaras to Boston in the David Wells trade, Cruz was arguably the best position player at Mobile this year and is major league ready defensively at three positions. assessment: A very good defensive player who can play both middle infield positions and third base, Cruz showed some pop with 35 doubles and 12 home runs, but his OBP is going to have to improve if he's going to have a chance.

Matt Antonelli gets ready to swing at Padres' Instructs.
16. Matt Antonelli (3B)
Ht/Wt: 6-foot-1, 195-pounds
Age: 22
Bats: Right
Throws: Right
How acquired: First-round, 2006

Eugene: .286/.426/.360
Fort Wayne: .125/.222/.313 (5 games)

2006 Highlights: A good, but unspectacular debut. The good was the team liked his defense and his ability to get on base. The negative as a poor slugging percentage with only 13 extra base hits in 189 at-bats. The explanations for Antonelli's lack of power range from a flat swing plane to a nagging hand injury that bothered him throughout the year. A great athlete, he was the Massachusetts High School Player of the Year in Football and Hockey, and the runner up in baseball. Has solid speed and defensive range and the team was experimenting with him at second base in the Instructional League.

Negatives: Power, but he did show some improvement in the Padres' Instructional League. He also needs to work on his first step quickness.

Ranking Justification: A solid debut, but the power numbers were disappointing for a third baseman. assessment: Antonelli is a great example of how much a player's position can determine a prospect's ranking. If the team decides to move him to second base, an athletic second baseman with gap power who can lead off has much more value than a third baseman with limited power. If Antonelli demonstrates that he can handle the defensive demands of second base, and he shouldn't have difficulty making the adjustment, combined with a little more power, he could move up the rankings very quickly. He has good speed and an incredible batting eye to become a top-flight leadoff man.

Cesar Ramos poses for a picture at spring training.
17. Cesar Ramos (LHP)
Ht/Wt: 6-foot-2, 190-pounds
Age: 22
Bats: Left
Throws: Left
How acquired: First-round, 2005 (Supplemental)

Lake Elsinore: 7-8, 3.70 ERA, 44 BB, 70 K

2006 Highlights: Ramos is sort of like Thompson in that he uses a plus changeup, curveball and cutter to make his rather mediocre fastball appear better than it is. He took the ball 26 times in 2006 for the Storm, but his BB/K ratios aren't that great and allowing 161 hits in 141 innings should send up some warning signs about his ability to get batters out at the next levels.

Negatives: The quintessential "crafty lefty", which means he relies on a lot of deception with a questionable fastball. Not sure how well it will play at higher levels and it is imperative he work ahead in the count.

Ranking Justification: After Thompson, Ramos is the best left-handed starter in the Padres' system, but Brent Carter and Wade LeBlanc aren't that far away from him. assessment: Ramos is a good pitcher, but there is a concern he may have to be too perfect to get batters out as he moves forward. His debut in Double-A San Antonio will go a long way to answering many questions.

Yefri Carvajal swings at a pitch at Padres' Instructs.
18. Yefri Carvajal (OF)
Ht/Wt: 5-foot-11, 190-pounds
Age: 18
Bats: Right
Throws: Right
How acquired: Signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2005

AZL: 253/.288/.373 (19 games)

2006 Highlights: Signed at 16, Carvajal is hopefully the first of many of the Padres new pipeline in the Dominican Republic. Carvajal made his debut in the Arizona Rookie League before hamstring and hand injuries derailed his debut season. He has tremendous power potential and is a four-tool prospect, lacking in speed.

Negatives: We haven't seen anything yet, besides the obvious speed question due to his wide base. There are few questions about his game but he must produce this year to warrant the hype.

Ranking Justification: Tools, tools and more tools – he has projectable power and its future potential ranks as the best in the system. assessment: Carvajal will probably start the year in extended spring training and should be in Eugene to begin the year. A tremendous prospect, especially with his power, but he is still very raw.

Drew Miller throws a pitch at Padres' Instructs.
19. Drew Miller (RHP)
Ht/Wt: 6-foot-4, 195-pounds
Age: 21
Bats: Right
Throws: Right
How acquired: 37th-round, 2005 (Draft-and-follow, signed in 2006)

AZL: 3-0, 3.47 ERA, 10 BB, 14 K
Eugene: 2-1, 3.62 ERA, 20 BB, 23 K

2006 Highlights: Miller was one of three draft-and-follow right-handers that the Padres signed just before the 2006 draft. A tall athletic right-hander, Miller has a fastball that comes at batters in the low-90s with movement and touches 96 MPH.

Negatives: His other pitches, primarily his curveball and changeup. The curveball has good movement, he just lacks command. His changeup, as with most Padre pitchers at this level, is a work in progress and currently comes in too hard.

Ranking Justification: A very big upside, could potentially be a No. 2 or No. 3 starter in the majors. assessment: Breit and Miller were two of the better additions to the Padres' system this year; both are young and talented with the ability to improve significantly. Miller must keep his arm slot consistent, as his release point tends to vary. Both Miller and Breit should be part of a very good Fort Wayne rotation in 2007.

Neil Jamison poses for a picture at spring training.
20. Neil Jamison (RHP/Relief)
Ht/Wt: 6-foot-3, 185-pounds
Age: 24
Bats: Right
Throws: Right
How acquired: Sixth-round, 2005

Fort Wayne: 0-0, 3 Saves, 3 BB, 9 K
Lake Elsinore: 5-6, 31 Saves, 3.32 ERA, 15 BB, 62 K

2006 Highlights: With the suspension of Matt Varner, Neil Jamison was given a chance to fast track his career and move up from Fort Wayne. Jamison capitalized on this opportunity, leading the organization in saves with 34. Jamison throws everything down in the zone with a three-quarter delivery and could become a viable middle relief prospect soon. His big problem was getting left-handers out who hit .303 against him in Lake Elsinore. He throws in the 84-89 MPH range and has an above-average slider to go with a developing changeup.

Negatives: He's going to have to develop a little better fastball or become more consistent with his changeup, particularly against left-handed hitters. He is working on a two-seam fastball that has movement away from a lefties wheelhouse. He struggles to keep on weight and will need to get stronger.

Ranking Justification: The most saves of anyone in the system and especially brutal on right-handed hitters. assessment: He is definitely someone to watch and should have many save opportunities as the closer for Double-A San Antonio.

Rankings compiled by staff – Denis Savage, John Conniff and David Jay.

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