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Background: Clement capped his steady but acclaimed rise through the Padres system by winning two games in his first big league trial in September. He has pitched at each stop in the Padres system but has been promoted before the end of the season in each of his five professional seasons. He has also been amazingly durable--he's never missed a start in compiling a 52-38 minor league record. Strengths: Padres farm director Jim Skaalan managed Kevin Brown for almost two years in the minor leagues and feels the comparisons between Clement and the former Padres righthander are valid. Clement's top pitch is a heavy, sinking 93 mph fastball that he uses confidently and aggressively. His fastball's effectiveness has limited opponents to 34 home runs in 124 starts. Clement's slider is also a plus pitch; his changeup is progressing but he needs to throw it more often to master it. Much has been written about Clement's aggressiveness. He led the minor leagues by hitting 30 batters with pitches last season. The HBP total was nothing new--Clement hit 21, 18 and 18 in his previous three seasons. Interestingly, Clement did not hit a single hitter in 14 big league innings. Weaknesses: The Padres feel Clement pressed much of last year trying to justify his prospect status and impending callup. They contend his control problems--he also walked 85 and threw 18 wild pitches--resulted more from overthrowing than anything fundamentally wrong with his mechanics. After his first big league appearance, Clement became more relaxed and pitched within himself. The Future: Many of the stars who helped the Padres reach the World Series are gone, with none leaving a bigger void than Brown. A healthy Clement is a lock to pick up Brown's spot in the Padres rotation this season. If he can match Brown's 12-9, 3.35 effort as a 24-year-old rookie in 1989, the club will be more than satisfied.
Background: Davis has been burdened by high expectations since being drafted second overall in 1995. He reached San Diego ahead of schedule, catching two innings of a late September game last year. The callup was a reward for a strong season that saw Davis named the Southern League's No. 3 prospect. Davis' older brother, Glenn, was the Dodgers' 1997 first-round pick and is ranked No. 7 on their Top 10. Strengths: Davis has Gold Glove quality defensive skills. He led the minor leagues by gunning down 57 percent of would-be baserunners (47 of 83). Offensively, Davis has succeeded in shortening and quickening his swing, dramatically increasing his ability to make contact and drive the ball to all fields from both sides of the plate. Weaknesses: Davis' hands are so smooth he sometimes relies on them instead of shifting his body to block pitches. He will need to continue to get stronger to fulfill his power potential. The Future: The Padres re-signed catcher Carlos Hernandez to a three-year contract, in part to keep pressure off rushing Davis too quickly. He will begin 1999 in Triple-A and gradually work his way into a starting role in 2000.
Background: Herndon was unheralded as a prospect before signing, but he has quickly established himself as a top prospect. His home on the western edge of the Rocky Mountains is as unlikely a training ground for a top baseball prospect as anywhere in the country. Working as a ski instructor is not surprisingly one of his offseason pursuits. Strengths: Herndon's poise, intelligence and rhythm on the mound belie his lack of experience. The Padres say that he is completely unflappable regardless of the hitter or game situation. Herndon's best pitch is a 91-93 mph fastball he uses aggressively to both sides of the plate. He also throws a hard overhand curveball and a changeup. Weaknesses: Most of what Herndon has to do is just refining what he already does. He needs to improve his offspeed pitches and work on setting up hitters to chase fastballs out of the strike zone. The Future: The Padres are not an organization that rushes young pitchers, but Herndon is leaving them no choice. He will likely start 1999 at Double-A Mobile.
Background: In two years since being acquired from the Tigers for the Jody Reed, Darr has batted .327 with 209 runs and 184 RBIs. Strengths: Darr is a five-tool athlete, if you include the raw power he can generate from his muscular frame. He has patterned his swing after Tony Gwynn, so he's adept at staying back on the ball and driving pitches up the middle and to the opposite field. Darr has the speed to play a solid center field, although he projects as a right fielder in the big leagues. His arm grades out as a 7 on the scouts' 8-point scale. Weaknesses: Darr throws his hips at the plate, severely limiting his ability to pull balls and generate power. He had only six homers in 1998. The Padres have not pressed him to adjust, trusting his power will evolve with maturity and pitch recognition. The Future: Darr has already been penciled in as Gwynn's successor in right field when the future Hall of Famer steps aside. Darr's skills and athletic ability are such that he may force himself into the lineup somewhere else.
Background: Matthews, whose father played 16 years in the big leagues, has been poised for a breakout season the past two years but has been sidetracked by injuries--a right wrist problem in 1997 and a series of leg muscle woes in 1998. Matthews was impressive enough last year in a half season for Southern League managers to name him the league's No. 4 prospect. Strengths: Matthews improvement offensively has been steady. He is a line-drive hitter from both sides of the plate with an outstanding eye. He's above-average defensively in right field or center, especially in his jumps and instincts. Weaknesses: The biggest challenge for Matthews has been to stay on the field for an extended length of time. He has lost about 500 at-bats the last two seasons. He needs to continue to develop his power potential without sacrificing his hard-earned contact and patience. The Future: Ruben Rivera is no sure thing as the Padres center fielder for 1999 and beyond, although he is assured a long look. An uninterrupted season at Las Vegas this year will put Matthews in the future mix.
Background: Burroughs has been in the national spotlight for most of his life, both as the star of the Long Beach teams that won the 1992 and 1993 Little League World Series, and as the son of 1974 American League MVP and 1969 No. 1 overall draft pick Jeff Burroughs. Strengths: Scouts considered Burroughs the top high school hitting prospect in the country last spring. He has a smooth, natural stroke that projects both power and average. Burroughs is also a surprisingly good fielder with above-average hands, a strong arm and quick feet. There has been conjecture that Burroughs could play second base, thus enhancing his offensive value, but the Padres have no current plans to try him at that position. Weaknesses: While Burroughs has quick feet in the field, he is not nearly as fast underway and won't be a threat on the bases. The Future: The Padres were disappointed Burroughs held out all summer. Burroughs' advanced bat still may insure that he starts 1999 in a full-season Class A league.
Background: The Padres signed Serrano at 16 and left him to pitch in the Dominican Summer League for two seasons before bringing him to the United States in 1997. He was named the No. 5 prospect in the Rookie-level Arizona League in 1997. Strengths: Serrano has a steady low-90s fastball that he is able to keep low in the strike zone and spot on the inside corner. He has been clocked as high as 95, and the Padres feel he could add more velocity as he matures. Serrano's second pitch is a mid-80s hard slider. He has a sound, easy delivery and a relaxed, carefree mound demeanor. Weaknesses: Everything Serrano throws is hard. The Padres teach their young pitchers to use their fastballs aggressively before moving on to the subtleties of changing speeds, so Serrano has a long way to go in learning a workable change up. The Future: Serrano's strong 1998 season established him as a legitimate prospect. The task now will be to learn some of the finer points of pitching and he will likely start 1999 at Class A Rancho Cucamonga.
Background: Middlebrook was a candidate to be picked at the top of the first round in 1996 before missing almost the entire season with elbow problems. The Padres gambled a $760,000 bonus--the largest ever for a ninth-round pick--on his return to health and have not been disappointed. Middlebrook was healthy all of 1998 and at his strongest at the end of the season. Strengths: Middlebrook's stuff has returned to its pre-injury levels. He throws a mid-90s fastball and a hard curve that can flash above-average action and bite. Middlebrook's changeup has good deception. Weaknesses: Most of Middlebrook's problems revolve around his command, especially of his big-breaking curve. His fastball will also straighten out in the middle of the plate when Middlebrook gets careless with it. Middlebrook has a stubborn streak that serves him well when he gets in a rhythm but hurts him when he's out of sync. The Future: The past two years have been dedicated to getting Middlebrook healthy and eliminating the fear factor from his approach. The Padres are ready to challenge him this season.
Background: Melo has been on the Padres priority list since he was named the top prospect in the Rookie-level Arizona League in 1994 at age 17. Strictly a shortstop until this winter, Melo played some third base in the Dominican League and hit with more power than he had previously shown. Melo's father Juan Sr. is a Padres scout. Strengths: Melo has polished defensive skills and the strength and bat speed to be a run-producing middle infielder. He could step into the Padres lineup defensively at any time. Melo has shown an almost unique consistency through his minor league career. Weaknesses: The downside of Melo's consistency is that he has not shown any improvement in his pitch selection, which keeps him from hitting up to his power potential. The Padres are optimistic he improved in this area over the winter. The Future: Incumbent shortstop Chris Gomez was given a three-year contract this offseason, blocking Melo from an immediate starting spot. The Padres will continue to work Melo at third base in spring training and also introduce him to second base to prepare him for a utility role.
Background: Guzman was a starter for the past three years, but a short stint on the disabled list with arm tenderness late in 1998 put him in the bullpen for the end of the season and the playoffs. The Padres discovered his approach and focus improved in a relief role. Strengths: Guzman, who has added three inches and 15 pounds since signing, may have the top power arm in the system. His fastball has topped out at 98 mph and he complements it with a hard, late-breaking slurve. Guzman has shown a good ability to throw strikes for a power pitcher. Weaknesses: Guzman's approach has always been just to throw his pitches over the plate, instead of setting up hitters. He has been susceptible to a string of minor leg and arm injuries that have kept him from building up significant innings and repetitions. The Future: The Padres expect Guzman to make the step forward this year that his talent dictates. He will start the season as the closer in Double-A.