The best and easiest way to judge a system is does it do what it is intended to do, supply a steady supply of quality cost efficient younger players that help the team win games. For my own personal bias I tend to come down much heavier on the closer I see to someone contributing to the big league level than raving about the tools of high school star that has yet to play professional ball as many did with Donavan Tate in 2009.
The past few seasons, and 2012 in particular, San Diego fans have begun to see more young players that were either drafted or acquired in trades for players like Adrian Gonzalez, Mat Latos and Mike Adams rise to the big leagues.
So what is they system in a nutshell?
The Padres probably have as good a pitching depth as any team in baseball with both Casey Kelly and Robbie Erlin having an excellent chance of contributing to the big club this year. For position players after Jedd Gyorko it is tough to see anyone having a chance to be a regular player for the coming year.
1 Casey Kelly RHP/SP,p> Kelly entered the season as the Padres' pitching prospect with the most upside. Despite a tender elbow that sidelined him from mid-April until mid-August he still showed promise in his September call-up, despite the 6.21 ERA, to have a pretty good shot for the big league rotation in 2013. Two of his three bad starts were in the thin air of Colorado and Arizona.
2013: Kelly has three plus pitches, his best is his quality two-seamer/sinker, to go along with a good curve and a solid change. The key for him will be his ability to spot his four-seam fastball, which he can throw in the low to mid-90s, to throw batter's timing and eye level.
2 Jedd Gyorko 2B/3B
As in past years there are quite a few prospects that have more "upside" than Gyorko but since he's come into the system there really isn't anyone that has come even close to performing as he has either. This was the second straight year Gyorko showed himself as more than a line drive hitter finishing again with over 25 home runs and 100 RBIs.
2013: His best shot at a big league job this season is going to come at second base with the Padres all but certain to bring back Chase Headley at third. Incumbent second baseman Logan Forsythe impressed quite a few and its possible he could move to shortstop. How well Gyorko, a former all-state point guard in high school, can play the middle infield, which along with a variety of subjective scouting opinions also come with a wide variety of sabermetric statistics, is really a matter of opinion and what defensive metrics you prefer.
One thing that nearly everyone does agree on is that his line drive stroke will play really well in PETCO.
3 Robbie Erlin LHP/SP
As with Kelly, Erlin was sidelined for a good chunk of the season with a tender elbow but when he did return he was the pitcher we saw last year; a guy that pounds the zone and doesn't allow baserunners or earned runs. Erlin's calling card is the ability to place his four-seam fastball to all four quadrants of the zone along with a solid change-up. This season he added an improved curve and developing slider.
2013: He should start the year in AAA Tucson but expect to see him in San Diego at the first opportunity if he's healthy. He's ready now, the only question is really about his durability.
4 Rymer Liriano RF/CF
As with last year, Liriano has far and away the most upside of any prospect, a true five-tool player. In 2012 he had his typical slow starts before really turning it on, hitting .348/.398/.543 for the Storm in June. Promoted to San Antonio in July, he started out slowly again before finishing strong at .314/.404/.430 in August.
2013: Liriano hit eight home runs between Lake Elsinore/San Antonio so the power still isn't there quite yet along with the plate discipline that the organization would like to see. Defensively he has a strong but not always accurate arm.
In short, its really just a question of further refining his immense physical tools. He has significantly improved again this season but still needs a full year at the AA level and AAA Tucson. Expect to see him begin the year in San Antonio.
5 Max Fried LHP/SP
The Padres' number one pick in the 2012 draft and because of the new draft rules the organization was actually able to watch him perform in limited action in the Arizona League. In 17.2 innings he struck out 17 batters while holding the opposition to a .215 batting average.
Not only does Fried have good size for a pitcher at 6'4" but his advanced mechanics and feel for pitching are some of the reasons why he was considered one of the best pitchers in the draft. His fastball sits in the low to mid 90s but his best pitch is a downer curve that Baseball America rates as plus-plus.
2013: San Diego has had pretty good luck with young pitchers the past few years in Fort Wayne with Keyvius Sampson and Matt Wisler but Fried, a rare power lefty, could be the best of the lot of what should be a very good TinCaps' staff.
6 Austin Hedges C
Hedges was the de-facto number one pick of the Padres based on his bonus money in 2011 and had a very strong season at nineteen in the Midwest League. He has all the tools scouts like to see behind the plate, a strong arm and quick lateral athleticsm.
Hedges hit better than most initially thought he would at .279/.334/.451 and was durable enough to catch 94 games, which led the Midwest League. As with most young talented players the routine plays -16 passed balls which was second worse in the MWL - can sometimes give him problems. But he also threw out .315% of the opposition's baserunners, for fourth best in the league and there is by far much more to like than to detract from.
2013: Hedges had his second consecutive outstanding performance in the Instructional League but is going to have to improve his patience at the plate as he moves up the ladder. It's impossible to not be impressed by his debut season but it is also a very long way from PETCO Park.
If he continues to improve at the rate he has been going he could be the top prospect next season.
7 Adys Portillo RHP/SP
Portillo finally put up the type of numbers that the Padres' organization has been expecting since he was signed out of Venezuela in 2009. He is also a great example of just how much physically many of these players change after a few years in professional baseball. When he signed he was 6'2', 180 lbs. and this past season at 20 he was 6'4", 235 lbs.
In eighteen starts with Fort Wayne, Portillo gave up 19 earned runs with 81 strikeouts in 91.2 innings before being promoted to San Antonio.
2013: Portillo was dominant in Fort Wayne and made a very big jump to San Antonio. He struggled with his command in AA and will return to start the season there. The key for Adys is not only commanding his plus fastball but remembering that his success comes when his change and breaking pitches are also working.
8 Matt Wisler RHP/SP
An increasing sign of how good an organization's scouts are is their ability to find and sign quality high school players later in the draft. Wisler, who was taken in the seventh round in 2011, is one of those stories. The lanky right-hander out of Ohio showed a very good feel for throwing three pitches which earned him the MadFriars' Pitcher of the Year. He threw over a hundred innings this year for the TinCaps, he averaged a little more than a strikeout per inning to go along with a 2.53 ERA.
2013: Wisler simply doesn't walk anyone and forces batters to make contact on pitches that they don't want too. The Cal League does not have many pitcher friendly parks but if Wisler continues to throw his two-seamer down in the zone for strikes he will be tough.
9 Keyvius Sampson RHP/SP
Last year in Fort Wayne Sampson experienced great success by being able to pound his four-seam fastball to all four quadrants of the zone, with a very good change-up and a developing curve. As with Portillo, they skipped him to San Antonio which met with mediocre results but still led the Texas League in strikeouts with 122 in 122.1 innings.
2013: Sampson was much better in the second half than in the first with a 3.73 ERA as compared to a 5.90. The biggest reason were some minor tweaks in his mechanics which caused his walk rate to drop considerably. He will probably still begin the year in San Antonio and how far he progresses will depend upon the improvement in his curve or a two-seam fastball.
10 Joe Ross RHP/SP
Ross really had three seasons, the first in spring where he was considered the best pitcher at the A ball level. The second that saw him struggle in Fort Wayne before landing on the disabled list. In his third act he went to Eugene, where he was very good in eight starts with 28 strikeouts in 26.2 innings pitched against only 16 hits and 9 walks for a 2.03 ERA.
2013: Its unclear how aggressive the Padres will be with Ross but he is a pitcher of obvious talent. Its just a question of becoming more consistent because he easily has one of the highest upsides in the system. The talented group coming out of the 2012 draft and his ability could put him in Lake Elsinore to start the year.
11 Nate Freiman 1B
Among evaluators a derisive terms is "performance scouting" which means the analysis is being based on what the player is doing now as opposed to their tools and projection. Throughout his career this has been the rap on Freiman; he was old for the league and as he progressed to upper levels better pitchers would find a way to exploit his 6'8" strike zone.
But that hasn't really happened and this past year in AA San Antonio, one of the toughest parks to hit in baseball he put up a .298/.370/.502 line with 24 home runs and 105 RBIs. It was Freiman's second straight year with over 20 home runs and 100 RBIs.
2013: If Freiman has a better lineup around him this season its not inconceivable that he could hit 30 home runs, have 120 RBIs to go along with a .375+ OBP in the thin air of Tucson. Regardless of the conditions, unless Yonder Alonso is having a much better year that last its going to cause some noise on sports talk radio on who should be the first baseman of the future in San Diego.
12 Burch Smith RHP/SP
The big former Oklahoma Sooner had an impressive professional debut in hitter friendly Lake Elsinore. In twenty-six starts he had a 3.85 ERA to go along with 137 strike outs in 128.2 innings pitched. The 6'4" righthander from Tyler, Texas features a big fastball than can touch 98 mph and a good breaking ball.
2013: Smith will begin the year in San Antonio and should thrive being back closer to home and in much friendlier pitching environment. Keep an eye on Smith he is definitely someone we could see in San Diego in the not so distant future. Chances are he should spend the full year in AA/AAA.
13 Nick Vincent RHP/RP
Minor league relief pitchers get no love and this is especially true if you are in middle relief. But Nick Vincent, on the basis of two strong years in Lake Elsinore and San Antonio where he posted ERA's of 1.87 and 2.27 is starting to get some publicity as he made his big league debut this year.
The former Ramona Bulldog is not the most physically imposing pitcher, but he gets outs. Vincent relies on devastating cutter which he throws to both righties and lefties and a slider that he gets batters to chase.
2013: Vincent should have a pretty good chance to stick with the big club. With the exception of a couple of home runs put up some solid numbers with the big club with a 1.71 ERA in 26.1 innings pitched.
14 Cory Spangenberg 2B
A combination of being overanxious at the plate and a concussion that sidelined for over a month led to a disappointing year for Spangenberg. Twenty-one extra-base hits in 410 plate appearances in the Cal League is not going to set many hearts aflutter. Despite the down year he still stole 27 bases in 36 attempts to go along with 8 triples.
But Spangenberg has been performing well in the Arizona Fall League and his numbers were on the upswing before he got injured. The physical tools, plus speed and quality bat control are still there as he seems poised for a strong bounce back season.
2013: Spangenberg should begin the year in San Antonio and if he can improve his plate discipline should move back up the prospect rankings. Increased patience could turn him into a doubles and triples machine.
15 Matt Stites RHP/RP
This year the 5'11" former Mizzou Tiger with the big fastball simply put up cartoon numbers in Fort Wayne. Stites had a 0.75 ERA and 60 strikeouts against 3 walks in 48.2 innings as the TinCaps' closer.
Stites' fastball, which has touched 100 MPH, gets the attention but as Fort Wayne announcer Mike Maahs pointed out that not only does he have velocity and command with it, but also movement. He will occasionally throw a slider and change but when a fastball moves at that rate its tough to not be overwhelmed by it.
2013: The Padres seem to have the touch for developing quality relief pitchers and Storm fans should be treated to another quality closer after watching Kevin Quackenbush this season. If there are changes above expect to see Stites move up quickly.
16 Joe Wieland RHP/SP
Kelly, Erlin and Wieland were three pitchers that the Padres' thought would all see significant time in the big leagues last year. Unfortunately most of them spent far more time on the disabled list than they did on the mound with Wieland undergoing Tommy John surgery in late July. He is not expected to be back until sometime after the all-star break at the earliest.
After a rough debut in May, Wieland settled down in his next four starts. He has three good pitches but his success relies upon all three of them working at the same time because he doesn't posses a single true plus pitch.
2013: How someone comes back from Tommy John surgery is nearly impossible to predict. For most the velocity returns far quicker than the control and with the pitching depth the organization has they will take it slow.
17 Zach Eflin RHP/SP
Eflin was the Padres' second overall pick and another quality prep pitcher that the organization got out of Florida. Unfortunately he caught mononucleosis which limited his appearances in the Arizona League. However the organization was able to get the innings back in the Instructional League.
Many believe the Eflin is a right-handed version of Fried at 6'4" with a fastball that sits in the 90 to 94 MPH range only his best secondary pitch is his changeup, with a curve that still needs work.
2013: Eflin should get an opportunity to make the starting staff of the TinCaps depending how his off-season and spring shapes up. The Padres have been aggressive in putting young pitchers in the Midwest League and the talent is certainly there with Zach.
18 Donn Roach RHP/SP
This is the sleeper in the organization. Roach came over in the Ernesto Frieri trade and may have been the best pitcher at Lake Elsinore. He held opponents to a .231 batting average and had a 73/14 K/BB ratio before advancing to San Antonio. He was shut down after seventeen innings because he reached the organization's pitch limit.
2013: Roach relies on a very good sinker that just produces exceptional ground ball rates. He should be return to San Antonio to begin the year but is another pitcher that could be in San Diego before the year is over.
19 Kevin Quackenbush RHP/RP
Since being drafted in the eighth round of the 2011 draft Quackenbush has statistically been the best relief pitcher in the system. In two years he has posted an 0.81 ERA with 141 strikeouts in 100 innings against only 34 walks. He has 45 saves in 49 save opportunities.
2013: The key to his success is most hitters simply can't pick up his fastball. He's going to have to get better with his other pitches particularly in AA where he will be next year but its hard to not like what we are seeing now.
20 Justin Hancock RHP/SP
Hancock started the season slowly, demoted from Fort Wayne before hitting his stride in Eugene. He was the best starter in Eugene this summer with a 1.61 ERA and it dropped to only 1.03 in July and August. His biggest asset was a strong two-seam fastball and learning the work ethic that is necessary to be successful as a professional athlete.
2013: With the talented pitching coming into Fort Wayne from the draft the Padres should be aggressive and push him to Lake Elsinore, which also is going to have a very strong staff. However getting the ball to sink in the desert might be a bit of an adventure.
21 Matt Andriese RHP/SP
Along with Burch Smith, Andriese was the best pitcher for the Storm this season. The third round pick out of UC-Riverside led the Cal League in ERA this year at 3.58 as the opposition consistently pounded his sinker into the dirt. He struck out 131 batters in 146 innings pitched.
2013: Andriese is very good at throwing a sinker, slider and change for strikes and he should thrive in San Antonio. He's not the type of pitcher that is going to really "wow" anyone except when you start to look at his numbers. It will be interesting to see how he fares against more selective hitters in AA.
22 Walker Weickel RHP/SP
Weickel was taken with the Padres' fourth overall selection this year out of Orlando and has the size everyone likes in a pitcher at 6'6" 200 lbs. After giving up earned runs in his first two appearances didn't allow another one in six out of his final seven appearances as the the opposition hit only .262 against him in the AZL. His height allows him to achieve a solid downhill plane on his fastball resulting in a "heavy" pitch making it difficult for batters to barrel the ball.
2013: The TinCaps should have the best prospect staff in the Midwest League next year with Fried, Eflin and Weickel. He looked very good in the AZL and with his big body he should be durable enough to throw a full year.
23 Tommy Medica 1B/DH/C
Medica simply up silly numbers in Lake Elsinore in his second full season in pro ball hitting .330/.406/.623. We all know its the Cal League but it doesn't matter if its your local wiffle ball league either; the performance was as good as anyone last year.
2013: The Padres don't think Medica's shoulder will hold up behind the plate so the plan is to keep him at first base. AA is where we find out who can really hit and based on what he did in 2012 Medica is going to get every opportunity to replicate his performance.
24 Jace Peterson SS
Peterson was a multi-sport star at McNeese State and right now is still a better athlete than he is a baseball player and he's a pretty good baseball player. He finished second in the league in stolen bases with 51 in 64 attempts and hit .286/.378/.392. The Padres think he will be able to stay at shortstop as he moves up the chain and as his pitch recognition improves expect to see more gap power.
2013: Peterson showed his durability by playing 117 of the 140 games and the fast infields of the Cal League should play to his strengths. He will be a little old for the league at 23 but he is still someone to watch.
25 James Needy RHP/SP
After two and half years of battling injuries and inconsistent performances the Padres finally got an opportunity to see what a healthy James Needy could do. The former Santee High star whom the Padres were able to sign away from Santee High School in 2009 saw some brief time in Tucson and San Antonio before settling in with the TinCaps in mid-May where he posted a 6-3 record with a 1.75 ERA in 87.1 innings.
2013: The 6'6" Needy should be one of the mainstays of the Storm rotation in 2013. The TinCaps put him in the rotation in August and he improved with every start. If Needy can stay healthy, which is always a big "if" with all young pitchers, he could be one of the stars in the Padres' system next year.
26 Johnny Barbato RHP/RP
Barbato was essentially the Padres top pick in 2010 by the bonus he received as San Diego was able to buy him out of his University of Florida commitment with a $1.4 million dollar deal. Although his first season wasn't bad he was much better coming out of the bullpen for the TinCaps with a 6-1 record and a 1.84 ERA. Barbato threw 73.1 innings this season with 84 strikeouts against only 31 walks.
2013: The move to the pen allowed Barbato to do what he does best, throw his fastball for strikes and not worry about whole lot else. He could be a closer but might have more value as someone that can is strong enough to eat a lot of innings out of the bullpen. Look for him and his big fastball to continue their trajectory upward in the Cal League.
27 Rodney Daal C
At eighteen years old Daal, who was signed two years earlier out of the Netherlands, hit .306/.385/.553 in the AZL before he was promoted to Eugene where he hit .288/.351/.364 in twenty-one games. As with most young catchers, his bat is a little ahead of his defense but the physical skills are there along with the pop you like to see in the bat.
2013: Daal should be in Fort Wayne splitting time with Dan Phillips, a second round draft pick in the 2012 draft. He has a lot of talent but right now his biggest need is more game reps behind the plate.
28 Cody Decker OF/1B/DH
I know he's old for the league, doesn't really have the height for first base or the speed for the outfield. But he also was second in the organization in home runs with 29 behind Jedd Gyorko to go along with 81 RBI and had a .367 OBP in San Antonio.
This season the organization had him in the corner outfield more than first base and the reports are he wasn't bad in the field. The bottom line if you give Cody Decker the at-bats there is a good chance the ball is going to be flying out of the park at some point.
2013: Cody will probably be in either right or left field next year in Tucson and like his friend and Israeli National teammate Nate Freiman, he will put up some numbers if he stays healthy and is given the at-bats. For an organization that needs offense as much as the Padres it could be hard to ignore power numbers, or in Cody's words "gack", like he posses.
29 Walker Lockett RHP/SP
After the Padres selected Fried, Eflin and Weickel with three of their first four picks in 2012 they were able to get Locket in the seventh out of Jacksonville (Eflin, Weickel and Locket are all from Florida). He a two-way player in high school the Padres were able to buy him out of his commitment to South Florida and he showed some promise in the AZL.
2013: At 6'5" and 225 lbs. he has some size but there is going to be some competition for spots in the rotation in Fort Wayne. Because he hasn't pitched as much as the other three he could start the season in extended and move onto Eugene in June.
30 Travis Jankowski CF
Jankowski was one of three Padres' supplemental picks in this years' draft and after a slow start, somewhat reminiscent of Corey Spangenberg last year, he hit .327/.353/.434 in August with seven stolen bases in eleven attempts and ended the season with a seventeen game hitting streak. Jankowski has plus speed and is considered a quality defender in center.
2013: There are a lot of similarities between Spangenberg and Jankowski; both left-handed hitting outfielders who like to run and shoot the ball into the gaps. Like Spangenberg the playing conditions in the Cal League should benefit his game but also like Corey he can get a little anxious at the plate and more advanced pitchers may be able to exploit that weakness.