The two homegrown members of this year’s stable San Diego Padres rotation, Mat Latos and Wade LeBlanc, are a perfect illustration for the organization’s domestic scouting strategy. No team seems so dogmatic in the belief system that a team should build its farm system by spending big on boom-or-bust high school talent, and create organizational depth with slot-signing collegiate talent. In the 2006 draft, LeBlanc was chosen 272 places ahead of Latos in the draft. But when push came to shove, Latos’ bonus of $1.25 million more than doubled LeBlanc’s (590K), and in this instance, the Padres hit with both. Latos is the star for which they invested, and LeBlanc the dependable asset they believed he was. When scouting strategies reap their rewards, they do so in a big way.
LeBlanc and Latos also make for happier examples than using, say, the team’s first pick in 2004. Or 2007. Or 2008. You see how dangerous a trap negativity can be? Ultimately, this is a farm system that is decidedly mediocre, certainly salvaged by the last regime’s (impressive) insistence on establishing the Padres as players in the international scouting market. While Latos and LeBlanc might leave San Diego to say its method is tried and true, it also feels a bit aged and stubborn. Modernization is necessary, while proper development of the team’s in-house talent could leave this new front office with plenty of talent.
The poster boy for the team’s belief that ‘When you spend, spend on toolsy high schoolers” is obviously 2009 number two pick Donavan Tate, who famously signed for a record-breaking $6.25 million, and more famously has been abysmal ever since. The biggest problem has been his inability to stay on the field, but Tate’s injuries isn’t a concern that threatens to be persistent. Reports on Tate in instructional ball were positive, and combined with some of the baseball skills he showed in his debut, closing the book would be silly.
That 2009 draft was high school laden for the Padres, and the team went above-slot on two other draftees: Everett Williams and Keyvius Sampson. I’m more impressed with Sampson, who has a really good arm, but like Tate, has had problems with injury. Sampson’s are far more serious, however, and problems with both his labrum and his elbow deservedly will keep him out of Hulet’s top 10 prospects. Williams simply played his way off the list, because he’s already profiling as a tweener. The defense seemingly doesn’t play in center field, the contact abilities are a problem, and the Midwest League wasn’t a good showcase for his projectable power.
If that draft showed anything else, it’s that the Padres also do a good job — and are active — scouting the junior college circuit. The third such player they drafted in 2009, Matt Lollis, is looking like a fantastic snag out of Riverside Community College. Lollis was a bit of a pitching tweener for scouts, with great size but not enough velocity, but the Padres really saw that his combination of tilt and command could make for a nice prospect. Be it Kyle Blanks or a failed (but ex-favorite) prospect like Drew Miller, it’s important to give the Padres long-time scouting staff credit for their ability to judge a level where talent discrepancies are at their most volatile.
The Padres also deserve credit for beginning to establish a presence in Latin America. Their top prospect, undeniably, is Simon Castro, who will surely see San Diego at some point next season after he turns 23. Castro wasn’t particularly impressive at the Futures Game this July, but those in attendance were adamant that he wasn’t at his best that day. In Los Angeles his slider and change-up were relatively flat, unimpressive pitches, and Castro didn’t have the velocity of some of his peers that day. During his best outings, you’ll see command with the fastball, and put-away secondary stuff. Castro keeps balls in the park and utilizes the tilt that his 6-foot-5 frame affords, and that skill should be magnified in Petco Park.
The depth of the international class is impressive to me. The team drew a lot of praise in 2008 when they landed Venezuelan big fish Adys Portillo, who will make his full-season debut for the organization next season. He’s as raw as they come, but pitching mostly off a live fastball that he doesn’t have much feel for, Portillo struck out 62 and allowed just two home runs in 62 innings in the Northwest League, pitching against a lot of college hitters. The team also made some good splashes in the Dominican in 2007, landing a pair of unique offensive talents in Edinson Rincon and Rymer Liriano. I almost like Liriano better, though Rincon is further along in every sense.
I also really like Jonathan Galvez, the 6-foot-2 shortstop signed from the Dominican the same year. Galvez is a shortstop by name only (40 errors this season), but his skillset is one that suggests he might be able to work at second base. Galvez is quick, has always been patient, and is working toward developing some nice power. He’s the type of player that could be the team’s top prospect a year from now. Galvez is just one of a group of players in this system that have called themselves shortstops in the past, but likely won’t hold down that position in San Diego at any point.
This season’s second pick, and the first draftee they signed, is Jedd Gyorko from West Virginia. By far the best player on WVU, Gyorko played shortstop in the Big East, but it’s unlikely he’ll ever get there in pro ball. Drew Cumberland is a long time favorite, a good contact hitter and solid athlete that has too many health problems. His power probably isn’t coming, so he’s going to have to accept his role as a leadoff man, and take the walks that his role demands. He’ll also likely move to second base, a spot he’s played some in the past. Finally, while he lacks the potential of those above him, Cole Figueroa could be a really nice big league bench player with good fundamental fielding skills, a great eye, and good contact ability.
Give me a system with a record-breaking signee, some good international depth and a few prospects up the middle, and you might be surprised the Padres find themselves near the bottom of Marc Hulet’s farm system rankings. But it’s a correct decision, as the team currently has no talent that combines sure thing with star potential (the closest example, probably, is Jaff Decker). They just have a lot of players that have one in spades, and lack the other completely. Once this organization embraces diversifying their portfolio a little more — and finds more success in the first round — a good scouting staff should have things picked up quickly.
Marc Hulet’s top 10 prospects for the San Diego Padres will be up later this morning.