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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The Padres' firing of longtime general manager Kevin Towers, who had presided over an unprecedented run of franchise success in his 14 years, occurred against a backdrop of recent player-development success. Older San Diego clubs that failed to make the playoffs in 2007 and 2008 gave way to a younger cast of players in the second half of 2009. They peaked in August and September, going 33-25 to avoid a second straight last-place finish in the National League West.

The top two players on the Padres' prospect list a year ago were at the heart of the transformation. Kyle Blanks, who made the transition from first base to left field, joined the big league team in mid-June and belted 10 homers in 54 games before a foot injury ended his season in August. Mat Latos ranked as the No. 1 prospect in the Double-A Texas League before settling into San Diego's rotation in mid-July, going 4-5, 4.62. Rookies Everth Cabrera, Wade LeBlanc and Will Venable also exhausted their prospect eligibility while helping in the second-half surge.

The front-office upheaval didn't begin or stop with Towers. In March, a new ownership group fronted by former agent and Diamondbacks minority owner Jeff Moorad bought a 33 percent stake in the club from John Moores, who was ensnared in a bitter divorce proceeding. CEO Sandy Alderson resigned after Moorad came aboard.

In late October, Moorad settled on Red Sox assistant GM Jed Hoyer to replace Towers. The Padres then fired vice president of scouting and player development Grady Fuson, who had a leading role in the club's 2005-09 drafts and also served as farm director, and reassigned scouting director Bill Gayton.

In early December, the Padres hired Red Sox scouting director Jason McLeod as assistant general manager. A San Diego native, McLeod spent a decade working for the Padres in a variety of roles before joining the Red Sox. In five drafts as scouting director, he made a succession of strong picks, including Daniel Bard, Clay Buchholz and Jacoby Ellsbury.

Moorad had expressed displeasure with San Diego's efforts in scouting  and player development. Many of the Padres' recent first-round picks either haven't lived up to expectations (Matt Bush, Matt Antonelli) or were saddled by serious injuries (Tim Stauffer, Cesar Carrillo, Nick Schmidt).

Fuson and Gayton performed an about-face with their drafting approach in 2009, selecting two premium high school athletes in outfielders Donavan Tate (No. 3 overall) and Everett Williams (second round) on the first day. The trend continued on day two with the selections of prep righthanders Keyvius Sampson (fourth round) and James Needy (sixth). In the past, the organization showed a clear preference for polished college hitters and for pitchers who stood out more for their feel than their pure stuff.

Along the same lines, San Diego made a point of stockpiling strong-armed pitchers in trades. Sending Scott Hairston to the Athletics in early July netted righthanders Sean Gallagher, Craig Italiano and Ryan Webb. Shipping ace Jake Peavy to the White Sox at the July 31 trade deadline brought in big leaguer Clayton Richard and three hard-throwing minor leaguers in Dexter Carter, Aaron Poreda and Adam Russell.

Led by third baseman Edinson Rincon, righthander Adys Portillo and outfielder Rymer Liriano, the Padres had a number of international prospects step up in 2009, balancing two less positive developments. In June, San Diego learned that Dominican third baseman Yefri Pena, who signed for $300,000, had falsified his age and identity (he's really Ramon Mercedes) and would be suspended for a year. Dominican shortstop Alvaro Aristy, who signed for $1 million in 2008, received a 50-game suspension a month later for failing a test for performance-enhancing drugs.

1.  Donavan Tate, of   Born: Sept. 27, 1990B-T: R-RHt: 6-3Wt: 200
 Drafted: HS—Cartersville, Ga., 2009 (1st round)Signed by: Ash Lawson
Donovan TateBackground: The No. 3 overall selection in June, Tate nearly doubled the franchise bonus record held by the ill-fated Matt Bush when he signed for $6.25 million at the Aug. 17 signing deadline. Tate also set a new mark for a high school pick, surpassing the $6.15 million the Rays gave Tim Beckham a year earlier. Widely regarded as the top prep position player available in 2009, Tate starred as a quarterback for Cartersville (Ga.) High and had committed to play football as well as baseball at North Carolina. His father Lars was a standout running back at Georgia and spent three seasons in the NFL. The revelation of an injury sucked some of the excitement out of Tate's signing. In just his second day working out with the Rookie-level Arizona League club, he was immobilized with a sports hernia and had surgery to reattach an abdominal muscle to his pubic bone. As a result, he missed the balance of the season and spent his instructional league time rehabbing. Tate compounded matters when he had surgery in late November to repair a broken jaw he sustained in an ATV accident near his Georgia home. The Padres expect him to be healthy in time for his first spring training.

Strengths: Tate's premium athleticism stands out as the best in the system. Unlike many two-sport amateurs, he features graceful, fluid actions on the diamond, and he isn't stiff and mechanical like some ex-footballers. Best of all, he shows natural baseball instincts and he makes in-game adjustments against better pitching. Tate's potential to develop five plus tools, highlighted by huge raw power and plus-plus range in center field, has the Padres justifiably excited. He also has plus-plus speed and an above-average arm. His feel for hitting is less refined, but he reacts well to the ball and maintains good balance at the plate. Tate played with intensity all spring, even when he wasn't being scrutinized by a throng of scouts, and his mature and passionate demeanor translates into what one club official deems special makeup.

Weaknesses: The biggest question facing Tate remains his feel for hitting. Some scouts said his swing was better when he was a sophomore in high school and regressed over the next two seasons. Like most young hitters with strength, he can get pull-happy. Now that he has committed to baseball full-time, he can polish his batting approach and learn through repetition what works for him. While hitting with metal bats, he could afford to simply trust his hands and his natural bat speed. San Diego intends to work with him on lengthening his stride and separating his hands when he loads his swing. Tate's abdominal injury cost him valuable development time. He first felt a twinge in his abdomen during the spring, but because he played only a handful of games each week, he didn't feel inhibited by the injury.

The Future: The Padres envision Tate developing into a power/speed center fielder who combines the best attributes of Mike Cameron and Andruw Jones. A solid showing in spring training should earn him an assignment to low Class A Fort Wayne, and from there the speed at which his bat develops will dictate his pace.
2009 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Did Not Play—Signed Late
2.  Simon Castro, rhp   Born: April 9, 1988B-T: R-RHt: 6-5Wt: 211
 Signed: Dominican Republic, 2006Signed by: Randy Smith/Felix Francisco
Simon CastroBackground: Castro intrigued the Padres with his raw arm strength even while posting a 5.46 ERA in Rookie ball in his first two pro seasons. He started refining his command in 2008 and took a huge step forward last season, when he led the low Class A Midwest League in strikeouts (157 in 140 innings) and threw a seven-inning no-hitter in August. He helped Fort Wayne win the league title, allowing only one run in two playoff starts.

Strengths: Castro throws a 92-93 mph fastball with life down in the zone. He can dial up his riding, four-seam fastball to 95-96 and blow the ball past hitters upstairs. He throws a nasty low-80s slider that features hard, late break and is tough on righthanders. He has made steady improvements to his delivery, staying online to the plate and improving his extension. He earns high marks for his work ethic.

Weaknesses: Castro's slider can get big on him at times, and he's still refining what figures to be an average changeup. With a true swing-and-miss fastball, he needs to make a concerted effort to emphasize his secondary weapons in game situations.

The Future: Castro slashed his walk rate last season and if that trend continues, he has the stuff and durability to profile as at least a No. 3 starter. He also could make a dynamic closer if needed. He should reach Double-A San Antonio at some point in 2010.
2009 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Fort Wayne (Lo A) 10 6 3.33 28 27 1 0 140 118 9 37 157 .226
3.  James Darnell, 3b   Born: Jan. 19, 1987B-T: R-RHt: 6-2Wt: 198
 Drafted: South Carolina, 2008 (2nd round)Signed by: Anthony Byrd
James DarnellBackground: He's more athletic than the typical Padres college draft pick, but that's not to say Darnell is all projection and no production. Through 142 pro games, he has batted .319/.428/.542 with nearly as many walks as strikeouts. He ranked ninth in the minors with a .424 on-base percentage last season.

Strengths: Darnell controls the strike zone and shows a natural feel for hitting. He generates plus power thanks to natural strength and bat speed. Working with roving hitting instructor Tony Muser, he has learned to put more backspin and loft on the ball by bracing his right hand under the bat head at the point of contact. He's an average runner but not a basestealing threat. His arm is strong enough for third base.

Weaknesses: Some observers think Darnell's hands and feet will play at third base, but others aren't convinced. He made 30 errors in 117 games in 2009, with 17 miscues coming on throws. He struggles with accuracy when he doesn't get his feet set and throws on the run. He checked out of instructional league early with lingering back soreness.

The Future: Darnell has enough bat to play anywhere on the diamond, and he may one day receive an audition at second base because of the Padres' crowded third-base and corner-outfield situations. He's ready to tackle Double-A in 2010.
2009 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Fort Wayne (Lo A) .329 .468 .518 222 40 73 17 2 7 38 57 51 5
Lake Elsinore (Hi A) .294 .377 .553 235 40 69 18 2 13 43 30 38 3
4.  Jaff Decker, of   Born: Feb. 23, 1990B-T: L-LHt: 5-10Wt: 212
 Drafted: HS—Peoria, Ariz., 2008 (1st round supplemental)Signed by: Dave Lottsfeldt
Jaff DeckerBackground: After signing for $892,000, Decker won the Rookie-level Arizona League MVP award in his pro debut. He was even more impressive in his encore, becoming the first teenager to lead the Midwest League in OPS (.956) since Prince Fielder in 2003 and ranking second in the minors in on-base percentage (.442). He homered twice in the playoffs as Fort Wayne cruised to the MWL title.

Strengths: Decker recognizes pitches and controls the strike zone like a much more experienced hitter. He has incredible power to his pull side and hits with authority to all fields. He employs a short swing and won't chase pitches out of the zone, rare attributes for a young power hitter. He has an average arm, having touched 90-92 mph from the mound in high school.

Weaknesses: For all his positives as a hitter, Decker draws negative reviews for his lack of athleticism. He's a well-below-average runner who figures to slow down further as he ages, which would make him a less-than-adequate defender in left field. He initially resisted the Padres' overtures to get in better shape, but he relented after missing a month in 2009, first with a concussion coming out of spring training and then with a tweaked back.

The Future: Decker profiles as a Nick Swisher type whose game centers on walks and power—but with a better feel for hitting and less athleticism. He's ticketed for high Class A Lake Elsinore in 2010.
2009 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Fort Wayne (Lo A) .299 .442 .514 358 78 107 25 2 16 64 85 92 10
5.  Logan Forsythe, 3b   Born: Jan. 14, 1987B-T: R-RHt: 6-1Wt: 206
 Drafted: Arkansas, 2008 (1st round supplemental)Signed by: Lane Decker
Logan ForsytheBackground: A torn thumb ligament knocked Forsythe out of action just three games after he signed for $835,000 in 2008. Healthy last season, he ranked second in the minors in walks (102) and sixth in on-base percentage (.429). Drafted 23 places ahead of fellow college third baseman James Darnell, he has stayed one step ahead of him in pro ball.

Strengths: He's not overwhelming in any area, but Forsythe has a solid base of tools. He features a short, balanced swing and isn't afraid to wait for his pitch, even if he falls behind in the count. He has the natural strength to hit for average power for a third baseman. His range, hands and arm are all plus tools at the hot corner. He's a solid-average runner and earns praise for his calm demeanor.

Weaknesses: Some observes think Forsythe's line-drive stroke will translate more into doubles than homers. His power declined noticeably in Double-A, though that's partially attributable to San Antonio's unforgiving ballpark.

The Future: The Padres' logjam at third base might push Forsythe to another position—second base, the outfield or even catcher—but no move is imminent. He figures to be a top-of-the-order hitter wherever he lands, and he'll likely reach Triple-A Portland in 2010.
2009 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Lake Elsinore (Hi A) .322 .472 .504 236 46 76 13 3 8 30 61 48 6
San Antonio (AA) .279 .384 .377 244 37 68 9 3 3 31 41 63 5
6.  Cory Luebke, lhp   Born: March 4, 1985B-T: R-LHt: 6-4Wt: 215
 Drafted: Ohio State, 2007 (1st round supplemental)Signed by: Jeff Stewart
Cory LuebkeBackground: Three months after signing for $515,000 in 2007, Luebke was pitching in the high Class A California League playoffs. Back in Lake Elsinore for his first full season, he scuffled to a 6.84 ERA, but righted the ship after a demotion. He bounced back with a strong 2009, reaching Double-A and starting Team USA's gold-medal game victory against Cuba at the World Cup.

Strengths: In 2008, Luebke seemed unwilling to work inside against righthanders, who learned to take his pitches to the opposite field. Last season, he changed that and broke bats with a 90-92 mph fastball. His new approach opened up the outer half of the plate for his secondary stuff, particularly his solid slider. He has streamlined his motion and got more downhill plane by softening the landing of his front foot, resulting in improved command and finish of his pitches.

Weaknesses: Tall and a bit gangly, Luebke sometimes struggles to coordinate the long levers in his delivery. His changeup features good action, but he still throws it a bit too hard at 84-86 mph. He has experimented with various circle change grips.

The Future: Luebke's stuff and size give him a ceiling as a No. 3 starter. He should get his first taste of Triple-A in 2010, with a big league callup possible in September.
2009 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Lake Elsinore (Hi A) 8 2 2.34 14 14 1 0 88 73 3 17 80 .227
San Antonio (AA) 3 2 3.70 9 9 0 0 41 38 3 15 32 .241
7.  Wynn Pelzer, rhp   Born: June 23, 1986B-T: R-RHt: 6-1Wt: 205
 Drafted: South Carolina, 2007 (9th round)Signed by: Pete DeYoung
Wynn PelzerBackground: Pelzer earned a $190,000 bonus as a ninth-round pick in 2007 despite having a kneecap broken by a line drive in the Cape Cod League after the draft. He has established his credentials as a power pitching prospect, ranking second in the California League in strikeouts (147 in 151 innings) and fourth in opponent average (.244) last season.

Strengths: A strong athlete with a quick arm, Pelzer pounds the zone with a heavy 93-95 mph fastball that touches 97 in short stints. He maintains his velocity deep into games, meaning that opposing batters geared to hit his fastball have insufficient time to react to his secondary stuff. They can look downright foolish waving at his hard slider. His tenacity serves him well on the mound.

Weaknesses: Pelzer's changeup lags behind his other offerings, in part because he eschewed the pitch in college in favor of a high-80s splitter. He'll dust off the splitter occasionally to give lefties a different look. He falls out of rhythm in his delivery at times, with the rest of his body struggling to catch up to his quick arm, affecting his command.

The Future: Pelzer's stuff would play up in a relief role, and it's not hard to imagine him as a closer, challenging hitters with his fastball and slider. He has worked hard at being a starter after mostly relieving in college, and the Padres have no plans to change his role in Double-A in 2010.
2009 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Lake Elsinore (Hi A) 11 8 3.94 27 27 0 0 151 134 6 59 147 .244
8.  Everett Williams, of   Born: Oct. 1, 1990B-T: L-RHt: 5-10Wt: 205
 Drafted: HS—Austin, 2009 (2nd round)Signed by: Tim Holt
Everett WilliamsBackground: The finest hitter among the elite prep athletes in the 2009 draft, Williams slipped to the second round and signed at the Aug. 17 deadline for $775,000. Like Donavan Tate, he comes from a family with athletic bloodlines. His cousin Cedric Allen pitched in the Reds system and two aunts are enshrined in the softball hall of fame.

Strengths: Williams' excellent bat speed is the product of strong, quick hands. He's physical and can crush the ball to all fields with his aggressive lefthanded stroke. One area scout saw Williams hit a 500-foot blast. He's a gifted center fielder who goes back on the ball well. He's an above-average runner out of the box and even quicker under way.

Weaknesses: Inexperience is Williams' biggest hurdle. It shows most in his management of the strike zone, particularly with identifying and hitting breaking balls. While his innate hitting ability is undeniable, he'll work to add separation when he loads his hands, which will give him more leverage in his swing. His arm strength is fringy.

The Future: While he profiles as a center fielder, Williams may move in deference to Tate. If his bat develops as expected, he'll have no problem providing enough offense for an outfield corner. He'll spend his first full pro season in low Class A.
2009 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
AZL Padres (R) .389 .421 .611 18 1 7 2 1 0 6 1 7 2
Eugene (SS) .200 .310 .400 25 1 5 2 0 1 3 4 11 0
9.  Edinson Rincon, 3b   Born: Aug. 11, 1990B-T: R-RHt: 6-1Wt: 202
 Signed: Dominican Republic, 2007Signed by: Randy Smith/Felix Francisco
Edinson RinconBackground: Rincon signed at age 16 with little fanfare, but he has separated himself from the Padres' other international players not only with his rapid development but also by quickly learning English. He recovered from knee surgery in April 2008 to make his U.S. debut that summer before ranking as the No. 2 prospect in the short-season Northwest League in 2009.

Strengths: The Padres hold Rincon up as a model for their other Latin prospects to follow. He controls the strike zone and works deep counts. He maintains balance at the plate and hits breaking balls. Scouts project him to hit for high averages as he moves up, and his raw strength should translate into average power. His arm strength is his best defensive asset. He draws raves for his aptitude and toughness.

Weaknesses: Rincon is anything but fluid at third base, with hard hands and feet that don't work well in terms of timing hops. He made 22 errors in 44 games and spent about a third of his time at DH. His slinging arm action results in too many throwing errors. He's a below-average runner and figures to slow down more as he matures.

The Future: Though Rincon may not be long for the infield, his bat will keep him in San Diego's plans. He should make the jump to full-season ball in 2010.
2009 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Eugene (SS) .300 .415 .468 267 47 80 18 3 7 47 46 60 5
10.  Aaron Poreda, lhp   Born: Oct. 1, 1986B-T: L-LHt: 6-6Wt: 240
 Signed: San Francisco, 2007 (1st round)Signed by: Joe Butler/Adam Virchis (White Sox)
Aaron PoredaBackground: The 25th overall pick in the 2007 draft, Poreda signed with the White Sox for $1.2 million. He made his major league debut last June, then went to the Padres six weeks later in the trade for Jake Peavy. He played for five teams at three levels last season, losing his feel for the strike zone along the way.

Strengths: Poreda fires plus four-seam fastballs ranging from 90-95 mph from a low three-quarters arm slot. The Padres see promise in his 88-91 two-seamer, which features better life in the zone. He has made strides in commanding his heater to both sides of the plate. He'll flash a plus slider in the high 80s. Big and strong, Poreda is built for durability.

Weaknesses: After switching organizations, Poreda's delivery fell apart, as did his control. He gets around his slider too often, flattening it into a slurve. He lacks feel for his well-below-average changeup, and he needs to throw it more to try to develop it.

The Future: Switching between starting in the minors and relieving in the majors has left Poreda with a feeling of lingering uncertainty about his role. Unless he makes huge strides with his command, he probably fits best at the back of a bullpen, where he could be San Diego's version of Matt Thornton.
2009 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Birmingham (AA) 5 4 2.38 11 11 1 0 64 47 1 35 69 .206
Chicago (AL) 1 0 2.45 10 0 0 0 11 9 0 8 12 .231
Charlotte (AAA) 0 0 3.60 2 2 0 0 10 8 0 3 9 .216
Portland (AAA) 0 3 7.16 7 6 0 0 33 28 3 37 30 .239
San Diego 0 0 3.86 4 0 0 0 2 1 0 5 0 .143

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Photo Credits:

Brian Bissell (Tate)