Padres prospect sleepers for 2008

They didn't make our Top 20, and in some cases not even our individual lists, but all of these guys represent players who we have hunch about; if one or two things break a certain way they could have significant impact in the system and in some cases maybe even the San Diego Padres.

1) Colt Morton
Position: C/1B
Height/Weight: 6-foot-6, 225-pounds
Age: 26
Bats/Throws: R/R

AZL .290 .366 .419 36 9 5/11 4 0
Lake Elsinore .500 .600 1.167 28 12 4/3 10 3
San Antonio .266 .383 .489 109 25 15/34 9 6

2007 Highlights: After missing nearly half of the year recuperating from a shoulder injury, Morton came back to put together his best season posting a very good on-base percentage and dramatically cutting down on his strikeouts. Although he's listed at 6-foot-5 [Colt is probably one of the very few man that actually understates his height], the massive Morton is remarkably agile behind the plate thanks to an intense flexibility workout regime and calls one of the better games in the Padres' system.

Negatives: He's always going to be fighting the perception that he doesn't make enough consistent contact and keep his strikeouts in line.

A few ifs: If Josh Bard is having a solid year with the Padres, and if Morton and fellow catcher Nick Hundley are also performing well in Portland, look for the Padres to move backup catcher Michael Barrett and his $3.5 million dollar contract at mid-season "if" they can find another team in need of a veteran catcher. It could set up the quintessential Padres mid-season move, a veteran for a few talented young arms at the A-ball level.

The Padres have never been an organization that pays multi-million dollar salaries to reserve players, and Morton should have no problem catching once a week, being part of late inning double switches and maybe even playing a little first base.

2) Drew Macias
Position: CF
Height/Weight: 6-foot-3, 200-pounds
Age: 24
Bats/Throws: L/L

San Antonio .251 .355 .399 382 83 51/53 28 8
Portland .282 .397 .409 131 31 21/25 9 1

2007 Highlights: Portland provided a glimpse of the best option that Macias could become and probably earned him his call-up to the majors last year. With Yordany Ramirez now in the Houston organization, Macias may not only be the best defensive outfielder in the organization but may have the best arm as well. The rangy centerfielder can cover large swaths of territory and seems custom built for PETCO's centerfield. The only problem is there has always been a hold-up – his bat. Macias isn't a burner that is going to hit at the top of the order (he's been caught stealing 54 times in 112 attempts) or much of a power guy, a lifetime .380 slugging percentage. After the All-Star game, however, Macias showed that he may be developing into a hitter that makes consistent, contact, takes his walks, and provides some gap power by hitting 283/.374/.391 to go along with some solid numbers in Triple-A. If he can continue to do this, it's enough to take him to the big leagues.

Negatives: His glove has been as consistent as his bat has not.

One of my two-year old daughter's favorite phrases is "a little bit", and in this case it applies to Macias. If he can make "a little bit" more contact, has "a little bit" better strike zone judgment and has "a little bit" more extra-base hits; he'll be in the majors.

If Macias can prove that he is a credible offensive threat, he has more than enough glove to make it to the major leagues, especially in San Diego. With the creaky Jim Edmonds, 37, in centerfield for the Padres and no real centerfielder in reserve, Macias could be in line for a mid-season call-up.

3) Paul McAnulty
Position: LF/RF/3B
Height/Weight: 5-foot-11, 200-pounds
Age: 27
Bats/Throws: L/R

Arizona .400 .471 .467 17 7 2/2 1 0
Portland .262 .347 .373 262 61 29/47 17 4
San Diego .200 .256 .300 43 8 3/10 1 1

2007 Highlights: He started off strong, hitting .371/.436/.571 in spring training, before a knee injury took him down three-quarters of the way through. P-Mac never got back on track suffering through a variety of other aliments before finally going under the knife.

Negatives: Questions if he has enough power to play the corners and his defense. Also, he's out of minor league options so time is starting to run out.

P-Mac showed up in the best shape of his career and may be able to earn a spot, and possibly even see significant playing time in left field if the team elects to start Chase Headley in Portland. He's lost some weight, can play both corners and first base, and has even been taking some ground balls at third base. He's still one of the best pure hitters in the Padres system, as a career .393 OBP indicates.

Honorable Mention

1. Dirk Hayhurst

The best interview in the Padres system; as likely to talk about his two-seam fastball as the conflict in Darfur, in addition to writing a very humorous column for Baseball America. One thing most people may not know about Hayhurst is that he can actually pitch too. Last year in San Antonio, he was 4-1 with a 3.19 ERA. His peripherals were solid with a 55-to-9 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 59.1 innings as a long reliever and a spot starter. He throws three pitches for strikes, can throw nearly every day and is capable of filling quite a few roles in the bullpen.

He'll be in Portland this year where he should post good numbers again. He could have a shot with the Padres sometime during this year if the injuries bug hits; and then sit back and wait for some non-run of the mill interviews. Remember, you heard it here first.

2. Jared Wells

After being one of the Padres top starting pitching prospects, the wheels fell off for Wells in the second half of 2006 and the first half of last season. The solution: move Wells to the bullpen where he excelled as the Beavers closer. After the All-Star break, Wells was 1-0 with eight saves with 29 strikeouts in 26 innings pitched against only 12 walks. In August, he was particularly effective, saving six out of seven opportunities with 20 strikeouts in 13.2 innings.

The big difference? He didn't have to worry about pacing himself or what someone saw in the previous at-bat. He throws three solid pitches, fastball, slider and changeup at the knees at any time, in any count. He struggled somewhat in winter ball, but he may become part of the San Diego – Portland shuttle this year. Wells' biggest problem is not getting down on himself when things don't go well.

3. R.J. Rodriguez

A little man with a big fastball and even bigger heart. The 5-foot-9 Rodriguez led the organization in saves this year on the strength of a fastball that can touch 94 MPH but sits in the low-90s. What makes it particularly effective is his changeup is roughly 20 MPH slower. If he can develop a more effective slider, he will go places.

4. Sean Kazmar

Sooner or later, Kazmar's numbers are going to start to match his talent. He played some shortstop last year but is being moved there full time this year in San Antonio. He bounced back in Lake Elsinore after a tough first half in San Antonio and should be a little more prepared for Double-A this time around. His biggest problem is being overly aggressive in the strike zone, as a career .314 OBP will attest. If he can begin to show more patience at the plate, we'll see his offensive numbers go up. It's a big if, but he has the talent to do it.

5. Craig Cooper

Cooper had a nice year but was overshadowed by higher profile players in Lake Elsinore, finishing off the year in August with a scorching .406/.439/.566. In the second half, the Storm played him more in right field, even though he may be the best defensive first baseman in the system, to give them more options with his future.

Cooper has excellent strike zone judgment, enough mobility and arm strength to play either corner spot – the big thing that is holding him back right now is the ability to pull the ball for power. If he does, he will shoot up the ranking charts and may become the best corner outfield prospect after Chad Huffman. Remember, right now the criticisms of Cooper are about exactly the same as they were on Headley last year going into Double-A – hits for average, good OBP and doubts about his power.

6. Simon Castro

Ok, I'm a sucker for a 6-foot-5 twenty-year-old with a fastball that sits in the mid-90s. His big problem: 30 base-on-balls in 50.2 innings pitched along with 61 hits, despite 55 strikeouts. Castro will start the year in extended spring training where the Padres will work on three things: fastball command, fastball command, and fastball command.

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