One less prospect for the 2010 Handbook: Yusei Kikuchi decided Sunday that he won't follow Junichi Tazawa's path. A Japanese high school lefthander, Kikuchi drew interest from several major league clubs after announcing his intention to come directly to the United States, but now will enter the Japanese draft on Thursday. Kikuchi is more raw but has a higher ceiling than Tazawa, with reports that his fastball has touched the mid-90s.
After missing all of August with elbow problems, Parker hoped rehabilitation rather than surgery would get him back on the mound, but he'll go under the knife on Wednesday. He'll probably miss all of the 2010 season and may not reclaim his stuff and command until mid-2011.
The numerous success stories of players coming back from Tommy John surgery as good as or better than new—starting with Tommy John and also including Chris Carpenter, John Smoltz, Kerry Wood and untouchable Phillies prospect Kyle Drabek, among many others—temper any concerns about Parker's long-term future. On the other hand, instead of being able to help the Diamondbacks by mid-2010, he now has timetable pushed back 18-24 months.
That dents Parker's value, but it's just a little ding. Before he got hurt, I would have ranked Parker as the No. 2 pitching prospect in baseball, behind only Stephen Strasburg (Nationals). After all, he had a 93-95 mph fastball, a slider that's at least a plus pitch and a changeup that has a chance to be an above-average offering. He also threw strikes and got a lot of grounders, and power pitchers who do that are destined for success.
Now that Parker will miss all of next season, I'll slot him behind a handful of guys who have proven themselves in the upper minors, such as Madison Bumgarner (Giants), Drabek, Neftali Feliz (Rangers), Brian Matusz (Orioles) and Chris Tillman (Orioles). However, I'm not ready to move him behind youngsters who haven't dazzled anyone above Class A, such as Casey Kelly (Red Sox), Matt Moore (Rays) and Martin Perez (Rangers).
Hoyer has plenty of work to do. At the major league level, the Padres have lost 99 and 87 games the last two seasons. They did finish 2009 on a 37-25 run after a 38-62 start, but that was a mirage.
San Diego has one established cornerstone player in its lineup, Adrian Gonzalez. Its top young major league hitter, Kyle Blanks, is best at first base, which happens to be Gonzalez's position. You can dream on Everth Cabrera and envision him blossoming into an above-average regular, but the rest of the lineup consists of players who are complementary players at best. The only potential frontline starter in the rotation is Mat Latos, who has 51 innings of big league experience. The Padres do have a nice closer in Heath Bell.
The minor league picture is similar. We placed San Diego's farm system 29th in our preseason talent rankings, and in retrospect, we sold the organization short. But the system still lacks high-ceiling players, particularly in the upper levels. Adding Donavan Tate, Everett Williams and Keyvius Sampson via the 2009 draft was a necessary departure from the Padres' previously conservative player-acquisition philosophy, but the club needs several more drafts like that one.
San Diego also has the misfortune of being in a division that features more young talent than most. The Dodgers and Rockies both made the playoffs and have much better young nucleuses than the Padres. So do the Diamondbacks, even if they finished in last place this year. And while the Giants love veterans as much as anyone, they have Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum and Pablo Sandoval to build around, with blue-chip prospects Madison Bumgarner and Buster Posey nearly ready.
Hoyer needs to rebuild, and he probably has to start by dealing Gonzalez and Bell for several prospects, then investing the payroll savings in the draft and the international market. The Padres have a long ways to go before they're ready to contend in the short term or long term.
Thon is an intriguing prospect, for his tools and for his bloodlines. His father Dickie spent 15 seasons in the big leagues and was on his way to stardom before Mike Torrez hit him in the face with a pitch in April 1984. At 6 feet and 180 pounds, Dickie Joe already is a little bigger than his father was. He shows similar quickness and arm strength, but he has yet to grow into the power his dad showed when he hit 20 homers in 1983, his lone all-star season.
Thon's athleticism is ahead of his bat at this point. He runs a 6.84-second 60-yard dash and also stars in basketball, volleyball and track. At the plate, he employs a simple approach and a short swing, content to hit line drives from gap to gap.
There's still seven months before the 2010 draft and a lot can change, but I don't anticipate that Thon will be an early draft pick. He's a fifth- to 10th-round talent and it's usually impossible to sign a high school player away from Rice for that kind of money. If he's considered unsignable, he could go closer to the end of the draft than the top.