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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 (Lithonia, Ga.) 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. 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 often 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 with that of Jacque Jones. 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. 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.
Carrillo's strong commitment to Miami and a bout with biceps tendinitis dropped him into the 33rd round of the 2002 draft. 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 the recipient of a $1.55 million bonus, he made just 10 starts last season before straining an elbow ligament in June. 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, but doesn't command his fastball to the other side of the plate with the same aplomb. 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. Though Carrillo didn't need surgery, his elbow didn't heal 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. 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 with a chance for a big league callup later in the year. If he isn't, he could be headed for surgery.
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. The Padres made him the 17th overall pick last June and signed him for $1.575 million. Antonelli has excellent pitch recognition skills and makes consistent contact. 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, with soft hands and a solid arm at the hot corner. 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. He has the tools to play just about anywhere on the diamond and might settle in at second base--where he auditioned in instructional league--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.
Kouzmanoff earned the nickname "The Crushin' Russian" (though he's actually of Macedonian decent) after homering in each of his first two games in the majors, including a grand slam on the first big league pitch he ever 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 him with righthander Andrew Brown in a November trade for Josh Barfield. 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. 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. 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.
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. 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, and 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. Venable doesn't throw well and has below-average range, limiting him to left field. 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 fourth outfielder.
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 last season. 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. 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. 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.
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. Scouts always have liked Huffman's bat, and he delivered in his pro debut, leading the 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. 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. Because he's advanced at the plate, Huffman could go straight to high Class A, and could challenge for a big league job in late 2008.
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. 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. 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 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.
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. 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. Wells struggled 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. Though athletic, Wells tends to rush his delivery. He 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.
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. Ramos had a 5.01 ERA in his debut but rebounded to post the second best ERA in the California League in 2006. 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. Ramos lacks the secondary stuff to consistently put away batters. He can sometimes rush his delivery and get off line to the plate, resulting in pitches left up and over the plate. His curveball is below average and not much more than a show pitch. He has to get stronger after wearing down at the end of his first full pro season. 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.
The Padres drafted Breit twice--in both 2004 and 2005--and finally signed him as a draft-and- follow for $150,000 in spring 2006. They first made him a 46th-round pick out of Thomas More Prep High in Hays, Kan., then took him again the following year in the 12th round, ultimately signing him away from a Kansas commitment. Breit set the Garden City (Kan.) Community College record with 108 strikeouts in 2006. Breit throws a lively fastball on good downward plane, usually pitching at 91-94 mph. His hard, true curveball features good bite and has a chance to develop into a plus pitch. Breit also shows good touch with his changeup and has a good feel for the strike zone overall. He gets high marks for his maturity and clean mechanics. Breit uses a slider at times, but it's more of a show pitch. Like a lot of young pitchers, he occasionally overthrows his curveball and changeup. He struggles at times to repeat his delivery, lunging toward the plate and getting off line, costing him command. Because of the crispness of his stuff, his pitcher's build and knack for pitching, Breit projects as a No. 3 or 4 starter in the big leagues. He'll start 2007 in low Class A, with an outside chance to open in high Class A.
Decker, the same scout who signed since-traded catcher George Kottaras as a draft-and-follow in 2003, also signed Miller and Aaron Breit as draft-and-follows last spring. Miller posted dominant strikeout totals in junior college but struggled to a 4.29 ERA in his sophomore year at Seminole State (Okla.) Junior College. The Padres gave him early fourth-round money ($300,000) to sign. Miller offers athleticism and one of the best arms in the system. He generates easy low-90s velocity, topping out at 96 mph. He's just starting to scratch the surface of his ability, though, and he could develop more velocity as he matures. Miller's secondary stuff is inconsistent. He struggles to throw his slider and curveball for strikes because he lacks confidence in either pitch, so the Padres tried to get him to focus on perfecting just one of his breaking balls. His changeup is a work in progress, and he often showed more command of the pitch than his slider. Miller sometimes rushes his delivery and needs to develop a more compact motion, as he tends to stay upright. Miller profiles as a No. 3 or 4 starter in the big leagues, but he's a long way off. The potential is there for four pitches, but Miller will need time to harness his potential. He'll probably begin this season in low Class A.
Signed for $350,000 in 2005 when the club lost out on Dominican outfield prospect Fernando Martinez to the Mets, Carvajal debuted in the Arizona League last season but missed time with shin splints and a hamate bone injury. His hitting seemed to suffer as a result, because his hitting and power tools are among the best in the system, thanks to the type of bat speed that can't be taught. He makes consistent, loud contact while being very aggressive at the plate. Thus the Padres stressed pitch recognition in instructional league and worked to close his stance for better balance. While he's extremely raw, the Padres are excited by Carvajal's potential because they believe his bat is special, but also because he loves to play and takes instruction well. He draws comparisons with Kirby Puckett and Gary Matthews Sr. from Padres officials for his bat and body type, which is strong and stocky. Even at age 17, Carvajal is mature physically and will always have to make conditioning a priority. His other tools are average and he's rapidly improving in the outfield, to the point where his range and solid-average arm might eventually play in right field. He would have to have a great spring to make a full-season team in 2007, but could see short-season Eugene by season's end.
The first Tennessee high school player to hit 20 home runs since 1998, Burke also pitched and played linebacker for the Ooltewah High football team. Burke is a natural athlete, but his prep performance may have been aided by substandard competition in southeast Tennessee and a short right-field fence at his home field. The Padres keyed in on Burke's all-around potential and sound batting eye, and took him with the 35th overall pick in June, then signed him for $950,000. As a pro, he showcased a clean swing, but tended to drift with his body into pitches and get out on his front foot. He also had a tough time making contact when Arizona League pitchers began feeding him a steady diet of breaking balls and changeups. In fact, after hitting safely in 11 of his first 13 games, Burke batted just .168 afterward, which included a 4-for-47 slump. Because it was his first taste of failure, he lost confidence and assertiveness. But the Padres think highly of Burke's potential to hit for average and power, and believe it's just a matter of finding rhythm and timing at the plate. His range and speed are average at best, but plus arm strength--he hit 91 mph off the mound in high school--will allow him to handle right field. Burke will have every chance to make the low Class A Fort Wayne roster.
Freese and Blue Jays top prospect Adam Lind starred on the infield corners for South Alabama in 2003 and 2004. A fifth-year senior last year, Freese could have signed as a free agent before the draft, but the Jaguars qualified for NCAA playoffs and shrunk his window to one day. The Sun Belt conference player of the year opted to take his chances in the draft and wound up with $6,000 as a ninth-round pick. Freese quickly established himself as one of the top value picks when he demolished the Northwest League and slugged 13 home runs on his way to playing at low Class A in his first half-season. Naturally, it is Freese's big-time bat that will be his ticket to the big leagues, as his strength, bat speed and strike-zone judgment are all above average. In his short low Class A stint, he showed the ability to stay inside the ball and drive it the other way with authority. The Padres would like Freese to stand more upright at the plate to generate more lift to his pull side, and he needs to prove he can hit major league caliber breaking balls. Accounts of his defense vary, as area scouts regarded Freese as a first baseman coming out of college, but Padres officials saw the potential to become at least an average defender at third base. His infield actions, range and arm rate average at best, but his technique needs refinement. He did some catching in instructional league and flashed a few 1.9 seconds pop times, but at 24 a move to catcher probably isn't in the offing. It would surprise no one if he flourishes in high Class A and moves rapidly to Double-A this season.
LeBlanc was bound for hometown McNeese State when he blossomed as a senior at Barbe High in Lake Charles, La., earning first-team All-America honors. McNeese coach Todd Butler left for a job with Alabama, though, and LeBlanc followed. He was BA's Freshman of the Year in 2004, going 8-4, 2.08, and while he missed much of his sophomore season, he led the Tide to super-regionals as a junior. The Padres made LeBlanc, a classic college lefty with command and feel for pitching, their second-round pick last June and signed him for $590,000. He's proven durable, and his smooth, repeatable delivery allows him to throw three pitches for strikes. His best offerings are his curveball and plus changeup. He possesses two versions of the latter: a get-me-over pitch and a strikeout changeup that one Padres official said appears to stop in midair. His curve has average spin and break, but he lands it for strikes. LeBlanc has average command of a deceptive 84-88 mph fastball, which peaks at 90, but he can get in trouble with the pitch because it's straight at lower speeds and hard to command when thrown harder. To combat this, LeBlanc is experimenting with a two-seam fastball, a cutter and a slider. The Padres would like him to stick with just his three pitches and instead improve his pitch location and sequencing. LeBlanc is poised and highly competitive and projects as a back of the rotation starter in the big leagues. He'll probably follow Ramos' path by getting an extended look in high Class A this season.
Though he posted a 8.59 ERA as a Twins farmhand in the Arizona Fall League, opposing scouts were excited by Cameron's live cutter/slider mix, and the Padres took him in the major league Rule 5 draft. The Twins converted Cameron to relief after drafting him in 2001 and he began generating easy 97-mph velocity. He missed the entire 2002 season with a labrum tear in right shoulder. Tendinitis in the same shoulder caused him to miss about a month in both 2003 and 2005. Cameron has generated about twice as many groundouts as flyouts at both Double-A and Triple-A with his moving cut fastball, which he can dial up to 92 mph. His four-seam fastball can still reach 97 on occasion. Cameron's hard 86-88 mph slider is a strikeout pitch and has similar lateral movement as his cutter but more depth. In fact, everything Cameron throws moves, in part because his arm wasn't set properly after he broke it as a child. He still struggles to hold runners and nine of 12 basestealers were successful in 2005 and 2006. As a Rule 5 pick, he'll have to remain on San Diego's major league roster or else he has to clear waivers and then be offered back to Minnesota for half his $50,000 draft price.
McAnulty continued his assault on minor league pitching in 2006, finishing fifth in the Pacific Coast League in both hits and doubles. One thing was different, though: McAnulty shifted from first base, his natural position, to third base. The move was precipitated by the Padres giving up on Vinny Castilla and Mark Bellhorn as everyday third-base options. The conversion proved to be a slow process, though, as McAnulty showed limited agility and an erratic arm at the hot corner. He played just six games in the outfield last season and is on the short side to make an ideal first baseman. A pure hitter, McAnulty boasts one of the best strokes--short and direct--in the system. He combines that with strength and a tremendous batting eye to profile as a major league hitter. He's a below-average runner. McAnulty got more reps at third base in instructional league and could break camp with the big league team if the Padres need a bat off the bench. He was initially scheduled to play third base in Hawaii Winter Baseball, but those plans were altered when his knee required offseason surgery. McAnulty can hit, knows he can hit and might have a career along the lines of former Padre Mark Sweeney as a pinch-hitter and occasional first baseman and outfielder.
You know the story by now: The Padres opted for Bush, the local high school two-way standout, with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2004 draft instead of going with more dynamic-- but also more expensive--college stars Stephen Drew, Jeff Niemann or Jered Weaver. They settled for Bush just three days before the draft because he agreed to a $3.15 million bonus. He's now three years into his pro career, but hasn't played above low Class A because of injuries and poor hitting. He broke his ankle during spring training last year and was hampered by hamstring injuries twice during the season and again during instructional league. Bush continues to show the outstanding arm that helped make him a consensus first-round talent, but his range, hands and foot speed are just slightly above average. He showed outstanding lateral movement as an amateur, but now needs to clean up his defensive footwork. Bush is a .221 hitter in 624 minor league at-bats and his hitting tools remain unrefined. Good health would help, but his swing path and strike-zone judgment need to be addressed. The Padres would like for him gain strength. At this stage, Bush projects as a utility infielder, but he won't reach even that modest ceiling if he doesn't rededicate himself to the game. He should finally get a taste of high Class A this season, but without rapid improvement, the Padres might be tempted to convert Bush's arm strength--he hit 95 mph in high school--to the mound.
It has taken Cruz six minor league seasons, two organizations and two seasons in Double- A to find even the modest level of offensive success he attained last year. Acquired from the Red Sox in a December 2002 trade for Cesar Crespo, Cruz finished third in the Double-A Southern League in doubles and fourth in extra-base hits (50), and was selected to play in both the SL all-star game and the Futures Game. The Padres noticed a distinct improvement in his work habits when he returned from the Mexican Pacific League in the 2005 offseason. Cruz is the system's top defensive infielder with the hands, range, quick feet and arm strength to play anywhere on the infield. Most of his minor league career has been spent at shortstop, but that changed last season when he spent a lot of time playing second and third base in deference to Juan Ciriaco. Cruz makes it look very easy defensively, though he did commit 29 errors because of erratic throwing. Cruz has surprising pop but remains a streaky hitter because his plate discipline needs a lot of refinement. He can catch up with any fastball, but struggles against quality breaking balls. He's an average runner. If Cruz continues to hit, he projects at worst as a utility infielder at the major league level. He's ready for Triple-A.
Carrasco joined the organization in March and made a louder pro debut than outfielder Yefri Carvajal, his Arizona League teammate. And like Carvajal, Carrasco is a high-energy, physically mature player, for whom hitting is the name of the game. A switch-hitter, Carrasco has top-of-the-scale power potential from the left side, but is more of a line-drive hitter from the right. Observers wonder how much average Carrasco will hit for because he drops his hands low in the zone, making it difficult for him to recover and leading to an uppercut in his swing. He could also tighten his strike-zone discipline. Athletic and agile for his size, he has a chance to be a solid-average defender at third base. His 23 errors in 46 games were caused more by carelessness and being worn down than by fundamental deficiencies. Carrasco has well above-average arm strength for the position and his infield range and actions are average. He'll also need to pay attention to physical conditioning, as he already weighs in at a burly 220 pounds. Carrasco is an average runner but doesn't get out of the box quickly because of a big swing. He's likely headed to low Class A for his full-season debut.
Brown joined the Padres along with Kevin Kouzmanoff in the November trade that sent Josh Barfield to the Indians. While Brown has a history of elbow issues, including Tommy John surgery in 2000, the mental side of the game has been a bigger factor in slowing his climb to the majors. The Indians questioned his mental toughness in 2004, but he showed more aggressiveness after moving to the bullpen the following season. Brown has power stuff, with a fastball that sits in the mid-90s and a wipeout slider. When the Indians scouted him in 2004, Brown was sitting at 95-96 mph, topping out at 98--a velocity he never approached with the Indians. Mechanical issues are partly to blame, as Brown is often long, slow and unbalanced in his delivery. That doesn't bode well for controlling runners or his command, which took a major hit last year. Brown could still be valuable coming out of the pen if he irons out the kinks in his delivery, but it will have to be this season because he's out of options.
Thompson spent two years in short-season ball before tackling low Class A. He began 2005 in high Class A and quickly jumped to Double-A early in the season, but got hit hard. His maturation continued with a repeat of the level last year. This time he finished fourth in the Southern League in strikeouts, but also fourth in most home runs allowed. The organization attributes Thompson's success to improved command of his 85-88 mph fastball, especially in the second half of the season. Getting ahead in the count allowed him to work his two best offerings--a very good changeup and occasionally very good curveball--into sequences that worked for him. Both pitches are among the best in the system. Thompson's high strikeouts total is a testament to the effectiveness of his secondary stuff because his fastball is below average. Like many lefthanders, Thompson fields his position well and controls the running game with one of the system's best pickoff moves. He needs to gain more focus and better control his emotions on the mound. Thompson is bound for Triple-A, and has a chance to become at best a back-end major league starter or a left-on-left reliever, at worst.
Buschmann stepped into Vanderbilt's rotation and thrived as its Friday starter when David Price (the possible No. 1 overall pick in the 2007 draft) hit a slump last spring. The Padres were pleased that Buschmann made it to high Class A in his pro debut, especially considering he was a senior sign for $2,000. He tops out at 92 mph and pitches at 86-90 with a lively fastball he delivers from a three-quarter arm slot, generating good sink and bore. Buschmann gets in trouble when he gets under his pitches and has a habit of flying open. He throws an 84-85 mph slider that can be a plus offering on occasion. Buschmann gets good side-to-side break on the pitch, but is working on adding tilt to the pitch to locate it down on the zone. He commands the inside portion of the strike zone against righthanders but needs to improve his ability to throw strikes down and away. His changeup is an average offering. Buschmann has the makings of a future No. 4 or 5 starter with the ability to pitch to contact and generate groundball outs. He'll likely begin 2007 back in high Class A, where he finished strong in the postseason.
Ekstrom spent two years at Oregon State before transferring to Point Loma Nazarene in San Diego, where he was named Golden State Athletic Conference player of the year as a senior. Command of three pitches served Ekstrom well as he put Class A behind him in a season and a half, making 28 starts for Fort Wayne in 2005 and 14 for Lake Elsinore in 2005. He made his Double-A debut last June, where his strikeout and hit rates slipped. He was durable, though, and earned organizational pitcher of the year honors. Because he doesn't have exceptional velocity and because he's a 6-foot righthander, Ekstrom will have to earn his promotions. But for what he lacks in raw stuff, he makes up for with composure, presence and for having a real plan on the mound. Ekstrom attacks the strike zone with an 88-92 mph sinking fastball, a hard slider and a changeup. As it is with all pitchers who rely on control, Ekstrom's success hinges on his ability to change speeds, hit his spots and induce soft contact.
Morton shortened his swing and showed the lowest strikeout rate of his career in his repeat of high Class A. He made it to Double-A for the first time in July, despite being a 2003 third-round pick out of college. Morton was willing to adjust his all-or-nothing swing mechanics last season in high Class A, closing his stance and minimizing extraneous movement. His raw power is unparalleled in the system, but he'll likely always hit for a low average. Morton is a natural leader behind the plate and pitchers like throwing to him. He moves exceptionally for someone who stands 6-feet-5 due to impressive flexibility, and blocks and receives the ball well. Morton's throwing, while always strong, was improved last season, but he still had to work to synchronize his footwork and exchange to increase the accuracy of his throws. Morton missed time in 2006 with a groin injury and the Padres sent him to the Arizona Fall League to make up for lost time. He projects as a backup catcher in the Mark Parent mold.
Menchaca notched the win in the Arizona League championship game and finished ninth in the league in ERA. Strong and durable, Menchaca resembles a young Freddy Garcia, with his quick, efficient arm action and a heavy sinking fastball that sits at 88-90 mph and peaks at 93. The pitch explodes on hitters and he should get into the low 90s with consistency as he matures. Menchaca's secondary offerings aren't nearly so advanced. He shows some feel for a changeup, but his breaking ball needs a lot of work. His low three-quarters curveball sometimes sweeps or bites, and he's also working on developing a slider. The organization thinks with refinement he'll be able to develop one or the other as his go-to breaking ball. He tends to rush his delivery and needs to stay back. Menchaca shows a feel for pitching and is a future starter who will eat innings and get ground balls, but he's a long way from the majors.
Despite a shaky showing in instructional league and not yet pitching in the U.S., Castro has one of the highest ceilings among pitchers in the organization. After trading pitchers Evan Meek, Jose Ceda, Joel Santo and Cesar Rojas last summer--and after losing Joakim Soria in the major league Rule 5 draft--Castro is one of the best raw power arms remaining in the system. He already possesses a plus fastball with life at 93-96 mph. Castro gets good extension on his fastball and the pitch shows good armside sink and run. He has an outstanding pitcher's body--short torso, long arms and legs--and shows good arm action. Castro pitches from a high three-quarters delivery and sometimes drops his elbow, guiding the ball to the plate, but this is common in young pitchers and easily correctable. He has the makings of a changeup, but tends to get under and around his slider. Both pitches need a lot of work. Castro has excellent makeup and has a chance to develop into a frontline starting pitcher.
Blanks led the wood-bat Arizona Community College Athletic Conference in batting (.440), doubles (25) and RBIs (47) in 2004, after which the Padres signed him for $260,000 before he could enter the 2005 draft. Blanks is a good defender at first base with soft feet and mobility for someone listed at 6-foot-6 and 270 pounds, though he was up near 300 pounds by the end of the season. His arm is solid-average. Blanks has tremendous strength and raw power from the right side, but can be pitched to because he loses his sense of timing at the plate and gives away too many at-bats. Blanks is susceptible to the high fastball. The Padres would like Blanks to play closer to his listed weight of 270 pounds, but he got off track last season when a major leg infection sidelined him after mid-July. Blanks needs a big power year in high Class A to re-establish himself as a prospect.
Hussey, signed out of Australia, repeated the Arizona League in 2006 and finished with fifth-best ERA in the league. Not yet physically mature, Hussey has a good frame with room to fill out. He has the potential to develop three average to slightly above-average offerings. He pitches at 88-90 mph with excellent arm action, and he touched 93 this summer. Hussey has a chance to develop an outstanding curveball, but for now it's an average offering, much like his changeup, and he experimented with a cut fastball last season. Hussey's delivery is smooth, though like most teenage pitchers he struggles to stay on line to the plate. With continued improvement, Hussey could become a middle- or back-of-the-rotation starter.