My philosophy falls somewhere between Denis and John. I think the near-term likelihood of contributing at the big-league level needs to be weighted in favor of a player, but could never bring myself to put Joe Thatcher in the top 10. And while I've ranked several "toolsy" guys who are a good distance from the majors higher than either of the other guys, I've done so because they really have demonstrated some degree of ability to turn those into skills.
1. Chase Headley, 3B
Having answered the big questions that loomed above him coming into the year – yes, he can translate the work in the weight room into power on the field, and yes, he can handle hitting from the right side – the biggest question left is when he'll be in the Padres' lineup. While he won't be among the elite at his position, he has the ability and makeup to be very good for quite a while.
2. Mat Latos, RHP
Already the owner of the best combination of stuff in the system, Latos is the best bet to be a front-line starter the Padres have. With the end of the draft-and-follow system this year, Latos and Jeremy McBryde could give the Padres plenty of reason to remember its last year fondly.
3. Matt Antonelli, 2B
A great overall athlete, Antonelli alleviated all concerns after an uninspiring performance in his first pro season by putting together fantastic numbers across two levels this year. While it's looking likely that the 2006 first-rounder will be with the Padres next year, he'd be well served by enough time in Triple-A to figure out if that .229/.338/.373 line in August was a warning bell or just a young guy wearing down.
4. Kyle Blanks, 1B
Still just 20 years old through the entire season, Blanks ranked among the top 10 in a variety of Cal League categories, as he used his re-worked swing to let his natural power take over in games. The big question for the big man is whether his second-half slump was a sign of poor conditioning or pitchers figuring out how to work him inside. The jump to the Texas League should provide some pretty clear answers.
5. Chad Huffman, OF
The third hitter the Padres took in the 2006 draft, Huffman has done nothing but mash since joining the system. Huffman has the patience and power to play a corner outfield spot in the bigs and will likely start his second full pro season in Triple-A.
6. Yefri Carvajal, OF
While he will likely only sport average speed by the time he's filled out, Carvajal has the best overall tools package in the system. With just 200 professional at-bats, he still has plenty time to hone his approach, but Carvajal will have to tone down his natural aggression as he faces more refined pitching at higher levels and make sure he's swinging at his pitches. With the cold weather and bad lights of the Midwest League, it wouldn't be a bad thing for him to stay back in extended spring to open the season.
7. Wade LeBlanc, LHP
The poster boy for the approach preached by Grady Fuson, LeBlanc had a tremendous year in 2007. Already armed with a devastating change, he's got to improve his fastball command and find a way to develop his breaking ball into a more reliable offering to succeed in the big leagues.
8. Cedric Hunter, OF
As already addressed by Denis and John, Hunter probably played above his numbers this year. I'm just not sold he was that much better than the .282/.344/.373 line he put together. He's a great athlete and was on the young end for hitters in the league, but if he can't stick in center – a real possibility – he's going to have a hard time succeeding in the bigs.
9. Luis Durango, OF
In three professional seasons (including his year in the DSL), Durango has collected three batting titles. Yes, he has to learn how to play center, and has to convert his blazing speed into good baserunning, but in an organization that has a dearth of exciting offensive players, watching him makes the game fun to see. His slugging percentage is propped up by his ridiculous ability to put the ball in play, but he's got enough pop to produce in the leadoff spot and knows how to work the count.
10. Drew Miller, RHP
Despite an injury-filled campaign and losing record, Miller put up some quality peripheral numbers. His fastball is among the best in the system and he's shown some ability to throw a breaking ball, but he'll likely need a full year in the Cal League as a 22-year-old next year to consolidate his success and prepare to move up the system.
11. Kellen Kulbacki, OF
After some dismissed his ridiculous sophomore year at James Madison, Kulbacki came back with another standout performance to earn selection as a first-rounder. Next year, he'll have to prove that his .356/.427/.656 line in August is the real indicator of what he's capable of in the professional ranks, not his lackluster July production. Consistently keeping his hands inside and preventing his swing from getting too long will help him be a real offensive force.
12. Will Inman, RHP
The key piece of the Scott Linebrink trade this summer, Inman worked 50 more innings this year than in his first professional season last year. The 20-year-old's ERA swelled when he was promoted to Double-A, but he maintained good peripherals and absolutely owned right-handed hitters. He'll benefit from starting the season at San Antonio next year, but with his feel at a young age, has the potential to be a quality contributor at the big league level as soon as 2009.
13. Drew Cumberland, SS
The uber-athletic compensation-round pick who is just nine days older than Carvajal flashed some of his ability when he wasn't injured in the AZL. While he looks to have a fairly direct development path at the plate, his ability to stay at shortstop is definitely in question after showing bad mechanics while on the field.
14. Cesar Ramos, LHP
While LeBlanc has justifiably moved up in the rankings, it's worth noting that from the day LeBlanc joined the Missions, Ramos – who is the same age despite an additional year of development in the system - had a better ERA. Of concern however is his still-uninspiring K/BB ratio. He simply must command his breaking stuff for strikes more effectively if he's going to be successful in the majors.
15. Cory Luebke, LHP
The big guy from The Ohio State University impressed with a 61 to eight strikeout-walk ratio across three levels after the Padres used one of their supplemental picks on him. He'll likely start in Lake Elsinore next year, important for a guy who was 22 coming out of school. With good feel on three solid – though not great – pitches, he has enough zip on his fastball to avoid the "crafty lefty" label.
16. Mitch Canham, C
An offense-first catcher who won a pair of NCAA championships, Canham is regarded by all who have worked with him as having off-the-charts makeup to go along with great natural ability. The question that remains is whether his poor mechanics behind the plate will force a position change. If he can use his lower body effectively at-bat, he may be able to put together enough offense that it doesn't matter.
17. David Freese, 3B
While on the surface, Freese's numbers with the Storm are solid, a lot of balls that should have been homers for a corner infield guy in the Cal League were doubles instead. Since he'll be turning 25 in the season's first month next year, there's little room for projection with him. The experiment behind the plate at instructs adds to his value a bit, but Freese will have to work hard to avoid become the system's next Jon Knott.
18. Rayner Contreras, IF
While other, higher-cost signees from the Dominican Republic have garnered more attention, Contreras has been a key contributor in his two stateside seasons. The righty is still filling out his frame and should continue to add power thanks to his quick bat. His big nosedive in OBP this year is indicative of the need to hone his selectivity at the plate in the Cal League next year.
19. Nick Hundley, C
Although he's seen good improvement behind the plate, the former Arizona Wildcat has fallen off with the stick, watching his on-base percentage drop in each of his three campaigns. If he can keep his strikeout totals coming down, the power he flashed showed in the second half of the year should help him rebound in the PCL and put him in position to compete for a big league job by 2009.
20. Manny Ayala, RHP
The L.A. native has a big body, but he's not the fireballer you might expect from seeing him. His changeup is among the best in the system and has helped him master hitters in the lower levels. Now he'll need to come back healthy in 2008 and show that his two-seamer is enough to keep more advanced hitters honest against him.
21. Josh Geer, RHP
You'll note that I'm sitting here halfway between John and Denis in my ranking of the former Rice Owl. Geer had as good a year as anyone in the system in 2007, but it's hard to point to any exceptional trait that produced those results. It's hard to project him putting up big numbers at higher levels, but he's over-produced at every level so far, so you may not want to bet against him.
22. Euclides Viloria, LHP
While he certainly has many things to improve on, Viloria certainly was impressive for being the equivalent of a high school junior competing in Arizona this summer. The lefty from Venezuela struck out 28 in his final 16.2 innings of work, whetting our appetite for next year. Obviously, the command will have to improve to bring the walk totals down to a more manageable number, but it's not a coincidence that opposing hitters managed only two homers against him.
23. Matt Buschmann, RHP
A nice late-round pickup in the 2006 draft, Buschmann simply gives nothing away to the opposition. Spending his first full professional season in the Cal League, the Vandy alum finished second in the circuit for ERA. His strikeout totals, while not impressive this year, are likely to tail off as he progresses, which means he'll have little margin for error.
24. Will Venable, OF
As the second-oldest guy on this list, Venable's window is very narrow. He had a solid year this year in Double-A after making a very difficult jump from the Midwest League, but his power's going to have to come quickly next year if he's going to earn a shot at the big league roster.
25. Javis Diaz, OF
I'm a sucker for guys who do whatever the organization needs, so I had Javis higher than most last year after he jumped to three different teams to help fill gaps. His unorthodox swing makes it hard to find any comps for him and he certainly didn't have the year I expected for the Wizards in 2007, but his combination of tools makes him one of the more interesting athletes in the system.
26. Paul McAnulty, OF
For the first time in his life, McAnulty didn't hit the ball well this year, missing out on a golden opportunity. Now, his name is inauspiciously missing from any discussion of the Padres' outfield situation for next spring. He'll have to have something go his way to avoid being another Jack Cust, but if things do break right – which probably means in someone else's organization, he just might take advantage of it.
27. Craig Cooper, 1B
Unlike most of the other first basemen in the system, he has the athleticism and ability to move off the bag to a corner outfield spot – which is the likely full-time destination for him in San Antonio. He was one of the system's top performers this year, but he'll need to turn on the ball with more authority if his bat's going to play in the majors.
28. Aaron Breit, RHP
One of the bigger disappointments in terms of results this season, Breit still has a higher ceiling than all but a few of the pitchers in the organization and showed flashes of what he can do over the last month. If he can stay mechanically sound, he has the ability to jump quickly.
29. Ernesto Frieri, RHP
He's not big, but Frieri has great mechanics, helping him to add zip to his fastball each year he's been in the States. The Columbian has also been improving his command, lowering his BB/9 each year. There aren't many potential late-inning relievers in the system right now, raising his value to the organization.
30. Will Startup, LHP
He's got parts moving all over the place on the mound, but the 2005 draft pick is better than what the Padres got from him in Portland after acquiring him for Royce Ring. He's probably destined for a situational role, but could be more than that if he can get back to the control he showed in rushing through the Braves' system.