Prospect Mailbag

Recently, John Conniff of had a chat with some of our friends at Friar Nation, a website and message board on the San Diego Padres, on general questions in the minors. Here are the questions and answers from our brief chat.

I'm a big Notre Dame fan, and was stoked that we drafted Craig Cooper last year. I saw that he did great in Eugene and looked pretty solid in his few appearances in Fort Wayne too. He seems to be off to a slow start in Lake Elsinore this year, but the season is just beginning. What, if any, are the weaknesses with him and does the organization see him as someone how could make his way further up the chain in the next few seasons? (Chilli 311)

John Conniff: You're right, Cooper did put together a very solid year in Eugene, and after Freese and Huffman was the best player there. It's pretty early to draw any conclusions on what he's doing in LE, and probably will be for the first month since it is a big jump from the Northwest League to the Cal League. Remember Chase Headley struggled for the first six weeks last year.

The Padres do seem pretty excited about him and are going to play in the outfield to give him a few more options than just limiting him to first base. Its hard for me to draw any big weakness from him after the season he put together in Eugene, except the Padres may want to see him pull the ball a little more for power. He's the best defensive first baseman in the system. I had him as my "under the radar" selection this year for LE.

John, in your opinion, how more years till we see Will Venable and Cesar Carrillo in big league uniform and how do you think they will do in the bigs? (Greeney03)

John Conniff: I thought if Carrillo was healthy last year he would have been in San Diego's rotation by the end of last year. When he's healthy he's easily the best pitcher that I've seen in the Padres' organization in the four years I have been writing about the minors. He's about 6-foot-3 and 180 lbs., with, to use a basketball term, a wingspan that is around 6-foot-5 so the ball looks like its coming out of a slingshot. He has two fastballs, a curve, a good change and very good control. His velocity is in the low-90s. The team is going to be pretty careful with him, he had a slight twitch in his elbow last year, and you probably won't see him fully stretched out until sometime in June. As for when he's in San Diego that depends really on if anyone goes down in the rotation. If Carrillo is healthy, he will put up numbers in Portland and above.

Venable was a big surprise last year. If you saw him in Eugene in 2005 you would be shocked by his transformation. The Padres will probably keep him in Double-A for the year. They want to see (1) if he can hit a much higher caliber pitching, (2) hit with some more power, which he showed towards the end of last year in Fort Wayne and (3) play, as Grady Fuson said, "more in the middle of the field". They don't think he's going to end up in CF but by playing there will help his range as an OF. If he can accomplish all of that, look for him to begin the year in Portland in 2008 and will pick up when we get there.

I'd like to know out of who is left of the sign and trades (Latos?) are most likely to sign with us and how much of an impact they could provide our lower minor league levels? (SD Native)

John Conniff: Great Question, at Madfriars we should hopefully have an upcoming interview with Chief Gayton and we can ask him that question among others. As for Latos, I had a chance to interview him in early February and he was impressive.

Latos interview

From everything that I've read and heard he projects as a late first round or supplemental first round pick. The Padres are probably going to have to overpay him a little to get them, but they seem willing to do so. As for his impact? A 6-foot-6, 220-pound 19-year-old who consistently throw in the mid-90s with control is definitely going to help you. It's like getting a free first round draft pick.

Also keep an eye on Jeremy McBryde in Oklahoma, but he seems to be a much tougher sign, along with Joe Cates from Palomar College.

Ahhh *rubs his hands together* well this is an exciting time of the year since this week the Lake Elsinore Storm starts up their season. I'm definitely going to be going down there soon!

A couple years ago a friend asked me who was the most "pitcher-like" pitcher was in baseball. I said Greg Maddux was because it was the first name I thought of when I asked myself this question: what pitcher would prefer a 2 pitch groundout over a three pitch strikeout?

John is there a particular young pitcher in the farm who you think has that pitcher more that hurler attitude on the bump and performs as such? (Colonel Lightstar (nice handle)

John Conniff: Too frequently in the minors you can divide pitchers into what you stated: hurlers, those who have velocity and oodles of potential but not much control, and pitchers, which are frequently guys without a big fastball who rely on pitching "backwards" spotting their fastball to set up a quality curve, slider or change and big questions if they have enough of a fastball to set up these pitches.

In my opinion, Carrillo is very much that type of Maddux-like pitcher, only he can bring the heat too. He's the exception a control guy with stuff and the reason why he's the number one ranked pitcher in the organization.

There are a few that come to mind to answer your question. In San Antonio (Double-A), the three top guys this year Sean Thompson, Cesar Ramos and Mike Ekstrom all rely more on hitting their spots than the big strikeout. I like Sean Thompson, a lefty with a big curve and good change and a fastball that he can place as a potential #4 or #5 starter in San Diego. My colleagues, Denis Savage and David Jay, were more fans of Mike Ekstrom, a Clay Hensley type pitcher with big sinking slider and a hard sinking fastball. I'm not that crazy about Ramos, too many hits/innings pitched and a weak B/BB ratio, although Baseball America likes him more than any of us at Madfriars.

In LE (High-A) keep an eye on Brent Carter, who seems to be the pitchers' pitcher that you are looking for. A lefty who changes speeds well, has a nice slider/cut fastball that he started having success when he got his third pitch over consistently before he got hurt in June last year. Another lefty from Alabama, Wade LeBlanc, is also very adept at changing speeds, spots his fastball and has a nice curve. Both these guys need to be really on their game because there are some questions if they have enough "stuff" i.e. fastballs to make it to the majors.

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Got a question or a comment shoot us an email at and we will run it in our next mailbag feature. You can reach Denis at and John at


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