Finally, if there was any doubt that the Padres were headed in the right direction, look no further to the 2009 Fort Wayne TinCaps. Not only did Fort Wayne have the most wins in ALL of minor league baseball (94 + 7 in the playoffs), but they also had an astonishing 10 players on my top 30 list, including three of the top five prospects. There might be a new regime in Padreland, but the future looks bright.
1. Jaff Decker
2009 Team: Fort Wayne
When he was drafted as a first-round compensation pick in 2008, many, including myself, dubbed him P-Mac Jr. (Paul McAnulty), and while he might still look like the former Padre minor leaguer, that is where the similarities end. After being named Arizona Rookie League (AZL) MVP, AZL post-season All-Star, and BA Rookie All-Star, he followed up with a just a strong 2009 season. As a 19-year-old, he led the league with a .956 OPS, he was also top 10 in all of baseball in walks with 85 in just 104 games. While there have been several questions raised by scouts about his "P-Mac look" and how it would relate to his defense, his cannon for an arm and ability to play all three positions, despite being relegated to LF this season, make Decker is a legit #1 prospect. Decker should be salivating at the idea of hitting in the hitter friendly Cal League.
2. Simon Castro
2009 Team: Fort Wayne
Quite simply, Castro had a breakout season, culminating with a no-hitter, and leading the Tin Caps to a Midwest League championship. After flashing signs of greatness in 2008, Castro left us wanting more. In 2009, he gave us just that. In 140 innings pitched, he had only 37 walks compared to 157 strikeouts. He led the league in strikeouts, second in WHIP, fifth in ERA, and eighth in innings pitched, and, of course, the no-hitter. When it came down to crunch time, no one was more dominant than Castro. Over the final two weeks of the regular season and the playoffs, Castro went 36 innings allowing only two runs on 15 hits. For the first time this year, not only does he have the overpowering mid-90s fastball, but has exponentially better secondary pitches and the control to make professional hitters look silly. Castro has the potential to be an elite MLB starting pitcher, and will take the next step in his journey to San Diego next year in Lake Elsinore.
3. Kellen Kulbacki
2009 Team: San Antonio
Kulbacki gets a mulligan for 2009. He was my #1 prospect last year based upon his hitting ability, and despite the injury, I still see him as having the best overall hitting ability in the system. I had the opportunity to see him a couple times in 2008 and ‘Wow' the ball just explodes off his bat. The way the ball flew off the ball reminded me a lot of Big Mac (though without the steroids). He had a .589 SLG percentage at Lake Elsinore while proving not to be one-dimensional by also hitting .330 with a .428 OBP. Oh yea, and he doesn't strikeout that often for a power hitter. So – great power hitter, hits for average, fairly good amount of walks, and good strikeout numbers. His only downside is that defensively he reminded me a lot of Brian Giles. By that I mean if you look at him, you can tell that he is not the most gifted fielder, but what he lacks in foot speed and arm strength he makes up for in a good first-step and hustle. Kulbacki is a guy that goes all out on every play, and like Giles, that was one of the reasons why he was injured for most of the 2009 season. He is finally healthy and will be back to 100 percent by the start of Spring Training next year. Kulbacki has always been a slow starter, but if he heats, up expect huge numbers in what will be an extremely good San Antonio team next year.
4. Aaron Poreda
2009 Teams: Double-A, 2 Triple-A teams, SD and Chi (AL)
Poreda is the first newcomer on this year's list. He makes the top five on stuff alone. If he can ever pitch to his potential, then he alone makes the Padres look good for the Peavy trade. In 2008, he was the White Sox #1 prospect and ranked #63 in all of baseball in 2009 and #2 in the White Sox organization. With a fastball that can reach the upper-90s and developing secondary stuff, all at the age of 22, Poreda has the chance to be something special. Control issues and a need for a consistent secondary pitch has kept Poreda from reaching his potential thus far, and if this trend continues, there is talk about moving him into the closers role. Given an entire offseason working with Darren Balsley and Bud Black, it would be hard to imagine Poreda not making a big impact on the Padres 2010 team.
5. James Darnell
2009 Team: Fort Wayne/ Lake Elsinore
After hitting .373 in limited action in Eugene last year, I was surprised that he did not skip Fort Wayne and go straight to Lake Elsinore (that honor went to Forsythe). Well, Darnell showed he was too good for Fort Wayne. If Darnell had stayed in Fort Wayne for the entire year, it would have been hard for him not to be named the MVP of the circuit. He put up a ridiculous .329/.468/.518/.986 mark in Fort Wayne with more walks than strikeouts. He didn't have quite as much success in Lake Elsinore but still finished the minor league campaign with a .311/.424/.536/.960 with 20 homers, 87 walks, and 89 strikeouts. He is not afraid to swing the bat, but the 87 walks also showed that he follows the "Sandy Ball" mindset of patiently aggressive. Of course, the big question mark hanging over Darnell's head and the one thing keeping him from being a truly elite prospect is defense. He has the arm, footwork, and defensive ability to stay at third, but his accuracy is a big question mark. If he can develop into an average defensive third baseman, he might be a future All-Star at the hot corner.
6. Cory Luebke
2009 Team: Lake Elsinore/ San Antonio
Luebke is another prospect that had potential for greatness, but the numbers did not back it up. After an extremely tough 2008, which saw him demoted from Lake Elsinore after posting a 6.84 ERA, he returned to the Cal League in 2009 with unbelievable results. He went 8-2, 2.34 ERA, 17 BB, 80 K, in 88 innings, and a WHIP of just over 1.00. That would be great in a pitchers league, but given the notorious nature of the Cal League to skew drastically towards hitters, that is impressive. He definitely earned the Cal League All-Star game starting gig and also the subsequent promotion to San Antonio. He didn't have quite the same results in San Antonio, but he also had to battle with injuries on and off the field, thanks partially to being hit by a line drive, which caused him to spend time on the disabled list. Luebke doesn't have the ceiling that Poreda has, but if he continues pitching like he did in the Cal League, he could very soon wind up as a #2 or #3 pitcher in San Diego.
7. Adys Portillo
2009 Team: AZL Padres
Last year, I was hesitant to rank him high mainly because he was a 16-year-old phenom who has never even been to the United States. I thought he needed at least a year in the minors so we can see if the stats and the game stuff back up the hype. Well, his stats do not scream top 10, they don't even scream top 30, as Portillo went 1-9 with a 5.13 ERA in 12 starts. He gave up more hits than innings pitched, walked more than 4.5 batters per nine innings and had a .321 BAA. With that being said, I still ranked him this high because of sheer potential. Yes, he had games where he couldn't find the strike zone, or got roughed up, but at the same time, he also had games where he looked absolutely dominating. I am willing to overlook his stats, as he is 17, has spent less than a year in the States, and still has a lot of growing to do. Remember, he would be a senior in high school this year. With everything in mind, I made this ranking based on the ceiling of Portillo….the sky. Seventh was the ultimate ranking because while the sky is the limit, and he can easily find himself in the top three next year, he still has a lot of growing to do, and, hopefully, after another year in the states and this time facing college hitters in Eugene, it will prove to be a successful step for Portillo.
8. Jeremy McBryde
2009 Team: Lake Elsinore
Oh, what a season McBryde could have had if it wasn't for injury. Throw out his joke of a last game when he gave up 11 earned in 4.2 innings (he got a no decision), and his numbers were every bit as impressive as Luebke's. 70.2 IP, 59 H, 27 ER, 18 BB, 76 K, 3.44 ERA, again outstanding for the hitter friendly Cal League. He throws a heavy sinker that sits in the low-90s and has solid secondary pitches. His great strikeout numbers added with the Greg Maddux like walk totals (also walked 24 in 136 IP last year), and you have a top 10 prospect. He should be healthy by the time Spring Training starts, and will face a big challenge pitching to Double-A hitters. But being a fly ball pitcher (.85 career GO/FO) in the very pitcher friendly Nelson Wolff stadium should allow McBryde to continue to put up impressive numbers.
9. Rymer Liriano
2009 Team: AZL Padres
Two years ago, the Padres signed Rymer Liriano out of the Dominican Republic. I was hesitant to rank him at all until I saw some sort of numbers from him. In 2008, this highly touted prospect made his pro debut in the Dominican Summer League and posted an uninspiring .198/.296/.379/.675 with 106 strikeouts in 67 games. Needless to say, I was still not sure that he was the "second coming of Vlad." In 2009, he played in the AZL and is now a top-10 prospect – so I am on the Liriano bandwagon. He hit an amazing .350/.398/.523/.921 in the AZL to place him fifth in BA, 10th in OBP, eight in SLG and OPS, third in RBI, second in HR (to his own teammate and AZL MVP Cody Decker), sixth in runs scored, etc… To make matters short, he definitely did well offensively and on the base paths. One of the greatest things about Liriano is his defense. He has a cannon for an arm, great first step, gets good jumps on the ball, is surprisingly accurate, and is not afraid to go all out for a ball. He played primarily center field and right field in the AZL and seemed to have an outfield assist every other game. Oh, and did I mention he just turned 18 at the end of June? He is still far away from San Diego, but he is another guy that will be incredibly fun to watch as he progresses through the minor league system.
10. Sawyer Carroll
2009 Team: Fort Wayne, Lake Elsinore, San Antonio
Ranking Carroll in the top 10 was slightly surprising for me but was incredibly deserved. Last year, Carroll went straight to Eugene and was top five in the league in almost every offensive stat before being promoted to Fort Wayne. This year, he not only managed to play at three different levels but also excelled at them all. After hitting .316/.410/.464/.874 in Fort Wayne, he was named to the All-Star game before being promoted to Lake Elsinore. He ONLY went 4-for-4 in the All-Star game and was named the MVP. In Lake Elsinore, he posted similar numbers, hitting .320/.402/.531/.933 before again being promoted, this time to Double-A. At his third level during the year, he hit .317/.440/.488/.928 in Double-A. I don't care what farm system you are in, if you can hit over .300 with over a .400 OBP in three different leagues in one year, AND play solid to above-average defense, then you deserve to be in the top 10. It will be interesting to see what the Padres do with Carroll next year, as both he and Kulbacki play right field. Carroll will probably repeat the league, at least to start the season, but for this 23-year-old right fielder, he put himself on the fast track to the big leagues.
11. Lance Zawadzki
2009 Team: Lake Elsinore, San Antonio Similar to a few of the Padres pitching prospects, Zawadzki has the tools to be an above-average middle infielder but had yet to put it all together. Well, after missing the first few weeks of the season, he debuted in California with a bang, literally. After hitting only sevn HR all of last year, he hit 10 HR in just 36 Cal League games. He was quickly promoted to San Antonio, and while his power wasn't as prevalent in the pitcher friendly Texas League, he hit for a higher average (.289) higher OBP (.372), and stole 14 bases in Double-A. Zawadzki is a five-tool prospect, and should be an extremely interesting prospect for Padre fans. Not only does he have the range and defensive ability to play at either second or short in the majors, but he also has the ability to hit anywhere in the lineup. The speed, SB threat, and high BA/OBP allow him to bat at the top, and the power (47 extra-base hits last year) allows him to bad in the middle of the lineup. In fact, on November 2nd Zawadzki was named as an AFL All-Star. He will probably stay at short next year in Portland, but he is a name many Padre fans will be hearing real soon.
12. Logan Forsythe
2009 Team: Lake Elsinore, San Antonio
Forsythe started the year by skipping Fort Wayne and going straight to Lake Elsinore, and he did not disappoint. He posted a .322/.472/.504/.976 with more walks (61) than K (48), and was named a Cal League All-Star. With both him and Darnell playing so well in their respective leagues, they both got mid season promotions. He did not have the same success at home in San Antonio, but still put up solid numbers which led him to be named one of the Texas Leagues Top 20 prospects. His .246/.324/.323/.647 at home, vs 316/.444/439/.883 on the road, shows just how difficult Wolff stadium is on right hander's. He is only average defensively, but that is easily made up for by his offensive ability. He is still a year away from having much of an impact in San Diego, but with his mix of power, BA, and OBP he has the potential to be a solid MLB third baseman.
13. Luis Durango
2009 Team: San Antonio Last year, I ranked Durango 14th, stating that he was as high as he was because of his ability to be the prototypical leadoff man. The one thing he needed to do more was steal bases, as he only had 15 last year. Well, Durango basically did everything right this year. He had more walks (81) than K (70), led the organization in SB (44+2 in SD), posted a .390 OBP, and best of all, showed improvement in the outfield. He no longer is limited to LF, with comparisons to Juan Pierre (defensively), but is now a competent OF and a guy that can play a solid CF now. He was rewarded for all his hard work by being named a Texas League All-Star and selected to play for the Futures Game. Possibly even better for Durango, he was called up to the Padres in September and showed San Diego what he brings to the table. Speed. He went a ridiculous 6-11, 1.161 OPS, 3 RS and 2 SB. He will probably start next year in Portland, but will be a player that everyone in San Diego has their eye on.
14. Edinson Rincon
2009 Team: Eugene This was another tough choice. Rincon was named the #2 prospect in the NWL by Baseball America, and as an 18-year-old (when season began) he put up the numbers to justify it. Unlike most young Dominican prospects, Rincon has a terrific eye at the plate, which gives him a heads up over many other prospects as he progresses through the minor league system. The bad news was that he led the league in errors with 22, but he has the range and arm to stay at 3B. He has a tremendous work ethic, and despite being one of the youngest players on the Emerald roster, took on a leadership role. He has continued to get better over the past few years. Rincon will get his first real test next year in Fort Wayne, and if he can perform there, he is another prospect that can easily make the top 10 next year.
15. Cedric Hunter
2009 Team: San Antonio At the end of the 2008 season, Hunter was named a Cal-League postseason All-Star, a Baseball America High Class-A All-Star, and was named by MadFriars.com as the Padres #1 prospect. He led all of minor league baseball in hits (186) and 6 of his 11 HR came in the final month of the season, giving the indication that his power might finally be starting to develop. He has always been a good CF with speed, a great contact hitter, and, at only 20, was doing exceptional for his age. Unfortunately, his power numbers did not translate in San Antonio. He posted a sub-.300 OBP, and only .331 SLG. In most years, a tough year for a top prospect would not push them more than a few spots down, but this just shows the strength of the system. A repeat of San Antonio is in order for Hunter, and hopefully a repeat plus added maturity will help Hunter hit like many of us expect him too.
16. Drew Cumberland
2009 Team: Fort Wayne A top 10 prospect last year, he fell more because of the added depth than anything else. Cumberland once again battled injury but showed why he is a top prospect. In the tough MWL, Drew hit nearly .300 with a .386 OBP. He walked (40) more than he struck out (36), and strikes out only about 1/9.17 AB. After a tough 2008 defensively, Cumberland improved drastically in 2009. A move to 2B might be in order in the long run, but right now he is a solid shortstop. A former 1st round pick, Cumberland will finally make his way to the hitter friendly Cal League, and will be a force at the top of the order hitting in front of Decker and Dykstra.
17. Everett Williams
2009 Team: AZL Padres, Eugene The first of the three 2009 draft picks to make the list, Williams is ranked highest because unlike Tate, Williams appeared in a game this season. While it was only 4 games (in AZL) and 6 in Eugene, Williams still managed to have 6 extra base hits, 9 RBI and 5 BB. He is a speedy CF that has all the tools to stick in CF, and thanks to the Tate injury might find himself pushed ahead of the 2009 #3 overall pick by starting next year as Fort Wayne's CF. Williams has as high a ceiling as any other position player in the system, and it will be exciting to see what a 19-year-old kid can do in his 1st full professional season.
18. Aaron Breit
2009 Team: Lake Elsinore Another prospect in a long line of prospects that have the potential to be great but, up to this year, had yet to put everything together, Breit started off the 2009 season relegated to the pen. In 27 games in relief, Breit posted an impressive 3.07 ERA, 41 IP, 34 H, 15 BB, 46 K. Thanks to the impressive numbers, the promotion of Luebke, and injury to McBryde, Breit found himself back in the starting rotation, and seized the opportunity. In his first six starts, Breit went 0-3, 3.14 ERA, but gave up fewer hits than IP, a struck out a ridiculous 44 batters in 28.2 IP. He might have tailed off a bit as he struggled in his last two starts, which inflated his overall numbers just a bit, but a strong season landed Breit back into the rotation and back into the top prospect list. He has a low-90s fastball, great curveball, and change that has gotten a lot better in the past year. Breit still catches a bit too much of the plate but has improved beyond measure this year.
19. Craig Italiano
2009 Team: Stockton, Lake Elsinore
The Padres had some great minor league relievers this year. Between Oland, Scribner, Brach, DeMark, Gomes, etc… the Padres have a bright future in the pen, but only one reliever made the list, and oddly enough it was a reliever that didn't even have one save. Italiano makes the list because of his stuff on the mound and the numbers he put up since traveling down the 15 to Lake Elsinore. After struggling with a 5.63 ERA in Stockton (all starts), he joined the pen in Lake Elsinore and posted an amazing 1.44 ERA. The fact that he can throw in the mid- to upper-90s, with an electric slider, is nice, but when he was able to translate that into 44 K in 31.1 IP it became top 30 worthy. Fuson stated his intent on keeping him in the pen, and whether Doug Dascenzo decides to use him as the closer or to set up Bryan Oland, the game in San Antonio next year will be that much shorter.
20. Wynn Pelzer
2009 Team: Lake Elsinore
After a breakout 2008 season, Pelzer continued his success in the California League. Pelzer was 1 of 2 Storm pitchers to make every one of their 27 starts this year, which is a credit to his durability. He finished 5th in the league in IP with 150.2, 2nd in the league with 147 K, and 8th in the league with 11 wins. He also managed to get better as the season wore on and the weather heated up, which is usually not the case for pitchers in the hot California League. Pelzer's ERA dropped to a great 2.83 in the 2nd half after posting a 5.09 ERA in the 1st half. Pelzer has plus stuff, and is a pitcher that everyone raves about up and down the organization. He is described as a "tinkerer" and has a lot of things going in a lot of ways with his delivery and movement. In the long run, he might end up as a back of the bullpen guy, but as for right now he is enjoying his success as a starter.
21. Anthony Bass
2009 Team: Fort Wayne, Lake Elsinore Bass was the 1st pitcher selected by the Padres in the 2008 draft, and due to the thought of being overworked in college, was sent to the Eugene bullpen where he had great success. In 2009, he was inserted into the Fort Wayne starting rotation, and despite being there with my #2 prospect Simon Castro, and 2007 1st-round pick Nick Schmidt, Bass quickly inserted himself as the team's ace. Bass was twice named MWL pitcher of the week and was an easy election for MWL All-Star. Bass went 9-3, 2.19 ERA, 90.1 IP, 79 H, 25 BB, 69 K. In 10 of his 18 starts Bass gave up 1 run or less. That doesn't give a team a chance to win; that almost guarantees a team the win. Due to the organizational fear of over pitching prospects, Bass was limited in his Cal League innings, averaging just over 3 IP per game. Despite that, Bass managed to go 3-0 in the Cal League and finish the year with a 12-3, 2.55 ERA between the 2 leagues. Due to so many of the top organizational pitchers moving to SA next year, Bass will probably begin the season slotted right behind Castro as Lake Elsinore's #2 pitcher, and after throwing 123 innings last year, he shouldn't have to worry about taking it easy in his final 2 months.
22. Dan Robertson
2009 Team: Fort Wayne Ask and you shall receive, was seemingly the motto for Robertson this year. Robertson destroyed Eugene last year, shattering the record for most hits in the league with 114 in only 59 games. But the question remained: was it a fluke? Robertson was a 33rd-round pick, and the questions were still there, whether a light hitting OF can progress into full season ball. Well after batting only .204 in April, Robertson responded by batting .373, .358, and .314 in the next 3 months. On the year, Robertson finished at .296 BA and .380 OBP with 50 BB to 51 K and 20 SB. This all out, gutsy player, reminds me a lot of Eric Owens. He is a fan favorite and a guy that is hard to not root for. The 20 SB was 2nd on the team, and with his ability to play all 3 OF positions is the type of player that will absolutely eat up the California League next year.
23. Jonathan Galvez
2009 Team: AZL Padres
Another prospect with a lot of upside, Galvez is one of my favorite prospects. He has a great eye at the plate, hits for average, speed, and is developing power. He has the range and ability to stay at short, even though his arm is rather inaccurate. His near .400 (.399) OBP and .503 SLG in AZL, is a hopeful glimpse of the future. With no real prospect at short in Eugene, he could see himself going to Fort Wayne next year and form a pretty good left side of the infield (offensively) with Rincon, let's just hope Nate Freiman or Cody Decker is up to the challenge defensively.
24. Keyvius Sampson
2009 Team: AZL Padres
While high school numbers can usually be taken with a grain of salt, it is hard not to take note of Sampson's 9-1, record with a 0.84 ERA, and 134 K. An AFLAC all-American in high school, this 18-year-old prospect has the potential to be a #1 starter in the majors. This 2009 4th-round draft pick has a fastball that tops out at 97, a plus curveball, and a changeup. Sampson is extremely athletic and has a passion for baseball, both of which will help him in the frigid MWL next year.
25. Donavan Tate
2009 Team: N/A
It's hard to not include the #3 overall pick in a top prospect class, especially when he is viewed as having the "best athleticism in the entire class." That being said, Tate signed at the last minute, then was injured twice making it impossible for him to play in either the AZL or instructs. Despite all of that, Tate is a guy who has the potential to be a potential MLB All-Star, but only time will tell. The first step is to stay healthy, make it to spring training, and start playing professional baseball.
26. Chad Huffman
2009 Team: Portland
Huffman might have turned his season and possibly future around thanks to the inept players around him. That might sound bad, but with Blanks and Venable in the majors, and no one doing anything from the mound, Huffman was named a PCL All-Star. Not only that but with the game at the Beaver's home park he was slotted, and won, the PCL/IL home run derby. After that his BA, OBP, SLG numbers were all up, he had more SB and fewer K. In fact, over his final 36 games (August and September) he hit .356/.447/.589/1.036. Talk about going on a tear. Huffman is an average defender and is limited primarily to LF. He will vie for spot on the Padres bench next year, but more than likely will be back in LF in Portland to start next season. He needs to improve on his R/L splits (.908 OPS vs RHP compared to .630 vs lefties) if he wants to be anything more than a platoon player in the majors, but is still a guy that will make an impact in the majors sometime next season.
27. Blake Tekotte
2009 Team: Fort Wayne
Tekotte was drafted in the 3rd round in 2008 and started off his pro debut by posting an .838 OPS. Being a tremendous defensive OF, he was given the spot of CF, despite Robertson, Decker, and Carroll all being in Fort Wayne. While his bat wasn't there in April and May, he still was great defensively. It finally changed in June and July, as he finally showed his potential hitting well over .300 in both months with more BB than K. He finished 2nd in the organization to Durango in SB with 30. He was 2nd on the team to Decker in HR with 13, led the team in RS with 83, 2nd in 2B (24), T-1 with 3B (5), and 4th in RBI with 56 (despite being the leadoff hitter). Tekotte has the offensive and defensive prowess to be a force at the major league level, he just needs to work on consistency.
28. Allan Dykstra
2009 Team: Fort Wayne
Only a Padre can hit only .225 but have a near .400 OBP. In the first four months of the season, Dykstra was barely poking his head over the Mendoza line. Finally, in August, he showed the Padres brass why he was the Padres 1st round selection. Over the final month+ of the season he batted over .310 with a 924 OPS. Dykstra is a mammoth first baseman and Padres top pick in 2008. If he can show that he has finally recovered from the hip injury, and continue to play like he did over the final month+, then expect Lake Elsinore to have an All-Star 1B next year.
29. Matt Clark
2009 Team: Fort Wayne, Lake Elsinore
There are about 10 candidates for spot 29, but the final spot has to go to the organizational leader in HR with 24. Clark was the quintessential cleanup hitter, 62 extra-base hits, 101 RBI, 85 RS, and a .504 SLG %. Clark is a big guy with a big frame and from that has tremendous power. The Padres minor league brass worked with Clark a lot on shortening his swing and taking a more direct path to the ball. The worked paid off as he hit for a higher average, with a higher OBP and fewer strikeouts in the Cal League. He is not going to be a star defensively, but he is not going to make anyone cringe either. Clark hit only .194 against LHP this year with only a .274 SLG, he will need to show that he is at least not an automatic out vs lefties if he plans to make it to the majors.
30: Steve Garrison, Matt Antonelli, Wade Leblanc, Will Inman, Drew Miller, Mitch Canham, Cesar Carrillo, Cole Figueroa, Jackson Quezada, Evan Scribner, Bryan Oland, Pedro Hernandez, Mike DeMark, Brandon Gomes, Erik Davis, Brad Brach and Dexter Carter.
Ben Davey is the lead Padres prospect writer for FriarForecast and a contributor to MadFriars.com.
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