San Diego Padres: Top 10 Prospects With Scouting Reports

San Diego Padres

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, 2007.

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San Diego Padres

The Padres repeated as National League West champions and had their third consecutive winning season in 2006, both firsts in franchise history. Neither would have happened if not for some astute trades by general manager Kevin Towers.

His biggest deal came in January 2006, when he acquired Adrian Gonzalez, Chris Young and minor league outfielder Terrmel Sledge from the Rangers for Adam Eaton, Akinori Otsuka and catching prospect Billy Killian. Gonzalez, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2000 draft, topped San Diego with a .304 average and 24 homers, while Young won 11 games with a team-best 3.46 ERA and NL-best .206 opponent average.

Two other trades strengthened areas of weakness. After coming over from the Mets for Xavier Nady, Mike Cameron won a Gold Glove in center field and led the Padres with 83 RBIs. In May, the Red Sox wanted Doug Mirabelli back, so they sent the Padres Josh Bard, who hit .338 as part-timer catcher, and Cla Meredith, whose 1.07 ERA was the lowest among NL pitchers with at least 50 innings.

One of the reasons San Diego was active on the trade market is that its farm system lacks depth in the upper levels. Since-traded Josh Barfield hit .280 with 13 homers and played a steady second base as a rookie in 2006, while Clay Hensley (originally signed by the Giants and traded for Matt Herges in 2003) won 11 games. But weak drafts in 2003 and 2004--typified by spending the No. 1 overall choice in the latter draft on Matt Bush--undermined the Padres' prospect pipeline.

Five of the players in the top 10 a year ago either graduated to the big leagues (Barfield, Ben Johnson, Hensley) and/or were traded (George Kottaras, Barfield, Johnson and Freddy Guzman). Eight of the 10 prospects have come from the last two drafts, highlighting the efforts of vice president of scouting and player development Grady Fuson and scouting director Bill Gayton to supplement the system. San Diego also landed two premium draft-and-follows last spring in righthanders Drew Miller and Aaron Breit.

International scouting director Randy Smith's work also has been magnified as the Padres search for their first homegrown Latin American star. Their best hope is Dominican outfielder Yefri Carvajal, signed in 2005 after they lost out in the Fernando Martinez bidding with the Mets. Other standouts signed in the last two years include Dominican third baseman Felix Carrasco and righthander Simon Castro.

Led by the organization's top prospect, outfielder Cedric Hunter, the Rookie-level AZL Padres won the league championship and were one of three San Diego affiliates to qualify for the postseason. Padres farm clubs combined for a .513 winning percentage, their best mark since 2002. After 10 years in Mobile, San Diego will shift its Double-A affiliate to San Antonio in 2007.

The Padres ended an even longer association when they allow manager Bruce Bochy to take the same job with the Giants after the season. The skipper of four of the five division winners in franchise history, Bochy had been at San Diego's helm since 1995, a run surpassed only by Atlanta's Bobby Cox among active managers. The Padres hired Angels pitching coach Bud Black to replace Bochy.

1. Cedric Hunter, of   Born: March 10, 1988B-T: L-LHt: 6-0Wt: 195
 Drafted: HS--Decatur, Ga., 2006 (3rd round)Signed by: Pete DeYoung
Cedric HunterBackground: Hunter has stood out as a hitter everywhere he has played. He held up under the scrutiny of the showcase circuit, thrived against top competition in the East Cobb summer league program in suburban Atlanta and went 1-for-2 in the 2005 Aflac High School All-America Classic. It was no surprise, then, when Hunter hit .580 with 12 homers in 69 at-bats and added 20 steals as a senior at Martin Luther King Jr. High last spring to earn All-America honors. The Padres made him a third round pick last June and signed him for $415,000. While Hunter wasn't as hyped as other high school hitters in his draft class, San Diego was happy to add his polished offensive approach and workmanlike demeanor to the organization. And he delivered right out of the gate, reaching base in his first 49 pro games in the Rookie-level Arizona League, including a 23-game hitting streak. Hunter won AZL MVP honors by leading the complex league in runs, hits and total bases (103) while finishing second to teammate Luis Durango in on-base percentage.

Strengths: Hunter's bat is clearly his best tool. He has excellent hand-eye coordination and impressive balance. He commands the strike zone like a much more experienced hitter--he walked nearly twice as much as he struck out in his pro debut--and laces line drives to all fields with a slashing swing. Hunter showed the ability to let the ball get deep before committing to a pitch and he was rarely fooled by AZL pitchers. A high leg kick serves as his trigger, but he gets his foot down in time and loads his hands well in the process. Hunter's plus instincts help bolster his average speed and range in center field. Because of his impressive first-step quickness, he has a knack for stealing bases. His overall game often gets compared to that of Jacque Jones.

Weaknesses: While he possesses plenty of raw bat speed, Hunter didn't hit for much power in his first taste of pro ball. He makes enough hard contact, though, to become a 15-20 homer hitter down the road. A slight loop in his swing would be of more concern if he didn't square the ball up so consistently. Despite spending time on the mound as a sophomore and hitting 87 mph, Hunter has below-average arm strength. He was limited by a tender elbow in his debut, which often forced him to DH.

The Future: Hunter has the natural hitting instincts and quiet confidence to suggest he'll continue to hit for high averages as he moves up. While his swing and approach don't portend raw power, he has a lean, athletic frame that could add strength as he fills out. If Hunter can stay in center field, that will be a bonus. At this stage, none of his non-hitting tools projects as a plus, but he's intelligent and has tremendous desire to improve. He should be ready for a full-season assignment in 2007, in all likelihood to low Class A Fort Wayne.
AZL Padres (R).371.467.4842134679134144402217
Eugene (SS).267.313.26715040000130
2. Cesar Carrillo, rhp   Born: April 29, 1984B-T: R-RHt: 6-3Wt: 175
 Drafted: Miami, 2005 (1st round)Signed by: Joe Bochy
Cesar CarrilloBackground: Carrillo's strong commitment to Miami and a bout with biceps tendinitis dropped him into the 33rd round of the 2002 draft, where the Royals took him out of a Chicago high school. After sitting out 2003 in a dispute between the university and the NCAA over his ACT score, he won the first 24 decisions of his college career, two shy of the NCAA Division I record. The 18th overall pick in 2005 and recipient of a $1.55 million bonus, Carrillo made just 10 starts last season before straining an elbow ligament in June.

Strengths: Carrillo possesses an above-average 90-94 mph fastball that can reach 96 and features late life and natural sink. His curveball has tight downward break, with the potential to become a plus pitch. Using a three-quarters delivery, he pitches in on righthanders as well as anyone in the system, consistently racking up first-pitch strikes. His delivery is a little herky-jerky but the deception it provides makes it tough for hitters to pick the ball up. He's a tough competitor.

Weaknesses: Though Carrillo didn't need surgery, his elbow didn't improve in time for him to attend instructional league or the Arizona Fall League. Because he didn't need it in college, his changeup still is developing. While he's adept at going in on righties, he doesn't command his fastball to the other side of the plate with the same aplomb.

The Future: The Padres hope that Carrillo will be 100 percent after an offseason of rest. If he is, he'll open the season at Triple-A Portland and could earn a big league callup later in the year. If he isn't, he could be headed for surgery.
Mobile (AA)133.029900514551543.239
Portland (AAA)006.75110032031.222
3. Matt Antonelli, 3b   Born: April 8, 1985B-T: R-RHt: 6-1Wt: 190
 Drafted: Wake Forest, 2006 (1st round)Signed by: Ash Lawson
Matt AntonelliBackground: As a high school senior, Antonelli was the Massachusetts state player of the year in football and hockey--and the runner-up in baseball. He improved his game in each of his three seasons at Wake Forest and turned in two strong summers in the Cape Cod League. Suitably impressed, the Padres made him the 17th overall pick last June and signed him for $1.575 million.

Strengths: Antonelli has excellent pitch recognition skills, make consistent contact and finished second in the short-season Northwest League in on-base percentage in his debut. His swing is compact, though his bat speed is only average. He hits the ball hard to all fields because he stays back well on offspeed pitches. A rare athlete for a third baseman, Antonelli has above-average quickness and speed. Throw in soft hands and a solid arm, and he's a potential Gold Glover at the hot corner.

Weaknesses: The big question with Antonelli is his power. He hit just three homers in two summers using wood bats on the Cape and didn't go deep in his debut. As a result, he worked to improve the load of his swing in instructional league. Because his two-strike approach is so good, he works a lot of deep counts, and some observers think he can get too passive. For such a good athlete, at times he looks like he's exerting maximum effort.

The Future: Antonelli's athleticism gives him versatility, and the Padres auditioned him at second base in instructional league. He has the tools to play just about anywhere on the diamond and might settle in at second or in center field if he doesn't develop the power of a prototypical third baseman. He'll probably jump to high Class A Lake Elsinore for his first full season.
Fort Wayne (LoA).125.222.31316321100260
Eugene (SS).286.426.360189385412102246319
4. Kevin Kouzmanoff, 3b   Born: July 25, 1981B-T: R-RHt: 6-1Wt: 200
 Drafted: Nevada, 2003 (6th round)Signed by: Don Lyle (Indians)
Kevin KouzmanoffBackground: Kouzmanoff earned the nickname "The Crushin' Russian" (though he's actually of Macedonian descent) after homering in each of his first two games in the majors, including a grand slam on the first big league pitch he saw. An unheralded prospect when he signed as a sixth-rounder in 2003, he led the minors in slugging (.656) last year while finishing second in hitting (.379) and fourth in on-base percentage (.437). Because the Indians also had Andy Marte at third base, they felt comfortable including Kouzmanoff with righthander Andrew Brown in a November trade for Josh Barfield.

Strengths: Kouzmanoff has a compact, line-drive stroke that produces power to all fields. He's not a tremendous athlete, but he maximizes his physical skills with all-out play on the bases and in the field. He shows a strong arm and makes the routine plays at third base.

Weaknesses: Some scouts question Kouzmanoff's ability to stay at the hot corner, but the Padres believe he can. He's a below-average runner. Injuries have dogged him the last two years, as he missed two months with a back injury in 2005 and lost time to  back and hamstring strains in 2006.

The Future: After hitting .332/.395/.556 in the minors, Kouzmanoff has nothing left to prove there. He would have faced another year in Triple-A had Cleveland held onto him, but he's the frontrunner to start at third base for San Diego.
Akron (AA).389.449.6602444695191155523342
Buffalo (AAA).353.409.64710222369072010122
5. Will Venable, of   Born: Oct. 29, 1982B-T: L-LHt: 6-2Wt: 205
 Drafted: Princeton, 2005 (7th round)Signed by: Jim Bretz
Will VenableBackground: Venable focused on basketball through high school and college, and was an all-Ivy League selection in both hoops and baseball as a senior at Princeton. Because he's the son of former big leaguer Max Venable, Will had more exposure to baseball than most two-sport stars. In 2006, his first full season, he led the low Class A Midwest League in runs while ranking second in hitting and third in on-base percentage--with Max watching as Fort Wayne's hitting coach.

Strengths: The Padres love Venable's makeup and have been pleasantly surprised by his aptitude for baseball. His pure lefthanded stroke and bat speed produce plenty of line drives, as he showed when he won the Hawaii Winter Baseball batting title by hitting .330. More homers should come as he learns to get backspin on the ball. He has drawn comparisons to Garrett Anderson (including early-career questions about power) and Dave Justice (more for his athletic frame). Venable's strike-zone judgment is sound. He has average speed and refined baserunning instincts for such an inexperienced player.

Weaknesses: Venable doesn't throw well and has below-average range, limiting him to left field. Though he's otherwise a well-round player, he has no standout tool, which will make it difficult for him to stick as a big league regular in left.

The Future: While 2006 was a success, at 23 Venable was older than most of his competition. He'll move to high Class A this year with a chance for a promotion to San Diego's new Double-A San Antonio affiliate at midseason. He projects as a decent regular or good reserve outfielder.
Fort Wayne (LoA).314.389.477472861483451191558118
6. Chase Headley, 3b   Born: May 9, 1984B-T: B-RHt: 6-2Wt: 195
 Drafted: Tennessee, 2005 (2nd round)Signed by: Billy Merkel
Chase HeadleyBackground: Headley spent his freshman year at Pacific before transferring to Tennessee, where he missed significant time as a sophomore with hamstring trouble. After a strong summer in the Cape Cod League. he finished second in NCAA Division I with 63 walks and got drafted in the second round in 2005. He earned all-star recognition in the high Class A California League in his first full pro season.

Strengths: Headley stands out most with his outstanding pitch recognition, allowing him to hit for average and get on base. He's a switch-hitter who has hit significantly better from the left side in pro ball. Defensively, he has a plus arm and clean hands. A high school valedictorian and academic all-American in college, he's intelligent and has strong makeup.

Weaknesses: In the context of the hitter-friendly Cal League, Headley's 12 homers and .434 slugging percentage were unimpressive. The Padres think he can learn to pull the ball with more authority and develop average power. At times he opens up early on throws, resulting in low tosses to first base. He's a below-average runner with heavy feet.

The Future: Though he has no outstanding tool, Headley projects as a potential regular because of his on-base skills and instincts. Destined for Double-A this year, he could push Kevin Kouzmanoff from third base to left field when he's ready.
Lake Elsinore (HiA).291.389.43448479141330127374964
7. Chad Huffman, of   Born: April 29, 1985B-T: R-RHt: 6-1Wt: 205
 Drafted: Texas Christian, 2006 (2nd round)Signed by: Tim Holt
Chad HuffmanBackground: Like his two older brothers, Huffman played both college baseball and football. And like Royce Huffman, a first baseman the Padres signed as minor league free agent in the offseason, Chad was a quarterback and infielder at Texas Christian. He broke Royce's school record for hits as a freshman in 2004, and the Padres signed Chad for $660,000 after making him their second-round pick last June.

Strengths: Scouts always have liked Huffman's bat, and he delivered in his pro debut, leading the short-season Northwest League in on-base percentage while finishing second in hitting and slugging. He's a strong athlete with above-average power and a good hand path that should allow him to hit for average. He shows great plate coverage and tremendous balance throughout his swing, with the ball carrying very well off his bat. He thrives on competition, takes instruction well and always works to improve.

Weaknesses: Huffman has a tendency to get a little wide at the plate, becoming back-leg oriented and showing a little loop in his swing. A second baseman in college, he didn't have the range or footwork to profile as a pro infielder. His speed is average at best, and his range and arm are just playable in left field.

The Future: Because he's advanced at the plate, Huffman could go to high Class A and put up big numbers in the hitter's havens of the California League in his first full season. He could challenge for a big league job in late 2008.
Fort Wayne (LoA).214.313.35714230100220
Eugene (SS).343.439.576198416817194025342
8. Nick Hundley, c   Born: Sept. 8, 1983B-T: R-RHt: 6-1Wt: 210
 Drafted: Arizona, 2005 (2nd round)Signed by: Dave Lottsfeldt
Nick HundleyBackground: A fifth-round pick by the Marlins out of high school, Hundley went three rounds earlier in 2005 after establishing himself as one of college baseball's best all-around catchers. His father Tim is the defensive coordinator for Texas-El Paso's football team. After a slow start in low Class A last year, Nick hit .410 with seven homers in June to earn a promotion.

Strengths: Hundley has sound strike-zone discipline and uses the entire field. He has some strength and power, and should hit enough to profile as an everyday catcher. He has a chance to be the total package as a receiver, with good hands and a strong, accurate arm. He consistently gets the ball to second base in an above-average 1.9 seconds.

Weaknesses: Hundley frequently tries to make the exchange from mitt to hand too quickly, resulting in throws without carry because his legs aren't underneath him. Nevertheless, he threw out 36 percent of basestealers in 2006. His receiving and blocking skills are inconsistent and would benefit if he added flexibility. He's a below-average runner but good for a catcher.

The Future: The Padres want to keep him and Colt Morton on different teams so they each can catch full time, so Hundley could return to high Class A to open 2007. He's clearly San Diego's top prospect at catcher after the 2006 trade of George Kottaras.
Fort Wayne (LoA).274.355.474215295919084425451
Lake Elsinore (HiA).278.357.403176184913032320441
9. Jared Wells, rhp   Born: Oct. 31, 1981B-T: R-RHt: 6-4Wt: 200
 Drafted: San Jacinto (Texas) JC, D/F 2002 (31st round)Signed by: Jay Darnell
Jared WellsBackground: After struggling with consistency early in his career, Wells led the California League with a 3.44 ERA and was the top starter on the U.S. World Cup team in 2005. In each of the last two seasons, he has pitched well early but had problems adjusting after a midseason promotion.

Strengths: Wells generates 90-92 mph fastballs and touches 94 from a sturdy pitcher's frame. When he's going well, he features good sink on his two-seam fastball and nice depth on a hard slider that grades as average. He's starting to recognize the value of throwing a changeup. As a former high school quarterback, Wells is athletic.

Weaknesses: All of Wells' pitches need further refinement. He'll struggle to locate his fastball, leaving it up in the zone too often. His slider will flatten out and isn't a true strikeout pitch, and his changeup is still below average. His stubbornness was a barrier to him learning the pitch sequences he needs to succeed in Triple-A. At times, Wells tended to rush his delivery.

The Future: Wells has the stuff to pitch at the back of a big league rotation, but without a consistent changeup, he profiles better as a reliever. The Padres believe his Triple-A struggles will benefit him in the long run, and they sent him to the Arizona Fall League to work on commanding his fastball. He'll be back in Portland to start 2007.
Mobile (AA)432.64121210615342749.235
Portland (AAA)297.27151500738784655.296
10. Cesar Ramos, lhp   Born: June 22, 1984B-T: L-LHt: 6-2Wt: 190
 Signed: Long Beach State, 2005 (1st round supplemental)Signed by: Brendan Hause
Cesar RamosBackground: Ramos turned down the Devil Rays as a sixth-round pick out of high school and became the winningest lefthander in Long Beach State history. The Padres took him and Nick Hundley with the two compensation choices they gained in 2005 for losing free agent David Wells to the Red Sox. Ramos had a 5.01 ERA in his debut but rebounded to post the second-best ERA in the California League in 2006.

Strengths: Ramos has four pitches, a compact delivery and great confidence on the mound. His best offering is probably his slider, which he uses to attack righthanders. He does a nice job of locating his lively 86-90 mph four-seam fastball. He began going to his changeup more often last season, especially to keep righties off balance, and his arm speed on the pitch improved dramatically.

Weaknesses: Ramos lacks the secondary stuff to consistently put away batters. He can sometimes rush his delivery and get off line, resulting in pitches left up and over the plate. His curveball is below-average and not much more than a show pitch. He wore down as the season progressed and could stand to improve his endurance.

The Future: Ramos has the makeup and the feel to be a No. 4 or 5 starter in the big leagues, though he has to hit his spots and change speeds to succeed. He'll pitch in Double-A this season.
Lake Elsinore (HiA)783.7026240014116194470.292

Photo Credits:
Hunter, Huffman, Ramos: Bill Mitchell
Carrillo, Headley, Hundley, Wells: Steve Moore
Antonelli, Venable: Paul Gierhart
Kouzmanoff: Mike Janes