McKamey discusses Padres prospects

Last week, noted minor league expert Deric McKamey dropped by to reveal his top-15 San Diego Padres prospects. The author of the annual "Minor League Baseball Analyst" book has returned to answer readers' questions about why he ranked certain players in specific spots and about some of the Padres prospects that didn't appear on his list.

Last week, BaseballHQ's Director of Minor League Analysis, Deric McKamey, offered his list of the top-15 San Diego Padres prospects going into the 2008 season. McKamey then opened up the floor for questions about his rankings and his thoughts on the Padres system. We have those questions and his answers below:

What aspects do you take into consideration to establish the probability rating?

Deric McKamey: I take every conceivable piece of information available to me when establishing the probability rating (letter portion of the Potential Rating). Age/level, body type/athleticism, injury history, position, ability to make adjustments, makeup, and experience are some of the ingredients that go into the probability rating.

How can a pitcher like Wade LeBlanc, who is so polished, only have a 50% chance of reaching his potential? While I agree that he should be a 7, as he looks like a good #3 or 4, it seems to me he should at least have a "B" on potential since he is such a polished pitcher.

Deric McKamey: I understand your arguments, but though we agree on LeBlanc's ceiling, I think we diverge on his future role and likelihood of him achieving it. I have pegged him more of a #5 starter based on his below average velocity (84-89 MPH), lack of a breaking pitch, and track record of similar type (right-handed finesse) pitchers. His changeup is definitely a plus pitch and has been able to miss bats at each level he has pitched at. The cutter gives him something with horizontal break, but that won't be enough at the Major League level. His strikeout rate and opponent average remained strong with promotion to Double-A, but his K/BB was almost halved, which may indicate that advanced hitters were waiting him out more frequently. He does almost everything else well (command, deception, and ability to mix pitches) and will pitch in the Majors, but I just question his projected success based on his low velocity and below average curveball.

What are your thoughts on Nick Schmidt? Baseball America had him ranked #9, which kind of surprised me. If he's able to get healthy and stay healthy, how does he project?

Deric McKamey: Ranking Schmidt #9 surprised me too, considering that he underwent Tommy John surgery in October and the depth of the Padres' system. Schmidt was an obvious first-round talent with his polish, strong frame, and three average-to-above pitches. I do worry that being a "feel pitcher", he may take longer to recover, as he'll have to reestablish his delivery and regain that feel to his off-speed stuff. I don't think he'll be a strikeout-type pitcher, but one that relies on command and inducing groundballs, so I project him as a #3 pitcher.

Where would you rank the Padres' farm system in relation to the rest of MLB and can you give an idea of what the top farm systems players' grades look like so we have a gauge as to how you view our players?

Deric McKamey: Comfortably in the top third. The Padres had an outstanding 2007 Draft and signing Mat Latos was like getting another first-round pick. I liken the system to Oakland's, which is heavy on depth instead of top-end talent, though the Athletics have slightly better top-end talent (Gonzalez/Barton over Antonelli/Headley). At the Baseball HQ website (and this will be included in my book next year), I rate each team on hitting, pitching, and top-end talent to come-up with an overall grade. I gave San Diego a B+ for hitting, C+ for pitching, and a B- for top-end talent, resulting in a B overall grade. That actually would put the Padres in the top 10 of all MLB clubs.

Shortstop is now a very hot topic with the news coming from Kevin Towers that Khalil Greene isn't open to signing a long-term deal at this moment. Who do the Padres have in their farm system that you project to be a major league shortstop, and how soon will he be ready?

Deric McKamey: Drew Cumberland (#13) is the only SS in the system that I project as a Major League regular at that position and you could point to that being the biggest weakness in the system. Cumberland is a solid defender with plus range and soft hands. His catch-to-release is very quick, which compensates for his average arm strength. Offensively, he doesn't have much bat speed or power, but makes good contact and is a plus runner, so he perhaps has some potential as a #2 hitter. I don't project him to arrive in the Majors until 2011/12.

Why is there such a pessimistic outlook on the Padres system? Obviously, the reasons might be different for each prospect, but overall, there's very little probability to these guys living up to their potential with so many "D" ratings.

Deric McKamey: I wouldn't call it pessimistic, but realistic. You have to consider the sheer youth of the players I ranked within the top 15. Only four players spent the whole season at the upper levels (Triple-A and Double-A), and one (Carrillo), didn't pitch past April. Nine of them haven't even played two full years of professional baseball and were either 2006 or 2007 Draftees. Trust me, the system is in very good shape. It just comes down to the experience level of the prospects in the system and volatility that goes along with young players.

Cory Luebke seems to be given very little credit. Is this a mechanics problem or an issue with stuff?

Deric McKamey: He certainly gets enough credit from me. I ranked him as the Padres' #9 prospect, which will be higher than you'll find anywhere else. I not only got to see Luebke pitch at Ohio State (my alma mater), but also in high school (Marion Local), so I believe I have a pretty good handle on him. Luebke doesn't have overwhelming stuff, but all three pitches are average, and in-concert with his command, repeatable delivery, and intelligence, they allow his arsenal to play-up. He is a fierce competitor and good athlete who pitched well in his debut (minus the two appearances at Lake Elsinore) and there's no reason that he can't be a solid #4 starter.

Mat Latos and Kyle Blanks are the only elite players, and both have virtually no chance to fulfilling that, in your estimation?

Deric McKamey: I gave both Latos and Blanks a 9D. I wouldn't look at that as a negative. Latos certainly has the stuff to be a frontline pitcher, but has not pitched in a full-season league and will be only 20 years old. Blanks possesses enormous power (thus the 9-rating) with his bat speed and natural strength, but there are enough holes in his game (long swing, pull-consciousness, mediocre plate discipline, and lack of agility) that projecting him as an elite Major League regular has its risks.

There has been talk that Latos may end up as a closer. Where do you project him?

Deric McKamey: I project Latos as a #2 starter. His 89-96 MPH fastball is very overpowering and has two comps (curveball and changeup) that rate as average, so I see no reason why he needs to be thought of as a reliever. His comps aren't always consistent, as he tends to choke his curveball, and like most young pitchers, doesn't repeat the arm speed for his changeup. He has a good frame and fair arm action, though his delivery can get lengthy.

Where do you see Kyle Blanks fitting in with the big club in a few years and is his probability low because of health concerns, or do you factor in the parent MLB team's situation at prospect's respective positions as well?

Deric McKamey: Blanks will challenge for the 1B role in 2009, assuming his development stays on course. He projects as a run-producing power hitter and because he hits RH pitching fairly well, he has an opportunity to play full-time. He is a decent fielder and despite his large build and below average speed, he is a good baserunner. His size really hasn't been a concern up to this point, but you do worry about it for the long-term.

I evaluate each prospect in a vacuum when ranking them, as you never know if a player will be traded or if the position opens-up in a timely manner. One thing outside of a player's control that I do consider is the development track record of the organization. That isn't a problem in the Padres' organization, but if I know a certain organization doesn't develop pitchers well, for example, I will factor that into my final rankings.

I see you have Kellen Kulbacki rated pretty high (compared to other Padres' prospects). What do you consider his strengths and weaknesses? How soon do you see him playing in San Diego?

Deric McKamey: Kulbacki's power ranks second to Blanks in the organization. He has excellent bat speed and solid plate discipline, which should allow him to hit for power and batting average. His bat will represent the majority of his value, as he is a below average runner and has a slightly below average throwing arm. He played mostly RF last season, but he projects better in LF. I could see him as a September callup in 2009, but could challenge for a starting spot in 2010.

Have you rated any player in the minor leagues a 10 and how many do you average per year?

Deric McKamey: I have used this system for three years and have given a 10-rating to four players (Delmon Young, Justin Upton, Jay Bruce, and Clayton Kershaw). That averages-out to about one per year.

How do you think Nick Hundley will work out after last year?

Deric McKamey: I like his defense a lot better than his offense at this point. He nailed 36% of attempted runners with both a quick release and arm strength. He calls a good game and receives the ball well. Despite his 20 HR, which was league/ballpark enhanced, he failed to hit for average, though his BABIP was on the low side. To me, he's one of those players that can struggle if he's exposed to good pitching. I gave Hundley a 7C, but am more inclined to believe that he'll be a platoon catcher.

Did you evaluate any other prospects in the system "7" or above?

Deric McKamey: There were several: Cesar Ramos, Steve Garrison, Ernesto Frieri, Nathan Culp, Corey Kluber, Simon Castro, Nick Hundley, Colt Morton, Seth Johnston, Eric Sogard, Felix Carrasco, Brad Chalk, Danny Payne, Luis Durango, and Yefri Carvajal.

Who were the five guys who just missed the top 15?

Deric McKamey: Simon Castro (RHP), Nick Schmidt (LHP), Josh Geer (RHP), Eric Sogard (2B), and Nick Hundley (C)

Not a single Latin American player was listed on your top 15 - were any considered?

Deric McKamey: I considered RHP Simon Castro and OF Yefri Carvajal. Castro has a fastball that rivals Latos in velocity (90-96 MPH) and has the arm action to derive movement from it. He lacks the ability to repeat his delivery, but still has decent command. Castro lacks consistency to both of his comps (slider and changeup), which makes him hittable in hitters' counts. He is very projectable and just needs experience. Carvajal is a physical player with good bat speed and power potential, though he lacks pitch recognition and patience, which negatively affects his overall offense. He possesses average speed and arm strength, and profiles better in the corners.

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