The San Diego Padres’ minor league system has been helped by two straight, strong drafts – which included quite a few advanced college hitters. The club has also been focusing on signing players out of Latin America, which is beginning to have an impact. The strength of the system is hitting and there is very little in the pitching cupboard thanks, in part, to injuries to former top picks such as Cesar Carrillo and Nick Schmidt.
First baseman Kyle Blanks doesn’t really look like a National League style of player… He’s 6’6” and not far off 300 pounds. Despite his size, though, Blanks is surprisingly athletic and there has been talk about turning him into a left-fielder due to the presence of Adrian Gonzalez at first base. Along with having the best power in the system, which he doesn’t always make use of, Blanks hit .325 last season in Double-A. He also has the willingness to take a free pass (9.4 BB%) and does not strike out at a high rate (18.3 K%). Blanks is not exactly the type of player that is suited to playing in San Diego, thanks to the spacious park so he may be most valuable to the club as trade bait for more pitching.
Matt Antonelli was rushed last season and it showed. The former third baseman, now at second, appeared in just 49 games above A-ball in 2007 but began 2008 in Triple-A. Antonelli – whose value is tied into his batting average due to average power, hit just .215/.335/.322 in 451 at-bats at Triple-A and managed a .193 batting average in 57 MLB at-bats. On the plus side, Antonelli got his line up to .290/.391/.473 in 93 August at-bats after spending April and May below .200.
Will Venable, 26, is starting to enter a dangerous territory for prospects, having yet to establish himself at the Major League level despite passing his 25th birthday. Venable held his own in a brief MLB trial last season and hit .264/.339/.391 in 110 at-bats. However, the big club is deep in the outfield and there does not appear to be a spot for Venable, especially after the signing of veteran Cliff Floyd. Venable has an outside shot of making the club simply because he can play center field, although he is better suited to a corner spot.
Mat Latos is the club’s best pitching prospect – and the most advanced despite appearing in just seven games above short-season ball in 2008 thanks to injuries. He conjures up memories of a young Bobby Jenks, of the White Sox, because he has a big-time fastball (can touch 97 mph) but he also has maturity issues. Along with the heater, Latos, 21, possesses a plus slider and a developing change-up. At three stops in 2008, he struck out 69 batters in 56 innings and also showed solid control. Like Jenks, Latos’ lack of drive/focus and injury problems could result in a move to the back of the bullpen.
Scouts felt Kellen Kulbacki’s outstanding college numbers were inflated by his environment, as well as the aluminum bats. Since being drafted in the supplemental first round in 2007, though, Kulbacki has done nothing but hit – for both average and power. In 2008, at High-A ball, the outfielder batted .332 and slugged 20 home runs, albeit playing in a hitter’s league. Impressively, though, Kulbacki also showed good control of the strike zone and posted a walk rate of 13.4 BB% and a strikeout rate of just 17.2 K%.
Yet another outfield prospect, Cedric Hunter, 20, hit .318/.362/.442 in 584 High-A at-bats in 2008. He did not walk much (6.7 BB%), but he also avoided the strikeout (8.0 K%). Hunter lacks the first-step quickness needed to be a prolific base stealer and his range in center in average. Because he won’t hit for much power, most of his value is tied into hitting for average. He led the minor leagues in hits in 2008 with 186.
Allan Dykstra was the club’s first-round pick in the 2008 draft but almost failed to come to terms due to a pre-existing medical condition discovered in his pre-contract physical. Dykstra is a one-dimensional slugger with below-average athleticism. He has a lot of power, though, and could develop into an on-base machine. He appeared in just seven games after signing in 2008, but hit .292 and took seven free passes in High-A ball.
Adys Portillo was given $2 million last season to sign out of Latin America. Only 17, Portillo can already touch 95 mph but he lacks a consistent breaking ball. His second pitch right now is an average change-up. His command/control is below average and he has a lot of work to do before reaching his considerable ceiling.
Outfielder Jaff Decker was considered an advanced high-school hitter when he was drafted by the Padres organization, which traditionally favors college bats. Decker did not disappoint the club and he hit .352/.523/.541 in 159 rookie ball at-bats before a late, three-game taste of A-ball. In the rookie league, Decker posted a ridiculous walk rate of 25.7 BB% and a strikeout rate of 22.6 K%. Along with five home runs, he also stole nine bases. The biggest knock on Decker is his size: 5’10” 190 pounds.
Second baseman Cole Figueroa could be one of the steals of the 2008 draft after being taken in the sixth round as a draft-eligible sophomore. In his debut in short-season ball, he hit .289/.410/.474 with rates of 17.4 BB% and 14.0 K% in 114 at-bats. Figueroa also slugged five home runs and stole seven bases. He has some work to do in the field, but he should develop into an above-average offensive second baseman.
James Darnell was another key 2008 draft pick out of college. The third baseman signed late and appeared in just 16 games but he hit .373 in short-season ball and displayed above-average power. Defensively, Darnell has a strong arm but needs to work on his fielding and accuracy of throws.
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