At any point in time, anyone in the lineup could hurt the opposition. Whether it was small ball or the long ball, these prospects knew how to get it done and many improved from April through August – a mark the Padres love to see.
At the beginning of the year, we asked if there were any plans to play Kyle Blanks at positions other than first base and you said it wasn't in your plans right now. With how well both Blanks and Adrian Gonzalez have played has anything changed? And if not, why not?
Grady Fuson: "Not really. When you look at our system where it is for him to advance and it's at first base. There are not a lot of guys who are 285-pounds that are running around in the outfield. He's a big man that is fairly athletic is going to have to work hard to keep it that way."
There has been a lot written about David Freese catching a little in the Instructs and playing some first base. Where do you see him playing next year in San Antonio?
Grady Fuson: "If everything goes right, Freese should be the Double-A third baseman. Right now the catching and first base work is not necessarily to convert him but too see how flexible he is. We have quite a few good young hitters coming up and we don't want them to be limited to just one position. Right now it's more about testing their versatility."
Overview: We used a simple formula for the awards, whichever team the player or pitcher appeared at the most determined their eligibility. For the top prospect we took into account not only the future potential that the player or pitcher may have along with their performances, but also the needs of the organization which will allow them to rise the fastest.
There was no shortage of candidates in Lake Elsinore. The system RBI leader, Chad Huffman; the only player to knock in 100 in one league, Kyle Blanks; the lone player to score 100 runs in one league, David Freese; the forgotten team leader in average, Craig Cooper; the impressive defense and emerging offense of Yordany Ramirez (especially in Triple-A); on-base machine Josh Alley; the improving Mike Baxter. Yet – I didn't even name the winner...
There was a reason the big-boppers had so much success in 2007 and it started with Matt Antonelli. The second baseman scored 89 runs in 82 games with the Storm and knocked in 54 of his own from the leadoff spot. He paced the club with a .409 on base percentage and swiped 18 bags in 24 attempts. He also answered every question posed, hitting 14 homers after not hitting a single bomb in his debut season.
After blasting his way out of Lake Elsinore, Antonelli continued his torrid pace in the Texas League, hitting .294 with a .395 on base percentage. He placed fourth in the system in homers (21) and RBIs (78) while adding 28 stolen bases – second most in the system.
Mature beyond his years, Antonelli realized his shortcomings and worked hard to define the player he was to become – one that combines patience, power, speed, and athletic awareness. He possesses all the intangibles to continue to blossom and never accepts anything less than the best. He answered every challenge presented to him at the beginning of the season and simply has to improve his defense to take the next step.
Others of Note: Freese continues to hit well, shows patience at the plate and is likely the best fielding third baseman in the system. Huffman is a pure baseball player that isn't prone to long droughts. Blanks freed up his hands from a year ago and seems more comfortable in the box. If Cooper can pull the ball consistently, look out. Ramirez is starting to pull his five tools together. Alley came back from the grave this year. Baxter came back from a terrible first half. Seth Johnston is consistent – we just wish he was always healthy. Sean Kazmar rebounded and was superb defensively. Jose Lobaton surprised in his first year as a full-time catcher.
We thought at the beginning of the year the Lake Elsinore Storm would be the best hitting team we've seen the Padres put on the field in a long time – they did not disappoint. The Storm were so good that the removal of second baseman Matt Antonelli and left fielder Chad Huffman still didn't slow down the potent offense. In addition to Antonelli and Huffman, third baseman David Freese, first baseman Kyle Blanks and right fielder/first baseman Craig Cooper are all legitimate prospects. Throw in outfielders Mike Baxter and Josh Alley, shortstop/second baseman Seth Johnston and second baseman Sean Kazmar who could go either way, this was a very talented team in 2007.
Huffman finished the year with a .924 OPS, better than anyone who played significant time with the Storm this year. The day-in day-out production that Huffman provided was special, 84 games, 76 RBIs, 97 hits, 36 for extra bases, 15 of which were home runs, and a 42/56 BB/K ratio, which is excellent for a power hitter. In four months in the Cal League, his OBP only dipped below .370 once [June-.346].
Although Blanks, Antonelli and Freese got most of the press, Huffman was the big bat in the middle of the lineup delivering with a .340/.443/.547 numbers with runners in scoring position.
Others of Note: First baseman/right fielder Craig Cooper may be the most underrated player in the Padres' system, but that could change with his probable full time move to right-field next year in San Antonio. Cooper hit .317/.397/.469 and although he had 46 extra base hits he's going to have to put a few more into the gaps and over the wall to get more attention. First baseman Kyle Blanks is always going to be noticed on the field, but this was the first year in which we really saw some of the power that so many in the organization believe that the 20-year-old has, putting together a .301/.380/.540 year. Blanks led the team in extra base hits , RBIs , home runs  and total bases . He's going to have to improve upon his conditioning and defense, but he could be special. Third baseman David Freese was the glue that held the Storm together, hitting .302/.400/.489 and fielding his position with a .958 fielding percentage. If the Padres hadn't been reticent about putting Chase Headley onto the Portland squad, Freese would have spent half of the year in San Antonio. Freese believed he struck out a little too much last year and had a good BB/K ratio of 69/99, leading the team in walks. He may have cost himself some power this year with his slugging percentage only rising above .500 once [May - .606]. Finally, second baseman Matt Antonelli quieted a few minor league pundits with a great year at .314/.409/.499 with 18 stolen bases in 24 attempts and 14 home runs.
Manager's Commentary – Carlos Lezcano: "What impressed me the most was the way he turned a double play," he said of Antonelli. "It is not easy coming from third to turn a double play with a runner bearing down on you."
Top Prospect: Matt Antonelli
Denis and John agreed on the top prospect
Because of the parent club's glaring need at second base and need for a leadoff hitter Antonelli is the most valuable prospect the Padres have. Grady Fuson said before the year that Antonelli is such a quality athlete he has the ability to make the major leagues at five different positions, but the position that could best fit his bat is second. Antonelli proved that he could play there with a .967 fielding average, which improved once he got to San Antonio [.975], and hit for power to go along with what many consider the best eye in the organization. As stated above, he also showed that he could run a little with 28 stolen bases between both Lake Elsinore and San Antonio.
As excited as everyone is to see him in San Diego next year, he's probably still at least half a season off. Remember, the Padres expect him to leadoff, play second, steal bases and hit for some power. He's not going up until they are absolutely sure he will be there to stay. Look for him to spend a half, or more likely a full season in Portland, before becoming the Padres everyday second baseman in 2009 and for years to come.