BA's Eddy on Padres prospects

One of the highlights of the off-season is the annual publication of the Baseball America's Prospect Handbook, which rates the top 30 prospects in every organization and an overall ranking of the top minor league systems for major league baseball.

Despite the improvement of the Padres system since the arrival of Grady Fuson to become the vice-president of scouting and player development in the 2005, San Diego has only escaped being ranked in the bottom three in all of baseball once, in 2007, when they were ranked 12th.

Is the system really that bad? There is little argument that if you judge the success of a minor league system by the twin matrixes of (a) how many home grown drafted players are currently playing significant roles on the team and (b) how successful is the team; then 2008 was not a banner year in San Diego.

Going into last year, however, the Padres had won two out of three NL West crowns and were within a pitch of getting their third. Principle players such as Brian Giles, Mike Cameron and Kevin Kouzmanoff had been acquired through the trading of prospects, and Jake Peavy and Khalil Greene were success stories; but still the teams were built more on the backs of shrewd trades and weak competition in the division.

The rankings reflect Baseball America's perception of what the future will hold for San Diego. Remember, in 2002, the same guide ranked the Padres as having the fourth best organization in all of baseball, largely on the backs of players such as Sean Burroughs and Dennis Tankersly who never panned out.

We caught up with Matt Eddy, who has done the rankings of the Padres since 2007 for Baseball America to answer some of our and your questions.

The big question that so many of our fans have is that many Padres' fans believed the team was starting to turn the corner under the Grady Fuson, Baseball America had them ranked #12 last year, but this year they are #29. Has the system really taken a step that far back?

Matt Eddy: Yes, the biggest difference is the graduation of Chase Headley. Mainly just a few bad drafts combined with this year's first-round draft pick getting his bonus reduced because of injury concerns, and it's not good. Throw that in with a few guys that struggled in Triple-A, Matt Antonelli and Wade LeBlanc, and it was a tough year. Although there were some highlights at the upper levels, such as solid years by Will Venable and Josh Geer, all and all just not enough of the top prospects put together good years. The organizational rankings are difficult and to some extent are reflective of how the big club performs.

What do you see the Padres organizations greatest strength and weakness is?

Matt Eddy: They have built a lot of depth with mid-range ceiling college prospects and I think they have some strength up the middle with prospects such as [Cedric] Hunter, Antonelli, [Eric] Sogard and [Drew] Cumberland. Beyond Mat Latos there is a pretty significant drop-off in power arms. Maybe you could make an argument for Wynn Pelzer and Simon Castro, but it's tough.

You have both James Darnell and Logan Forsythe ticketed to Lake Elsinore, but both are playing third base. Do you see one of them moving?

Matt Eddy: Good question. They drafted Forsythe higher so he could be in High A – but you know it is tough to say.

Also along the same lines, if Mat Latos begins the year in Fort Wayne do you really see him going all the way to San Antonio this year and why?

Matt Eddy: It's kind of based on the money that they gave him and to see him catch up to his bonus. I could see him getting to San Antonio by the end of the year.

I liked Lance Zawadzki quite a bit too, your sleeper pick, how did he not make the Top 30, especially over Figueroa and Cabrera?

Matt Eddy: He was very close, what knocked him down was his defense. The people I talked to believed he was a little careless defensively and with all the second basemen it's tough to see him breaking through. He doesn't have a whole lot of experience, but everyone was excited about the bat and the potential power.

On your CF depth chart you had Brad Chalk and Danny Payne listed above Drew Macias. After the season the first two had, especially Payne who was injured for most of the year, you really liked both of them more?

Matt Eddy: With Payne and Chalk, a lot of it was where they were drafted and some of the guys around the office were big Payne fans and there is always kind of a luster with some of the new guys. Macias repeating a league a few times didn't help either. Readers' Questions:

If the Padres minor league system ranked first in on-base percentage, second in runs scored and fourth in slugging percentage, how do it rank 29th out of 30 teams?

Matt Eddy: [laughs] Good question. Part of it is the friendly hitting environments in Eugene and Lake Elsinore. The reason is they have drafted so many college guys they tend to be a little older than the competition. They were ranked near the top in many leagues by player's ages.

Could you clarify if Baseball America uses a five tool approach or a 1 (hitting) + four approach. I could be wrong, but I think they equate "tools" speed and throwing, with hitting. That is why so many of our prospects are underrated by them.

Matt Eddy: We do weigh tools higher, but we don't negate performance. What we may be guilty is of overrating younger guys and underrating older guys that repeat, such as Drew Macias.

Has the Padres drafting of "pitchability" pitchers hurt San Diego in developing top of the rotation pitchers?

Matt Eddy: Yes, and you really need to look no further than Jake Peavy and then compare him to more polished college guys like Wade LeBlanc and Josh Geer. Throw in the fact that many of their top minor league guys like Justin Germano and Dennis Tankersly flamed out.

What pitcher and position player do you think is underrated and who are your sleepers in the Padres system?

Matt Eddy: Zawadzki on the hitting side and Will Venable to an extent, but in deeper organizations he wouldn't be ranked that high. Venable is impressive because he has shown so much improvement every year. Before he got hurt, Steve Garrison, a pitchability guy, controls the running game, throws three pitches for strikes, but with the shoulder injury it's tough to tell what is in the future. Michael Watt is a big arm lefty; Evan Scribner and Greg Burke are also impressive.

Matt, have you seen Kyle Blanks swing the bat? If so, what are you impressed with and what can he work on? Keith Law mentioned that Blanks doesn't put his lower body into his swing. How many home runs would he have if he did that consistently?

Matt Eddy: No, I haven't seen him in person. If you read the scouting report that is really what we ding him on too, a hands hitter. He's somewhat resistant to pulling the ball and changing his approach, but I think if he could adapt he is capable of hitting around 30 home runs a year.

And do you see Matt Buschmann going to San Diego before September this season? Could he surprise folks?

Matt Eddy: He's behind some guys, [Cesar] Ramos, Geer, and LeBlanc and [Cesar] Carrillo to name a few if you look back where he was drafted, so yes I would be surprised to see him up in San Diego.

How much has stock fallen on Antonelli? And do they think that Anton can still get back up to his former elite status?

Matt Eddy: There is a good chance he will approach that status because he is smart and athletic, and will be able to maintain a consistency of performance. It's hard to say why he struggled, the problem was never really diagnosed, and he did break out a little in August. If he sticks with the same approach, I think he could become an average MLB player.

What about Kellen Kulbacki do you not like? I understand that his defense is a bit of a question, but was surprised that his hitting ability alone didn't have him ranked higher.

Matt Eddy: We had him #4 and you can make a case for Blanks, Decker or him as the top hitter. Kulbacki had three good months, but I would have liked to have seen it for a little longer.

What did you think about the Padres 2008 draft? Of the draft picks who do you think has the best chance of being a big contributor at the big league level? Was Robertson a flash in the pan, or is he for real?

Matt Eddy: It's hard to argue with the pick of Dykstra because of his power numbers, but where do you play him? You have Blanks and Gonzalez already there. Decker is a fantastic pick, first round talent; he just doesn't look like it. With regards to Robertson he is someone that could make us look bad. He's just someone that is an all out player that has shown he could do it, a very unconventional player that is very tough to evaluate against future and better competition. [Cole] Figueroa was a good pick and even [Beamer] Weems and Adam Zornes helps the team's defense.

Hunter led ALL of MiLB in hits last year, Robertson broke a league record in hits, three of the Storm were named to Topps All High-A team, Decker and Robertson were named league MVP, Blanks was on the All Double-A team, and that's not even factoring in a lot of other prospects....why were they 29th out of 30 teams?

Matt Eddy: What is interesting with Hunter, when the minor league season ended, he had more hits than anyone, including those on the major level. As I said earlier, there were just too many prime guys that took a step backward combined with too many old guys; but Hunter is the exception to that.

Do you have any thoughts about how well Nick Hundley will be able to transition to the big league club? How likely is it that he will have struggles like J.R. Towles did last year?

Matt Eddy: He's a legit MLB catcher, I'm not sure about him being a first division guy, but he can play. He has some pop, I think he will become a better hitter next year.

How does a ranking justify putting so much stock into a completely unproven like Adys Portillo who has never even played ball in the US, but not in Kyle Blanks who tore up Double-A in a notoriously pitcher friendly park ?

Matt Eddy: In terms of raw stuff, only Latos is better, you can argue that Latos is too high but there just aren't that many arms of that type. If everything clicks, Portillo is mid rotation at worst, but that is always a big if. He will have ample opportunity to fail being that young.

Why would anyone rank Lars Anderson above Kyle Blanks, when Lars hits for power like a middle infielder?

Matt Eddy: Blanks is much more conventional, a stocky right-handed first baseman. Every talent evaluator would take Anderson, and as he ages, he should become better.

Why does Cedric Hunter get such little notice, but someone like Austin Jackson is considered a top prospect ?

Matt Eddy: For Jackson, there is not any doubt he can play a major league CF, with Hunter there is. As a pure hitter, Hunter is better but Jackson has a little more power.

Does the parent club create a legitimate bias when rankings are given out?

Matt Eddy: We ranked the Rangers and A's #1 and #3 and the Giants are pretty high at #5, so I don't think so.

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