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The Red Sox paid an above-slot $325,000 bonus to sign Rizzo as a sixth-round pick in 2007, and he made his full-season debut in style by hitting .373 in 21 games at low Class A the following April. His season came to a sudden halt when he was diagnosed with limited stage classical Hodgkin's lymphoma, but doctors declared him cancer free that November and he bounced back to hit .297/.368/.461 at two Class A stops in 2009. He emerged as Boston's top offensive prospect in 2010, when he spent most of the year in Double-A and swatted 42 doubles and 25 homers. The Red Sox dealt him--along with 2008 and '09 first-rounders Casey Kelly and Reymond Fuentes--to acquire Adrian Gonzalez that December. Rizzo led all Triple-A players with a 1.159 OPS through June 5, when San Diego called him up at age 21 because it had seen enough of Jorge Cantu and Brad Hawpe at first base. Rizzo went 3-for-7 with a double, triple, homer and four walks in his first three big league games, but he soon fell on hard times and went back to Tucson on July 21 having gone 11-for-91 (.121) in San Diego. He went on to rank second in the Pacific Coast League in slugging (.652) and fifth in hitting (.331) before returning to the Padres and starting eight games in September. He's not Gonzalez, but Rizzo isn't far away from succeeding him as the most dangerous hitter in San Diego's lineup. To do so, he'll have to make adjustments after big league pitchers were able to exploit the length and uppercut in his swing with quality fastballs up in the zone. He needs to stay on top of the ball and level out his stroke to make more contact and hit more line drives. Rizzo started to pull inside pitches for power in Double-A, and he hit 23 of his 27 homers in 2011 to right or right-center field--but that's the most difficult way for a power hitter to thrive at spacious Petco Park. Strikeouts always will be a byproduct of Rizzo's plus power, though he led all big league rookies with at least 100 plate appearances with a 14 percent walk rate. Like many lefty power hitters, Rizzo struggles versus southpaws--he hit .245/.312/.409 against them in Double-A and Triple-A--but his strike-zone awareness should enable him to hit for a decent average. He receives solid to plus grades for his defense at first base, though he's a below-average runner, as expected for a player his size. Rizzo could make the Padres with a strong spring-training performance, but more likely San Diego will send the 22-year-old back to Triple-A to work out the kinks in his swing. Once he does so, he could develop into a .270 hitter capable of producing 30 homers and a healthy amount of walks on an annual basis.
For the second straight year, Liriano slumped early before thriving after an in-season demotion. In 2011, he overcame a 7-for-55 (.127) start at high Class A Lake Elsinore to win the low Class A Midwest League MVP award. He finished third in the MWL batting race (.319), crushed 50 extra-base hits and ranked third in the minors with 66 steals. Among Padres farmhands, only 2009 No. 3 overall pick Donavan Tate can approach Liriano's overall collection of tools. He whips the bat through the zone, drives the ball to the middle of the field and has the strength and bat plane necessary to hit 25 homers one day. His pitch-recognition skills improved dramatically with Fort Wayne as he saw a steady diet of breaking balls, and he now projects as a solid hitter. Liriano has a quick first step and regularly gets down the line in fewer than 4.2 seconds from the right side, giving him plus speed. Strong instincts make him a plus basestealer, though scouts expect he'll lose a step as he fills out his thick frame. His average range and well above-average arm strength fit well in right field. Liriano combined promise and performance like nobody else in the system in 2011, earning a spot on the 40-man roster. A future first-division right fielder, he'll try to solve high Class A in 2012.
Kelly viewed himself as a shortstop when the Red Sox paid him a franchise draft-record $3 million as the 30th overall pick in 2008. He hit just .219 in his first two pro seasons before finally acceding to Boston's wishes in 2010 that he become a full-time pitcher. He performed well enough to join Anthony Rizzo as the centerpieces of the trade that sent Adrian Gonzalez to Boston. Kelly's fastball ranges from 88-92 to 93-95 mph, with heavy sink that helps it play as an above-average pitch even at lower velocities. That sinking action helped him post the second-best groundout/airout ratio (1.9) in the Double-A Texas League in 2011. He repeats a clean, compact arm action that has aided the development of his secondary pitches. Kelly improved his control and consistency with his breaking ball when he repeated Double-A. His 11-to-5 curveball added depth and velocity, grading as a plus pitch more often, though his changeup took a small step back. He entices batters to swing over his mid-80s change when he throws it from the same arm slot as his fastball. He lives in the bottom of the strike zone, allowing just 18 homers in 48 Double-A starts. Kelly doesn't miss enough bats to profile as a pure ace, but with the potential for three solid to plus pitches, he fits the description of a No. 2 starter to a tee.
A Pennsylvania prep product, Spangenberg spent his freshman year at Virginia Military Institute before transferring to Indian River (Fla.) JC for 2011. He quickly gained acclaim as one of the best hitters in the draft, went 10th overall and signed four days later for $1.863 million. He ranked as the short-season Northwest League's top position prospect and batted .381 in the final month at Fort Wayne. Spangenberg knows the strike zone, barrels the ball consistently and smokes line drives to all fields. He could be an annual .300 hitter, though he'll have to maintain balance and add loft to his swing to hit for more than fringe-average power. His hips tend to drift when he gets anxious and he sometimes struggles with inside pitches when his stance gets too wide, both easily correctable blemishes. Spangenberg figures to collect his share of infield hits and stolen bases with his plus-plus speed, a true 70 tool on the 20-80 scouting scale. He played third base in junior college but profiles better at second base because of a slinging arm action and below-average present power. He runs well enough to handle center field if the infield doesn't work out. Spangenberg could develop into a lesser version of Dustin Ackley. He'll open his first full season in high Class A and likely finish it at Double-A San Antonio.
The 82nd overall pick in June, Hedges waited until the Aug. 15 deadline before signing for $3 million, which would have been a second-round record had the Pirates' Josh Bell not pulled down $5 million that same night. Scouts regarded Hedges, an A student with a strong UCLA commitment, as one of the best defensive high school catchers in recent draft history. Amateur opponents rarely bothered running on Hedges, whose arm plays as a 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale because of solid strength and clean, quick mechanics that produce pop times as quick as 1.78 seconds. He receives plus-plus grades for his receiving, blocking, quiet setup and leadership qualities, but scouts disagree on his offensive potential. Those who like Hedges' bat give him a chance to be an average hitter with average pop, while others think his overly aggressive approach will hinder him. He showcased stunning raw power during a batting-practice session at Petco Park. Though he's agile for his size, he's a below-average runner like most catchers. Hedges showed up to instructional league with a more physical build than he had in high school, and the Padres think he could be ready for full-season ball in 2012. He may be four years away from the big leagues, where he could be a future Gold Glove winner.
While scouts rated Gyorko as one of the best bats in the 2010 draft, he nevertheless lasted 59 picks. In his first full year in 2011, he led the minors with 192 hits and ranked second with 114 RBIs. He might have won the high Class A California League triple crown had he not been promoted in July, so he settled for batting titles in the Cal (.365) and Arizona Fall (.437) leagues. Gyorko manages the strike zone well and uses a short, balanced swing that allows him to hit all types of pitching, so he should continue to hit for high averages. He's a sound situational hitter because he shortens up with two strikes, and he's not afraid to go outside his zone in key spots. Though he hits the ball with authority to the opposite field, his overall power potential is just average. Gyorko has soft hands, strong footwork and average arm strength at third base. As long as he maintains his current physique and fringy range, he probably can stay at the hot corner. He's a well belowaverage runner. Gyorko's line-drive stroke figures to play well at Petco Park, where flyballs go to die. He's Chase Headley's likely successor in San Diego, possibly as soon as 2013 if Headley becomes too expensive. Gyorko will head back to Double-A to begin 2012.
Wieland carried a 4.52 ERA through 231 innings at two Class A stops in the Rangers system in 2009-10, undercutting his reputation as a strike-thrower with a three-pitch mix. He nullified those concerns with a breakout 2011 season in which he advanced to Double-A and ranked fifth in the minors with a 1.97 ERA and 7.1 K-BB ratio. He threw a no-hitter on July 29, two days before Texas traded him and lefty Robbie Erlin to the Padres for Mike Adams. Wieland sits at 88-92 mph and paints the corners with a fastball more notable for its precise location than life. He operated at 93 mph and touched 95 during the Texas League playoffs while working with extra rest. His secondary pitches are often as effective as his heat. Wieland's mid-70s curveball features consistent 12-to-6 break, while his 83-84 mph changeup sinks and fades. He occasionally throws a low-80s slider for a different look to his glove side, sometimes favoring it over his curve. He's so quick to the plate that just 12 baserunners attempted to steal against him in 2011. Wieland profiles as a classic No. 4 starter, but his exquisite control suggests he could be a No. 3. Ticketed for Triple-A, he may be ready for a big league audition at some point in 2012.
Erlin led the low Class A South Atlantic League with a 2.12 ERA as a 19-year-old in 2010, and his encore was even more impressive. He needed just nine starts to earn a promotion to Double-A in 2011, when he ranked second in the minors in K-BB ratio (9.6) and fourth in WHIP (0.95). He and Joe Wieland switched Texas League dugouts following the July 31 trade that sent Mike Adams from the Padres to the Rangers. Erlin's secondary pitches, superb control and easy delivery give him more upside than the typical pitcher with an 89-91 mph fastball that tops out at 93. He works both corners with his fastball, rarely straying out of the zone, not even with two strikes. Batters don't see the ball well out of his hand, making his fading changeup a deadly weapon, especially when it arrives anywhere from 12-15 mph slower than his fastball. Erlin buckles knees with a tight downer curveball in the low 70s. If anything, his control is too sharp and leaves him vulnerable to homers. Like Wieland, Erlin is a control-oriented, flyball pitcher who will benefit from Petco Park. His stuff may not play as well in smaller parks, but his overall profile suggests solid mid-rotation starter. He'll team with Wieland again in 2011, this time in Tucson.
Like Padres second-rounder Austin Hedges, Ross turned down a UCLA commitment in exchange for a big bonus at the Aug. 15 deadline, signing for $2.75 million as the 2011 draft's 25th overall pick. He first threw to Hedges during the summer of 2010 as both played on the high school showcase circuit, and they teamed up again during Ross' Aug. 28 pro debut. Ross' older brother Tyson has spent parts of the past two seasons on the Athletics pitching staff. His fastball sat at 91-93 mph during the spring and at 93-95 in short outings during instructional league, topping out at 96 in both settings. He could sit in the upper registers of that range as he fills out his lean frame. His athleticism and smooth mechanics allow him to throw strikes and locate the ball down in the zone. The Padres love his clean arm action and strong aptitude for throwing a changeup, which projects as a plus pitch. His 11-to-5 curveball has its moments but has farther to go than his changeup. A potential frontline starter, Ross probably will team up again with Hedges in low Class A for their first full pro seasons. The Padres believe Ross has more maturity and feel for pitching coming out of high school than Keyvius Sampson or Johnny Barbato did as their most prized pitchers from the previous two drafts.
The Padres stole Sampson with the 114th pick in 2009, selecting him with the third choice on the draft's second day after he softened his bonus demands. Signed for $600,000, he pitched effectively at short-season Eugene in 2010, but his season was marred by a labrum tear in his shoulder as well as late-season elbow soreness. Healthy in 2011, he stifled Midwest League competition, finishing second in opponent average (.192) and third in strikeouts (143). Sampson's fastball sits at 90-92 mph and peaks at 95, exploding out of his hand with late running action. He wraps his wrist on the back side of his arm stroke, showing the ball to his opponent, but his arm is so quick that his control seems unaffected and his fastball grades as plus. He sells his plus changeup with strong arm speed, and it helped him hold MWL lefties to a .191 average. Sampson's curveball is clearly his third-best pitch because it lacks bite and power, sitting in the low 70s. Plus athleticism allows him to repeat his delivery, which features some effort. An improved breaking ball would enhance Sampson's profile, but he still has a chance to be a mid-rotation starter or late-inning reliever. He's ready for high Class A.
Decker experienced immediate pro success after signing for $892,000 as the 42nd overall pick in the 2008 draft. He won the Rookie-level Arizona League MVP award in his pro debut and followed that by leading the Midwest League in OPS (.956) as a teenager in 2009. Decker slipped for the first time in 2010, batting .195 in the first half in high Class A before rallying to slug 14 homers in the second half. Promoted to Double-A last season, he led the Texas League with 103 walks but hit just .236. The Padres believe Decker eventually will be a solid to plus hitter because his lefty swing is short and to the point. He was too selective at times last year while waiting for a perfect pitch and racked up 145 strikeouts, third-most in the TL. Extended hitting slumps result when his stride and hands get out of sync. Decker doesn't necessarily look the part of power hitter with a short, stocky build, but he can drive the ball from left-center to right field and projects to have at least fringy power. He has thinned out since turning pro and now features deceptive athleticism. He plays a strong left field and throws well. San Diego asked Decker to run more in 2011 and he swiped 15 bases in 20 attempts, though he's a fringy runner at best. He appears destined for a return to San Antonio in 2012, and if he hits for either more average or more power, he has a shot at regular play in the big leagues.
Signed out of Mexico at age 16, Oramas spent two years in the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League and another in the Mexican League, where he finished second with a 2.31 ERA as a teenager in 2009, before ever playing in the United States. He didn't wait long to make his mark, coming within two outs of pitching a perfect game for Lake Elsinore in just his fourth U.S. start. Held back in extended spring training with a back injury in 2011, he didn't throw his first pitch for San Antonio until May 21, but he rounded into form quickly. Among Texas League pitchers with at least 100 innings, Oramas ranked fourth in K-BB ratio (3.6) and WHIP (1.21). His stuff grades out as average to a tick above across the board, and he hides the ball well, locates his pitches and varies arm slots to induce swings and misses. Oramas touches 94 mph with his fastball but typically sits at 89-92 and works both sides of the plate, occasionally dropping his arm slot versus lefthanders. He flashes tight rotation on a mid-70s curveball and more often shows feel for a low-80s changeup with fade. Both secondary pitches have average potential. While nothing about Oramas' repertoire screams future star, he commands three pitches and could pitch at the back of a big league rotation. The Padres added him to the 40-man roster in November. An assignment to the high altitude of Tucson in 2012 could stir memories of his summer in the Mexican League.
Darnell developed a cyst in his right hand during his Double-A debut in 2010, and the injury sapped his power and forced him out of action for five weeks at midseason. He redeemed himself in 2011 with a huge half-season with San Antonio. His 1.038 OPS ranked third in the Texas League at the time of his July 3 promotion to Tucson. Darnell completed his bounceback year with a September callup to San Diego, where he started 10 games at third base for an ailing Chase Headley and one in left field. His season ended with a dislocated left shoulder that required surgery to repair the capsule around the joint. Darnell's future value is tied to his bat, and he helped his cause by turning on more early-count fastballs last year. He connected for a career-high 24 homers across three levels, showing an enhanced ability to pull the ball. Some scouts think he's vulnerable to pitches away because he's too pull-conscious, though the strength in his hands translates to his swing and allows him to hit with authority to all fields. Darnell's glovework improved at third base, but he still projects as belowaverage defender there because he lacks flexibility, range and throwing accuracy. The Padres introduced him to left field in 2011 and he took to it immediately because of his sneaky athleticism. He's a below-average runner with average arm strength. Darnell will continue to play both third and left field in Triple-A to start 2012, and positional flexibility might be his ticket to the big leagues in an organization that has depth on the corners.
Castro jumped from short-season ball to Double-A in the span of two seasons, winning the Midwest League strikeout crown in 2009 and then finishing runner-up in the Texas League ERA race a year later. He seemed poised for big things in 2011 as he tackled Triple-A for the first time, but his bubble burst early. Castro landed on the disabled list with a lat injury after six starts for Tucson yielded a 10.17 ERA. He recovered somewhat after a demotion to Double-A in June, and he closed out the season with a 2.53 ERA and a 35-5 KBB ratio over his final seven starts. Castro always has pitched with a long arm action, but he struggled to repeat his mechanics for much of 2011. He got out of whack, failed to extend on the front side of his delivery and also recoiled his arm. Castro's velocity dipped into the low 90s early before he recovered to pitch at 92-94 mph and touch 96 with tailing action. His slider showed its trademark late bite and 82-84 mph velocity at times, though just as often it resembled a slurve. His mid-80s changeup could become a fringy pitch with more refinement. One of the organization's most dogged workers, Castro could benefit from his first dose of failure in the long run. If he rediscovers his two plus pitches and control, he still profiles as a mid-rotation starter or set-up man.
Tekotte enhanced all aspects of his game while repeating Double-A in 2011, drawing more walks, stealing more bases and hitting for more power. He received two callups to San Diego but hit a mere .176 and struck out 21 times in 34 at-bats. With San Antonio, Tekotte hit 19 homers and stole 36 bases, secondmost in the Texas League, and the Padres want him to continue to focus on the speed aspects of his game. He's a plus runner who glides to the ball in center field and has solid range. He has a below-average arm but gets to balls quickly. Tekotte's .393 on-base percentage last year established a career high and ranked third in the TL. While he generally employs a quick, line-drive stroke from the left side, he falls into funks when he sells out for power, as he did in the big leagues. For sustained success he'll need to line the ball into the gaps and use his speed. Tekotte does most of his damage versus righthanders, against whom he has hit .275/.384/.507 in 450 Double-A at-bats, but he makes enough contact against lefties and fields well enough to remain relevant as a potential center-field regular. The presence of Cameron Maybin in San Diego ultimately might force Tekotte into a reserve role. He'll have to outperform Chris Denorfia and veteran free agent import Mark Kotsay to win that job with the 2012 Padres.
While at Nova Southeastern (Fla.), an NCAA Division II program, Mikolas attracted attention from scouts for his 6-foot-5 frame and fastball velocity. The Padres signed him for $125,000 out of the seventh round of the 2009 draft, and he abandoned starting once he reached full-season ball the next year. Mikolas frequently shows two plus pitches and average control while working in relief, which makes him a good bet to reach his ceiling. He has walked just 1.7 batters per nine innings in 137 pro appearances. Mikolas dials his fastball up to 98 mph to put batters away but most frequently pitches at 93-96. His heater does lack life and can be turned around when it catches too much of the plate. His hard, downer curveball features tight rotation in the mid-70s and gives righthanders fits. He doesn't show much aptitude for a changeup, so San Diego has no plans to move him from the bullpen. Mikolas could begin 2012 in Triple-A, with a big league callup to follow if he pitches well.
Peterson starred in four sports in high school before paring down to baseball and football at McNeese State and, finally, to just baseball after turning pro with the Padres. San Diego selected him 58th overall last June and signed him for $624,600. A defensive back in football, Peterson never had concentrated fulltime on baseball, but that wasn't necessarily evident from his performance during his pro debut. Batting leadoff and playing shortstop every day for Eugene, he led the Northwest League with 50 walks while finishing second with 39 steals and third with 48 runs. Observers were smitten with his athleticism, intensity and leadership qualities. Peterson manages the strike zone well and uses a short, low-maintenance lefty swing, though his stroke lacks the loft to hit for more than fringy power. He has slightly above-average speed, and his strong baserunning instincts make him a stolen-base threat. Peterson still is learning the finer points of playing shortstop, such as timing hops and positioning his feet, but no one doubts he'll work hard to smooth his rough edges to become perhaps a solid defender. He has average arm strength, though he sacrifices carry on throws because he cuts off his arm path. The Padres have him working on a long-toss program to work out the stiffness, a common trait among ex-football players. Peterson could hit about .270 with a dozen homers and 30 steals at his peak, more than enough production to play shortstop regularly if his glove is up to the task.
A cousin to six-time all-star Carlos Beltran, Fuentes became just the sixth Puerto Rican to be drafted in the first round when the Red Sox selected him 28th overall in 2009. He joined the Padres along with Anthony Rizzo and Casey Kelly in the trade that sent Adrian Gonzalez to Boston in December 2010. One of the youngest regulars in the California League last year, Fuentes showed plus speed and athleticism while stealing 41 bases, fourth-most in the circuit, but his game suffered from overall immaturity. He needs to focus on playing hard for an entire season, gaining strength and refining his skills as a leadoff batter. That means improving his pitch recognition, enhancing his on-base percentage, shortening his swing to hit more line drives and bunting for the occasional hit. He has below-average present power but could have decent pop once he fills out his 160-pound frame. Fuentes' speed plays well on the bases and in center field, where he glides to the ball with plus range. His arm grades as below-average. Fuentes' bat must improve for him to profile as more than second-division regular or a reserve. He could earn a promotion to Double-A with a solid spring training.
The Padres regard Rincon as a paradigm for their Latin American prospects because he manages the strike zone better than many players his age, foreign or domestic. He cracked 13 home runs in low Class A in 2010 but did so while hitting a meager .250 in 511 at-bats. Promoted to high Class A last year, he batted .336/.391/.509 with eight homers through the end of June, but a broken hamate bone in his left hand scuttled his second half. San Diego believes Rincon has at least average potential as a hitter. His strong swing features loft and produces consistent hard contact but also opens a hole in the upper regions of his strike zone. When he connects, he hits the ball as far as any Padres farmhand. Rincon is a third baseman in name only and faces a shift to an outfield corner or first base. A bottom-of-the-scale runner, he has stiff actions and slow feet at the hot corner. He committed 18 errors in just 39 games at third last year, good for an .835 fielding average. Rincon's arm is strong but erratic. He'll head back to Lake Elsinore in 2012, partially in deference to Double-A third baseman Jedd Gyorko, and still has time on his side at age 21. San Diego added him to its 40-man roster in November.
Hagerty didn't catch much during his final two years at Miami in deference to Yasmani Grandal, and his inexperience behind the plate often shines through. He spent the bulk of his first two pro seasons at the Class A level, while Grandal zoomed from the 12th overall pick in 2010 to Triple-A in the Reds system last year. Hagerty spent six weeks in Double-A at the conclusion of last season, but his bat slowed under the duress of catching 90 games. He threw out 30 percent of the 117 basestealers to test him, pairing average arm strength with a quick release and accuracy. He's often too rigid when receiving and blocking, and he may lack a catcher's prototypically soft hands. Hagerty will be forgiven his defensive lapses if he develops the 20-homer power of which he's capable. A switch-hitter, he shows a more discerning eye and makes more contact from the right side but has significantly more power from the left. Hagerty cracked all nine of his home runs and slugged .490 while batting lefthanded in 2011. He works deep counts and takes walks, but he doesn't run well or project to make enough contact to hit more than .260 or so. Hagerty profiles as a starting catcher because of his power, but most clubs would prefer a stronger defender in a backup role.
Signed for $100,000 out of the 15th round of the 2009 draft, Lollis zoomed to high Class A in time for the California League playoffs a year later. His fell off the pace with a return engagement to Lake Elsinore in 2011, running up a 5.57 ERA through 16 starts before landing in the Storm bullpen for most of July and August. As a reliever he posted a shiny 36-8 K-BB ratio but still compiled a 3.82 ERA. The 6-foot-9 Lollis pitches at 92-93 mph and peaks at 97 out of the bullpen, but his long levers lead to timing issues with his frontside arm action. He struggles to stay on line to the plate, alternately flying off toward first base or cutting his arm action off prematurely. Lollis' deep repertoire gives San Diego hope he can grow into a mid-rotation starter. His mid-70s knuckle-curve, low-80s slurve and changeup all have shown flashes of being average to a tick above. Some scouts outside the organization believe Lollis' future is in the bullpen, where he can focus on throwing mid-90s gas while sharpening only one of his secondary pitches.
Tate pulled down a franchise-record $6.25 million bonus as the third overall pick in the 2009 draft, but he hasn't played enough subsequently to showcase his true abilities. Beset by injuries and other setbacks, he has played in just 64 pro games since signing. Tate sustained a sports hernia and a broken jaw after turning pro in 2009, and then concussion-like symptoms, a shoulder strain and a stomach virus in 2010. An assignment to Fort Wayne in 2011 lasted for six games until he collided with teammate Everett Williams and hyperextended his knee. His season later ended prematurely with a right wrist injury that sapped his power and required surgery. Tate also failed two drug tests in 2011, both related to synthetic marijuana. He served a 25-game suspension, and the penalty would have totaled 50 games had he not received half credit for attending substance-abuse counseling following the first failed test. When on the field, Tate still demonstrates the same plus raw tools he did as an amateur: bat speed, running speed, arm strength and center-field range. He swiped 19 bases and hit .288 while showing an improved ability to manage the strike zone. His bat tends to loop through the strike zone, so unless he corrects his path he may never hit for a high average. He'll take another pass at low Class A in 2012 and still has a shot at developing into productive regular.
The most obscure of the six players the Padres added to the 40-man roster in November, Hernandez always has shown a quality changeup and strong command. His prospect status began to take hold when his fastball velocity began to creep up halfway through the 2010 season. Signed at age 18 out of Venezuela, he initially topped out near 87 mph. He now touches 95 on occasion, sits in the low 90s and works both sides of the plate with a riding fastball. Batters don't see the ball well against the short and stocky Hernandez, which helps his low-80s changeup play up. His 78-82 mph slider/cutter doesn't elicit much praise, but it could be a fringy third offering in time. Hernandez may not have a deep enough repertoire to start in the big leagues, but he could grow into a nifty southpaw reliever capable of handling lefties and righties. After getting knocked around in four Triple-A starts last year, he'll return to Tucson at some point in 2012, perhaps to open the season.
Valdez earned a spot on the Padres' 40-man roster following the 2010 season despite batting just .247/.302/.380 while repeating low Class A. His breadth of tools and positional flexibility tantalized San Diego and might have held similar cachet for other teams in the Rule 5 draft. Valdez started 2011 by hitting .211 through early May, then picked up the pace and batted .314/.361/.523 with 14 homers in 421 at-bats the rest of the way. He still struggles to identify breaking pitches from righthanders, so he doled out most of his damage versus lefties (1.130 OPS compared to .723 against righties). He finished the year with 59 extra-base hits and has more pop than most middle infielders. He's also an above-average runner who has racked up 34 steals in each of the past two seasons. Valdez slid over from second base to play shortstop full-time in 2011 for the first time since short-season ball. He made flashy plays on occasion, but stiff, robotic actions and concentration lapses led to a multitude of errors. Valdez finished with a lower fielding percentage (.941) than any Cal League regular, though his plus arm definitely plays on the left side of the infield. Any gains he makes in the batter's box this year in Double-A will improve his odds to become a regular middle infielder or hard-hitting utility player.
Midwest League scouts regarded DePaula as Fort Wayne's top pitching prospect in 2010, but he struggled through the early going in 2011 after a promotion to high Class A. Through his first eight starts for Lake Elsinore, DePaula allowed 49 hits and 32 runs in 31 innings while pitching through shoulder soreness that ultimately landed him on the disabled list for two weeks. He pitched much more effectively for the final three months, going 7-2, 4.28 in 15 starts, so the Padres added him to the 40-man roster to shield him from the Rule 5 draft. It helped that he won both his California League playoff starts, tossing 13 shutout innings. When right, DePaula sits at 88-90 mph and tops out at 94 with his fastball, which plays up because his motion is smooth and effortless. His low-80s curveball features tight break at its best, though his changeup has further to go. DePaula's fastball/curve mix makes him a natural fit as a lefty situational reliever if his changeup doesn't develop. He held Cal League lefties to a .225/.275/.333 batting line last season and stands poised to tackle Double-A.
The Padres won a bidding war for Portillo, signing the 16-year-old Venezuelan for $2 million in 2008 because they loved his big arm and projectable frame. They were right about his velocity (he touched 100 mph in 2011) and physicality (he has added 40 pounds since signing), though positive results have yet to materialize. He has gone 6-26, 5.83 in 51 pro appearances while walking 124 batters in 199 innings. He struck out a career-high 10.6 batters per nine innings in low Class A last year, but he also finished with a 1.75 WHIP. Portillo sits at 94-96 mph with his riding four-seam fastball, and he holds that velocity now that he has filled out his lower half. He can dominate with just his fastball when he hits his spots, but that can be a challenge because he so often falls out of his delivery, which also inhibits his ability to command his secondary stuff. He throws a slow, rolling curveball and a floating changeup, both of which have a long way to go to qualify even as below-average. San Diego simplified Portillo's mechanics in instructional league, streamlining his deliberate windup and outfitting him with a slider/cutter to replace the curve. He should be able to do a better job of working down in the zone if he stays more on line to the plate. Portillo turns 20 in 2012 and could earn a bump to high Class A given his encouraging turn in the Venezuelan League in the offseason. The Padres love his work ethic, and if he refines a second pitch and his control he could be a future closer candidate.
Kelly played both ways at West Boca Raton (Fla.) High, but scouts determined that his tall, broad frame and arm strength were more suited to pitching at the professional level. Viewed as a surefire first-round pick heading into his senior year, he fell short of expectations as he struggled to stay tall in his delivery. Kelly's fastball hit 94 mph at times but sat mostly at 89-92, which coupled with inconsistent secondary pitches dropped him into the supplemental round in June. Taken 48th overall by the Padres, he signed for a slightly below-slot $718,000 after not completely passing his physical. He had a minor shoulder issue that didn't require surgery and isn't a long-term concern. Kelly shows the makings of curveball with depth but hasn't worked much with a changeup. Area scouts believed both could become average offerings because of his athleticism. Kelly hadn't recovered his high-end velocity by instructional league, so he's probably destined to begin 2012 in extended spring training and make his pro debut at Eugene in June.
Bass topped the California League in ERA (3.13) and WHIP (1.09) in 2010, then handled the jump to Double-A well enough last season for San Diego to call him up for a spot start on June 13. He continues to add velocity in pro ball, working his way up to a steady 90-93 mph in a starting role--and he peaked at 96 coming out of the bullpen for the Padres in the second half of 2011. Bass also has improved a mid-80s slider that grades as average at times, but he hasn't taken to a changeup. He doesn't command either his fastball or slider well enough to escape being pigeonholed as a reliever. His delivery features a stabbing motion in the back, and some scouts believe this inhibits his ability to throw quality strikes. Bass kept the ball down in the big leagues but didn't miss many bats. If that pattern holds, he'll be relegated to a low-leverage relief role.
Brach's amazing journey from a 42nd-round pick who signed for $1,000 to a dominating minor league closer culminated in an Aug. 31 callup to San Diego. He set a California League record with 41 saves in 2010 and has converted 112 of 120 save chances (93 percent) in the minors with a sparkling 7.3 K-BB ratio. Brach works quickly and pitches from a three-quarters arm slot, pumping a heavy 92-93 mph fastball that reaches 95. His velocity has climbed dramatically since 2009, when he sat mostly at 88-90 with Fort Wayne. Brach throws across his body and short-arms the ball from the extreme third-base side of the rubber, providing a difficult look for righthanders. Batters from both sides of the plate saw Brach well in the big leagues, where he got touched for a .300 average. To remedy his problems he'll need to improve the quality of his short, low-80s slider or his splitter. Unless he can better his performance versus lefties, Brach probably fits best in middle relief.
Belnome led the Northwest and California leagues in walks in his first two pro seasons, and he might have repeated the feat in the Texas League last year had he not suffered an abdominal injury. He hits the ball to all fields with a smooth lefty stroke and has plus pitch recognition, so he projects as at least an average hitter. Belnome's natural swing path takes the ball to left and center field, so he rarely pulls the ball for power, and he hit 13 of his first 14 homers for San Antonio to the opposite field. He's a below-average runner who played mostly third base until he reached San Antonio, where he shifted to second in deference to James Darnell and then Gyorko. Belnome is nothing special at either spot, though he has enough arm strength handle any infield post. He could serve a National League club as a regular pinch-hitter and roving infield sub.