San Diego Padres: Top 10 Prospects With Scouting Reports

San Diego Padres: Scouting Reports




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, 2009.

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After a tumultuous 2008 season in which the big league club sputtered, several top prospects took steps backward and another first-round pick was beset by an injury at the onset of his pro career, the Padres seemed much more than a year removed from 2007, when they came within three outs of a third consecutive playoff appearance.

San Diego lost 99 games last season, its most since 1993, and finished in last place in the National League West for the first time since 2003. The future direction of the franchise doesn't look much brighter, as the Padres spent the offseason looking to shed payroll as owner John Moores goes through a divorce. Moores is trying to sell the club as part of the settlement, with former agent and Diamondbacks CEO Jeff Moorad emerging as the likely buyer.

The Padres dumped Khalil Greene on the Cardinals in December, but received only righthanded reliever Mark Worrell and a fringe player to be named in return. They unsuccessfully tried to divest themselves of 2007 Cy Young Award winner Jake Peavy because he has $63 million remaining on his contract, but turned down intriguing packages from the Braves (reportedly starting with Yunel Escobar and outfield prospect Gorkys Hernandez) and the Cubs (reportedly beginning with third baseman Josh Vitters, the third overall pick in the 2007 draft) before both clubs gave up dealing with San Diego.

With their season going nowhere, the Padres gave auditions to several youngsters. Last year's No. 1 prospect, Chase Headley, played well after a mid-June promotion and took over the left-field job. Likewise, rookie catcher Nick Hundley ascended to the role of regular by season's end. Second baseman Matt Antonelli, righthander Josh Geer, lefty Wade LeBlanc and outfielder Max Venable got the chance to play regularly in September as San Diego searched for potential 2009 contributors.

The farm system produced as many disappointments as it did rookies, however. Antonelli and LeBlanc endured growing pains as they adjusted to Triple-A competition. Most of the top pitching prospects took a step back, as Mat Latos worked just 25 innings in full-season ball; Drew Miller posted a 6.10 ERA in high Class A; Steve Garrison had rotator-cuff surgery; and Will Inman saw his control slip.

The Padres' string of draft misfortune continued in 2008. First baseman Allan Dykstra, the 23rd overall pick, had his bonus reduced by $250,000 after a physical raised questions about his right hip. The situation mirrored that of 2003 first-rounder Tim Stauffer, who also signed for a diminished bonus after an MRI revealed weakness in his shoulder.

San Diego has made only one first-round selection in six drafts—Antonelli in 2006—who hasn't been besieged by health concerns. Matt Bush (2004), Cesar Carrillo (2005) and Nick Schmidt (2007) all had Tommy John surgery in 2007.

Perhaps the Padres' most positive development of 2008 occurred on July 2, when international scouting director Randy Smith and his staff signed three premium talents to seven-figure bonuses: Venezuelan righthander Adis Portillo ($2 million), Venezuelan outfielder Luis Domoromo ($1.25 million) and Dominican shortstop Alvaro Aristy ($1 million). The organization also was excited by toolsy Australian rules footballer Corey Adamson ($500,000), whom they envision developing into a lefthanded slugger.

1.  Kyle Blanks, 1b   Born: Sept. 11, 1986. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-6. Wt.: 280.
 Drafted: Yavapai (Ariz.) JC, D/F 2004 (42nd round).  Signed by: Jake Wilson.
Kyle BlanksBackground: The Padres had the No. 1 overall pick in the 2004 draft, but their best choice turned out to be their 42nd-rounder. They signed Blanks, a big kid from small Moriarty (N.M.) High, for $260,000 a year later as a draft-and-follow. In his lone season at Yavapai (Ariz.) JC, he led the wood-bat Arizona Community College Athletic Conference in batting (.440), doubles (25) and RBIs (47). Had he not signed, Blanks projected as a top-five-rounds talent for the 2005 draft. He led the Rookie-level Arizona League with seven homers in his pro debut, but a major leg infection knocked him out in mid-July of his 2006 follow-up. He re-established his prospect credentials in 2007, when he became the first righthanded hitter to top 20 homers for high Class A Lake Elsinore since Xavier Nady in 2001. He turned his second straight 20-homer, 100-RBI campaign in 2008 at Double-A San Antonio, this time in a pitcher's park.

Strengths: No active player resembles Blanks, not entirely. He's an intimidating 6-foot-6 and 280 pounds and built like a football tight end, yet he exhibits strong bat control instead of always selling out for power. In fact, he takes pride in his ability to hit for average and focuses on taking the ball to center and right field when pitchers work him away—and that's despite having the raw power to rival any player in the system. He has tightened his strike zone and closed holes in his swing each season. Blanks is athletic for his size and an average runner under way. He throws very well and shows surprising agility and hands at first base, where he has average potential as a defender. Blanks' advocates think he has sufficient range and instincts to play an outfield corner, though he has played just two games there as a pro (both in 2005). He has done a good job monitoring his weight since ballooning to nearly 300 pounds after his layoff in 2006.

Weaknesses: Despite incorporating a stride and a sense of timing in his swing in 2007, Blanks still has a tendency to hit with dead hands because he uses a minimal load to his swing. That cuts into his home run production, but it does make him less susceptible to hard stuff on the inner half. He hasn't shown much power against lefthanders the last two seasons, as he has struggled to stay back on their backdoor breaking balls. He's much more comfortable facing righthanders, even sidearmers and submariners, because they tend to work him hard inside and he can just react. Blanks will need to continue to make conditioning a priority. He has slowed a bit since signing and isn't quick out of the batter's box.

The Future: After refining his batting eye in the Arizona Fall League, where he posted a .430 on-base percentage, Blanks is ticketed for Triple-A Portland. He may learn to play left field, though San Diego has yet to make a final decision. At first base, he's blocked by all-star Adrian Gonzalez. But if Blanks continues to produce like he has the last two seasons, the Padres will find room in their lineup for him. Trading Gonzalez would create an opening and cut costs.
 
2008 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
San Antonio (AA)
.325
.404
.514
492
75
160
23
5
20
107
51
90
5
 
2.  Mat Latos, rhp   Born: Dec. 9, 1987. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-5. Wt.: 210.
Drafted: Broward (Fla.) CC, D/F 2006 (11th round). Signed by: Joe Bochy.
Mat LatosBackground: Questionable maturity and seven-figure bonus demands pushed Latos to the 11th round of the 2006 draft—even though he featured one of the best pure arms available. He signed for $1.25 million as a draft-and-follow the next spring. Latos ranked as the short-season Northwest League's No. 1 prospect in his 2007 debut, but shoulder, oblique and attitude problems hampered him in 2008.

Strengths: Latos' raw stuff is ridiculously good. His fastball sits at 94-95 mph and touches 97 with tremendous downhill plane by virtue of the leverage created by his 6-foot-5 frame. It's at least a 70 pitch on the 20-80 scouting scale. He cleaned up his hard, late-breaking slider, which features fierce two-plane movement coming out of his high three-quarters arm slot. He came into pro ball with a spike changeup, which he used as a chase pitch, but he took to a straight changeup grip in 2008 and his new pitch shows promise. He showed improved control last season.

Weaknesses: Though Latos shows strong competitive makeup when pitching, it's a different matter entirely between starts. He tends to reject structure, lacks a commitment to improve and rubs teammates the wrong way with his flippant attitude. His command isn't as good as his control.

The Future: Latos could pitch at the front of a rotation or in a critical bullpen role, and he could reach the majors as early as 2010. If he stays healthy and focused, he should reach Double-A at some point this year.
 
2008 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Fort Wayne (LoA)
0
3
3.28
7
5
0
0
24.2
24
3
8
23
.250
Padres (R)
1
0
3.21
5
3
0
0
14
12
0
2
23
.231
Eugene (SS)
2
0
1.04
3
3
0
0
17.1
13
1
3
23
.197
 
3.  Jaff Decker, of   Born: Feb. 23, 1990. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 5-10. Wt.: 190.
 Drafted: HS—Peoria, Ariz., 2008 (1st round supplemental). Signed by: Dave Lottsfeldt.
Jaff DeckerBackground: Just as Cedric Hunter did in 2006, Decker won Arizona League MVP honors in his pro debut. He led the AZL in runs (51), walks (55) and on-base percentage (.523) while finishing second in the batting race (.352). He played high school ball in Peoria, the same Phoenix suburb where the Padres' training complex is located, and signed for $892,000 as a supplemental first-rounder.

Strengths: Though he has no projection remaining in his 5-foot-10, 190-pound frame, Decker drew San Diego's interest because of his innate hitting ability, strike-zone awareness and plus power potential. He's short and quick to the ball, keeps his hands back and uses the whole field. He threw in the low 90s as a two-way player in high school, so he has a plus arm.

Weaknesses: Because he hits from an open stance, Decker has a tendency to dive toward the plate. He may need to close his stance somewhat to better stride toward the pitcher. Though he played center field as an amateur, his fringy speed and build will limit him to right field as a pro. He'll need to keep his body in top playing shape to retain his limited athleticism.

The Future: Decker's debut proved that he was one of the top high school bats in the 2008 draft. He'll advance to the low Class A Midwest League, where the hitting environment and weather is much less hospitable than in the AZL.
 
2008 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Padres (R)
.352
.523
.541
159
51
56
11
2
5
34
55
36
9
Eugene (SS)
.200
.333
.200
10
2
2
0
0
0
0
2
5
0
 
4.  Kellen Kulbacki, of   Born: Nov. 21, 1985. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 5-11. Wt.: 185.
 Drafted: James Madison, 2007 (1st round supplemental). Signed by: Ash Lawson.
Kellen KulbackiBackground: Kulbacki led NCAA Division I with 24 homers and a .943 slugging percentage as a James Madison sophomore in 2006. The Padres made him the 40th overall pick a year later and signed him for $765,000. He missed most of spring training last year with a pulled hamstring and consequently started slowly at low Class A Fort Wayne. Promoted to high Class A, he finished fifth in the California League with 20 homers in just 84 games.

Strengths: At his best, Kulbacki employs a short, compact, low-maintenance swing. He took to a mechanical adjustment in 2008 that helped him keep his head level during his swing, which helped him overcome his struggles early in 2008. Though he possesses just average bat speed, his short arms ensure that he rarely gets tied up inside. With good plate coverage, pitch recognition and a knack for barreling the ball, he projects to hit for average as well as power.

Weaknesses: With fringy speed and a noncommittal approach to improving his outfield play, Kulbacki profiles best in left field. His arm is average at best. When he gets into ruts, it's usually because he extends his arms too far from his body  and doesn't stay through the ball.

The Future: Kulbacki tore the labrum in his right shoulder after crashing into an outfield wall during the Cal League playoffs, during which he hit two homers in three games. He had surgery and is expected to be ready for spring training, with an assignment to Double-A to follow.
 
2008 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Fort Wayne (LoA)
.164
.260
.295
61
9
10
2
0
2
9
9
19
0
Lake Elsinore (HiA)
.332
.428
.589
304
62
101
18
0
20
66
47
52
1
 
5.  Adys Portillo, rhp   Born: Dec. 20, 1991. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 
6-3. Wt.: 195.
 Signed: Venezuela, 2008. Signed by: Yfrain Linares/Felix Feliz/Randy Smith.
Adys PortilloBackground: The consensus No. 2 pitching prospect in the 2008 international signing period—behind only Athletics righthander Michael Inoa—Portillo signed for $2 million in July. It was the highest bonus ever for a Venezuelan until the Reds signed outfielder Yorman Rodriguez for $2.5 million a month later. Miguel Cabrera received $1.8 million from the Marlins in 1999, which stood as the Venezuelan bonus record for nearly a decade.

Strengths: A wiry 6-foot-3, Portillo boasts plus arm strength and a classic pitcher's frame and projectability. He already pitches at 90-92 mph and touched 95 in Dominican instructional league. He has shown a feel for a changeup that has above-average potential. The Padres value Portillo's polish, clean mechanics and mound presence.

Weaknesses: Portillo didn't draw uniformly high marks among international scouts for his command, with the chief criticism being that he was wild in the zone during bullpen sessions. His downer curveball also failed to impress scouts last summer, earning below-average grades, but San Diego is optimistic about its development.

The Future: Portillo is just 17, so he has plenty of time to develop. The Padres won't rush him, but he's a strong candidate to forego the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League and begin his pro career in the Arizona League.
 
2008 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Did Not Play—Signed 2009 Contract
 
6.  Cedric Hunter, of   Born: March 10, 1988. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 
6-0. Wt.: 185.
Drafted: HS—Lithonia, Ga., 2006 (3rd round). Signed by: Pete DeYoung.
Cedric HunterBackground: Hunter won Arizona League MVP honors in his 2006 debut, reaching base in his first 49 games. He appeared much more mortal in the tough hitting environment of the Midwest League in 2007, but he got back to basics last season he led the minors with 186 hits.

Strengths: An aggressive hitter, Hunter has the hand-eye coordination and all-fields approach to hit for a high average. He employs a high leg kick, but he loads his hands well and maintains balance throughout his swing, helping him handle lefties as well as righties. Strong wrists help him generate above-average bat speed. An exceptional contact hitter with plus strike-zone command, Hunter ranked as the fifth most difficult minor leaguer to strike out last year (13.6 plate appearances per whiff). He improved his range in center field by getting better reads on balls. He's a solid runner underway.

Weaknesses: Hunter can pull the ball for power, but he projects to be below-average in that department because his swing lacks natural loft. He still projects as just a borderline average center fielder because of inconsistent routes and a lack of first-step quickness. His arm is below-average.

The Future: The Padres noticed an improved disposition from Hunter after he seemed a bit distracted by all his press clippings in 2007. He's ready for Double-A and he could receive a center-field audition in San Diego as early as 2010.
 
2008 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Lake Elsinore (HiA)
.318
.362
.442
584
98
186
33
3
11
84
42
47
12
 
7.  Will Venable, of   Born: Oct. 29, 1982. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 205.
 Drafted: Princeton, 2005 (7th round). Signed by: Jim Bretz.
Will VenableBackground: An all-Ivy League selection in both basketball and baseball as a senior at Princeton, Venable focused on hoops as an amateur. After a lackluster Double-A season in 2007, he made giant strides in Triple-A last year, hitting for more power while learning to play center field. His father Max, who played 12 years in the majors, served as the hitting coach at Portland.

Strengths: Venable is a strong, live-bodied athlete with the natural aptitude required to pick things up quickly. That's why the Padres view him as a potential 20-25 home run hitter in time. His pure lefthanded stroke and solid bat speed already produce the line drives needed to hit for average. He has average speed and is a smart baserunner who reads pitchers well. He's an average defender in left field.

Weaknesses: Despite a solid base of skills, Venable lacks the one dominating tool that will guarantee him regular play. He probably lacks the first-step quickness to hold down center field on an everyday basis. His arm is below-average.

The Future: Though he's already 26, Venable's combination of athleticism and aptitude has won him many admirers in the organization. Those who buy in completely see a potential David Justice, while those who don't see a tweener without enough bat for a corner or range for center. For now, he's in San Diego's center-field mix.
 
2008 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Portland (AAA)
.292
.361
.464
442
70
129
26
4
14
58
44
103
7
San Diego
.264
.339
.391
110
16
29
4
2
2
10
13
21
1
 
8.  Allan Dykstra, 1b   Born: May 21, 1987. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-5. Wt.: 215.
 Drafted: Wake Forest, 2008 (1st round). Signed by: Ash Lawson.
Allan DykstraBackground: The Padres drafted Dykstra 23rd overall in 2008 and signed him for $1.15 million, but not before reducing his bonus by $250,000 after a physical raised concerns about his surgically repaired right hip. The San Diego native suffered avascular necrosis in the joint, the result of a fall while playing basketball in high school, and the condition may or may not worsen during his career. For his part, he proved to be durable at Wake Forest, missing just one game in three years.

Strengths: Dykstra features the plus-plus raw power and plate discipline that the Padres covet. He controls the zone and has a true bat path, so he should hit for some average as well. He has an above-average arm, strong enough that he played a bit of third base in college.

Weaknesses: It's impossible to ignore the degenerative nature of Dykstra's hip ailment. He developed a bad habit of striding toward the plate in college, where pitchers steadily worked him away with offspeed stuff. This resulted in an overly pull-conscious approach and left him vulnerable to good fastballs on the inner third of the plate. He spent time in instructional league simply working on stepping toward the pitcher so that his hands could get to the ball and drive through it. He's a below-average athlete, runner and defender at first base.

The Future: Dykstra's power and sound batter's eye should hasten his arrival at Double-A, which could happen at some point in his first full pro season. He's blocked by Adrian Gonzalez and Kyle Blanks ahead of him, and Dykstra can't move to another position. 
 
2008 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Lake Elsinore (HiA)
.292
.469
.458
24
5
7
1
0
1
10
7
7
0
 
9.  Matt Antonelli, 2b   Born: April 8, 1985. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 200.
 Drafted: Wake Forest, 2006 (1st round). Signed by: Ash Lawson.
Matt AntonelliBackground: Since signing for $1.575 million as the 2006 draft's 17th overall pick, Antonelli has careened from one extreme to the other—and now back again. He went homerless and slugged .356 in his pro debut, then bashed 21 homers and slugged .491 in 2007. He thudded back to earth last season in Triple-A but rallied in August to earn a September callup to the majors, where he looked overmatched.

Strengths: Despite his struggles, Antonelli never lost his feel for the strike zone and his 76 walks ranked third in the Pacific Coast League. A quality athlete who's a former Massachusetts high school player of the year in football and hockey, he has average raw power and plus speed underway. His arm is above-average for a second baseman. His outstanding makeup was on full display as he held up mentally through a difficult season.

Weaknesses: Some wonder if the strength Antonelli has added since turning pro has cut into his bat speed and fluidity. He's very rotational in his upper half, as he remains resistant to incorporating a stride and more separation in the load of his swing. As a result, he failed to get carry because he didn't stay through the ball. Added bulk also cost Antonelli a step on defense, where he doesn't get good jumps and struggles with the double-play pivot.

The Future: Antonelli has much to prove in 2009. He could win San Diego's second-base job, but if his bat doesn't come around, he'll probably see work at third base and center field in an effort to increase his versatility.
 
2008 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Portland (AAA)
.215
.335
.332
451
62
97
19
4
7
39
76
86
6
San Diego
.193
.292
.281
57
6
11
2
0
1
3
5
11
0
 
10.  James Darnell, 3b   Born: Jan. 19, 1987. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 195.
 Drafted: South Carolina, 2008 (2nd round). Signed by: Anthony Byrd.
James DarnellBackground: Though he was just the third South Carolina player drafted in June, Darnell offers more athleticism and potential five-tool talent than first-rounders Justin Smoak and Reese Havens. He wowed observers in the Northwest League after signing at the deadline for $740,000.

Strengths: Darnell generates plus power to all fields with a strong lower half. He consistently has hit for average in college and pro ball. Offering surprising agility for his size, he's a plus runner who has average range and a strong throwing arm at third base. He receives uniformly high marks for his makeup and aptitude, as he worked diligently in instructional league to stay through the ball and add arc to his swing because his homers tend to be of the line-drive variety.

Weaknesses: Though he recognizes pitches well, Darnell struggles to stay back on offspeed pitches because he rotates early in his swing. While he has flashes of brilliance at the hot corner, his footwork needs refinement, his hands aren't the softest and his arm is erratic at times. He has the tools to play right field if he has to move.

The Future: Darnell is a classic Padres pick—a high-character college player who controls the strike zone. With his athleticism and power, though, the potential is there for him to develop into a second-round steal. Darnell could begin his first full season in high Class A.
 
2008 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Eugene (SS)
.373
.462
.582
67
9
25
6
1
2
15
11
12
1

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Photo Credits: John Williamson (Blanks)
Bill Mitchell (Decker, Kulbacki, Portillo, Darnell)