Top 20 San Diego Padres Prospects

Evaluating prospects is more art than science, and assembling a list of top prospects based on nebulous criteria is a fool's errand. On the other hand, failure to assemble such a list is a copout, so we gather as much relevant information as possible, peak into our crystal ball, and hope for the best.

Although both John and I (it's me, Denis, the guy with more hair on his chin than his head) think we do the best job of covering the Padres' minor leagues, we also like to read what others have to say about the system. We asked three of our favoritie writers who also cover the San Diego system to give us their top prospects, using the same criteria that we do; the basis of the rankings, how the differentiate from production versus potential, and, moreover, why they value one player over another.

The three writers we selected: Geoff Young of Ducksnorts, Peter Friberg of Padres' Rundown and Ben Davey of Friar Forecast all write on the Padres minor leagues everyday during the season. They all read every bit of information they can find on the daily activity of all the players; we thought they would have some interesting comments and were correct in our assessment.

We hope you enjoy reading their articles as much as we have.

Like anyone else who does this sort of thing, I try to strike a balance between upside and proximity to the big leagues. When in doubt, I tend to prefer players that I believe have a higher ceiling. For example, I will always pick a Jonathan Galvez over a Sean Kazmar.

As for other biases, I have a few. Because I get to only 5-to-10 minor league games a season and because I don't have the eye of a professional scout, I generally rely on statistical indicators more than visual observation. That's not to say I discount what I see, just that I try to balance it with other data points.

In terms of numbers, for position players, I'm interested in things like how many doubles a guy hit and how many walks he drew. For pitchers, I want to know how well a prospect controls and dominates the strike zone. For both, I consider factors such as the player's age relative to level, league effects, and park effects.

But enough chatter; let's get to the list…

1. Kyle Blanks, 1B

Blanks is an offensive dynamo who hits and hits for power. He tightened up his strike zone a bit in 2008, although his second-half numbers (16 BB, 54 SO) weren't as strong as his first-half numbers (35 BB, 36 SO). Still, anyone who posts a .404 OBP in the Texas League at age 21 must be doing something right.

2. Kellen Kulbacki, RF

Kulbacki is the prototypical Grady Fuson prospect. He isn't built like Adonis and people like to focus on what he cannot do, but the guy just goes out and produces. Kulbacki finished fifth in the California League with 20 homers in 2008 despite playing in just 84 of his team's 140 games. He should advance quickly and be ready for the big leagues some time in 2010.

3. Cedric Hunter, CF

Hunter doesn't possess any single overwhelming tool, but he does a lot of things well. He is a line-drive machine who controls the strike zone, flashes occasional power, and uses his speed well on the bases and in the outfield. Hunter is young and shouldn't be rushed. He probably won't be a star, but he should be a solid regular within the next 3-4 years.

4. Jaff Decker, CF

Similar to Kulbacki in many respects, Decker is a pure hitter. He's young and he has less professional experience, but his upside might be higher than Kulbacki's. Although I don't like to place a lot of stock in Arizona League stats, what Decker did there in his debut is pretty sick. He split time between center and left in '08, but with a Brian Giles/Matt Stairs body type, he'll end up on a corner.

5. Matt Antonelli, 2B

A lot of folks jumped off the Antonelli bandwagon based on one bad season. He's young and he should rebound. I still like him as a top-of-the-order option in the mold of former Astros second baseman Bill Doran.

6. Mat Latos, RHP

On talent alone, Latos could be higher on this list. He's been dominant when healthy, but injuries have limited him to just 112 innings over two pro seasons. Latos is one of the few pitchers in the system that could emerge as a dominant front-line starter, but he's a long way from reaching that potential. The first step is to get in a full season's worth of work so he can continue his development.

7. Yefri Carvajal, LF

Carvajal is one of my projectable picks. I like him more than the numbers say I should. His lack of plate discipline is a real concern that needs to be addressed. Still, he is physically gifted player who held his own in the Midwest League as a teenager. It's going to be a slow road, and there may be bumps along the way, but I like his upside.

8. Allan Dykstra, 1B

Dykstra has serious power potential and showed excellent strike-zone judgment during his career at Wake Forest. It's impossible to evaluate a guy based on seven professional games, but assuming the old hip injury that kept him from signing until mid-August is no longer a concern, he should advance quickly.

9. Will Inman, RHP

Almost everyone I've talked to who has seen Inman pitch is less impressed than you might expect from a guy who puts up the kinds of numbers he does. Unburdened as I am by such visual evidence, I look at the statistical record and see a pitcher who has been able to put the ball past hitters at every level.

10. Jonathan Galvez, SS

This is another speculative pick. I hear good things from sources that I consider reliable and hope they are right. We may not know for a while.

11. Drew Cumberland, SS

I keep flip-flopping Galvez and Cumberland. My suspicion is that one of these guys is going to be pretty good, but I'm not sure which one. Cumberland got off to a horrible start in his full-season debut, then caught fire, then got hurt. I like what he did in the Midwest League, but I need to see him play a full season before getting too excited.

12. Wade LeBlanc, LHP

There's no way to put a positive spin on LeBlanc's 5.32 ERA at Portland or the ugly numbers he put up in his September stint with the big club. On the bright side, he did strikeout a batter an inning and keep his strikeout-to-walk ratio better than 3-to-1 in his first Triple-A experience. The guess here is that, as a guy who relies on changing speeds and moving the ball around, LeBlanc may run into a few more bumps before he settles in at the back of a big-league rotation.

13. Eric Sogard, 2B

A sexier pick than Antonelli right now because he hasn't struggled yet, Sogard has an intriguing skill set. Like Blanks, he saw his plate discipline slip as the season unfolded (42 BB, 20 SO through May; 37 BB, 42 SO the rest of the way). Sogard led the California League with 42 doubles and handled southpaws well. His overall offensive game calls to mind guys like Todd Walker and Warren Morris. I'm interested to see what he does at higher levels.

14. Mitch Canham, C

Canham is a line-drive hitter with – stop me if you've heard this before – good knowledge of the strike zone and gap power. He draws praise for his leadership abilities, but his defensive numbers at Lake Elsinore (21 passed balls, threw out 18.7% of potential base stealers) left a bit to be desired. Canham reminds me of Scott Hatteberg, which is great if he can stay behind the plate, but not terribly exciting otherwise.

15. Will Venable, CF

Before the 2008 season I thought Venable might be a passable fourth outfielder; now I think he might be a good fourth outfielder and passable starter in center. He looks better in person than his numbers suggest. Venable is a gifted athlete with wiry strength and fluid strides on the basepaths and in the outfield. He's a bit old for someone just getting his first taste of the big leagues, but I'm beginning to think I've underestimated him.

16. Sawyer Carroll, RF

The reports say Carroll can hit, and so do the numbers. He tore through the Northwest League before ending his pro debut with 18 games at Fort Wayne. Yes, he struggled at the higher level, but the fact that he was there at all speaks volumes. As with the next three guys on my list, we'll need to see how he does over the course of a full season, but the early returns are encouraging.

17. James Darnell, 3B

Darnell has serious power potential, and he's shown it with a wood bat, knocking eight homers in the Cape Cod League in 2007. There are questions about Darnell's ability to hit for average and whether he'll remain at third base, but his power should play anywhere.

18. Logan Forsythe, 3B

Forsythe is another prototypical Fuson draftee who hits doubles and draws walks. A hand injury limited Forsythe to 12 games in his professional debut, so it's hard to glean much from the numbers. We'll learn more when he plays full-season ball in 2009.

19. Cole Figueroa, SS

Hits doubles? Check. Draws walks? Check. Figueroa's father played in the big leagues, so he shouldn't be intimidated by the professional game. There is some question as to which side of second base best suits him. Either way, legitimate middle infielders with legitimate hitting ability are scarce in this organization. Figueroa could advance quickly.

20. Chad Huffman, LF

The final spot on my list came down to left-hander Steve Garrison, right-hander Wynn Pelzer, and Huffman. If Garrison hadn't gotten hurt toward the end of the season, he'd be here (or possibly a little higher). Pelzer's power arsenal intrigues me, but he is fairly new to starting and I'd like to see a little more from him before getting too excited.

That leaves Huffman, about whom I'm less enthusiastic than just about anyone I know. He's big and strong, and other people like him. I try, but I keep thinking he's too old for his level and wishing he weren't limited to left field. The name Kevin Mench has wedged itself in my brain, and it won't leave. Huffman strikes me as someone who could succeed at the big-league level but more as a role player in the mold of, say, Mark Quinn or Shane Spencer than as a full-time starter.

Geoff Young is the foremost blogger on the Padres with his website, Ducksnorts – a must stop for all serious fans. His site is a blend of a passionate unapologetic fandom combined with an analytical approach to the team's successes and failures that gives far more credit to his belief in his readers intelligence than most traditional media. As part of his all encompassing coverage of all things Padres, Geoff writes frequently on the team's prospects and usually visits the Lake Elsinore Storm a few times a year.

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