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Headley finished second in NCAA Division I in walks (63) as a junior at Tennessee in 2005, then signed with the Padres for $560,000 as a second-round pick. Headley continued to show outstanding pitch recognition in his first two pro seasons, allowing him to hit for average and draw walks. For all his hitting ability, though, Headley slugged just an aggregate .431 in the hitter-friendly Northwest and Cal leagues. Last offseason, he embarked on a rigorous weight-training program that added 15 pounds of muscle, which he worked hard to retain through the summer months. The returns were immediate. Headley turned in one of the finest seasons in the minors in 2007, taking home Double-A Texas League MVP honors while leading the league in average (.330), on-base percentage (.437) and slugging percentage (.580). He made his major league debut in mid-June when starting third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff missed time with a back injury. After returning to San Antonio, Headley led the Missions to the TL title. Like most everybody drafted on vice president of scouting and player development Grady Fuson's watch, Headley is an instinctive player with plus makeup who plays above his tools. A switch-hitter with a sweet swing and power to all fields from both sides of the plate, Headley was noticeably shorter and quicker to the ball in 2007, and observers made note of his improved physique. Already blessed with well-above-average hand-eye coordination and confidence, Headley learned to pick his spots to hit for power without selling out. He wasn't helped by San Antonio's Wolff Municipal Stadium, which ranks among the TL's most difficult power parks, and slugged .624 on the road compared to .528 at home. He also markedly improved his two-strike approach in 2007. Prior to 2007, Headley had struggled from the right side of the plate, as his right elbow would get too high during his load and create a longer, loopier swing. He has overcome that flaw and actually was more productive as a righty last season. An average defender at third base with a solid-average arm, Headley has made strides with both his reads off the bat and his throwing accuracy. A below-average runner, Headley has a slow body and isn't a factor on the bases. His lack of athleticism could become an issue, because he's just about major league-ready but is blocked by Kouzmanoff. A move to an outfield corner could be in order, but scouts wonder whether Headley or Kouzmanoff has the quickness to be more than playable out there. Headley has all the qualities required of a third baseman on a first-division team, so the Padres eventually will find a way to get him into their lineup. Because of the presence of Kouzmanoff and the Padres' general lack of outfield depth, Headley may begin his career in left field, where he worked in the offseason.
The Padres selected Antonelli with the 17th overall pick in 2006 and signed him for $1.575 million after he showed steady improvement each season at Wake Forest and turned in two strong summers in the Cape Cod League. Prior to that, as a high school senior, he was the Massachusetts state player of the year in football and hockey--and the runner-up in baseball. Drafted as a third baseman, he slugged just .356 and didn't homer in 205 at-bats during his pro debut. Great makeup and competitiveness are the two most common attributes ascribed to Antonelli. He's an overachiever who grinds counts and understands how to hit, using all fields and letting his home runs come naturally instead of muscling up on the ball. Antonelli has average bat speed and his power comes mostly to left field and left-center. San Diego introduced Antonelli to second base in 2006 instructional league and while he's not a flashy defender there, he has good first step reactions, solid-average range, the fortitude to hang in on double plays and more than enough arm. He has plus speed and baserunning instincts. Because he's still learning second base, Antonelli tends to sit back on balls and come up early when fielding. While he runs well, he might not have the explosiveness to steal bases at the highest level. Though he's athletic and offers a wide base of skills, he's a max-effort player who sometimes verges on playing out of control. The Padres signed Tadahito Iguchi to a one-year contract, which allows them to give Antonelli some time in Triple-A if he needs it. He should develop into an offensive second baseman with the potential to be an all-star.
Latos had one of the best pure arms in the 2006 draft, but he fell to the 11th round because of questionable maturity and unrealistic bonus demands. After initially committing to Oklahoma, he kept his draft options open by attending Broward (Fla.) CC. He agreed to a $1.25 million bonus as a draft-and-follow just hours before the signing deadline. Though raw, Latos shows the potential for three plus pitches. It all begins with a 92-97 mph fastball that he throws with excellent leverage and downhill plane, affording him plus life down in the zone. He delivers his hard breaking ball, which most closely resembles a curveball, from a high three-quarters arm slot. He spikes his changeup with the knuckle of his forefinger and uses the offering as a chase pitch. His mound presence improved dramatically during his pro debut. Though he gets good rotation on his curveball, Latos tends to throw it too hard and loses his release point. The Padres left his spike changeup alone this summer, but they're teaching him a straight change grip. The effort in his delivery offers some natural deception but also costs him control and command. Latos has the stuff and competitiveness to pitch at the front of a big league rotation, and all he lacks is feel. If he doesn't find it, his stuff will play just as well at the back of a bullpen. He'll advance to low Class A Fort Wayne in 2008.
LeBlanc earned BA's Freshman of the Year honors in 2004, missed much of his sophomore season, then led Alabama to super-regionals as a junior in 2006. In his first full pro season, LeBlanc led all Padres farmhands with 145 strikeouts while finishing second with 13 wins and third with a 2.95 ERA. LeBlanc is a classic college lefty with command who pitches above his raw stuff. His smooth, repeatable delivery allows him to throw three pitches for strikes, and the finish on those pitches improved in 2007. While he generally works backward, LeBlanc gained confidence in fastball and used it to better effect setting up his secondary pitches. His changeup is a true 80 pitch on the 20-80 scouting scale at times, and he delivers it with deceptive arm speed. As the season progressed, he improved his feel for locating his solid-average curveball down in the zone. LeBlanc's fastball leaves him little margin for error. It sits at 86-88 mph and tops out at 90, and it's a bit too true. He's working to develop a two-seamer he can throw to the outer half of the plate with life. Improved fastball command would make his offspeed offerings that much deadlier. LeBlanc sometimes rushes the delivery of his fastball and his body gets ahead of his arm, causing him to miss up and away to righthanders. His command, durability and competitiveness mark him as a future No. 3 starter.
Miller posted dominant strikeout totals in junior college, but struggled to a 4.29 ERA in his sophomore year. The Padres gave him early fourth-round money ($300,000) to sign as a draft-and-follow in 2006. Miller was a model of inconsistency in low Class A last year, averaging more than a strikeout per inning but also posting a 5.28 ERA in the second half while missing time with shoulder soreness and a strained oblique. Miller's athleticism, arm strength and three-pitch mix give him a ceiling to rival that of Matt Latos, but he's only beginning to scratch the surface of his abilities. He pitches at 90-94 with his fastball, and his plus curveball gives him a second swing-and-miss pitch at his disposal. His smooth delivery allows him to repeat his mechanics and throw strikes, and his body still has room for projection. If the Padres didn't make Miller throw his changeup, he probably wouldn't use it, though it's a major league-average pitch at times. In fact, the pitch was the culprit on many of the 12 homers he surrendered in the pitcher-friendly Midwest League. Even with his potent fastball-curveball combo, he can't always put hitters away because he doesn't locate his pitches well in the strike zone. He sometimes loses his composure when he gets into jams. Added strength and durability would benefit Miller in 2008, when he'll navigate the pitcher's rite of passage that is the California League. Continued improvement and trust in his changeup could propel Miller to front-of-the-rotation status, but a No. 3 profile is more likely.
As might be expected from a player who went to the elite Hun School of Princeton in New Jersey, Garrison is a smart, poised pitcher with an effervescent personality. He slipped to the 10th round in 2005 due to signability questions, but agreed to terms with the Brewers for $160,000. The Padres acquired him in July, along with Will Inman and Joe Thatcher, in exchange for Scott Linebrink. One Padres official described Garrison as an artist on the mound, one who pitches well above his average stuff. He works to both sides of the plate and stays out of the middle. His curveball and changeup are plus pitches most of the time. He adeptly mixes his offerings and knows how to attack hitters. A good athlete, he repeats his delivery and controls the running game almost as well as he does the strike zone. With an 86-88 mph fastball, Garrison walks a fine line. Anything he leaves up and over the plate is susceptible to being hit a long way, though he has surrendered just 18 homers in 270 minor league innings. He can't get out of jams with a strikeout and must rely on his defense to make plays for him. Garrison tamed the California League after the trade, suggesting he's quite ready for Double-A in 2008. He projects as a No. 4 starter.
After leading Tunstall High to back-to-back Virginia state titles and setting the state record for career strikeouts, Inman spurned Auburn to sign with the Brewers for $500,000. He posted the second-best ERA (1.71) in the minors in 2006 and followed that up with a runner-up finish for in strikeouts (180) in 2007. He joined the Padres, along with minor league lefties Steve Garrison and Joe Thatcher, in a midseason trade for Scott Linebrink. While not overpowering, Inman can command his average fastball to any part of the strike zone. At his best, he pitches at 88-93 mph with a solid-average curveball and an average changeup. He added shape to his curveball last season, as it had previously resembled a slurve, and used more changeups. He's a fierce competitor who works ahead in the count and understands how to set up hitters. Inman tired badly down the stretch and his velocity dipped to 85-88 mph. This after missing time at the end of the 2006 season with shoulder fatigue. Though he locates it well, Inman's fastball is straight, and when he rushes his delivery, he loses velocity on the pitch. The quality of his secondary stuff varies wildly from start to start. Inman profiles as a No. 3 or 4 starter, and his success hinges on command. He breezed through the lower minors before stumbling a bit in Double-A. He may return to San Antonio to begin 2008, but he's still well ahead of most 21-year-olds.
Hunter earned first-team All-America honors as a high school senior in 2006 before signing for $415,000 as a third-round pick. He delivered right out of the gate, reaching base in his first 49 pro games and winning the Rookie-level Arizona League's MVP award. In his less-impressive encore, he still produced numbers above the league averages in the pitching-dominated Midwest League. Hunter's hand-eye coordination is his best asset, and he has very good contact skills and the ability to line the ball into the gaps. He commands the strike zone like a much more experienced hitter and he projects to hit .280-.300 at the big league level because he puts the bat on the ball and is geared to use all fields. His tick above-average speed translates into average range in center field, where his arm is also average. His all-around game continues to draw comparisons with that of Jacque Jones. Hunter's swing got loopy in 2007 and he struggled to stay back on pitches, severely limiting his power to the pull side. Because he lacks first-step quickness, he doesn't get out of the box or steal bases well, and it also hampers him in center field. Some MWL observers thought Hunter lacked energy and perhaps fell victim to reading his own press clippings after ranking No. 1 on this list a year ago. The Padres believe Hunter can fix the quirks in his swing and learn to turn on pitches. If he does so, a future job awaits him on one of Petco Park's spacious outfield corners. He should find the going much easier at high Class A Lake Elsinore in 2008.
A polished, durable lefthander who became a No. 1 starter in the rugged Southeastern Conference as a freshman, Schmidt went 23rd overall in the 2007 draft and signed for $1.26 million. After pitching 241 innings in his final two college seasons, not including a stint with Team USA, he tossed just seven innings in pro ball before coming down with elbow soreness. His elbow didn't respond to rest, and he had Tommy John surgery in October. While he doesn't have a swing-and-miss pitch, Schmidt is adept at using his 6-foot-5 frame to drive his pitches down in the zone. He can touch 91 mph but more often pitches at 86-89, and he backs up his fastball with an above-average curveball and solid-average changeup. He's competitive, has fine control and changes speeds well. He also has an advanced feel for reading batters' swings and adjusting accordingly. Schmidt has some effort to his delivery and he shows the open face of his glove to the batter before he delivers his pitches. He stays online to the plate well, however, and his delivery quirks do add deception. His velocity is fringy, though the rest of his game makes his fastball play up. While the track record of pitchers recovering from elbow reconstruction is impressive, he won't be able to return to the mound until 2009. Following Matt Bush and Cesar Carrillo, Schmidt is the third Padres first-round pick in the last four years to succumb to Tommy John surgery. Despite the setback, he shouldn't require much minor league time once he returns and still should have a ceiling as a No. 3 starter.
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 as a draft-and-follow. A serious leg infection limited him to 86 games with low Class A Fort Wayne in 2006, when the 6-foot-6 Blanks had trouble keeping his playing weight under 300 pounds, but he rebounded nicely in 2007. Possessing the most raw power in the system, Blanks slugged 24 home runs for Lake Elsinore, where the ball doesn't carry to left or left-center field. He became the first righthanded batter to top 20 since Xavier Nady hit 26 for the Storm in 2001. Blanks improved his pitch selection and weight shift in 2007, adding a stride instead of just turning and rotating, which gave him a sense of timing at the plate, not to mention more in-game power. He's agile for his size and has good hands at first base, and he has a plus arm for his position. Blanks' power is almost entirely to the pull side and he would do well to use the opposite field more often. Despite his success, he still was susceptible to hard stuff up and in, and to sliders off the plate when he cheated on fastballs. His footwork and reactions still need cleaning up at first base, and he's a below-average runner. Keeping his weight in check won't be easy. Blanks is a different animal, as one Padres official put it, and with his body type and right-right profile he'll always have to prove himself against the competition. His next step is Double-A.
Carrillo's strong commitment to Miami and a bout with biceps tendinitis dropped him into the 33rd round of the 2002 draft, when the Royals took him out of a Chicago high school. After sitting out 2003 in a dispute between Miami 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, Carrillo made it to Double-A in his 2005 debut, but made just 10 starts in 2006 before straining an elbow ligament in June. The condition did not improve in 2007 and Carrillo had Tommy John surgery in June after five ineffective starts in Triple-A. When healthy he throws an above-average 90-94 mph fastball that can reach 96 and features late life and natural sink. His curveball has tight downward break and the potential to become a plus pitch. Using a three-quarters delivery, he pitches in on righthanders as well as anyone in the system. He doesn't command his fastball to the other side of the plate with the same aplomb. He also needs to improve his changeup to reach his ceiling as a mid-rotation starter, though he also could be used as a power reliever. Carrillo's delivery is a little herky-jerky, but the deception it provides makes it tough for hitters to pick the ball up. He experienced no setbacks in his rehab and should return to the mound by mid-2008.
Luebke turned down the Rangers as a 22nd-round pick in 2006 as a draft-eligible sophomore, and instead spent the summer in the Cape Cod League. He returned to Ohio State in 2007 and led the Big 10 Conference with a 1.95 regular season ERA. The Padres took Luebke 40 picks after Nick Schmidt, and they have similar profiles as big, polished college lefties. Luebke signed for $515,000. He dominated in his pro debut, showing firmer stuff than Schmidt, while generating plenty of strikeouts and groundouts. He reached high Class A and went 1-1, 3.18 in three California League playoff starts. Luebke's fastball comes in at 87-91 mph and touches 93 with good armside run, and he commands it to both sides of the plate. His hard slider is an average pitch with more tilt than depth. Luebke commands his average changeup to the outer half of the plate against righties. He works ahead of most hitters because of his repeatable mechanics and competitive demeanor. Though he's already 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds, he still has room to add strength. Luebke commands three pitches but doesn't have overwhelming stuff, and he'll likely improve his sequences with experience. Like the three lefthanders ranked ahead of him, Luebke is durable, has a great feel for pitching and profiles as a possible mid-rotation starter in the major leagues. He should reach Double-A at some point in 2008.
The vanguard of the organization's renewed international movement, Carvajal signed for $350,000 out of the Dominican Republic in 2005 and debuted Stateside the next season. He missed time with shin splints and a hamate bone injury in 2006, and his hitting seemed to suffer. With bat speed that can't be taught, Carvajal makes consistent, loud contact while being aggressive at the plate. His swing can get long, but when he connects he has as much power as anybody in the system. He shows extra load in his swing now, which leads to wrapping the bat and pulling his head off the ball. Carvajal saw time in center field in 2007, but because he's already physically mature and projects as a below-average runner he'll likely move to right field because he has solid-average arm strength. The Padres remain excited by Carvajal's potential because he loves to play and takes instruction well, and he could earn an assignment to low Class A with a strong showing in spring training. He'll be just 19 all season, however, so a return to short-season Eugene is a distinct possibility.
Kulbacki hit .464 and led NCAA Division I with 24 homers and a .943 slugging percentage as a sophomore at James Madison in 2006, yet scouts still questioned his wood-bat power and his athleticism--questions that became louder after a mediocre showing in the Cape Cod League. He repeated as a first-team All-American in 2007, this time after finishing 14th in the nation with 19 homers and eighth with a .785 slugging percentage. The Padres took him with their second selection in the draft, 40th overall, and signed him for $765,000. After a 4-for-31 start at Eugene, Kulbacki hit as San Diego expected. He has good plate coverage and a knack for putting the barrel of the bat on the ball, two ingredients that could allow him to hit for above-average power in the future. Kulbacki has good hands but had trouble getting around on good fastballs in his debut because of average bat speed, and he tended to hit with more authority to the opposite field. All of his value lies in his bat, as he's a below-average defender and thrower on an outfield corner, and he has fringe-average speed. He'll move up to high Class A to start 2008, with a good chance to reach Double-A later in the year.
Venable focused on basketball in high school and college, and was an all-Ivy League selection in both hoops and baseball as a senior at Princeton. As the son of former big leaguer Max Venable, Will had more exposure to baseball than most two-sport stars, however. In 2006, his first full season, he led the Midwest League in runs (86) while ranking second in hitting (.314) and third in on-base percentage (.389). The Padres love Venable's makeup, and his pure lefthanded stroke and bat speed produce plenty of line drives, as he showed when he won the 2006 Hawaii Winter Baseball batting title (.330). He jumped to Double-A in 2007, but he never really got going. Part of Venable's problem was a toe tap he added to his stride in the offseason in an attempt to improve his rhythm. Instead of helping him, it took his legs out of his swing, destroying his leverage and power potential. Venable eliminated the toe tap in the second half, began working deeper counts and hit seven of his eight homers. He put his average speed to good use, swiping 21 bases in 23 tries, and he's an average defender on an outfield corner, albeit with a below-average arm. He plays under control, often giving the impression he's not hustling. Venable could challenge for big league playing time in 2008.
An all-state selection as a defensive back and running back in football and a plus-plus runner--he can get down the first-base line in 3.9-4.0 seconds--Cumberland offers premium quickness, speed and athleticism. The brother of Reds outfield prospect Shaun Cumberland, Drew went 46th overall in the 2007 draft and signed for $661,500. With live hands and a quick, short swing, he has the strength and bat speed to drive balls from gap to gap and already is an above-average hitter. He has more work to do defensively, as he made 13 errors in 23 games at shortstop and worked in instructional league to improve his arm path. He tended to use an exaggerated load to his throws and cut his arm action off in front of his body. His actions and range are average, as is his arm strength. He could fit at second base or center field if he can't handle shortstop. Cumberland hurt his hamstring late in the high school season, then missed time after signing when he dislocated a finger while trying to catch a pop-up. A high-effort player, he's ticketed for low Class A, where he'll need every ounce of his energy to grind through the tough hitting environments of the Midwest League.
Canham's championship-caliber makeup and offensive prowess were a big part of Oregon State's back-to- back College World Series titles in 2006 and 2007. Draft-eligible as a sophomore in 2006, Canham fell to Cardinals in the 41st round but didn't sign. The Padres selected him 57th overall last June and signed him for $552,500. Canham's bat was his best tool throughout his college career, and his athleticism helps him repeat his short lefthanded stroke. He controls the strike zone and has solid-average power. He's an average runner, though above-average for a catcher. A third baseman in high school, Canham has subpar defensive skills at this point, but he has the agility and aptitude to become at least an adequate catcher. He has fringe-average arm strength with a fair release, and he lacks explosion when coming out of his crouch. He threw out 29 percent of basestealers in his debut. Canham required testicular surgery after being struck in his protective cup in mid-July, but he returned to the field two weeks later and played in the California League playoffs. He projects as a regular catcher if he makes just modest improvements to his throwing.
Ramos turned down the Devil Rays as a sixth-round pick out of high school, then became the winningest lefthander in Long Beach State history. He struggled to a 5.01 ERA in his pro debut, but rebounded to post the second-best ERA (3.70) in the California League in 2006. He nearly turned the trick again in 2007, finishing third in the Texas League in wins (13), ERA (3.41) and innings (163). Ramos doesn't have put-away stuff, but all three of his pitches showed improvement, beginning with his 88-92 mph fastball, which was a couple of ticks quicker than in 2006. The added velocity allowed him to better attack righthanders inside, which meant he could come in even further with his cutter. Both Ramos' slider and changeup are solid-average pitches most of the time. His slider gets too big at times and he needs to use his changeup more, especially on the outer half of the plate. He throws strikes with his full repertoire but gets in trouble when he leaves his stuff up in the zone. Durability has never been an issue for Ramos, who got in better shape last year, and he appears well on his way to his ceiling as a No. 4 or 5 starter. He's ready for Triple-A in 2008.
Thatcher went undrafted after going 4-8, 5.60 as an Indiana State senior in 2004, so he signed with River City of the independent Frontier League. Scouts noticed him at the league's all-star game and he ultimately signed with the Brewers in 2005. The Padres targeted him in the July trade that also netted them Steve Garrison and Will Inman in exchange for Scott Linebrink. Thatcher began the year in Double-A and finished it as San Diego's top lefthanded reliever. He's tough to hit because of his funky, crossfire delivery, which closes off his front shoulder to the batter. He's aggressive and almost always works ahead of hitters, using a cutting 88-91 mph fastball and a sweeping slider from a low three-quarters arm slot. He's especially tough on lefthanders. The Padres identify successful, unheralded relievers as well as any organization--hitting big on Heath Bell, Kevin Cameron, Linebrink and Cla Meredith in recent years--and seem to have done it again with Thatcher. Barring a poor spring training, he'll be on the big league staff in 2008.
The Padres were more active during the major league phase of the Rule 5 draft than any other club, adding Guevara (Reds), righthander Michael Gardner (Yankees) and second baseman/outfielder Callix Crabbe (Brewers). All three players would have to remain on the 25-man roster this season, or else they have to clear waivers and be offered back to their original clubs. While that seems like a longshot, San Diego could have room in its bullpen for both Guevara and Gardner. General manager Kevin Towers made it no secret that Guevara was the club's No. 1 target in the Rule 5 draft. Though the Padres didn't select Guevara--the Marlins took him fifth overall--they acquired him after the draft for cash considerations. Guevara repeated Double-A in 2007 despite a solid campaign there the year before, and he was even more impressive the second time around. His fastball, which sits 86-88 mph and touches 90, and curveball are fringe-average offerings, but his screwball gives him a true plus pitch. He learned it in college from from St. Mary's (Texas) pitching coach John Maley, who was a disciple of Mike Marshall's pitching methods. Because Guevara relies on the screwball to strike batters out, some scouts dismiss him as a trick-pitch artist. But because the Padres' track record with other teams' discarded pitchers, such as 2006 Rule 5 pick Kevin Cameron, is so enviable, Guevara seems like a safe bet to crack the Opening Day roster.
Buschmann stepped into Vanderbilt's rotation as a senior in 2006 and thrived as the Friday starter when lefthander David Price (who would become the No. 1 overall pick in 2007) hit a slump. Buschmann exceeded expectations by making it to high Class A in his pro debut, and he was even more impressive in his return engagement with Lake Elsinore in 2007. He ranked second in the California League with 12 wins and a 2.89 ERA for a Storm squad that advanced to the league finals. Buschmann offers durability, efficiency and average command of three lively pitches. A competitor with good feel for his pitches down in the strike zone, he touches 92 mph with his two-seam fastball and pitches at 86-90 from a three-quarters arm slot, generating good sink and bore. His natural crossfire delivery adds deception. Buschmann showed improvement in commanding his fastball to the outer half of the plate, which aided in setting up his offspeed offerings. His sharp slider can be a plus pitch at times, but it gets big--and his fastball flattens out--when he rushes his delivery and ends up throwing sidearm. He made strides with his changeup, but it's a third pitch for him. Buschmann, who profiles as a back-of-the-rotation starter or middle reliever, is ready for Double-A.
Like his two older brothers, Scott and Royce, Huffman played both college baseball and football. And like Royce, a first baseman who played for Triple-A Portland in the Padres system in 2007, Chad was a quarterback and infielder at Texas Christian. He led the short-season Northwest League with a .439 on-base percentage in his pro debut, while finishing second in hitting (.343) and slugging (.576). He tore up the hitter-friendly California League in 2007 before leveling off in Double-A. A physical player with above-average power, Huffman knows the strike zone and plays like his hair is on fire, as one club official puts it. With his long stride, his swing can collapse, which hinders the amount of damage he can do to the opposite field. A second baseman in college, he showed improvement in left field but still has below-average range and arm strength. He's an average runner at best. His athleticism and reflexes may not be enough to allow him to hit for both power and average at the major league level, though he should have enough bat for a platoon or part-time role. He'll get another crack at Double-A to begin 2008.
After struggling with consistency early in his career, Wells made strides in 2005, leading the California League with a 3.44 ERA. After a rough introduction to Double-A at the end of that season, he rebounded to pitch well there in 2006. But after getting shelled in Triple-A at the end of 2006, he couldn't repeat the pattern--at least not until he was converted to relief. After going 3-15, 7.26 in 25 Triple-A starts, he moved to the bullpen for good in June and posted a 2.93 ERA with 47 strikeouts in 43 innings. Wells generates 90-93 mph fastballs and touches 95 from a sturdy pitcher's frame. When he's going well, he features good sink on his two-seamer and nice depth on a hard slider that grades as average. As a reliever he got by without his changeup, which is below-average. Though he had inconsistent control and still worked up in the zone too much, he was more comfortable in one- or two-inning stints. Wells is on the 40-man roster, so he's a candidate for a callup if a major league job opens up.
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. Hundley has struggled to find consistency since turning pro, but he turned it up a notch in the second half last year and finished fourth in the Texas League with 20 homers. He has strength and solid-average power, with just enough bat to profile as a backup catcher on a good team or a regular on a second-division club. When he's going well, Hundley uses the entire field, but he's geared for power and is a below-average hitter. His swing still lacks consistency, as he often cuts it off out in front instead of getting his arms extended. Defense doesn't come easy to him either, and at his best he's an average receiver, blocker and game-caller. He threw out 36 percent of TL basestealers with his strong, accurate arm, but he frequently flies open, causing his throws to tail away from the bag. He's a below-average runner but fine for a catcher. Hundley and Colt Morton could vie to be Josh Bard's backup in the near future.
Valdez signed with the Padres in November 2005 and he made his debut in the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League the following year. He came to the United States at age 18 last season, showing a short, quick stroke with good gap power. Valdez is strong for his size and offers quick wrists and above-average bat speed that could translate into 15-20 home runs per year down the line. He's also an above-average runner who can get down the line in 4.1 seconds from the right side. A former switch-hitter, he gave that up during the 2006 season. Valdez has plus arm strength at shortstop, enough to make plays in the hole, but he has a funky throwing action that might force a move to second base if he doesn't iron it out. Because he's so young, Valdez probably won't reach full-season ball until 2009.
After two nondescript years in the Dominican Summer League, Contreras took one of the biggest steps forward among the Padres' international prospects in 2006. He led the Arizona League with 52 RBIs and finished seventh in the batting race at .316. After earning an assignment to low Class A in 2007, Contreras held his own until an ankle injury sidelined him for the final six weeks. He has a wiry, projectable body--he already has added 17 pounds since signing--with a chance to add significant strength as he matures. He also has shown the ability to make hard contact with line-drive power to all fields, though he still has a long way to go with his pitch recognition. His swing is loose and fluid, if a little long at times, and he gets great carry on the ball. He has slightly above-average speed but isn't a basestealing threat. Contreras has solidaverage defensive tools and arm strength, with the ability to play either second or third base. His agility isn't quite up to second-base standards, but he may be able to stick there because of his offensive profile. Contreras is on track to reach high Class A in 2008, but he might need a tuneup at Fort Wayne first.
After Rice lost Philip Humber, Jeff Niemann and Wade Townsend in the first eight picks of the 2004 draft, Geer transferred from Navarro (Texas) JC and led the Owls with 12 victories. He has continued his winning ways in the minors, going 34-14 in 21⁄2 pro seasons and taking home Texas League pitcher of the year honors in 2007 for his league-leading 16 wins and 3.20 ERA. Double-A hitters were unable to solve Geer, though his overall stuff grades as average at best. His changeup is a plus pitch and he can touch 92 mph with his fastball, but he predominantly throws 86-88 mph sinkers. He flawlessly repeats his delivery and began registering more low-90s readings in 2007 than he had in either of his first two pro seasons. Geer's slurvy curveball is usable, but he might be better served with a cutter or slider instead. Though he has no wipeout pitch, he's a competitor and strike thrower who offers a little deception and a whole lot of pitchability. He might be a fit at the back end of a rotation, and he has nothing left to prove in Double-A.
As a fifth-year senior in 2006, Freese could have signed as a free agent before the draft, but South Alabama qualified for the NCAA regionals and shrunk his window to one day. He opted to take his chances in the draft, where he signed for $6,000 as a ninth-round pick. Freese has turned in two solid seasons since turning pro, and his strength, bat speed and strike-zone judgment all are above average. He shows the ability to stay inside the ball and drive it the other way with authority. He can turn on inside pitches, too, though his home run power was muted by Lake Elsinore's tough left-center field power alley. His two-strike approach could use more consistency, as he often gets himself out by chasing breaking balls. San Diego has been pleased with Freese's consistency at third base, where he has shown solid-average range, hands and actions to go with an average throwing arm. Because of the organizational logjam at third base, however, he spent time at catcher in instructional league, where he showed solid blocking skills and a plus arm at times. He would need at least a season of work behind the plate if he's to make the switch, so his 2008 assignment will be up in the air until spring training. His bat is ready for Double-A if he stays at third base.
After a stress fracture in his throwing arm in high school required surgery and the insertion of a screw that remains in his arm, Kluber developed into a reliable starter for Stetson. The 2007 Atlantic Sun Conference pitcher of the year after going 12-2, 2.05, he signed for $200,000. At 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds, he's an intimidating presence on the mound, and Kluber pounds the zone with three pitches. He pitches at 88-92 mph, touching 94 with above-average life, and he holds his velocity late in outings. His slider and changeup are average at times. Though Kluber lacks a legitimate put-away pitch, he reads swings well and understands how to attack batters. He joined fellow 2007 draftees Cory Luebke and Mitch Canham for Lake Elsinore's playoff run. A return engagement to high Class A to open 2008 isn't out of the question, and Kluber could develop into a No. 4 starter in time.
Bush finally made the conversion from shortstop to pitcher that long had been predicted, and while he showed promise as a reliever, his momentum was derailed when he had Tommy John surgery in September. He was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2004 draft because he agreed to a $3.15 million bonus, after the Padres decided they didn't want to pay the asking price for college stars Stephen Drew, Jeff Niemann and Jered Weaver. They gave Bush nearly three full years to settle in at shortstop, but he hit just .221/.291/.276 and his defensive range went backward, the result of ankle and hamstring injuries and poor work habits. His arm strength never wavered--his arm rated a pure 80 on the 20-80 scouting scale in high school--and San Diego switched him to the mound last June. The conversion was an immediate success, with Bush flashing mid-90s velocity, an impressive slider and surprisingly good mechanics. In fact, he struck out 16 of the 29 Arizona League batters he faced, walking just two, prompting a promotion to low Class A in early August. One batter later, Bush's season was done. He twice hit 99 mph in that brief outing, but he also tore the ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow. Though he never has received high marks for his work ethic, Bush appeared to be motivated to pitch, lending optimism to the notion that he could be ready for instructional league in 2008.
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