Baseball America’s Top 10 Prospects lists are based on projections of a player’s long-term worth after discussions with scouting and player-development personnel. All players who haven’t exceeded the major league rookie standards of 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched (without regard to service time) are eligible. Ages are as of April 1, 2004.
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The Padres� outlook couldn�t have been better at the end of the 1998 season, which they concluded by making the second World Series trip in franchise history. Shortly afterward, voters approved a referendum to help pay for a new ballpark.
Before Opening Day 1999, San Diego lost Kevin Brown, Ken Caminiti and Steve Finley to free agency, and traded Joey Hamilton and Greg Vaughn. The Padres said they couldn�t afford to keep the National League champions intact but promised to have a winner in place when the park opened in 2002.
Neither of those things happened. Ballpark construction fell into a quagmire of 16 separate lawsuits, denying the club the additional revenue it projected. Owner John Moores� dealings with city council member Valerie Stallings were investigated, and while Moores was cleared of wrongdoing, Stallings resigned. One of Moores� companies, Peregrine System, became embroiled in a financial scandal, further cutting down on the cash he could put into the Padres.
As a result, San Diego peaked at 79 victories in the five seasons after it won the pennant. The Padres slid to 64-98 in 2003, their worst record in a decade and better only than the Tigers and Devil Rays. The silver lining is that they gained the No. 1 overall pick in the 2004 draft.
With Petco Park finally ready for 2004, the Padres hope it will mark the dawn of a new era for San Diego baseball. General manager Kevin Towers has said the streak of losing seasons would have stopped in 2002 had the park gone as planned. While teams like the Brewers and Tigers have proven a new ballpark doesn�t guarantee the revitalization of a franchise, the Padres already have taken significant steps to improve their team.
San Diego is one of the few clubs actually expanding its payroll this offseason, moving into the neighborhood of $60 million. In August, they brought San Diego native Brian Giles home in a trade with the Pirates. It was a tribute to the Padres� scouting and resourcefulness that to get him they gave up three young players who were acquired inexpensively. Lefthander Oliver Perez was signed out of Mexico at a bargain price; outfielder Jason Bay was stolen from the Mets in a trade for Steve Reed; and lefthander Cory Stewart came from of the independent Texas-Louisiana League.
Then the Padres, who have had eight different regular catchers (none of them all-stars) since Benito Santiago left after 1992, shored up that position by trading for Oakland�s Ramon Hernandez.
With Khalil Greene ready to step in at shortstop and Mark Loretta keeping second base warm for top prospect Josh Barfield, San Diego has a deep lineup that lacks only a center fielder. The Padres also are optimistic about a rotation built around Jake Peavy, Adam Eaton and Brian Lawrence. As soon as their pitching stabilizes, San Diego once again will be ready to contend in the NL West. It has been a longer wait than expected, but it�s about to end.
Top Prospect: Josh Barfield, 2b
Age: 21 Ht.: 6-0 Wt.: 185 Bats: R Throws: R
Drafted: HS�Spring, Texas, 2001 (4th round)
Signed by: Jimmy Dreyer
Background: Since Bill Gayton took over as scouting director in September 2000, the Padres have spent just three of their 30 choices in the first 10 rounds on high school players. Only the Athletics have made a stronger effort to avoid prep picks. Yet San Diego�s three high school selections happen to be three of its top prospects: Barfield (fourth round, 2001), righthander David Pauley (eighth, 2001) and lefty Sean Thompson (fifth, 2002). The son of former American League home run champ Jesse Barfield, Josh turned down a Baylor scholarship to sign for $300,000. He didn�t receive much hype coming out of high school, and little more when he hit better than .300 in his first two pro seasons. After a breakout 2003, Milwaukee�s Rickie Weeks and Arizona�s Scott Hairston are his only rivals as the top second-base prospects in the game. Barfield won MVP honors in the high Class A California League and led the minors in hits, doubles, RBIs and extra-base hits. The organization�s minor league player of the year, Barfield did it all despite being bothered by a sore right wrist for much of the year. He had offseason surgery to repair ligament damage, which prevented him from playing in the Arizona Fall League.
Strengths: Barfield is a rare second baseman who�s capable of batting third in the order. He uses his quick stroke to smoke line drives all over the field. Not only is he the best hitter in the system, but he�s also the best at making adjustments. Some of his doubles will carry over the fence once he gains more strength and experience, giving him 25-homer power. Barfield isn�t a speedster or a future Gold Glover, but he�s a better runner and defender than most people realize. He complements average speed with fine instincts, and he has succeeded on 77 percent of his basestealing attempts in the minors. The Padres say Barfield will be able to stay at second base, where his sure hands are his best asset.
Weaknesses: Nevertheless, Barfield isn�t a surefire second baseman. He shows a solid-average arm when he only has time to react, but he often makes tentative throws on routine ground balls. He�s still smoothing out his footwork and his double-play pivot. If he fills out like his father, who played at 6-foot-1 and 205 pounds, Barfield may have to move to the outfield. At the plate, he tends to dive into pitches and will have to learn to turn on balls when pitchers work him inside. He could stand to draw a few more walks, though he nearly doubled his total from 27 in 2002 to 50 last year.
The Future: In August, the Padres signed incumbent second baseman Mark Loretta to a two-year, $5.25 million contract extension with a vesting option for 2006. Unless Barfield�s development slows considerably, however, he should be ready by mid-2005 at the latest. His wrist will be 100 percent for spring training, and he�ll open 2004 at Double-A Mobile.