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Nady entered 2000 as the No. 1 prospect for the June draft, but he had a so-so .329-19-59 season at California and signability was a concern. As a result, he slid to the Padres, who signed him to a big league contract with a $1.1 million bonus. His deal mandated a September callup, and he singled off Eric Gagne in his lone at-bat. Nady hasn't been back to San Diego since, with injuries the main culprit. He tore a ligament in his elbow in the Arizona Fall League in 2000 and had Tommy John surgery after the 2001 season. Last year, he couldn't play in the field until mid-June and strained a quadriceps muscle in the AFL. Nady has an impressive offensive résumé. He eclipsed Mark McGwire's Pacific-10 Conference record with a .718 slugging percentage, and was the high Class A California League's MVP and home run leader in 2001. The Padres envision Nady as an impact hitter who will produce for both power and average. He has the strength and stroke to hit 40 homers a year, and he has an advanced approach at the plate. After trying to do too much after his midseason promotion to Triple-A Portland, Nady adjusted and closed holes in his swing. He batted .316-4-19 in the final month, then hit .323 in the AFL before getting hurt. Nady drives the ball hard to all fields. He's a determined competitor and has worked hard on his defense. Injuries have hampered his defensive development. He was drafted as a third baseman, but Sean Burroughs had a claim to that position. The Padres talked about trying Nady at second base, but his elbow problems limited him to first base in 2001. Left field is his position du jour, but he was only healthy enough to play 63 games (including the AFL) there in 2002. With more experience, Nady should become an average left fielder. He can make the routine plays and has improved his jumps on fly balls. His arm isn't quite average now but should stretch out more as he gets healthier. The only offensive concern with Nady is his plate discipline. Bubba Trammell and Brian Buchanan are all that stand between Nady and a big league job. The Padres will give Nady a long look in spring training, though he probably needs more time in Triple-A before he's fully ready. San Diego got just 20 homers out of its left fielders last season, and Nady could exceed that total as a rookie.
Greene was undrafted out of high school and a 14th-round pick of the Cubs after his junior season in 2001, but scouts finally began to believe in him last year. He won the BA College Player of the Year and the Golden Spikes awards, carrying Clemson to the College World Series semifinals. He signed for $1.5 million and had no trouble adapting to pro ball. All of Greene's tools are average or better, and he supplements them with excellent instincts. His bat speed, hand-eye coordination, pitch recognition and ability to adjust make him the best pure hitter in the system. He also has surprising power for his size. Scouts question whether he's a pure shortstop, but his hands, range, arm, first-step quickness and body control are all assets. Greene's range and arm earn 55 grades on the 20-80 scouting scale, which means they're above-average but not extraordinary for a shortstop. The Padres believe his total package will allow him to stay at short. His only drawback at the plate is that he makes contact so easily that he doesn't draw many walks. Ticketed for Double-A, Greene could be the first 2002 draftee to reach the majors, perhaps as early as this summer.
Oliver Perez passed him as the top lefthander in San Diego's pecking order last year, but he can't match Phillips' pure stuff. Few southpaws can. Raw when he signed in 2000, he started to put it all together last August, posting a 2.53 ERA and a 37-9 strikeout-walk ratio in his final 32 innings. When he maintains his arm slot, Phillips shows two plus-plus pitches at times. His fastball touches 97 mph and sits in the low 90s, and farm director Tye Waller describes his curveball as "dropping out of the sky." After arriving out of shape for his first spring training, Phillips now understands the commitment needed to be a professional. He has a clean, effortless arm action. It all comes down to mechanics for Phillips. When he repeats his delivery consistently, his stuff is sharp and finds the strike zone. When he doesn't, his pitches aren't as crisp and he falls behind in the count. His changeup is effective at times but still developing. Phillips will join most of the players on this list at Double-A Mobile in 2003. The Padres hope he's ready to follow Perez' express route to San Diego.
Bozied batted .412-30-82 and led NCAA Division I with a .936 slugging percentage as a sophomore in 1999 before tailing off in his final two college seasons. He turned down the Twins as a 2000 second-rounder--he went seven picks before Xavier Nady--and went to the independent Northern League before signing with the Padres for $725,000 in 2001. He led the system in homers and RBIs while reaching Double-A in his pro debut, then set an Arizona Fall League record with 12 longballs. Bozied's power is nearly as good as Nady's, though he's not as polished a hitter and has more effort to his swing. He has a strong arm and moves well for his size, so it's possible he could play the outfield. After tearing up high Class A, Bozied didn't do nearly as much damage in Double-A. He has holes in his long swing, particularly against breaking balls on the outer half of the plate. Scouts who saw him in the AFL said he punished mistakes more than he hit quality pitches. He labors at first base. Assuming Nady becomes San Diego's left fielder, Bozied won't have a clear path to big league playing time. For now, he'll try to refine his game in Double-A.
The Padres thought Gautreau might tear up the California League like Xavier Nady had in his first full season. Instead he found his strength sapped by ulcerative colitis, which was diagnosed in early July. Gautreau batted just .263-1-4 in his final 20 games and .225 in the Arizona Fall League. A national raquetball champion at ages 8 and 10, Gautreau says that sport helped him hone his swing and agility. After moving him from third base to second in instructional league in 2001, San Diego projected him as a lefthanded- hitting Jeff Kent. Now that he has his colitis under control, Gautreau may tap into his raw power. While he has been better than expected at second base, he's still making the transition. He needs to charge grounders more aggressively, and he has an unorthodox release on his throws. He won't ever be a Gold Glover, but he should become at least adequate. Considering his pretty line-drive stroke, he strikes out more than he should. Gautreau will move up to Double-A in 2003. Though he's the organization's top second-base prospect, he faces stiff competition with Bernie Castro ahead of him and Josh Barfield behind.
After improving more than any player in the system in 2001, Howard endured a trying year in 2002. He was the sole survivor of the Feb. 15 car crash that killed Padres outfielder Mike Darr and former Phillies minor leaguer Duane Johnson. Howard made his big league debut 10 weeks later but was rocked in three outings. Demoted to Triple-A, he strained his elbow and tried to pitch through it with little success. Howard is a pure power pitcher. When he's right, he throws in the mid-90s and has been clocked as high as 99. He complements his heat with a hard slider, and his changeup can be a plus pitch at times. Howard put too much pressure on himself when he got to the majors and tried to overthrow. He lost his release point and his command deserted him--though not to the point where he led his minor league in walks in each of his first four pro seasons. He needs more consistency with his changeup. The best thing for Howard would be to begin 2003 with less stress in Triple-A. His ceiling remains as high as any pitcher in the organization.
He's the son of former American League home run champion Jesse Barfield, so perhaps it should be no surprise how quickly Josh has adapted to pro ball. He hit .310 in the Rookie-level Pioneer League in his 2001 pro debut. In his first full season, he led the low Class A Midwest League in hits and shared organization player of the year honors with Jon Knott. Unlike his father, who was more of a dead-pull power hitter, Barfield already uses the entire field. He makes consistently hard contact and started making adjustments against breaking balls in 2002. He should develop average to plus power as he gets stronger and more experienced. A good athlete, he has soft hands and average speed. Barfield might outgrow second base, though he should have enough bat to play elsewhere. He needs to address his footwork and double-play pivot. Offensively, his swing can get loopy at times and he needs a tighter strike zone. Barfield is ready for high Class A. He's three years younger but just one level behind Jake Gautreau, and their future battle for San Diego's second-base job should be fun to watch.
Nicolas' age was revised upward 26 months during the crackdown on visas before the 2002 season. Unlike most players who were affected, he saw his prospect status improve. That's because he destroyed California League hitters and topped all upper-minors relievers by averaging 14.1 strikeouts per nine innings. He tied for the minor league lead in appearances. When Nicolas throws strikes, he's nearly unhittable. He threw 92- 96 mph every time out last year and peaked at 100. His slider is a plus pitch at times and if he ever becomes consistent with it, he'd almost be unfair. Lefthanders have hit .161 with two homers in 174 at-bats against him the last two seasons. Nicolas threw only fastballs at the start of the year, and the Padres had to make him work on his slider and rudimentary changeup. He overthrows, which detracts from his command, not a strong suit to begin with. He's slow to the plate, making him vulnerable to basestealers. Given the opportunity to close in the final two weeks last year, Nicolas went 7-for-7 converting saves and fanned 24 in 11 innings. He projects as San Diego's closer of the future.
Coming out of Maine as a 21st-round pick in 2001, Tucker was the America East Conference pitcher of the year but had fringe-average stuff. He touched the low 90s in his pro debut but was wild, leading the Pioneer League in walks, and lacked confidence. All of sudden, he threw 94-97 mph in his first 2002 appearance and never stopped. Managers rated him the best reliever in the Midwest League. The Padres aren't sure how Tucker started throwing in the mid-90s and touching 99, not that they're complaining. They tried to slow down his delivery so he could throw more strikes, but didn't expect this. His slider also improved, reaching 79-81 mph with nice bite. He has a fearless closer's mentality. There isn't much deception to Tucker's fastball. He's not tall and uses a drop-and-drive delivery, so his heater comes in on a flat plane and without much movement. He still needs to refine his command. Just as they did in the second half last year, Tucker and Mike Nicolas will form a nasty lefty-righty, late-inning combination in 2003, this time in Double-A. Tucker got most of the saves at high Class A Lake Elsinore but may have to share more this year.
Stewart dropped in the 1998 draft because he was committed to Southwest Texas State, but the Reds signed him for a significant bonus. After he missed all of 2000 with a shoulder injury, Cincinnati released him and he spent 2001 in the independent Texas-Louisiana League. The Padres picked him up and he opened eyes by topping out at 94 mph last spring training. He began the season in the Fort Wayne bullpen but pitched his way into the rotation by mid- April. With a loose, easy delivery, Stewart throws 88-94 mph with so much movement that hitters rarely get a good swing against his fastball. His curveball is a solid second pitch, and his strong suit is his command. He's athletic, so repeating his delivery comes naturally. Stewart needs to improve his secondary pitches. He loses his curve at times, and his changeup is little more than a show pitch at this point. Though he's a classic free-spirited lefthander, his work habits are improving. Stewart is slated for the Double-A rotation this year. With Oliver Perez and Mark Phillips ahead of him, he may have to settle for relieving once he reaches San Diego.
The Padres believe they may have a righthanded version of Oliver Perez in Martinez, a fellow Mexican. After posting a 6.43 ERA in Rookie ball in 2001, Martinez replaced Cory Stewart in the Fort Wayne rotation last June and nearly cut his ERA in half. He already has a 90-95 mph fastball and backs it up with an improved curveball and solid changeup. His projectable build and loose arm mean that he'll probably add more velocity in the future. Martinez' secondary pitches still need more reliability, but he already has improved his repertoire by not overusing his splitter. His command improved last year, and so did his work habits after he saw Perez get promoted to San Diego. Because he's still just 20, Martinez may return to low Class A in 2003.
Bay won the 2001 Midwest League batting title in his first full pro season, and his reward was getting traded twice in 2002. First, he became one of several Expos prospects to be given away by general manager Omar Minaya, and then the Mets sent him to the Padres in a midseason deal for Steve Reed. He's not as powerful as Xavier Nady nor as athletic as several of the outfielders who rank behind him, but Bay has a nice combination of tools and instincts. He obviously hits well for average, has gap power and draws walks. He has surprising speed for his size and has succeeded on 84 percent of his basestealing attempts as a pro. Bay is capable of playing all three outfield spots and fits best in right field with his strong arm. San Diego added Bay to its 40-man roster and may start him in Triple-A this year.
The Padres thought so much of Germano's approach to pitching that they sent him to low Class A at age 18 in 2001. He didn't fare well, but he did when he got a second chance as a teenager last year. Germano led the system with 14 victories and improved his career strikeout-walk ratio to 5.6. While he's not overpowering, he has three potential average-or-better pitches and the best command in the system. His top pitch is a curveball that has been compared to Roy Oswalt's. He also throws an 88-89 mph fastball that could pick up velocity because he has a lanky build, wide shoulders and a quick arm. His changeup is decent. At times, Germano becomes too hittable because he's around the plate so much. But the bottom line is he's advanced for his age. He was spectacular in three late-season starts at high Class A and will return there to begin 2003.
Bynum was one of the system's top lefties before a disastrous 2001, then regained his standing and made his major league debut last season. Bynum hurt his right knee in spring training 2001, but didn't tell anyone and tried to pitch through the injury. He wound up altering his mechanics, pitching poorly and requiring arthroscopic surgery. When he returned in spring training last year, Bynum tried to do too much too soon and strained an elbow ligament. He didn't see any game action until June, but reached San Diego two months later. He made three decent starts followed by nine scoreless relief appearances for the Padres, then got shellacked in his final two outings. His trademark pitch is still his slider, which mangers rated the best breaking ball in the Double-A Southern League. He has a plus changeup that he's starting to use more often, and his fastball runs from 86-90 mph. The key for Bynum is to locate his pitches, especially his fastball, and maintain his delivery. His slider is most effective when he gets hitters down in the count. Bynum's ceiling doesn't appear as high as it was when he reached Double-A in his first full pro season, so his long-term fit in San Diego probably will be in the bullpen.
The Padres have been patient with Johnson since they got him from the Cardinals in exchange for overpriced catcher Carlos Hernandez in 2000. He always has been young for his league--he reached Double-A last year at age 20--and San Diego has taken his so-so numbers in the proper context. Johnson still is learning how to hit. After the season ended, he went to instructional league to tweak his swing before moving on to the Arizona Fall League. He's showing more patience at the plate, though he tends to overswing when he gets behind in the count, leading to strikeouts. He just needs to let his natural 20-20 ability take over. Johnson has improved in right field, where both his range and arm are plus tools. The Padres aren't sure if they'll keep him in Double-A at the start of 2003 so he can build off a fast start or send him to Triple-A.
Like Ben Howard, Cyr had difficulty following up on his breakthrough 2001 performance. Both started last season pitching well in Double-A, then struggled and got hurt after getting summoned to San Diego. Cyr injured his elbow and had arthroscopic surgery to remove bone chips. He had a similar operation that cost him most of the 2000 season. The cousin of former NHL winger Paul Cyr, his best pitch is a heavy 90-92 mph fastball. His velocity and command were down last year because of his elbow woes. Cyr still needs to show more feel for his offspeed pitches. He used to throw a knuckle-curve that the Padres want him to transform into a slider, and he also fiddles with a curveball and changeup. If he can't develop reliable secondary pitches Cyr will head to the bullpen, but the Padres aren't ready to make that move yet. He'll be a starter this year in Triple-A.
As if they weren't already stocked with athletic outfielders, the Padres signed Jones as a 2002 third-round pick. He wasn't drafted out of high school or Wallace State (Ala.) CC before sharing Big 10 Conference player of the year honors last spring. A cousin of basketball Hall of Famer Sam Jones, he's as lightning-quick as the former Celtics star was. Jones can get from home to first in 3.85 seconds and runs the 60-yard dash in 6.45 seconds. Compared to Kenny Lofton, he averaged nearly a walk per game after signing. He's disciplined and shortened his swing to enhance his chances of making contact. Jones isn't as weak as his .333 slugging percentage in his pro debut would indicate. That's more reflective of him focusing on putting the ball in play on the ground, because he has upper-body strength and some snap in his wrists. He needs to drive more balls into the gaps. Defensively, Jones has plus range and an average arm. He's still a bit raw in the outfield but soaks up instruction and should improve quickly. He'll begin 2003 in low Class A.
Faison was one of the top defensive backs in the nation and had committed to play football at the University of Georgia before the Padres made him the first of their six first-round picks in 1999. As he has gotten stronger, he has lost some of the raw speed that used to be his best tool. Nevertheless, San Diego still envisions him as a potential Ray Lankford. Faison is learning to develop patience and power, and he set full-season career highs for batting average, on-base percentage and slugging in 2002. However, he still has a ways to go. It's important for him to not worry about hitting for power at the expense of using the whole field. Faison has accepted that baseball will be a challenge and his athleticism won't carry him, and he's working harder than he did earlier in his career. Because his range has diminished and he never has had a strong arm, he projects as a left fielder. The Padres keep expecting him to blossom, and 2003 would be a good time to start.
Since being acquired from the Yankees for outfielder Kevin Reese in a rare prospect-for-prospect trade, Castro has won consecutive batting titles in the Dominican League the last two winters. In between, however, he hit a soft .260 in Double-A and had two years added to his age. His best tool is his speed, as he led the Southern League in steals. Managers rated him the league's best and fastest baserunner, as well as its most exciting player. The Padres knew he was fast but were surprised he was this fast: 3.8 seconds down the line on bunts, 3.9-4.0 seconds on grounders. Marcus Nettles has more pure speed, but he can't get to first base as quick as Castro. Castro plays to his speed by making contact, drawing walks and keeping the ball on the ground. He only had 16 extra-base hits last year, though as with Kennard Jones, the Padres say that's because of his approach and not a lack of strength. General manager Kevin Towers touted Castro as the club's second baseman of the future, but it's hard to believe he'll hold off Jake Gautreau and Josh Barfield without showing some more pop. He has improved defensively and is an average second baseman. His age jumped two years last offseason, so Castro wasn't young for Double-A last year. He'll need to show more with the bat in Triple-A in 2003, or else Gautreau might beat him to San Diego.
Considered Colorado's top draft prospect in 2001, Pauley had a tough time getting acclimated to pro ball after signing. He tied for the Pioneer League lead with nine losses and had a 6.03 ERA. After going through extended spring training, he emerged as a new pitcher last year at short-season Eugene. He was consistent throughout the summer, showing three major league pitches. His fastball sat at 88-90 mph and topped out at 93-94, and he projects to add another 2-3 mph. His curveball and changeup are both solid average pitches. Pauley throws strikes, has a feel for pitching and throws without effort. He just needs a few more seasons of experience and some added strength. He'll move up to low Class A this year.
An official from another team said the Padres landed the sleeper of the major league Rule 5 draft at the Winter Meetings when they got Victorino from the Dodgers. After he had a strong season in low Class A in 2001, Los Angeles decided to jump him to Double-A last year. He struggled but ultimately held his own while continuing to make contact, steal bases and playing a fine center field. He played better as the season wore on, hitting .305 in the final two months and then .330 in the Arizona Fall League. Victorino abandoned switch-hitting to bat solely righthanded in 2001, but may want to consider trying it again after hitting .213 against righties last year. He's the best defensive outfielder in the system and has an average arm. He projects as a leadoff man if he can bring his average up, though jumping two more levels won't hasten his development. If San Diego can't keep Victorino on its 25-man roster all season, he'll have to clear waivers and be offered back to the Dodgers for half his $50,000 draft price.
Knott went from nondrafted free agent in 2001 to California League batting champion and Padres co-minor league player of the year in 2002. He probably would have been drafted after leading Mississippi State with a .359 average and eight homers as a senior, but he strained a tendon in his right leg late in the college season. He wasn't fully healthy until that September, when he signed with San Diego. Knott plays with the work ethic of someone grateful for the opportunity to play pro ball, and he has tools to go with his desire. He's a line-drive hitter with gap power and an understanding of the strike zone. Despite his size he has average speed and is a sneaky threat on the bases. He moves well in the outfield and may have enough arm to play right field. He also has seen time at first base, where he's solid, and played third base in instructional league. Knott has made himself into a prospect and will continue to progress toward San Diego in Double-A this year.
Mobile had a pair of southpaw relief prospects in Bartosh and independent league refugee Matt Hampton, with Bartosh getting the edge because he shows more consistent velocity. He also was the BayBears' choice as closer and responded with 25 saves in his first year in the role. It was his second year in Double-A, and he pitched better this time because he didn't try to overthrow. Bartosh's two main pitches are an 88-93 mph fastball and a good slider. He has the command to move the ball around the strike zone, though sometimes he gets too caught up in trying to make a perfect pitch and loses his release point. He needs to show more consistency with his slider. Bartosh, whose brother Craig turned down the Padres as a 46th-round pick in 2002 and now attends Oklahoma State, projects as a solid set-up man in the majors. He'll be one step away in Triple-A this year.
Because the Immigration and Naturalization Service promised an even more stringent crackdown on falsified visa information this offseason, the Padres decided to conduct their own investigation. They uncovered an additional 18 players from the Dominican Republic playing under false names. The most prominent was Guzman, who was believed to be 31 months younger and was known as Pedro de los Santos when managers rated him the fastest baserunner in the Midwest League last year. He's one of several blazers with top-of-the-line speed in the system, joining the likes of Kennard Jones, Bernie Castro and Marcus Nettles. Though he has a nice stroke from both sides of the plate, he still needs to add strength and learn to hit breaking balls. Guzman made a nice transition from second base to center field last year, though his arm is below average. He's instinctive on the bases and was caught just 12 times in 81 steal attempts in 2002. The Padres felt Guzman had impact potential before they learned his true age, and now he's going to have to sink or swim in high Class A in 2003. He's raw for his revised age.
At Stanford, Wodnicki went to the three College World Series in three years but was buried behind pitchers such as Mike Gosling, Jeremy Guthrie, Justin Wayne and Jason Young--all of whom became first- or second-round picks, signed for a total of $10.7 million in bonuses and became top pro prospects. Last year, on Peoria's Midwest League championship team, he was overshadowed by Dan Haren, Justin Pope and Tyler Johnson. But Wodnicki, acquired when Brett Tomko became too expensive for the Padres and was traded to St. Louis in December, is a legitimate prospect. He throws a lively low-90s fastball and tight slider with above-average command. He can get overexcited, which contributed to his 1-5, 4.37 start in 2002. But once he settled himself down and focused on throwing first-pitch strikes, he posted a 3.13 ERA for the remainder of the regular season and pitched well in two postseason starts. Peoria manager Danny Sheaffer insisted that Wodnicki would one day reach the majors. How well he develops his changeup will determine whether he does so as a starter or middle reliever. He'll be in the high Class A rotation this year.
Sain won two home run crowns in 2001, leading the West Coast Conference and the short-season Northwest League with 16 each, but his shoulder ached by the end of the summer. An MRI revealed tears in the labrum and rotator cuff in his right shoulder, which required surgery that December. Sain, whose father Tom reached Triple-A in the late 1970s, missed the first month of the 2002 season and couldn't play the field until mid-May. His shoulder slowed his swing and he tired late in the season, but did show what he was capable of when he hit .286-7-20 in July. Once he gets his bat speed back in 2003, the Padres believe Sain can shoot up this list. His chances of doing so will be enhanced if he can return behind the plate, where he saw time in college. His catching potential was a major reason why San Diego drafted him. He showed an average to plus arm in college before he got hurt, and he has good receiving skills. Sain's arm looked strong by the end of last season, leading to hope that he can try catching again this year in high Class A.
At first glance, acquiring Baker in a midseason deal with the Red Sox for Alan Embree had the potential to be as one-sided as the Dennis Tankersley-for-Ed Sprague heist San Diego perpetrated in 2000. But while Baker rebounded from a down 2001 season and pitched in the Futures Game, he hasn't regained the form that made him the Red Sox' top pitching prospect in 2000. Though he scrapped Boston's weightlifting program, which left him too bulky, and grew into his body, Baker no longer throws in the low 90s or reaches 95. He sits at 85-88 mph with little movement, and relies on his approach and a plus-plus changeup to survive. He also throws a curveball, and whether he can develop it into a solid average pitch may determine whether he reaches the majors. Baker needs to throw more two-seam fastballs rather than four-seamers, and he should use his curve more against lefthanders. His command deteriorated when he went to Double-A after the trade, which wasn't a good sign. He'll return there to begin 2003.
The weakest position in the organization is catcher, hands down. The Padres hope Trzesniak can help change that if he can continue to stay healthy. Back problems and a hand injury limited him to 122 games in his first three seasons after signing as a 1999 supplemental first-round pick, but he nearly matched that total in 2002. An all-Illinois linebacker in high school, Trzesniak and Josh Barfield were the best athletes on the Fort Wayne club last year. Trzesniak resembles a young Javy Lopez with his arm strength, power and speed, which is very good for a catcher and only slightly below-average. He still has work to do, as he muscles his swing and is too aggressive at the plate. While he has solid receiving skills, he needs to improve his footwork and release after throwing out just 22 percent of basestealers last year. Chosen by Fort Wayne fans as their favorite player in 2002, he'll move up to high Class A this year.
The Padres scout independent leagues as thoroughly as any organization, and their persistence paid off in September 2000. During a rain-soaked tryout for Frontier League players, they saw more than two dozen pitchers before Oxspring took the mound and popped 94 mph on the radar gun. Oxspring, who pitched for Australia at the 2001 World Cup, still touches 94 and works in the low 90s. His nasty curveball may be an even better pitch. San Diego wanted him to start last year, but he resisted that idea and spent most of the year in middle relief. As a result, he didn't get as much of a chance to develop his slider and changeup. Oxspring missed two months with shoulder problems but threw well after returning. He'll head back to Double-A in 2003. He's now open to the idea of starting, and likely will earn a spot in a Mobile rotation that already will include top lefties Mark Phillips and Cory Stewart.
In an organization loaded with speedsters, no player has more pure speed than Nettles. With a 6.2-second time, he might be able to beat any player in baseball in a 60-yard dash. Nettles runs like a sprinter, lifting his legs high and taking a while to accelerate, so he's not quite as quick as Bernie Castro down the first-base line. But that hasn't stopped Nettles from leading the Northwest and California leagues in stolen bases in his first two pro seasons. Managers rated him the best and fastest baserunner in the Cal League last year. Nettles still needs to refine the art of basestealing after getting caught a minor league-high 26 times in 2002, and has a lot of learning to do in other facets of the game. His ground-ball approach and exceptional patience serve him well as a leadoff prospect. But he'll have to improve his .299 slugging percentage, and he can get too passive at the plate, leading to too many called third strikes. Improving his ability to bunt would make him more dangerous. Nettles has incredible range in the outfield, but it's offset by his very weak arm. He broke the humerus bone in his arm as a high schooler and hasn't thrown well since. He does get to balls quickly, which helps, but his arm still makes him a left fielder. He injured his right foot during the Cal League playoffs, costing him valuable developmental time in instructional league. Nettles will play in Double-A this season.