San Diego has an impressive system with both some high-ceiling talent and depth. The organization has had some impressive drafts recently, and a number of trades have brought in exciting talent.
Drafted with the reputation for being a defense-first backstop, Hedges surprised talent evaluators with his offense in his first full pro season. He hit .279 and showed good gap power while striking out just 62 times in 96 games. On the down side, he was too aggressive and walked just 23 times. Even with the new-found success at the plate, the athletic Hedges provided excellent defense behind the plate with good receiving skills, solid blocking and showed a strong arm that allowed him to throw out 32% of base runners.
When I saw him play, Hedges was giving a nice, quiet target behind the plate. His athleticism was evident and he moved well behind the plate; at one point he threw to first base from his knees to check on a base runner straying too far from the bag. At the plate, his hands were a little busy and he had a habit of swinging under the ball, perhaps having tired late in his first full season. Hedges definitely needed to improve his bat plane to keep it through the strike zone for a longer period of time.
Originally a second round draft pick (2011) who spurned his college commitment to UCLA, Hedges is headed for high-A ball and could enjoy his time in the potent California League in 2013. The 20-year-old catcher could see double-A by the end of the year, and should be ready for a taste of the majors around 2015. He has a chance to develop into a well-round big league catcher with all-star potential.
An offensive-minded prospect, Gyorko’s best position is the hot corner but he’s not going to push Chase Headley off the hot corner. As a result, the prospect has seen time at second base where he has a chance to be average. Gyorko doesn’t have great range or feet but he has solid hands and a strong arm. At the plate, he shows above-average gap power that could result in 15-20 home runs in his prime. He isn’t afraid to use the whole field.
Gyorko has done nothing but hit since turning pro and he spent most of 2013 in triple-A. He might open 2013 in triple-A due to MLB service time (to delay arbitration) but could be a key contributor at the big league level. He has a chance to develop into a middle-of-the-order hitter.
Fried has both current ability and projection. The young southpaw has a fastball that can touch 95 mph but his curveball may be even better. He has a solid pitcher’s frame with projection to spare. His changeup also shows potential, which could give him an above-average, three-pitch repertoire. In his brief debut he showed the ability to produce both strikeouts and ground-ball outs.
Fried, 19, has the potential to open 2013 in low-A ball and hold his own as a teenager. He could be a relatively fast-mover and reach the majors at some point late in 2015 or mid-2016. The California native, who signed a multi-million dollar contract to forego a commitment to UCLA, has the ceiling of a No. 1 or 2 starter.
Kelly is an athletic pitcher who flashes solid potential but his results have been just decent to date. As a ground-ball pitcher, having a major league defense behind him could really help as he’s allowed a significant number of hits to date. The contact-heavy approach also lends itself to low strikeout rates — but those could see a bump up with improved secondary pitches (curveball and changeup). Of the two, his breaking ball shows the most potential and could develop into a plus pitch with time.
Kelly works with a quick, fluid delivery and a high-three-quarter arm slot. He’s often around the strike zone – some times too much – and his pitches often sit on the same plane. The young pitcher needs to move his offerings around more consistently and work diligently to change hitters’ eye levels. His breaking ball has a hard, sharp break to it. When I saw him, Kelly’s fastball did not have much movement to it.
A strained ligament in his elbow, which cost his three months of the 2012 season, casts a shadow on the coming year, as it can often be a precursor to Tommy John surgery. The Padres should have enough pitching depth to allow Kelly time to gain some more seasoning in triple-A. He has the ceiling of a No. 3 or 4 starter.
Liriano, 21, spent parts of five years in the low minors but reached double-A in the second half of the season. He’s racked up some significant stolen base totals in his career but, as he ages, he’s expected to slow down a bit and turn his raw power potential into above-average home run pop — even though he’s never hit more than 12 in a minor-league season.
Liriano has significant defensive value thanks to outstanding range and a prototypically-strong right-fielder’s arm. A strong showing in the Arizona Fall League could help convince the organization that Liriano is ready for the challenge of triple-A to begin 2013. However, he spent just 53 games with a .712 OPS in double-A in ’12 so a little more time there wouldn’t hurt. Liriano has the potential to develop into a 20-20 player. He could be ready for the majors by the end of 2013 or mid-2014.
Wisler saw his overall value improve perhaps more than any other prospect in the system in 2012. The former seventh round draft pick (2011) out of an
Wisler, 20, is well ahead of the learning curve and will face a stiff test when he moves up to the California League in 2013. He’s known for being mature and a hard-worker so it wouldn’t shock me if he reaches double-A by the end of the season. He could see some major league action by 2015.
Erlin is a polished pitching prospect who possesses a modest ceiling as a future No. 4 starter who could pitch very well in his home ball park. The southpaw has a solid fastball that sits in the 87-91 mph range. His repertoire also includes a good curveball, solid changeup and developing cutter. He has above-average control and solid command.
Erlin’s fastball doesn’t have premium velocity but it’s sneaky quick, thanks in part to a fluid delivery, and looks faster than it is because he has some deception. Hitters don’t get a great look at it coming out of his hands. He keeps his back to the hitter a long time during his delivery, which is especially tough on left-handed batters. When I saw him pitch he was using a very slow, loopy curveball and I thought his changeup was his best pitch. In the one game I saw, he struck out the first six batters of the game but got favorable calls from the umpire and got away with some very fat, high fastballs. He was clearly strong in the first two innings of the game but quickly gassed from the third inning on.
Erlin, 22, was originally drafted by the Texas Rangers in 2011 in the deal for reliever Mike Adams. The prospect missed three months of last season with elbow issues but he made up for lost time with 31 strikeouts and six walks in 23.2 innings (six starts). Because of that success, he could open 2013 in triple-A and has a chance to see major-league action in the second half of the season.
Purely an arm-strength guy prior to 2012, Portillo started to make some head-way with other aspects of his game last season. The right-hander has ironed out his delivery and arm action while also improving his secondary pitches. His fastball works in the mid-90s and can touch the upper-90s. He backs it up with a changeup that shows plus potential. His breaking ball has improved but may not be more than average.
Portillo, 21, absolutely dominated low-A ball in 2012 but struggled when he was jumped over high-A ball to double-A and he fell apart. The
The brother of Tyson Ross, Joe had a disappointing first full season in pro ball. He battled through disappointing results in low-A ball and also suffered from a strained shoulder, which caused him to miss about a month. When he’s healthy, Ross has a fastball that can touch 94-95 mph and he flashes an above-average changeup and developing slider.
I watched Ross pitch in the Midwest League (low-A) playoffs and he looked healthy, but he also appeared to be rusty. He struggled with his release point, especially when throwing his fastball. He lacked an out-pitch in that game, as he was unable to consistently command his repertoire. Ross’ athleticism, though, was quite evident and he moves extremely well around the mound. He has a projectable frame with very long legs. There is a little bit of effort in his delivery.
The Padres will hope for improved results in 2013 when he returns to low-A ball. He has a chance to be a solid mid-rotation starter once he settles into the pro ranks. Like fellow Top 15 prospects Max Fried and Austin Hedges, Ross also turned down UCLA when he signed his pro contract.
Eflin, who will turn 19 around opening day, was the 33rd overall pick of the 2012 draft out of a Florida high school. The right-hander has a solid fastball in the 89-94 mph range with an outstanding changeup. His breaking ball is currently below average but has the potential to be average or better in time.
He has a big, strong pitcher’s frame and should provide plenty of innings at the big league level. Eflin needs to see his curveball develop into a reliable pitch if he’s going to stick in the starting rotation. If it doesn’t though, he has potential as a high-leverage reliever. He battled some injuries as a pro so that bears watching and he will likely need more development time in the minors than fellow top 2012 draft pick Max Fried.
The 10th overall selection of the 2011 amateur draft, Spangenberg doesn’t have a huge ceiling but is a good bet to have a respectable big league career. He didn’t have a great 2012 season when posted an OPS of just .675 in 98 games in the California League. The Pennsylvania native is too aggressive for his own good and needs to wait for better pitches to drive. His key offensive skills are both his plus speed and his small-ball skills.
Defensively, Spangenberg could be a solid second baseman with above-average range, although he’s still learning the finer aspects of playing the position. Despite the rough 2012, he’ll likely open 2013 in double-A and could reach the majors at some point in 2014. He doesn’t have a huge ceiling but he could be an average big leaguer at second base, or an above-average utility player.
Peterson is a solid shortstop prospect but he’s not flashy. He’s an outstanding athlete but he brings a football mentality to the game. Defensively, he has average range, a solid arm and decent actions. The left-handed hitter understands his strengths as a hitter and uses the whole field. He doesn’t try to hit home runs and does a nice job of making contact and taking free passes. Peterson, 22, stole more than 50 bases in 2012 and is a good base runner but not a burner.
The infielder spent all of 2012 in low-A ball, which is somewhat unusual for a highly-drafted college product. He will move up to the California League in 2013 and should receive a strong offensive boost. Peterson will likely see double-A by the end of the year. With little shortstop depth a head of him, he could be the Padres’ shortstop of the future but his limited size and lack of projection could force him to a back-up role.
The Padres’ fourth pick before the second round of the 2012 draft — and third prep pitcher — Weickel slipped to the 55th overall selection because of an inconsistent senior year in high school. The right-hander has a strong, projectable frame and stands 6’6”.
He has a low-90s fastball that has touched the mid-90s in the past, but his secondary stuff (curveball, changeup) is still raw. Weickel, 19, gets an excellent downward plane on his pitches and could develop into a No. 3 starter. The Florida native, who turned down the University of Miami, will likely open 2013 in low-A ball but should spend the full year at that level and could need another four years or more to reach the majors.
Sampson, 22, was another talented pitcher in the organization that jumped over high-A ball to avoid the hitter-happy California League and, like Adys Portillo, he struggled with the two-level promotion. The right-handed pitcher has a fastball that can hit 95 mph and he backs it up with a potentially-plus changeup. His curveball needs work to become an average offering.
Sampson should move up to triple-A to being 2013 after struggling in mid-2012 before making some adjustments. He could be ready for full-time duty at the major league level in 2014 but could end up in the bullpen if his breaking ball does not improve. With an average curveball, he has the potential to develop into a No. 3 or 4 starter, but that’s a significant “if.”
Darnell has been bouncing around the Padres’ top prospects lists since he was selected in the second round of the 2008 draft out of the University of South Carolina. Injuries, including a nagging shoulder injury that required surgery in 2012, have slowed his ascent. He appeared in just 31 triple-A games and seven big league games. He sells out to hit for power and falls into a pull-happy approach.
The prospect Darnell, 26, is probably ready for the majors from an offensive standpoint, but his natural position is third base. He also has experience at left field, which is probably his best position, and there has been talk that he could also see time at second base. At worst, Darnell could have a solid career as an offensive-minded utility player.