Top 15 Prospects: San Diego Padres

The San Diego system is deep. What’s most impressive is that the organization has been able to bulk up its minor league depth through a variety of methods: drafting, international free agency and trades. In particular, scouting director Jaron Madison had an outstanding draft in 2011. Even with the loss of some of its front office talent much more remains. The loss of young hurler Mat Latos through a trade with Cincinnati was a ballsy move and it stings a little but the organization is ultimately stronger for it. This is an organization on the upswing.

1. Yonder Alonso, 1B
BORN: April 8, 1987
EXPERIENCE: 4 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2008 1st round (7th overall), University of Miami (by Cincinnati)
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: 5th (Reds)

With the recent trade of fellow first base prospect Anthony Rizzo to the Chicago Cubs, Alonso is set to be San Diego’s starting first baseman in 2012. His ability to use the entire field and provide opposite-field pop will suit him well in his new ball park. Although he doesn’t have prototypical power (His power grades a 50), Alonso has the ability to hit for average and he has a strong eye at the plate that leads to a healthy number of walks. No longer blocked by Joey Votto in Cincinnati, the ugly experiment of placing Alonso is left field is over. He’ll return to his natural position of first base for the Padres, where he could eventually provide average to slightly-above-average defense at the position.

2. Yasmani Grandal, C
BORN: Nov. 8, 1988
EXPERIENCE: 2 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2010 1st round (12th overall), University of Miami (by Cincinnati)
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: 4th (Reds)

Like Yonder Alonso, Grandal was recently acquired from the Cincinnati Reds at the cost of young, talented hurler Mat Latos. The catcher is not as advanced as his trade-mate but he should open 2012 in triple-A and is about a year away from challenging the underrated Nick Hundley for the starting catcher’s job in San Diego. Grandal is a strong offensive-minded catcher who has hit well everywhere he’s played. He provides a solid batting average, power, and takes a good number of walks. His ability to switch hit gives him added value. On the defensive side, Grandal has his detractors, although he’s made some strides to clean up his receiving. He threw out more than 30% of base runners in ’11.

3. Rymer Liriano, OF
BORN: June 20, 1991
EXPERIENCE: 4 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2007 international free agent
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: Off

A key international signing, Liriano’s results have started to catch up to his tools. Just 20 years old in 2011, Liriano dominated low-A ball with a wRC+ of 157. He hit for average, got on base and ran like the wind. After nabbing 31 bases in ’10, he more than doubled that last season with 66 steals. The youngster showed some pop too with an ISO rate of .180; he could eventually grow into 20-25 home run power, which is good because his lower half is thickening up and that could eventually rob him of some of his speed. Liriano currently has the range to play center field but he’ll likely end up as a right-fielder where he’ll provide above-average arm strength.

4. Jedd Gyorko, 3B
BORN: Sept. 23, 1988
EXPERIENCE: 2 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2010 2nd round, University of West Virginia
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: 5th

An excellent value as a second round draft pick, Gyorko has hit better than expected in pro ball, although he’s also played in some strong hitter’s parks. A poor-fielding college shortstop, he’s settled in at third base where he’s OK thanks to decent range but his arm is average-at-best for the position. The club will eventually find a spot for him, though, as he posted a wRC+ of 169 in high-A ball before moving up to double-A where he continued to rake. On the year, Gyorko slugged 25 home runs, although his over-the-fence pop diminished once he left the cozy confines of the California League (ISO rate from .274 to .140). In the Majors, he’ll probably hit 15-20 homers, although that number could be muted further while playing half his games in San Diego. Luckily, he’ll also projects to hit for average thanks to his willingness to use the entire field.

According to a scout that I talked to about the Padres third base prospect, he has no doubt that Gyorko will be a solid third baseman. “His hands and feet work, he has an average arm, and his athleticism grows on you as you see him more. I thought the ingredients for his secondary tools to play were there and I think he’s proven himself in those facets of the game so far. Now he’s not going to be a gold glover, but he’s not going to be one of those guys that has to knock in more than he lets in.”

When asked if Gyorko’s power output in ’11 was for real, he gave an emphatic “yes,” but added that he was more of a line-drive hitter. “I believe his swing is more geared towards doubles which plays up the average grade some, so somewhere in the 40-45 doubles and 15-17 home run range at the big league level. The environment may push the home run total down in the future, but a line drive plays in any ballpark and with the juice in his bat and the gap-to-gap approach I don’t think you’re going to see a big hit in the home run department from level to level.”

The scout also commented that he had little doubt that Gyorko will develop into a productive big league player. “Jedd doesn’t have the ideal body type, so he will always fight the battle of staying in shape, but I have zero questions with his ability to do that. The kid’s a very impressive competitor and he’s super motivated to not just make it, but stay in the big leagues for a long time.”

5. Austin Hedges, C
BORN: Aug. 18, 1992
ACQUIRED: 2011 2nd round, California HS
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: NA

The best defensive catcher in the 2011 draft, among both the prep and college ranks, Hedges could eventually carve out a similar career to former Padre Brad Ausmus. The young catcher is a plus defender both in terms of receiving and throwing skills. He also calls an advanced game and shows good leadership for his age. At the plate, though, there are questions. Hedges is too aggressive for his own good at the plate but he has plenty of time to hone his hitting skills, especially now that he has Yasmani Grandal ahead of him on the depth chart.

6. Casey Kelly, RHP
BORN: Oct. 4, 1989
EXPERIENCE: 4 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2008 1st round (30th overall), Florida HS
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: Unranked (traded shortly after the Padres Top 10 was posted)

Kelly entered pro ball with the Red Sox organization as a two-way player but eventually gave up hitting (His preferred role) to focus full time on pitching. The right-hander has a decent year in 2011, his first in the Padres organization. After spending 2010 in double-A, Kelly returned to the same level in ’11 and posted a 3.98 ERA (3.59 FIP) in 142.1 innings of work. He displays above-average control for his age thanks in part due to repeatable mechanics and natural athleticism. Kelly, though, did not strike out many batters and never really has and he also gave up a lot of hits – both of which combine to limit his ceiling a bit. His heater does get good sink and he induces a lot of ground-ball outs so he’ll need a strong defense behind him. Kelly’s repertoire includes an 88-94 mph fastball, potentially-plus curveball and a developing changeup. He has the ceiling of a No. 3 starter.

7. Robbie Erlin, LHP
BORN: Oct. 8, 1990
EXPERIENCE: 3 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2009 3rd round, California HS (by Texas)
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: 4th (Rangers)

Erlin is sort of a left-handed version of Casey Kelly in the sense that his main strength is his above-average control. The southpaw strikes out more batters, though, because he has added deception to his delivery, mixes his pitches like a veteran, and also has more run to his average-velocity heater. Erlin’s repertoire is a little more well-rounded, as well, with a solid curveball and a changeup that is quickly turning into a plus pitch. Acquired last season from Texas, his overall package is better suited to the National League and he could really thrive in San Diego. Erlin has the ceiling of a No. 3 starter but he could perhaps pitch up to the level of a No. 2 starter given his home ballpark.

8. Cory Spangenberg, 2B/3B
BORN: March 16, 1991
EXPERIENCE: 1 season
ACQUIRED: 2011 1st round (10th overall), Florida Junior College
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: NA

Spangenberg would likely rank higher on this list if his defensive home was a little more settled. An amateur third baseman, he was switched to second base in his pro debut and showed good range and but he needs to clean up his actions and foot work – something he’s surely to do with more experience. Center field could also eventually be another home for Spangenberg. The athletic prospect is an above-average hitter and runner with a below-average power tool. After walking twice as much as he struck out in short-season ball, his BB-K rate shifted significantly from 2.07 to 0.33 (and he also drove the ball a lot less frequently) when he was promoted to low-A, suggesting he might need some more seasoning in A-ball before being pushed too hard.

9. Joe Ross, RHP
BORN: May 21, 1993
ACQUIRED: 2011 1st round (25th overall), California HS
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: NA

The brother of Oakland reliever Tyson Ross, Joe Ross has even more potential than his older brother because he has all the ingredients necessary to stick in the starting rotation. A strong athlete with a solid pitcher’s frame, the right-hander showcases three solid pitches in a low-90s fastball (that can touch 94-95 mph), potentially-plus changeup and a developing curveball. Ross didn’t pitch after signing but Ross could begin 2012 in low-A ball given his advanced feel for pitching.

10. Joe Wieland, RHP
BORN: Jan. 21, 1990
EXPERIENCE: 4 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2008 4th round, Nevada HS (by Texas)
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: Off (Rangers)

Another piece from the Mike Adams trade with Texas in ’11, Wieland has developed quickly as a pro and currently projects as a No. 3 starter at the big league level. He split last season between high-A and double-A, posting excellent numbers at both levels, although his strikeout rate dropped once he reached the senior level. Wieland displays above-average control for his age. He has an average fastball in the 87-92 mph range (it can touch 93-94 mph at times) and his repertoire also includes three other average offerings in a curveball, slider, and changeup. Wieland has the ceiling of a No. 3 or 4 starter.

The Next Five:

11. Keyvius Sampson, RHP: Injury issues have slowed Sampson’s ascent to top prospect but he’s starting to get the recognition that he deserves. He used his two above-average pitches (fastball, changeup) to strike out a healthy number of batters (10.91 K/9) in low-A ball last season. Sampson also showed improved durability by almost tripling his innings total from 43 in ’10 to 118 in ’11. As he moves up the ladder, the right-hander will need to tighten up his curveball or he could end up as a set-up man in the Majors. With a number of solid pitching prospects ahead of him, the Padres organization can afford to be patient with his development.

12. James Darnell, 3B/OF: Soley a third baseman prior to 2011, Darnell also received 24 appearances in the outfield while playing at both double-A and triple-A – thanks to the presence of Chase Headley at the MLB level. Darnell is not an overly gifted fielder at the hot corner, he’s not very athletic and his main source of value is tied up in his bat (and power). As a result, he may not be a very successful player if half his games occur in San Diego’s spacious park. A trade would be the best thing for him and the organization.

13. Brad Boxberger, RHP: Part of the loot for Mat Latos, Boxberger has the chance to develop into a high-leverage reliever for the Padres. The right-hander has a fastball that sits around 93-95 mph with good movement. His slider has the potential to develop into a plus pitch and he may eventually ditch the below-average changeup or at least use it extremely sparingly. If he become more consistent with command and control than Boxberger could see some time as a big league closer.

14. Jaff Decker, OF: After missing a good chunk of 2010 due to injury, Decker return at full strength in ’11 but he hit just .236 at double-A. He hit very well in the low minors but has struggled to hit for average since reaching high-A ball, leading to question marks about his overall potential. Decker doesn’t have much defensive value and is limited to left field or first base (which he’s really too short for at 5’10”).

15. Reymond Fuentes, OF: With the trade of Anthony Rizzo to Chicago, the organization is left with Casey Kelly and Fuentes as the loot acquired from Boston in the Adrian Gonzalez trade. Fuentes struggled a bit in high-A ball in ’11 and posted a wRC+ of just 88. The main issue was the number of strikeouts (20.4 K%). On the plus side, Fuentes stole 40+ bases for the second straight season and also continued to play stellar defense.

SLEEPER ALERT: Alberth Martinez, OF: Martinez is a young player that does a little bit of everything on the baseball diamond. He’s a strong defender with good arm strength and should develop into a solid right fielder. Martinez also showed advanced hitting skills, posting a wRC+ of 154 with good pop in Rookie ball. He’s a little too aggressive at the plate but he does a nice job barreling the ball and he also makes good use of his slightly-above-average speed – both on the bases and in the field. The organization should challenge him with a promotion to low-A in ’12 and it will be a key year in helping to determine if he has what it takes to be an everyday player or if he’s more of a role player.

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Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects, depth charts and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.