Yes, it's a cop-out, but then again the major league baseball draft is the most difficult of all the three major sports to evaluate. Unlike football or basketball, where most casual fans are somewhat acquainted with the potential top picks and how they may fit into their favorite teams, most people, including us, have no idea about who is being drafted in baseball.
As a site that focuses on the Padres minor leagues, we follow the draft as avidly as anyone, but to somehow attempt to cover the universe of high school and college players that a major league team is responsible for evaluating is nearly impossible for the Padres, let alone us.
Throw in the facts that the aluminum bat makes the amateur game very different from the professional one and that most of the players being discussed won't be in the majors for three to four years, and you pretty much have a process that exists in the dark.
After a year, however, we've had the opportunity to see a player in short-season leagues, instructs, Spring Training and usually a full-season league, we have a better idea of what they might become on the big league level. Additionally, we start to have a more level playing field for statistical analysis to compare players, and we begin to have an idea of how well the Padres did in the draft.
We took a look at the top five picks of last year's draft, the best late round picks, and a few of the draft-and-follows for 2006.
2007 statistics through Thursday, June 14
First round, Wake Forrest
At Eugene, a lingering hand injury and a bit of a layoff that messed with his timing between the college season and pro ball kept Antonelli from fully showing what he could do. In the off-season the Padres took advantage of his strengths, his athleticism and batting eye and moved him to second base and the top of the order. So far, the move has paid off with Antonelli improving upon his performance last season, upping his slugging percentage, leading the organization in steals [16 stolen bases in 18 attempts] and playing a solid second base.
Although he doesn't have the numbers that Barfield did or is as young when he was in Lake Elsinore, he could end up a better major league player down the road as a second baseman that can lead off, steal a base, possibly hit between 15-20 home runs with better strike zone judgment. The Padres have been looking for this type of combination for a long time and may have found it in Antonelli.
Supplemental first round, Ooltewah HS
Burke represents the quintessential high-risk draft pick, a teenager from a small high school in Tennessee who is a legitimate five-tool talent but is struggling with the pro game. Last year in the Arizona Rookie League, Burke had trouble making consistent contact and struck out more than once a game, but his OBP did indicate an ability to potentially control the strike zone.
This year in Fort Wayne, he hasn't exactly torn up the Midwest League, but is also about three years younger than nearly everyone in the league and has shown some recent progress. No matter how you spin it, 71 Ks in 227 plate appearances, however, is not going to cut it. The Padres still like his swing and believe once he becomes a little more patient he will be much better in the second half; we'll see. He had a good off-season and spring training and at 20 he has plenty of time. San Diego has a decent amount of money invested in him, and he will be given every opportunity to succeed.
Second round, Texas Christian
Confirmed a few opinions about his ability to hit with a monster debut with the Emeralds with a very good strike zone judgment and power. Huffman is one of the better all-around athletes in the San Diego system and played both football and baseball at TCU, splitting time between first and second base. He has a good arm as a former backup quarterback and along with a few other players was jumped from the Northwest League to the High-A California League.
This year, Huffman has again shown the ability to get on base and drive the ball into the gaps. He's in left field and has been showing that he has the ability to plant the ball over the wall as well with 11 home runs, second only to Kyle Blanks on the team. What is especially impressive about Huffman is his ability to control the strike zone while still pounding the ball. Huffman may be the right-handed power hitter the team has been trying to find and may go into 2008 as the team's top corner OF prospect.
A near clone of Padres pitching prospect Brent Carter. Both went to the University of Alabama, are left-handed, and are known more for their guile than for raw power, but LeBlanc has been much more successful. Last year, he pitched well at Eugene and Fort Wayne, but caught a little too much of the plate as he allowed 50 hits in 55.2 innings. As with Carter, he has excellent command of his fastball, a terrific change and a solid breaking ball.
This year, LeBlanc has vastly improved especially in his ability to miss bats while still maintaining pinpoint control. To only allow a .192 batting average in the hitter friendly California League is especially impressive. Arguably, LeBlanc may not only be the organization's best left-handed starter so far this season, but the best pitcher as well.
Third round, Decatur HS
Last year, he had as good a year as anyone the team drafted, but at only 18 he may have the highest ceiling. Hunter reached base safely in his first 48 games. Not a tremendous power threat, but has good gap power. Hunter led the Arizona Rookie League in runs scored and hits, was second in batting average, third in RBIs, and tied for third in doubles.
Some questions about his speed and ability to play center, but with his bat the Padres are going to force him to prove that he can't play there. So far this year, Hunter has hit reasonably well in Fort Wayne, his BB/K ratio is not bad but he has not lived up to the hype of many pre-season rankings including us with his power numbers. He has improved every month and still will probably put up good, but not great, numbers.
Craig Cooper was the Big East Player of the Year at Notre Dame in 2006 and led the league in hitting three straight years, so surprise, he hit pretty well in Eugene too. Cooper is the type of player that the Padres have emphasized in the past two years of the draft, players who have an ability to take a walk and drive the ball when they get their opportunity.
A rare left-hander who bats from the right side, he played some outfield as well for Notre Dame in addition to first base. This year, he's split time with Kyle Blanks between first base and DH and even played a little in right field. If Cooper can show he has the ability to play the OF, especially right field, he could have a chance. You would like to see a little more power, but a .423 OBP is impressive.
Had the best debut of anyone in the 2006 class. Freese was the Sun Belt Player of the Year in 2006 hitting .414/.503/.661, but his age and a .922 fielding percentage saw him drop down to the ninth-round. The Padres always believed that he could hit, but his numbers at Eugene were simply ridiculous and his defense was also better than anticipated. Freese matches the profile of what the Padres are seeking at 3B as well as anyone, a big powerful right-handed hitter.
This year, as one of six Padres 2006 draft picks in Lake Elsinore, Freese has kept it up but may be blocked by Kevin Kouzmanoff and Chase Headley. Although he's doing very well, the number of strikeouts is some concern.
Aaron Breit, 21, was the big prize of the draft-follows before the draft and he didn‘t disappoint, putting together a solid season in Eugene, leading the team in strikeouts and finishing second in innings pitched.
He has struggled in Fort Wayne this year against more advanced hitters, catching too much of the plate, which has led batters to hit .332 against him. We should see the numbers change; Breit simply has too much talent to be derailed at this level.
Drew Miller, 22, also had a nice year at Eugene and has been more successful than Breit before a shoulder strain shut him down.
The best indication of how well the Padres did in the 2006 draft is that six of their 2006 picks not only made the 2006 High-A Lake Elsinore Storm, but all are either All-Stars or have made significant contributions to the team.
The Padres drafted a quality versatile player in Antonelli with their first pick and were able to get a top middle infield and leadoff prospect, in essence killing two birds with one stone.
The team has decided that right-handed pull hitters will have the best chance of succeeding in PETCO, and they found three of them in Huffman, Cooper and Freese. Throw in the addition of long-range prospects/high ceiling players in Hunter, Burke, Breit and Miller, and the tremendous strides this year from LeBlanc, emerging as possibly the Padres best left-handed starter, this was a good draft.
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