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The Padres had the No. 1 overall pick in the 2004 draft, but their best choice turned out to be their 42nd rounder. They signed Blanks, a big kid from small Moriarty (N.M.) High, for $260,000 a year later as a draft-and-follow. In his lone season at Yavapai (Ariz.) JC, he led the wood-bat Arizona Community College Athletic Conference in batting (.440), doubles (25) and RBIs (47). Had he not signed, Blanks projected as a top-five-rounds talent for the 2005 draft. He led the Rookie-level Arizona League with seven homers, but a major leg infection knocked him out in mid-July of his 2006 follow-up. He re-established his prospect credentials in 2007, when he became the first righthanded hitter to top 20 homers for high Class A Lake Elsinore since Xavier Nady in 2001. He turned in his second straight 20-homer, 100-RBI campaign in 2008 at Double-A San Antonio, this time in a pitcher's park. No active player resembles Blanks, not entirely. He's an intimidating 6-foot-6 and 280 pounds and built like a football tight end, yet he exhibits strong bat control instead of always selling out for power. In fact, he takes pride in his ability to hit for average and focuses on taking the ball to center and right field when pitchers work him away--and that's despite having the raw power to rival any player in the system. He has tightened his strike zone and closed holes in his swing each season. Blanks is athletic for his size and an average runner underway. He throws very well and shows surprising agility and hands at first base, where he has average potential as a defender. Blanks' advocates think he has sufficient range and instincts to play an outfield corner, though he has played just two games there as a pro (both in 2005). He has done a good job monitoring his weight since ballooning to nearly 300 pounds after his layoff in 2006. Despite incorporating a stride and a sense of timing in his swing in 2007, Blanks still has a tendency to hit with dead hands because he uses a minimal load to his swing. That cuts into his home run production, but it does make him less susceptible to hard stuff on the inner half. He hasn't shown much power against lefthanders the last two seasons, as he has struggled to stay back on their backdoor breaking balls. He's much more comfortable facing righthanders, even sidearmers and submariners, because they tend to work him hard inside and he can just react. Blanks will need to continue to make conditioning a priority. He has slowed a bit since signing and isn't quick out of the batter's box. After refining his batting eye in the Arizona Fall League, where he posted a .430 on-base percentage, Blanks is ticketed for Triple-A Portland. He may learn to play left field, though San Diego has yet to make a final decision. At first base, he's blocked by all-star Adrian Gonzalez. But if Blanks continues to produce like he has the last two seasons, the Padres will find room in their lineup for him. Trading Gonzalez would create an opening and cut costs.
Questionable maturity and seven-figure bonus demands pushed Latos to the 11th round of the 2006 draft--even though he featured one of the best pure arms available. He signed for $1.25 million as a draft-and-follow the next spring. Latos ranked as the short-season Northwest League's No. 1 prospect in his 2007 debut, but shoulder, oblique and attitude problems hampered him in 2008. Latos' raw stuff is ridiculously good. His fastball sits at 94-95 mph and touches 97 with tremendous downhill plane by virtue of the leverage created by his 6-foot-5 frame. It's at least a 70 pitch on the 20-80 scouting scale. He cleaned up his hard, late-breaking slider, which features fierce two-plane movement coming out of his high three-quarters arm slot. He came into pro ball with a spike changeup, which he used as a chase pitch, but he took to a straight changeup grip in 2008 and his new pitch shows promise. He showed improved control last season. Though Latos shows strong competitive makeup when pitching, it's a different matter entirely between starts. He tends to reject structure, lacks a commitment to improve and rubs teammates the wrong way with his flippant attitude. His command isn't as good as his control. Latos could pitch at the front of a rotation or in a critical bullpen role, and he could reach the majors as early as 2010. If he stays healthy and focused, he should reach Double-A at some point this year.
Just as Cedric Hunter did in 2006, Decker won Arizona League MVP honors in his pro debut. He led the AZL in runs (51), walks (55) and on-base percentage (.523) while finishing second in the batting race (.352). He played high school ball in Peoria, the same Phoenix suburb where the Padres' training complex is located, and signed for $892,000 as a supplemental first-rounder. Though he has no projection remaining in his 5-foot-10, 190-pound frame, Decker drew San Diego's interest because of his innate hitting ability, strike-zone awareness and plus power potential. He's short and quick to the ball, keeps his hands back and uses the whole field. He threw in the low 90s as a two-way player in high school, so he has a plus arm. Because he hits from an open stance, Decker has a tendency to dive toward the plate. He may need to close his stance somewhat to better stride toward the pitcher. Though he played center field as an amateur, his fringy speed and build will limit him to right field as a pro. He'll need to keep his body in top playing shape to retain his limited athleticism. Decker's debut proved that he was one of the top high school bats in the 2008 draft. He'll advance to the low Class A Midwest League, where the hitting environment and weather is much less hospitable than in the AZL.
Kulbacki led NCAA Division I with 24 homers and a .943 slugging percentage as a James Madison sophomore in 2006. The Padres made him the 40th overall pick a year later and signed him for $765,000. He missed most of spring training last year with a pulled hamstring and consequently started slowly at low Class A Fort Wayne. Promoted to high Class A, he finished fifth in the California League with 20 homers in just 84 games. At his best, Kulbacki employs a short, compact, low-maintenance swing. He took to a mechanical adjustment that helped him keep his head level during his swing, which helped him overcome his struggles early in 2008. Though he possesses just average bat speed, his short arms ensure that he rarely gets tied up inside. With good plate coverage, pitch recognition and a knack for barreling the ball, he projects to hit for average as well as power. With fringy speed and a noncommittal approach to improving his outfield play, Kulbacki profiles best in left field. His arm is average at best. When he gets into ruts, it's usually because he extends his arms too far from his body and doesn't stay through the ball. Kulbacki tore the labrum in his right shoulder after crashing into an outfield wall during the Cal League playoffs, during which he hit two homers in three games. He had surgery and is expected to be ready for spring training, with an assignment to Double-A to follow.
The consensus No. 2 pitching prospect during the 2008 international signing period-- behind only Athletics righthander Michael Inoa--Portillo signed for $2 million in July. It was the highest bonus ever for a Venezuelan until the Reds signed outfielder Yorman Rodriguez for $2.5 million a month later. A wiry 6-foot-3, Portillo boasts plus arm strength and a classic pitcher's frame and projectability. He already pitches at 90-92 mph and touched 95 in Dominican instructional league. He has shown a feel for a changeup that has above-average potential. The Padres value Portillo's polish, clean mechanics and mound presence. Portillo didn't draw uniformly high marks among international scouts for his command, with the chief criticism being that he was wild in the zone during bullpen sessions. His downer curveball also failed to impress scouts last summer, earning below-average grades, but San Diego is optimistic about its development. Portillo is just 17, so he has plenty of time to develop. The Padres won't rush him, but he's a strong candidate to forego the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League and begin his pro career in the Arizona League.
Hunter won Arizona League MVP honors in his 2006 debut, reaching base in his first 49 games. He appeared much more mortal in the tough hitting environment of the Midwest League in 2007, but he got back to basics last season and led the minors with 186 hits. An aggressive hitter, Hunter has the hand-eye coordination and all-fields approach to hit for a high average. He employs a high leg kick, but he loads his hands well and maintains balance throughout his swing, helping him handle lefties as well as righties. Strong wrists help him generate above-average bat speed. An exceptional contact hitter with plus strike-zone command, Hunter ranked as the fifth most difficult minor leaguer to strike out last year (13.6 plate appearances per whiff ). He improved his range in center field by getting better reads on balls. He's a solid runner underway. Hunter can pull the ball for power, but he projects to be below-average in that department because his swing lacks natural loft. He still projects as just a borderline average center fielder because of inconsistent routes and a lack of first-step quickness. His arm is below-average. The Padres noticed an improved disposition from Hunter after he seemed a bit distracted by all his press clippings in 2007. He's ready for Double-A and he could receive a center-field audition in San Diego as early as 2010.
An all-Ivy League selection in both basketball and baseball as a senior at Princeton, Venable focused on hoops as an amateur. After a lackluster Double-A season in 2007, he made giant strides in Triple-A last year, hitting for more power while learning to play center field. His father Max, who played 12 years in the majors, served as the hitting coach at Portland. Venable is a strong, live-bodied athlete with the natural aptitude required to pick things up quickly. That's why the Padres view him as a potential 20-25 home run hitter in time. His pure lefthanded stroke and solid bat speed already produce the line drives needed to hit for average. He has average speed and is a smart baserunner who reads pitchers well. He's an average defender in left field. Despite a solid base of skills, Venable lacks the one dominating tool that will guarantee him regular play. He probably lacks the first-step quickness to hold down center field on an everyday basis. His arm is below-average. Though he's already 26, Venable's combination of athleticism and aptitude has won him many admirers in the organization. Those who buy in completely see a potential David Justice, while those who don't see a tweener without enough bat for a corner or range for center. For now, he's in San Diego's center-field mix.
The Padres drafted Dykstra 23rd overall in 2008 and signed him for $1.15 million, but not before reducing his bonus by $250,000 after a physical raised concerns about his surgically repaired right hip. The San Diego native suffered avascular necrosis in the joint, the result of a fall while playing basketball in high school, and the condition may or may not worsen during his career. For his part, he proved to be durable at Wake Forest, missing just one game in three years. Dykstra features the plus-plus raw power and plate discipline that the Padres covet. He controls the zone and has a true bat path, so he should hit for some average as well. He has an above-average arm, strong enough that he played a bit of third base in college. It's impossible to ignore the degenerative nature of Dykstra's hip ailment. He developed a bad habit of striding toward the plate in college, where pitchers steadily worked him away with offspeed stuff. This resulted in an overly pull-conscious approach and left him vulnerable to good fastballs on the inner third of the plate. He spent time in instructional league simply working on stepping toward the pitcher so that his hands could get to the ball and drive through it. He's a below-average athlete, runner and defender at first base. His power and sound batter's eye should hasten his arrival at Double-A, which could happen at some point in his first full pro season. He's blocked by Adrian Gonzalez and Kyle Blanks ahead of him, and Dykstra can't move to another position.
Since signing for $1.575 million as the 2006 draft's 17th overall pick, Antonelli has careened from one extreme to the other--and now back again. He went homerless and slugged .356 in his pro debut, then bashed 21 homers and slugged .491 in 2007. He thudded back to earth last season in Triple-A, then rallied in August to earn a September callup to the majors, where he looked overmatched. Despite his struggles, Antonelli never lost his feel for the strike zone and his 76 walks ranked third in the Pacific Coast League. A quality athlete who's a former Massachusetts high school player of the year in football and hockey, he has average raw power and plus speed underway. His arm is above-average for a second baseman. His outstanding makeup was on full display as he held up mentally while enduring a difficult season. Antonelli never established rhythm at the plate last season, and some wonder if the strength he has added since turning pro has cut into his bat speed and fluidity. He's very rotational in his upper half, as he remains resistant to incorporating a stride and more separation in the load of his swing. As a result, he failed to get carry because he didn't stay through the ball. Added bulk also cost Antonelli a step on defense, where he doesn't get good jumps and struggles with the double-play pivot. Antonelli has much to prove in 2009. He could win San Diego's second-base job, but if his bat doesn't come around, he'll probably see work at third base and center field in an effort to increase his versatility.
Though he was just the third South Carolina player drafted in June, Darnell offers more athleticism and potential five-tool talent than first-rounders Justin Smoak and Reese Havens. He wowed observers in the Northwest League after signing at the Aug. 15 deadline for $740,000. Darnell generates plus power to all fields with a strong lower half. He consistently has hit for average in college and pro ball. Offering surprising agility for his size, he's a plus runner who has average range and a strong throwing arm at third base. He receives uniformly high marks for his makeup and aptitude, as he worked diligently in instructional league to stay through the ball and add arc to his swing because his homers tend to be of the line-drive variety. Though he recognizes pitches well, Darnell struggles to stay back on offspeed pitches because he rotates early in his wing. While he has flashes of brilliance at the hot corner, his footwork needs refinement, his hands aren't the softest and his arm is erratic at times. He has the tools to play right field if he has to move. Darnell is a classic Padres pick--a high-character college player who controls the strike zone. With his athleticism and power, though, the potential is there for him to develop into a second-round steal. Darnell could begin his first full season in high Class A.
Forsythe hit .309 for Team USA's college national team after his sophomore season, trailing only 2008 firstrounders Pedro Alvarez and Brett Wallace, and the coaching staff regarded Forsythe as the club's leader. He has dealt with myriad injuries in the past two years. He had surgery to repair a stress fracture in his right foot following the 2007 season, and then pulled a hamstring as a junior. After signing for $835,000 as a supplemental first-round pick, he tore a thumb ligament diving for a ball three games into his pro career, requiring surgery. The lower-body injuries were especially damaging because Forsythe relies on his legs to hit. He has a short, compact swing and hits the ball to all fields, and he handles breaking pitches well because of strong balance. Though he's a physical 6-foot-1 and has good strength, Forsythe has a line-drive swing that doesn't produce natural loft, leading some to project him to have below-average power. He earns high marks for his defense, with good feet and hands to go with an above-average arm at third base. He's also versatile enough to have played second base, shortstop and left field for Team USA. He's a good athlete and a solid-average runner. If healthy, Forsythe will open 2009 in high Class A.
In 2007, his first full season, LeBlanc reached Double-A, led the system with 145 strikeouts and finished third with a 2.95 ERA. Last year's results weren't quite as good, as he got thrashed in Triple-A and during his September callup. He did finish strong at Portland, going 7-5, 4.06 in the final three months and ranking second in the Pacific Coast League with 139 strikeouts. LeBlanc handles righthanders with his plus-plus changeup, which he throws with uncanny feel and terrific arm speed. In fact, he has such feel for the pitch that he throws two versions of it--slow and slower. He runs into trouble because he lacks true fastball command, and he doesn't have the velocity or movement to cover mistakes. He sits at 85-86 mph and occasionally scrapes 90, and he's now incorporated a low-80s two-seamer at San Diego's behest. But when LeBlanc misses it's to his arm side, so his fastball tails back over the plate against righthanders. His curveball is an average pitch at times but generally lacks finish or bite, and he would benefit from throwing it more for a surprise strike one. LeBlanc has a smooth, high three-quarters delivery and a competitive makeup, but he'll need better command to make it as a mid-rotation starter, which is his ceiling. He didn't challenge big leaguers enough in September. He's in the running to break camp with San Diego this spring.
Geer became the staff ace for Rice in 2004, one year after the Owls' big three of Philip Humber, Jeff Niemann and Wade Townsend were drafted in the top eight picks. Though he doesn't have big velocity or stuff, Geer has impressed the Padres with his competitive, strike-throwing nature and steady improvement. His talents were on full display in September, when he made five major league starts and surrendered no more than two runs in any of them. A mild elbow ligament strain forced him to miss his final start, but he'll be ready for spring training. At his best, Geer features pinpoint control of a three-pitch mix, headlined by a sneaky two-seam fastball that he spots at will. He sits at 86-88 mph with good sink and keeps batters off balance with a plus changeup. In the past, he threw a slurvy breaking ball, but he tightened it into average slider last season. Because he's not overpowering, Geer has to spot all of his pitches down in the zone. With two usable offspeed pitches, he found success last year by pitching backward, helping his modest fastball velocity play up. He has pitched 162, 177 and 194 innings in the last three seasons, so durability never has been a concern. Geer is a strong candidate to nail down a spot in San Diego's rotation in spring training.
Castro has been on the Padres' radar since his 2006 debut in the Dominican Summer League. Inconsistent command has held him back, but few San Diego farmhands can match his raw arm strength. The 6-foot-5 Castro, who physically resembles Jose Contreras, began to show results to match his stuff and presence in 2008. He ranked second in the Northwest League in opponent average (.223) and third in strikeouts per nine innings (8.8). Castro throws a 92-95 mph fastball that peaks at 97-98, but his control needs refinement. His arm stroke is long, clean and loose, but he often flies open in his delivery, affecting his arm slot and control. Castro's secondary pitches are works in progress. He'll flash an above-average slider at times, but he lacks confidence in the pitch and often fails to get on top of it. His 84-85 mph changeup shows average potential. Castro has room for even more projection and he takes instruction well, so he could develop into a frontline starter or power reliever if he gets his delivery under control. He's finally ready for a shot at full-season ball in 2009.
Injuries have cost Cumberland valuable developmental time, which he needs after starring as a defensive back and running back in high school diverted his attention from baseball. The brother of Reds outfield prospect Shaun Cumberland, he hurt his hamstring late in his senior high school season. After signing for $661,500 as a supplemental first-round pick in 2007, he missed time with a dislocated finger in his pro debut. A pulled ribcage muscle sidelined him for a couple of weeks last May, and then he jammed the index finger on his throwing hand while turning a double play at the end of June, knocking him out for most of the rest of the year. Cumberland is a plus-plus runner and was one of the more athletic players in the Midwest League last year. With live hands, a quick lefthanded stroke and strong strike-zone awareness, he has the skills to be a plus hitter. He's strong for his size, but his power is strictly of the line-drive variety. Opinions remain mixed on Cumberland's defensive future. He has the range and hands to remain at shortstop, but his average arm strength is sabotaged by a motion that leads to erratic throws. He has 31 errors in 69 pro games at short, and some see him as a future second baseman or center fielder. Cumberland's strong makeup would allow him to handle a jump to high Class A, but the Padres may want him to return to Fort Wayne to begin 2009.
Pelzer pitched almost exclusively in relief as a junior at South Carolina, and his lack of exposure, 5.22 ERA and choice of agents (Scott Boras) contributed to him dropping to the ninth round of the 2007 draft. He headed to the Cape Cod League after being drafted in an effort to boost his stock, but a line drive broke his kneecap in his third start. He signed with San Diego at the Aug. 15 deadline for $190,000. Pelzer has just one speed: all-out. Illustrating his bulldog mentality, he took a line drive off the head in a May game but returned five days later to throw three strong innings of relief. His fastball sits at 93 mph and touches 95, and his hard slider flashes plus potential. A solid athlete, he has tremendous presence and tempo on the mound and isn't afraid to pitch inside. He holds his velocity late into starts. While Pelzer can intimidate the opposition with his aggressiveness, he has belowaverage control and lacks a feel for his craft. He has had little success with a changeup after throwing a splitter in college. He gets in trouble when he falls behind and leaves his pitches up in the zone. The Padres held him back from instructional league in 2008 because he had thrown a career-high 118 innings. Pelzer is ready for high Class A, and while he'll continue to start for now, he probably will go back to being a power reliever in the future.
Some opponents considered Sogard the key player on Arizona State's 2007 College World Series team, which featured 2008 first-round picks Brett Wallace and Ike Davis. A scrappy player with plus instincts, Sogard led the California League with 42 doubles in his first full season, was the second-toughest batter to strike out (10.0 plate appearances per whiff ) and ranked among the leaders in several other categories. The Padres view him as a Todd Walker clone--an offense-oriented, lefthanded-hitting second baseman. While his home run power is below-average, Sogard offers just about everything else a team could want in a hitter. He's quick to the ball, shows gap power, uses the whole field, makes easy contact and controls the strike zone. It's a different story defensively, where Sogard's range is a step short and his hands are just average. He doesn't always read the ball in the hitting zone, affecting his positioning, and struggles with consistency on the double-play pivot. His arm and speed are average. If Sogard cleans up his defense, he could pose a serious challenge to Matt Antonelli's standing as the Padres' second baseman of the future.
A product of the Scott Linebrink trade with the Brewers in 2007, Inman has built a distinguished minor league résumé. He compiled the second-lowest ERA (1.71) in the minors in 2006 and followed that with a runner-up finish in strikeouts (180) in 2007. Last year, he led the Double-A Texas League with 140 strikeouts, finished second with a .234 opponent average and appeared in the Futures Game. However, his 71 walks also topped the TL. Inman's funky delivery helps him get by with mediocre stuff. He uses a deep arm action in back while simultaneously sweeping his front arm skyward in exaggerated fashion. It results in a slower tempo, which means he doesn't often get great extension and finish on his pitches. With the Padres' blessing, Inman lowered his arm slot slightly in 2008, and while it boosted his velocity, it took some of the bite out of his fringy curveball and diminished his command. He pitches at 87-90 mph and touches 93, and while his fastball is straight, it gets on batters quickly because of his deception. He does a good job selling his plus changeup. Because he has little room for error, Inman will have to sharpen his command to reach his ceiling as a back-end starter. He's ready for Triple-A.
The fifth Miami player selected in the first three rounds of the 2008 draft, Tekotte served as catalyst for a team that won the Atlantic Coast Conference and finished the regular season ranked No. 1 in the nation. He boosted his draft stock by earning Cape Cod League all-star honors in 2007 and signed for $361,000 last June. An above-average runner with good baserunning instincts, Tekotte plays the small-man's game with aplomb. He puts pressure on defenses with his speed and ability to put the ball in play. He knows how to work the count and seldom chases pitches out of the zone. While he can surprise with his power at times, he figures to be fringeaverage at best in that department. He has the hand-eye coordination and all-fields approach to hit for average. Tekotte's speed also plays in center field, where he covers the gaps, shows plus instincts and goes back on the ball well. His arm is just playable. The Padres were pleased with his debut, though he coasted at times by not running out grounders and playing indifferent defense. He also stole just seven bases and needs to improve his reads and jumps. Tekotte addressed the criticism in instructional league, hustling for five weeks and earning MVP honors while doing something to impress the coaching staff every day. He could be a dynamic leadoff man, and he figures to fall in step behind Cedric Hunter and play one level behind him at high Class A this season.
In a distinguished college career at Miami, Carrillo won the first 24 decisions of his career, two shy of the NCAA Division I record. The Padres selected him 18th overall in 2005 and signed him for $1.55 million with the hope he could move quickly. Because of elbow trouble, that hasn't happened. A strained elbow ligament limited him to 10 starts in 2006 and when the condition didn't improve, Carrillo had Tommy John surgery in June 2007. He returned to the hill last June, and his stuff is still recovering. He sat at 85-88 mph during the season before reaching 88-92 by the end of his stint in the Arizona Fall League. He throws his fastball in on righthanders as well as anyone in the system, and the Padres were encouraged that he began hitting his spots away late in the season. Before the surgery, Carrillo showed a 90-94 mph fastball that touched 96 and featured late life and natural sink. His curveball shows tight downward break, and his changeup has average potential. Carrillo profiles as a mid-rotation starter or power reliever, but the Padres won't make that decision until he shows he's fully healthy again.
Schmidt and Cesar Carrillo remain linked not only as San Diego first-round picks drafted but also as Tommy John surgery alumni. Schmidt went to the operating table in October 2007, four months after Carrillo. Schmidt got back on the mound in instructional league last fall before heading to the Padres' Dominican camp to get in more innings. As an amateur, Schmidt was a polished, durable lefty who had been a Friday starter since he was a freshman at Arkansas. San Diego signed him for $1.26 million as the 23rd overall pick in 2007, but he went down almost immediately. Though he stands 6-foot-5, Schmidt isn't overpowering and lacks a swing-and-miss pitch, but he's adept at using his height to leverage his 86-89 mph fastball down in the zone. He touched 91 in college and showed an above-average curveball and solid-average changeup, and he gets even higher marks for his control and his feel for pitching. His delivery isn't textbook, as he shows the open face of his glove to the batter before he delivers a pitch, but his idiosyncrasies add deception. Schmidt was regarded as a future mid-rotation starter before his surgery, but as with Carrillo, the Padres won't know what they have until he has recovered.
Garrison's tumble down the prospect list is not a reflection of his ability, but rather of the shoulder surgery he had in October to clean up his rotator cuff and labrum. He'll miss at least half of the 2009 season, with an optimistic return date set for June. Along with Will Inman and Joe Thatcher, he joined the Padres in the July 2007 trade that sent Scott Linebrink to Milwaukee. A smart and crafty lefty, Garrison pitches above his average stuff by quickly dissecting hitters and attacking their weaknesses. He ranked fourth in the Texas League last season in strikeouts per nine innings (7.5), fewest walks per nine (2.5) and opponent average (.249). The strength of his 88-90 mph fastball is his ability to locate it, even inside on righthanders. Garrison's hard 12-to-6 curveball is his strikeout pitch and he used it to limit Double-A lefties to a .189 average. It's a plus offering at times, as is his changeup. A good athlete, Garrison is an adept fielder with a tough pickoff move. Only 13 runners attempted to steal against him in 24 starts, with nine succeeding.
Huffman followed in the footsteps of his brother Royce by playing both baseball and football at Texas Christian. He led the Northwest League with a .439 on-base percentage in his 2006 debut, while also finishing second in batting (.343) and slugging (.576). He clubbed 15 homers in the hitter-friendly California League during the first half of 2007, but just 16 in a year and a half since in Double-A. That's at least partly attributable to San Antonio's Wolff Stadium, a tough park for righthanded hitters. Huffman has above-average raw power and knows the strike zone, but all of his pop is to his pull side because his long stride leaves him out of position to drive offspeed stuff the other way. His plate coverage and bat path are fine most of the time, so he produces enough line drives to hit for a solid average. He's an average runner at best. Despite his high-energy style of play, he shows below-average range and arm strength in left field. He played second base in college. The damage he has done versus Double-A lefties--.350/.434/.538 in 117 at-bats--suggests that Huffman should at least have a future as a platoon outfielder. Look for his home run output to increase in Triple-A this year.
Left off the Rockies' 40-man roster, Cabrera didn't last long in the major league Rule 5 draft. Padres international scout Felix Feliz worked for the Rockies when Cabrera signed, so it was no surprise San Diego grabbed the switch-hitting middle infielder with the third pick. Though he's 22, Cabrera hasn't advanced past low Class A, and spending the entire 2009 season in the majors could harm his development. If he doesn't stay on the Padres' big league roster, they have to place him on waivers and offer him back to Colorado. Cabrera has plus-plus speed and led the minors with 73 steals in 2008. Managers rated him the fastest and best baserunner in the low Class A South Atlantic League. He has shown an ability to work the count, but his 101 strikeouts were too many for a player with his offensive profile. He offers well below-average power. The Asheville coaching staff tried to get him to stay back on the ball and use his hands to hit line drives. Cabrera has played more second base than shortstop in his career, but he seamlessly shifted across the bag during the second half of 2008, showing solid range and arm strength at short. With a dearth of shortstop options, the Padres are committed to giving Cabrera a long look in spring training. However, it's hard to envision him going from low Class A to playing regularly in the big leagues in one year.
Canham's offense and leadership helped Oregon State vanquish North Carolina to win College World Series titles in 2006 and 2007. As a polished hitter with incredible makeup, he fits the Padres' player-development mold to a tee. In his first pro summer, he returned to the field just two weeks after having testicular surgery following a foul tip to his protective cup. He played the entire 2008 season with a heavy heart, after his younger brother Dustin, a Marine lance corporal, died in March while serving in Djibouti, Africa. A good athlete, Canham has a smooth, repeatable stroke from the left side and his wrists fly through the hitting zone, attributes that should make him an average hitter. Because he controls the strike zone, he figures to grow into solid-average power. He's a good runner for a catcher. Though Canham takes charge of a pitching staff and calls a good game, his physical tools for the position are fringy. He's also inconsistent in his throwing, blocking and receiving. California League basestealers ran wild on him in 2008, swiping 131 bags in 107 games and getting caught just 17 percent of the time. He doesn't have a great release, transfer or arm strength, and he tends to close off his throwing motion, costing him carry on his throws. He has worked diligently with roving catching instructor Duffy Dyer to improve his technique. Canham's athleticism leaves him fallback options like first base or left field, but his bat doesn't profile for an everyday role at either position. He'll head to Double-A in 2009.
Ranked No. 5 on this list a year ago, Miller slid dramatically because of poor performance and a questionable approach. He signed for $300,000 in May 2006 as a draft-and-follow after posting dominant strikeout totals in junior college, but he hasn't consistently pitched up to his impressive raw stuff as a pro. He posted a 4.69 ERA in the pitcher-friendly Midwest League in 2007, and ranked near the bottom in ERA (6.10) and homers allowed (19) in the California League last season. If there was a silver lining, it was that he stayed healthy and made 26 starts after missing time with shoulder and oblique soreness the year before. Miller has a low-90s heater that touches 94 mph and a plus curveball, which should allow him to succeed. He's trying to find feel for a changeup. Miller's command grades as below-average, and scouts question his composure and competitiveness, as he shows an unwillingness to work inside. Typically, it took batters only a few innings to decode the pattern. With his arm strength, it's impossible to completely write off Miller, who will get another chance to conquer high Class A in 2009.
The Mets drafted Hefner out of high school (46th round, 2004) and again out of Seminole State (Okla.) JC (48th round, 2005) but failed to sign him. The Padres had more luck in 2007, signing him for $129,000 as a fifth-rounder. Obscured by teammates Drew Miller and Duke Welker (a Pirates second-rounder in 2007) at Seminole, Hefner went to Oral Roberts for his junior year and thrived. His velocity improved and he learned a two-plane slider, but scouts were more intrigued by his athleticism and arm action. He ranked third in the Midwest League with 144 strikeouts in 2008, though at 22 he was a bit old for the circuit. One Padres official described Hefner's 87-91 mph two-seam fastball as having turbo sink, and because of its movement he sometimes hesitates to throw the pitch when he needed a strike. He lost depth on his slider as a pro, but the reincarnation of his curveball has San Diego excited. He worked in instructional league to relearn the curve he threw in high school. He has a fringy changeup. Because of his sturdy frame, control and great work ethic, Hefner eventually could surface as a back-end starter. He'll head to high Class A in 2009.
A draft-eligible sophomore, Figueroa went in the sixth round last June and used a strong summer in the Cape Cod League to get a $400,000 bonus. He has the instincts and competitive makeup expected from the son of a former big leaguer. His father Bien went 2-for-11 with the 1992 Cardinals and managed Double-A Connecticut in the Giants system in 2008. Cole's physical tools aren't eye-popping, but he gets the most out of them and repeats a sound swing at the plate. He knows the strike zone and he has some gap power, so he projects as a .280 hitter with 10-15 homers per year. Figueroa's biggest limitation is his speed, which rates as a 35 on the 20-80 scouting scale. His savvy makes him an effective baserunner, but his lack of quickness hurts him at shortstop. Though he played there at Florida and in much of his pro debut, he lacks the range to man the position on a regular basis in the major leagues. His hands and arm are fine, and he projects as an offensive second baseman who offers average to plus defense. Figueroa had minor surgery on his right knee in the fall, but that shouldn't hold him back in 2009, when he could open the season in high Class A.
The Padres had employed Frieri in a swingman role prior to 2008, but he held up well making a career-high 21 starts last year. San Diego added him to the 40-man roster after the 2007 season, along with another hard thrower in Wilton Lopez. The duo began the year together in high Class A, but Frieri separated himself with better command and results. He features easy 92-94 mph velocity from a high three-quarters arm slot, and he looks like he's playing catch, so the ball gets on batters quickly. He throws a quality changeup. Though Frieri has one of the better curveballs in the organization--it's a hard downer--he struggled in 2008 to get the same peak velocity on the pitch that he had in the past. Continuing to break his hands over the rubber will be key for Frieri's command as he moves up. The Padres like his aptitude and makeup, and he'll probably begin 2009 back in the San Antonio rotation, though his future role may be in the bullpen.
The Yankees didn't protect Nova on their 40-man roster, but the Padres found him attractive because of his potential and made him their second selection in the major league Rule 5 draft in December. Nova was regarded as a breakout candidate when he moved up to high Class A last season, but instead he continued to struggle to learn pitch sequences and a feel for the strike zone. Nova can throw strikes with his fastball, curveball and changeup, and all three pitches grade out as above-average when they're on. His fastball reaches 94 mph consistently and his curve can be a hammer, though it's inconsistent. His changeup is at least average most of the time and he throws it with good arm speed. Still, Nova has yet to learn how to set up hitters or get them to chase pitches out of the zone when he's ahead in the count. He also doesn't pitch inside aggressively, which he needs to do to keep lefthanders honest. His delivery lacks deception, making his stuff more hittable. Nova has to stick with the Padres, or else be exposed to waivers and offered back to the Yankees for half his $50,000 draft fee. While he's not ready for the majors, opportunities will be plentiful in San Diego.
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