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The No. 3 overall selection in June, Tate nearly doubled the franchise bonus record held by the ill-fated Matt Bush when he signed for $6.25 million at the Aug. 17 signing deadline. Tate also set a new mark for a high school pick, surpassing the $6.15 million the Rays gave Tim Beckham a year earlier. Widely regarded as the top prep position player available in 2009, Tate starred as a quarterback for Cartersville (Ga.) High and had committed to play football as well as baseball at North Carolina. His father Lars was a standout running back at Georgia and spent three seasons in the NFL. Tate followed in the footsteps of Allan Dykstra and Nick Schmidt, the Padres' previous two first-rounders, when the revelation of an injury sucked some of the excitement out of his signing. In just his second day working out with the Rookie-level Arizona League club, he was immobilized with a sports hernia and had surgery to reattach an abdominal muscle to his pubic bone. As a result, he missed the balance of the season and spent his instructional league time rehabbing. Tate compounded matters when he had surgery in late November to repair a broken jaw he sustained in an ATV accident near his Georgia home. The Padres expect him to be healthy in time for his first spring training. Tate's premium athleticism stands out as the best in the system. Unlike many two-sport amateurs, he features graceful, fluid actions on the diamond, and he isn't stiff and mechanical like some ex-footballers. Best of all, he shows natural baseball instincts and he makes in-game adjustments against better pitching. Tate's potential to develop five plus tools, highlighted by huge raw power and plus-plus range in center field, has the Padres justifiably excited. He also has plus-plus speed and an above-average arm. His feel for hitting is less refined, but he reacts well to the ball and maintains good balance at the plate. Tate played with intensity all spring, even when he wasn't being scrutinized by a throng of scouts, and his mature and passionate demeanor translates into what one club official deems special makeup. The biggest question facing Tate remains his feel for hitting. Some scouts said his swing was better when he was a sophomore in high school and regressed over the next two seasons. Like most young hitters with strength, he can get pull-happy. Now that he has committed to baseball full-time, he can polish his batting approach and learn through repetition what works for him. While hitting with metal bats, he could afford to simply trust his hands and his natural bat speed. San Diego intends to work with him on lengthening his stride and separating his hands when he loads his swing. Tate's abdominal injury cost him valuable development time. He first felt a twinge in his abdomen during the spring, but because he played only a handful of games each week, he didn't feel inhibited by the injury. The Padres envision Tate developing into a power/speed center fielder who combines the best attributes of Mike Cameron and Andruw Jones. A solid showing in spring training should earn him an assignment to low Class A Fort Wayne, and from there the speed at which his bat develops will dictate his pace.
Castro intrigued the Padres with his raw arm strength even while posting a 5.46 ERA in Rookie ball in his first two pro seasons. He started refining his command in 2008 and took a huge step forward last season, when he led the low Class A Midwest League in strikeouts (157 in 140 innings) and threw a seven-inning no-hitter in August. He helped Fort Wayne win the league title, allowing only one run in two playoff starts. Castro throws a 92-93 mph fastball with life down in the zone. He can dial up his riding, four-seam fastball to 95-96 and blow the ball past hitters upstairs. He throws a nasty low-80s slider that features hard, late break and is tough on righthanders. He has made steady improvements to his delivery, staying online to the plate and improving his extension. He earns high marks for his work ethic. Castro's slider can get big on him at times, and he's still refining what figures to be an average changeup. With a true swingand- miss fastball, he needs to make a concerted effort to emphasize his secondary weapons in game situations. Castro slashed his walk rate last season and if that trend continues, he has the stuff and durability to profile as at least a No. 3 starter. He also could make a dynamic closer if needed. He should reach Double-A San Antonio at some point in 2010.
He's more athletic than the typical Padres college draft pick, but that's not to say Darnell is all projection and no production. Through 142 pro games, he has batted .319/.428/.542 with nearly as many walks as strikeouts. He ranked ninth in the minors with a .424 on-base percentage last season. Darnell controls the strike zone and shows a natural feel for hitting. He generates plus power thanks to natural strength and bat speed. Working with roving hitting instructor Tony Muser, he has learned to put more backspin and loft on the ball by bracing his right hand under the bat head at the point of contact. He's an average runner but not a basestealing threat. His arm is strong enough for third base. Some observers think Darnell's hands and feet will play at third, but others aren't convinced. He made 30 errors in 117 games in 2009, with 17 miscues coming on throws. He struggles with accuracy when he doesn't get his feet set and throws on the run. He checked out of instructional league early with lingering back soreness. Darnell has enough bat to play anywhere on the diamond, and he may one day receive an audition at second base because of the Padres' crowded third-base and corner-outfield situations. He's ready to tackle Double-A in 2010.
After signing for $892,000, Decker won the Rookie-level Arizona League MVP award in his pro debut. He was even more impressive in his encore, becoming the first teenager to lead the Midwest League in OPS (.956) since Prince Fielder in 2003 and ranking second in the minors in on-base percentage (.442). He homered twice in the playoffs as Fort Wayne cruised to the MWL title. Decker recognizes pitches and controls the strike zone like a much more experienced hitter. He has incredible power to his pull side and hits with authority to all fields. He employs a short swing and won't chase pitches out of the zone, rare attributes for a young power hitter. He has an average arm, having touched 90-92 mph from the mound in high school. For all his positives as a hitter, Decker draws negative reviews for his lack of athleticism. He's a wellbelow- average runner who figures to slow down further as he ages, which would make him a less-than-adequate defender in left field. He initially resisted the Padres' overtures to get in better shape, but he relented after missing a month in 2009, first with a concussion coming out of spring training and then with a tweaked back. Decker profiles as a Nick Swisher type whose game centers on walks and power--but with a better feel for hitting and less athleticism. He's ticketed for high Class A Lake Elsinore in 2010.
A torn thumb ligament knocked Forsythe out of action just three games after he signed for $835,000 in 2008. Healthy last season, he ranked second in the minors in walks (102) and sixth in on-base percentage (.429). Drafted 23 places ahead of fellow college third baseman James Darnell, he has stayed one step ahead of him in pro ball. He's not overwhelming in any area, but Forsythe has a solid base of tools. He features a short, balanced swing and isn't afraid to wait for his pitch, even if he falls behind in the count. He has the natural strength to hit for average power for a third baseman. His range, hands and arm are all plus tools at the hot corner. He's a solid-average runner and earns praise for his calm demeanor. Some observes think Forsythe's line-drive stroke will translate more into doubles than homers. His power declined noticeably in Double-A, though that's partially attributable to San Antonio's unforgiving ballpark. In 33 Texas League road games, he batted a steady .316/.444/.439, posting an OPS more than 230 points higher than his home mark (.647). The Padres' logjam at third base might push Forsythe to another position-- second base, the outfield or even catcher--but no move is imminent. He figures to be a top-of-the-order hitter wherever he lands, and he'll likely reach Triple-A Portland in 2010.
Three months after signing for $515,000 in 2007, Luebke was pitching in the high Class A California League playoffs. Back in Lake Elsinore to begin his first full season, he scuffled to a 6.84 ERA, but righted the ship after a demotion to low Class A. He bounced back with a strong 2009, reaching Double-A and starting Team USA's gold-medal game victory against Cuba at the World Cup. In 2008, Luebke seemed unwilling to work inside against righthanders, who learned to take his pitches to the opposite field. Last season, he pitched inside with a vengeance and broke bats with a 90-92 mph fastball. His new approach opened up the outer half of the plate for his secondary stuff, particularly his solid slider. He has streamlined his motion and got more downhill plane by softening the landing of his front foot, resulting in improved command and finish of his pitches. As an added bonus, he more consistently repeated his arm slot. Tall and a bit gangly, Luebke sometimes struggles to coordinate the long levers in his delivery. His changeup features good action, but he still throws it a bit too hard at 84-86 mph. He has experimented with various circle change grips. Luebke's stuff and size give him a ceiling as a No. 3 starter. He should get his first taste of Triple-A in 2010, with a big league callup possible in September.
Pelzer earned a $190,000 bonus as a ninth-round pick in 2007 despite having a kneecap broken by a line drive in the Cape Cod League after the draft. He has established his credentials as a power pitching prospect, ranking second in the California League in strikeouts (147 in 151 innings) and fourth in opponent average (.244) last season. A strong athlete with a quick arm, Pelzer pounds the zone with a heavy 93-95 mph fastball that touches 97 in short stints. He maintains his velocity deep into games, meaning that opposing batters geared to hit his fastball have insufficient time to react to his secondary stuff. They can look downright foolish waving at his hard slider. His tenacity serves him well on the mound. Pelzer's changeup lags behind his other offerings, in part because he eschewed the pitch in college in favor of a high-80s splitter. He'll dust off the splitter occasionally to give lefties a different look. He falls out of rhythm in his delivery at times, with the rest of his body struggling to catch up to his quick arm, affecting his command. Pelzer's stuff would play up in a relief role, and it's not hard to imagine him as a closer, challenging hitters with his fastball and slider. He has worked hard at being a starter after mostly relieving in college, and the Padres have no plans to change his role in Double-A in 2010.
The finest hitter among the elite prep athletes in the 2009 draft, Williams slipped to the second round and signed at the Aug. 17 deadline for $775,000. Like Donavan Tate, he comes from a family with athletic bloodlines. His cousin Cedric Allen pitched in the Reds system and two aunts are enshrined in the softball hall of fame. Williams' excellent bat speed is the product of strong, quick hands. He's physical and can crush the ball to all fields with his aggressive lefthanded stroke. One area scout saw Williams hit a 500-foot blast. He's a gifted center fielder who goes back on the ball well. He's an above-average runner out of the box and even quicker under way. Inexperience is Williams' biggest hurdle. It shows most in his management of the strike zone, particularly with identifying and hitting breaking balls. While his innate hitting ability is undeniable, he'll work to add separation when he loads his hands, which will give him more leverage in his swing. His arm strength is fringy. While he profiles as a center fielder, Williams may move in deference to Tate. If his bat develops as expected, he'll have no problem providing enough offense for an outfield corner. He'll spend his first full pro season in low Class A.
Rincon signed at age 16 with little fanfare, but he has separated himself from the Padres' other international players not only with his rapid development but also by quickly learning English. He recovered from knee surgery in April 2008 to make his U.S. debut that summer before ranking as the No. 2 prospect in the short-season Northwest League in 2009. The Padres hold Rincon up as a model for their other Latin prospects to follow. He controls the strike zone and works deep counts. He maintains balance at the plate and hits breaking balls. Scouts project him to hit for high averages as he moves up, and his raw strength should translate into average power. His arm strength is his best defensive asset. He draws raves for his aptitude and toughness. Rincon is anything but fluid at third base, with hard hands and feet that don't work well in terms of timing hops. He made 22 errors in 44 games and spent about a third of his time at DH. His slinging arm action results in too many throwing errors. He's a below-average runner and figures to slow down more as he matures. Though Rincon may not be long for the infield, his bat will keep him in San Diego's plans. He should make the jump to full-season ball in 2010.
The 25th overall pick in the 2007 draft, Poreda signed with the White Sox for $1.2 million. He made his major league debut last June, then went to the Padres six weeks later in the trade for Jake Peavy. He played for five teams at three levels last season, losing his feel for the strike zone along the way. Poreda fires plus four-seam fastballs ranging from 90-95 mph from a low three-quarters arm slot. The Padres see promise in his 88-91 two-seamer, which features better life in the zone. He has made strides in commanding his heater to both sides of the plate. He'll flash a plus slider in the high 80s. Big and strong, he's built for durability. After switching organizations, Poreda's delivery fell apart, as did his control. He gets around his slider too often, flattening it into a slurve. He lacks feel for his well-below-average changeup, and he needs to throw it more to try to develop it. Switching between starting in the minors and relieving in the majors has left Poreda with a feeling of lingering uncertainty about his role. Unless he makes huge strides with his command, he probably fits best at the back of a bullpen, where he could be San Diego's version of Matt Thornton.
On a traditional development path, Cumberland would be competing in Double-A this season. But because of several injuries, he's still trying to put the Midwest League in his rearview mirror. He has logged just 130 games in two years of full-season ball, all in low Class A. A strained oblique and jammed finger cut into his playing time in 2008. Last year, an errant pitch struck the back of his hand, bruising ligaments, tendons and bones and knocking him out of the playoffs. Cumberland tried to return for instructional league but pain and swelling put the kibosh on that. His brother Shaun is an outfield prospect in the Reds system. An electrifying talent, Cumberland has performed well for Fort Wayne when healthy, batting .290 with 35 steals and nearly as many walks (57) as strikeouts (60). He has good feel for the strike zone and for putting the barrel on the ball. With his plus-plus speed and below-average power, he fits at the top of the order. Cumberland has improved his efficiency at shortstop and strengthened his arm as he has physically matured and pursued an aggressive long-toss program. He still grades as merely adequate in those departments and may face a shift to second base, but that's no longer a foregone conclusion. A 2010 season free of serious injury could return Cumberland to his normal trajectory, including his first glimpse of Double-A.
A top two-rounds talent on merit, Sampson slipped in 2009 because his bonus demands scared away teams. The Padres pounced quickly on day two, selecting him with the third pick in the fourth round after Sampson and his guardian, acting as his agent, softened their bonus demands. The day before the Aug. 17 signing deadline, San Diego bought him out of a Florida State commitment for $600,000. As an amateur, Sampson dealt head-on with adversity, which included his mother's death and a criminal case back in 2006 that stemmed from a felony gun charge leveled at a passenger in a car he was driving. Between the lines, Sampson is a scout's dream, featuring an effortless, fluid arm action, plenty of poise and a feel for changing speeds. He ran his fastball up to 95-96 mph early in the spring before settling at 90-92 after signing. His power curveball already ranks as the best in the system, and his overall control is strong for a prep pitcher. He has shown a feel for a changeup. Sampson's lean, athletic frame offers all kinds of projection, but he closes off his delivery at times, which causes him to throw slightly across his body. The Padres have no recent experience developing prep righthanders as talented as Sampson, so they may opt to begin slowly with an assignment to short-season Eugene in 2010.
While Portillo received significantly more money to sign with the Padres, he's at a similar stage in his development as Simon Castro was back in 2006. Making his pro debut in 2009, San Diego's $2 million man led the Arizona League with nine losses in 10 decisions and finished with a 5.13 ERA. Portillo's overall stuff was fine, but his control wavered and he visibly tired down the stretch. There was nothing wrong with his fastball, as he touched 93 mph in each of his 12 starts and usually pitched at 90-92. Tall and projectable with strong body control, he figures to add velocity as he learns to repeat his delivery. Portillo lacks feel for his curveball, but he'll flash a plus downer from time to time. At this stage, he has more feel for his changeup than he does for his curve. The Padres rebuilt Portillo's mechanics during the season, eliminating a pause in his delivery and adding more separation after he leaves his balance point. A bright pupil who has taken quickly to learning English, Portillo could advance rapidly when things begin to click. He'll tackle the Northwest League in 2010.
San Diego signed shortstop Jonathan Galvez for $750,000 and Liriano for $300,000 during the 2007 international signing period, heralding the organization's new focus on Latin America. Both players made their pro debuts in the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League a year later, helping to christen the Padres' new academy in Najayo. Liriano scuffled to a .198 average with 106 strikeouts in just 67 DSL games, but he made significant improvements in his U.S. debut, ranking as one of the Arizona League's most dynamic talents in 2009. The 18- year-old ranked in the top five in batting (.350), hits (69), homers (eight), RBIs (44) and total bases (103), and he also stole 14 bases in 19 attempts. Liriano separates himself from the pack with plus-plus raw power, and in a July 26 game he hit three home runs, one to each field. He has true five-tool potential and a lithe, athletic body that reminds San Diego of a young Sammy Sosa. Like Sosa, Liriano is a passionate player who craves attention. His ceiling as a hitter is compromised by an undisciplined approach and present trouble with offspeed pitches. Added maturity and enhanced pitch recognition will help him clear this hurdle. Liriano boasts the best arm strength and accuracy among position players in the system, and he gets good jumps and angles on the ball in center field. He's just an average runner, though, and likely will settle in right field. Liriano loves to play, and given time he could develop in to an impact right fielder. It may take him four or more years to reach that apex, with his climb continuing in low Class A this season.
Zawadzki graduated from sleeper to prospect in 2009, smacking 15 homers, streamlining his game and spending the second half of the season in Double-A. The Padres' surfeit of compensation picks in 2007 meant that even though Zawadzki was a fourth-round selection, he was the 11th player they picked. Despite his small frame, he has good power from both sides of the plate, the result of quick hands and wrists. He revamped his swing last offseason, working to keep his hands in the hitting zone longer, which helped him to drive the ball the other way. He improved his selectivity last season as well. Zawadzki runs and throws well--his arm rates as a 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale by some accounts--and he has enough range to make all the routine plays at shortstop. A free-spirited player, his concentration lapses at times and he'll flub the routine play. At the plate, his swing can get too big and he falls into prolonged slumps when he'll strike out in bunches. Zawadzki stands as one of the Padres' more skilled prospects and someone who may be able to fill in at shortstop if Everth Cabrera falters or at second if Matt Antonelli doesn't rebound. Ultimately, he might have the most value in a super-utility role, providing offense all around the infield.
Taken 40th overall in the 2007 draft, Kulbacki delivered on his potential in 2008 with a monster season in the California League, hitting for average and power and showing a discerning batting eye. In the playoffs that September, he tore the labrum in his right shoulder while crashing into the outfield wall, necessitating surgery. Kulbacki worked hard to rehab the injury, but with his lead hitting shoulder affected he appeared tentative to cut loose with his swing during spring training. He stayed behind in extended spring until May, but when he returned he got off to a slow start. In his first taste of Double-A, Kulbacki hit .201 and went homerless in 36 games before succumbing to an injury even more grisly than his performance. His hamstring detached from the bone, shutting him down for the remaining two months of the season. The injury precluded him from getting at-bats during the fall as well. With a sound shoulder and hitting base, Kulbacki employs a short, compact, low-maintenance swing that produces a solid average and average power production. While his bat speed is just average, his short arms ensure that he doesn't get tied up inside. He knows the strike zone and has a knack for making solid contact. A below-average runner, Kulbacki is a left fielder because his range and arm are fringy. Kulbacki will have to hit to make it to the big leagues, and he'll have to prove in his second shot at Double-A that 2009 was merely a lost year.
Tekotte began the 2009 season in low Class A in part because of a center-fielder logjam at Lake Elsinore, where Brad Chalk and Danny Payne roamed. When Tekotte batted just .211/.281/.292 in 47 games during April and May, he didn't exactly argue for a promotion. He righted the ship, batting .328/.429/.529 in June and July, after he shortened his bat path and improved his pitch selection. Tekotte could grow into average power, but much of his value will be tied to his contributions as a tablesetter and as a defender. He put his average speed to good use, showing a more aggressive baserunning style and stealing 30 bases in 42 attempts last year. He has just enough power to get himself in trouble, and while he excels at turning on inside fastballs, his swing often looks long against offspeed stuff. Plus range in center field stands as Tekotte's strongest tool. He throws well enough for a center fielder and improved his accuracy in 2009. Midwest League observers were quick to credit him for strong makeup. He's agile and athletic with room to fill out. Tekotte will get a crack at Lake Elsinore to begin 2010.
Hefner placed third in the Midwest League in 2008 with 144 strikeouts, and the Padres were hopeful that he'd break out in the California League in 2009. Pitching in the same Lake Elsinore rotation as Cory Luebke and Wynn Pelzer, he finished third in the league with 14 wins, fourth with 142 whiffs and eighth with a 4.12 ERA. A smart pitcher, he limited damage from walks (2.3 per nine innings, the fifth-lowest rate in the Cal League) and stolen bases (just 21 attempts, of which a league-leading 62 percent were caught). Hefner doesn't overpower batters, relying instead on plus movement on his 89-92 mph sinker and an outstanding fading changeup. After losing the depth on his slider after turning pro, he resuscitated a curveball he hadn't thrown regularly since high school. It flashes plus potential, though it wasn't the strikeout pitch San Diego has hoped for. In 2010, Hefner will continue refining his feel for his curveball in Double-A. As a 24-year-old with a strong frame and fine control, he could be a big league rotation option in the second half. A future as a No. 4 or 5 starter or middle reliever awaits.
Hailing from the same Oral Roberts program as Jeremy Hefner, Sullivan might have turned pro as an early pick out of high school if he hadn't had Tommy John surgery prior to his senior year. In each of his three years of college, he led the Golden Eagles to a Summit League championship and earned all-conference honors. He signed quickly for $430,200 as the Padres' third-round pick in 2009. With an ideal pitcher's frame, Sullivan showed a quality fastball and the potential for two solid secondary pitches during his pro debut. He delivers 91-92 mph fastballs from a steep downhill plane and touches 94 on occasion. His ball runs naturally to his arm side. He has a power slider that's a plus pitch at times and loopy at others. He'll continue refining his strong changeup now that he'll need to use it more in pro ball. Sullivan's clean delivery is a product of his athleticism, though like most all young pitchers, he'll fly open at times, pulling his pitches to his arm side. The Padres want to get him on line to the plate more consistently. A smart pitcher, he varies his time to the plate and stymies the running game--just six runners attempted to steal when he was on the mound. Sullivan offers enough present stuff and future projectablity to make him an intriguing mid-rotation prospect. He'll probably open his first full pro season in low Class A, with the chance for a midseason promotion.
In the wake of "Moneyball," the Athletics surprised the industry by selecting high school arms in the second through fourth rounds of the 2005 draft, starting with Italiano. His arm strength has long been evident, but injuries limited him to 35 combined innings in 2006 (when he had labrum surgery) and 2007 (when a line drive hit him and caused a skull fracture). Healthy again in 2008, Italiano hit the wall once he got to high Class A and struggled there again as a starter last season. After the Padres acquired him along with Sean Gallagher and Ryan Webb in a midseason trade for Scott Hairston, they made Italiano a full-time reliever and lowered his arm angle from over the top to high three-quarters. His power fastball/slider combo and spotty control had long suggested a bullpen role. With his new slot, he touched 96 mph and sat at 92-94 more consistently, while showing outstanding boring action and improved control. His slider showed more depth, and Cal League batters struggled to lift either of Italiano's pitches. He didn't allow a home run in 31 innings while generating a 5.71 groundout/airout ratio with Lake Elsinore. A physical mound presence with strong makeup, Italiano could be ready to for the big league bullpen at some point in 2010, especially after being added to the 40-man roster in the offseason. He'll likely start the year in Double-A.
In two seasons in Double-A, Huffman belted just 16 home runs in 168 games--including a mere four at home in San Antonio. Freed from an extremely tough park for righthanded power hitters, he slugged 20 homers and 30 doubles in Triple-A last season. Unfortunately, he showed many other limitations, including contact issues, a pull-centric approach and a susceptibility to offspeed offerings. A top college performer who won a Northwest League on-base percentage title (.439) in his pro debut, Huffman has a strong batting eye to go with the power to profile at an outfield corner. He can smoke quality fastballs, but righthanders with good breaking balls and lefties who work him soft away give him fits. His pull approach leaves him vulnerable on the outer half, and he hit just .185/.307/.323 in 130 at-bats against southpaws in 2009. He could hit for higher average if he committed to using center and right field. Huffman is a fringe-average runner and a merely adequate defender in left field or at first base. His arm is below-average. A high-energy player who exudes confidence, he looks like a future regular on his best days and a part-timer on his worst. He's likely facing at least another half-season in Triple-A after being added to the 40-man roster for the first time. His brother Royce, who like Chad played baseball and football at Texas Christian, has spent the last seven years in Triple-A, most recently with the Rangers.
Reyes defined inconsistency during his three seasons at Oregon State. As a freshman in 2007, he was the Most Outstanding Player at the College World Series as the Beavers won their second straight national title. His sophomore year was a disaster, as he posted a 7.08 ERA and was arrested for reckless endangerment after he and two teammates unlawfully discharged a rifle during a target-shooting incident. Last spring, Reyes went 6-2, 4.20 and fell to the 17th round of the draft because of his track record and his choice of Scott Boras as an agent. In some ways, Reyes' situation mirrors that of Wynn Pelzer, a Boras client whom San Diego drafted in the ninth round in 2007. Both pitchers used a strong Cape Cod League showing to persuade the Padres to dole out an above-slot bonus. Reyes signed at the Aug. 17 deadline for $200,000. Reyes' stuff is firm, headlined by a 90-91 mph sinker that touches 94. He mixes in a plus slider but lacks a third pitch. His command looked better this summer than it had at any time since his freshman year. He turned in three strong starts at Eugene after signing, paving the way for the jump to low Class A next year. He'll be developed as a starter, but his repertoire may fit better in the bullpen.
Hunter seems to perform well every other year. The Arizona League MVP in 2006, he struggled in the pitcher-friendly Midwest League in his first full pro season. He rebounded with a strong 2008 performance in high Class A, then turned in by far his worst season in 2009 in Double-A. While he led the Texas League in plate appearances per strikeout (13.4), his incredible hand-eye coordination has meant that he has never had to define his strike zone. Too often he'll put in play the first pitch he can get his bat on--leading to lot of groundouts and shanked flyballs from well-located pitches. His unorthodox swing is geared toward hitting line drives all over the field and not for power. The Padres would like to see Hunter add strength and hit for a bit more authority. He improved his routes and reads in center field, but because he's an average runner he might not have the pure speed to stay there in the majors. His below-average arm would dictate a move to left field, where his bat would have to take a big step forward to prevent him sinking in the morass of tweeners in Triple-A. After a tough year in which little went right, Hunter's attempt at redemption will begin with a repeat of Double-A.
Joining the Padres in the Scott Hairston trade with the Athletics that also netted Craig Italiano and Sean Gallagher, Webb provided San Diego with instant value, showing two plus pitches while making 28 big league appearances. Former Padres GM Kevin Towers made an art form in putting together effective, low-cost bullpens, and the club's September crew featured a host of promising recent acquisitions: Gallagher and Webb, Aaron Poreda and Adam Russell (Jake Peavy trade with the White Sox), Luke Gregerson (Khalil Greene trade with the Cardinals), Luis Perdomo (waiver claim from the Giants) and Edward Mujica (purchased from the Indians). Even rookies Greg Burke (signed out of independent leagues) and Ernesto Frieri (signed out of Colombia) sprang from modest beginnings. Much like Italiano, Webb featured undeniable arm strength while in the Oakland system but didn't thrive until San Diego moved him to the bullpen. His fastball sat at 94-96 mph in September, and he also showed off a nasty mid-80s curveball that he can locate for strikes. Webb is working to refine his high-80s cutter to bust in on the hands of lefthanders, who tagged him for an .889 OPS and all three of the homers he allowed in his big league debut. He's a strong candidate to open 2010 back in the Padres' bullpen.
The diminutive Durango has come a long way since signing as a 17-year-old, steadily adding to his list of admirers with each minor league level he successfully completes. He won batting titles in his first two seasons in the United States, batting .378 in the Arizona League in 2006 and then .367 in the Northwest League as part of an MVP campaign in 2007. Durango started in left field for Panama in the World Baseball Classic last spring and then hit the ground running in Double-A, finishing the year ranked second in the Texas League with 44 stolen bases and 81 walks and third with his .390 on-base percentage. That snapshot provides a summary of Durango's offensive value. A switch-hitter, he can get his bat on most pitches, either slapping them for singles or fouling them off until the pitcher throws ball four. He's a plus-plus runner who has dramatically improved his instincts both on the bases and in center field. With a modest 70 percent success rate in full-season ball, he needs to be more efficient stealing bases. With San Antonio, Durango split time in center field with Cedric Hunter, limiting his repetitions at the position where he profiles as an average defender. He has improved his arm strength to average through dedication to his throwing program. With virtually no power--he has three career homers in four years in the U.S.--Durango will have to rely on his legs to carry him. Tighter team defenses and pitchers with more refined control figure to diminish his on-base ability in the big leagues. Added to the 40-man roster following the 2008 season, Durango received a September callup to San Diego last year. He has two options remaining, but he could make the Padres as a reserve as early as 2010.
The Padres opted not to call up Ramos in September 2008, though he had been just as effective as Portland rotation-mates Josh Geer and Wade LeBlanc, both of whom received promotions. The oversight apparently provided ample motivation for Ramos. He rededicated himself in the winter prior to the 2009 season, getting in better shape, polishing his curveball and surviving in big league camp until the final cut. He would have been recalled in June if not for shoulder inflammation that knocked him out for two months, but he recovered to make his big league debut in September. Ramos has better raw stuff than either Geer or LeBlanc. The problem rests with the deployment of his fastball, changeup and cutter. He sits at 90-91 mph and touches 93 in every outing, but his heater lacks life and his fringy slider lacks finish. He compensates a bit with a plus changeup, and he works inside on righthanders with a high-80s cutter. The return of his curveball gave Ramos a surprise weapon last season, something he could throw for a called strike as a get-me-over offering early or as a back-door pitch later in the count. Ramos' ceiling is strictly that of fifth starter, but he's ready when the Padres need him.
Few prospects who have performed as well as Antonelli did in Double-A have played as poorly as he has in Triple-A. Signed for $1.575 million as the 17th overall pick in 2006, he has batted a miserable .209/.325/.327 with 11 home runs in 187 games with Portland over the past two seasons. The Padres yanked him from the Pacific Coast League in mid-August so he could rework his swing with hitting coordinator Tony Muser in Arizona. Antonelli put in three hours a day, examining old Wake Forest video and incorporating a stride and more load in his swing in an effort to keep his bat in the hitting zone longer. He took his rebuilt approach to the auxiliary fall league in Arizona and began hitting the ball where it was pitched, instead of hooking his swing in an effort to pull pitches and generate power. Antonelli shed some of the bulk he carried in 2008 and came to spring training lighter and leaner. But he banged up his right knee and didn't report to Portland until mid-May. Though his offense has gone backward, Antonelli has improved his defensive play so much that he's become a solid-average defender at second base. His first step was quicker and his double-play pivot was cleaner in 2009. He always has shown above-average arm strength. The Padres believe that he'll forge a big league role, either as starting second baseman or utilityman capable of also playing third base and center field.
After posting an 8.76 ERA as an Old Dominion junior, Carter lasted 13 rounds in the 2008 draft and signed with the White Sox for $32,500. He led the Rookie-level Pioneer League with a 2.23 ERA in his pro debut, helping Great Falls to the league title. He continued to dominate in low Class A last season, averaging 10.9 strikeouts per nine innings before the White Sox traded him, Aaron Poreda, Clayton Richard and Adam Russell to the Padres for Jake Peavy in July. Carter got roughed up after the deal, though he still managed to rank fifth in the minors with 166 strikeouts. The Padres attributed his poor performance after the trade to a tendency to work uphill, causing his stuff flatten out. Carter's frame, raw arm strength and lean, loose delivery remained intact, so San Diego used instructional league to get him throwing downhill. He sits at 90-92 mph and touches 93 with his fastball. He flashes a strong curveball, but too often he doesn't locate his breaker in the strike zone. He has the same problem with his changeup. Destined for high Class A in 2010, Carter projects as a possible No. 3 starter if he can make the necessary adjustments.
Clark led NCAA Division I with 28 home runs at Louisiana State in 2008, one year after leading the California junior college ranks with 15 bombs while at Riverside CC. He's the son of Rangers Triple-A pitching coach and former big leaguer Terry Clark. The Padres committed a $150,000 bonus to Clark, a 12th-round pick, and he led the organization with 24 homers and 101 RBIs in his full-season debut in 2009. He hit so well with Fort Wayne that he advanced to high Class A, leapfrogging 2008 first-round pick Allan Dykstra on the organizational depth chart. A physical 6-foot-5, Clark generates natural loft and leverage with his lefthanded stroke, showing consistent plus-plus raw power to all fields. He has enough juice to hit the ball out of any park. He swings and misses too much to hit for anything but a modest average, but he hits the ball where it's pitched and excelled in RBI situations in 2009. He'll take his walks when pitchers work him carefully. Clark played third base as an amateur, but he's not mobile enough to play there in the pro ranks. He's a below-average runner and adequate first baseman. His bat will have to carry him. Clark's power production ought to get him to Triple-A at least, and he could get there at some point this season.
The Padres followed Figueroa, their 2008 sixth-round pick, in the Cape Cod League before signing him in late July for $400,000. His father Bien played briefly for the Cardinals in 1992 and later served as a minor league manager. As such, Cole plays above his tools and has "instincts coming out of both pockets," in the words of one Padres official. Because of his natural feel for hitting, Figueroa began his first full pro season in high Class A, but he aggravated the surgically repaired meniscus in his right knee and missed all of May. He spent three months rehabbing the injury the previous offseason. After batting .187 with no power in high Class A, Figueroa was demoted and played well for Fort Wayne. He works the count, hits all types of pitching and uses the whole field, so he should hit for average. He struggles with pitches on the inner half, however, and has below-average power. Figueroa's thickening lower half translates into well-below-average speed, and he lacks the quickness to handle the demands of shortstop in the big leagues. He has great hands and an average arm, so he probably will wind up at second base, where he saw some action in 2009. Evaluators are mixed on his ultimate ceiling. Some see him as a potential regular, while others see an organizational player. He'll resume his career in high Class A in 2010.