|Original Published Date: Dec. 17, 2013|
The Padres have a top 10 minor league system and they are just a year or two from making noise in the NL West.
The system starts with Austin Hedges, who I believe is the best catching prospect in baseball. While the offensive game is behind his defensive chops, he has good bat-to-ball skills and the potential for above average future power. Given his defensive ability, if he can hit .270 with 15-20 home runs, he’ll be a perennial all-star.
The Padres do a very good job at developing pitchers, although they’ve had a run of elbow issues that have caused many of their young arms to miss significant time. Lefty Max Fried has the highest upside of the group with a ceiling of a number two. Right handed pitchers Max Wisler and Keyvius Sampson are nearly big league ready with the ceiling of number three starters. Also Casey Kelly should return from Tommy John reconstructive surgery in 2014 and still has the upside of a number two starter.
Besides Hedgers, the Padres also have some interesting positional players including 2013 first round pick Hunter Renfroe. While I question how much he’ll hit, he has future power potential and a plus run game. Reymond Fuentes jumped back on our prospect list after a big 2013 season that saw him get a cup of coffee in San Diego. Finally, Rymer Liriano is still around after missing the season with Tommy John reconstructive surgery. He’s athletic with plus potential power.
There’s something good happening in Southern California and it’s not necessarily occurring in the City of Angles. The Padres are aligning themselves to be “players” in the NL West in 2015 or even as early as next year.
|2014 Age: 21||Ceiling: Role 6
|Ht:6-1 Weight: 190||Bats: Right Throws: Right||ETA: 2014-15|
Austin Hedges is the best defensive catcher in the minor leagues. Having just made that bold statement, I will caveat that by saying there are hundreds of catchers in the minor leagues and while I’m sure there are a few who have better pop times, have better foot work, and call as effective of a game, I haven’t see anyone with a better total defensive package then Hedges. The bottom line is that the glove is nearly big league ready.
As we stated last year, “what about the bat”…will he hit enough to be more than a backup catcher? After seeing him multiple times in 2013, I’m more convinced that he will.
Statistically, Hedges’ 2013 performance was similar to that of 2012; posting a .270/.343/.425 slash line vs. a .279/.334/.451 in Low-A in 2012. He makes very good contact with good bat speed and the ability to spray the ball to all fields. He still isn’t incorporating his lower half very well and he’ll need to improve in order to lift his line drives out of the ballpark.
I got a chance to scout Hedges again during the Arizona Fall League and he showed a similar swing and the results were consistent to what he produced during the season. He showed good contact and an approach that should allow him to get on base at a .320-.350 clip with limited over the fence potential. It’s the profile of an average offensive contributor that when combined with his defensive chops, gives him the ceiling of a first division starter/role 6 player.
Hedges should start 2014 in San Antonio with a chance for a cup-of-coffee in San Diego later in the year. I also expect him to continue to improve offensively with a future power potential of 15-20 home runs. It might take three to five years before Hedges grows into that ceiling, but it’s there.
Fantasy Impact: Today, Hedges is a better baseball asset than a fantasy asset. Therefore, he’ll be over-valued in most Dynasty Leagues because of his high rankings on prospect lists. The time to acquire him will be when he disappoints offensively upon his call-up to the Major Leagues. However, long-term I like him a lot – think Yadier Molina as your upside in five years.
|2014 Age: 20||Ceiling: #2 starter|
|Ht: 6-4 Weight: 185||Bats: Left Throws:Left
Signed to a three million dollar signing bonus for being the seventh overall pick in the 2012 draft, Max Fried pitched well in his first full season in Low-A. It wasn’t always spectacular as Fried posted a 3.49 ERA with a 100K/56BB in 118.2 innings. However, both his fastball command and control of his secondary pitches improved as the season progressed.
Fried has all the tools to be a top-of-the-rotation starter. His arsenal starts with a sinking fastball that sits 91-92 MPH. Given how much movement he gets on the pitch, it’s a plus offering even though it’s only sitting in the low 90’s. His money pitch is his curve ball. It’s a classic 12-6 pitch that has excellent velocity separation with his fastball; usually thrown in the mid 70’s. It’s good enough to get swings and misses from both right-handed and left-handed batters. His changeup is also a very good pitch with many people believing it will become a plus pitch the more he throws it.
Not only is his arsenal terrific, his pitching mechanics show a lot of promise. As with most young pitchers, they are far from perfect, but his posture and balance project above-average. The arm speed in general is good but you can definitely see it speed up on his fastball vs. his secondary pitches. While this works with his nasty curve, he’ll need to disguise his changeup more in order for it to truly become a plus offering.
While he’ll just turn 20-years-old in January, Fried is a polished pitcher with all the tools to move quickly through the system. I expect him to start the 2014 season in the California League but spend considerable time pitching for the San Antonio Missions in the Texas League. That should put his arrival in San Diego during the 2015 season. Assuming he stays healthy, he has a ceiling of a number two starter.
Fantasy Impact: Max Fried has all the tools to be a fantasy ace. Don’t let the 7.5 K/9 fool you. He could strikeout a batter an inning once the Padres let him throw all his pitches. The command is still not great but it will come. Finally, Petco Park…enough said…go get this kid on your team!
|2014 Age: 21||Ceiling:#3 starter|
|Ht: 6-3 Weight: 195||Bats: Right Throws:Right
Last year we wrote in our San Diego Top 10 list that “Wisler could be the biggest riser in the system in 2013”. Well guess what? It happened and now Wisler is a sure-fire Top 100 prospect with a ceiling of a solid number three.
Wisler has a nice three pitch mix that starts with his fastball that sits 92-93 MPH. It’s a good pitch but it doesn’t have the plane that you would expect from a pitcher who is 6-foot-3. In fact his ground-ball-to-fly-ball ratio of 1.06 in 105 innings in the Texas League underscores the observation. Surprisingly he only gave up seven home runs but that could rise as he progresses towards the Majors.
His best secondary pitch is an 83-85 MPH slider that can miss bats. He also throws a hard change-up that still needs work as left-handed batters hit .261 against him – 75 points more than right-handed batters.
While Wisler has good control of his arsenal, the command is not great and that points back to some issues in his delivery. It’s very slow and deliberate and then he explodes at the end in order to achieve his velocity. It’s an approach that many Japanese pitchers use, causing the loss of kinetic energy and a great deal of recoil in the arm. He winds up aiming the ball instead of letting his mechanics drive the ball.
Wisler should start 2014 in Triple-A and therefore could see time in San Diego later in the summer. As a fly ball pitcher, Petco will definitely help keep the ball in the ballpark as will some of the other large ballparks in the NL West.
Fantasy Impact: Wisler’s upside is a number three fantasy starter with 7.5-8.0 strikeouts per nine with better than league average ratios. Petco will be his friend and should help keep his ERA in check. I would be adding him to all Dynasty League as well as NL-Only and NFBC Draft Champion League formats.
|2014 Age: 22||Ceiling: Role 5-6
|Ht:6-1 Weight: 200||Bats: Right Throws: Right||ETA: 2016|
Prior to his 2013 junior season, Hunter Renfroe was a career .242 hitter, with four home runs in 75 games at Mississippi State. That all changed in 2013 when he morphed into one of the best collegian players in the country posting a .345/.431/.620 slash line with 16 home runs. That performance earned him a $2.6 million dollar signing bonus as the 13th overall pick in the 2013 draft.
The tools were always there: plus bat speed and raw power, plus running ability, and a plus arm (pitched in his freshman year at Miss. State). The hit tool started to develop as he showed much better contact and confidence at the plate.
The Padres started Renfroe’s professional career in the Northwest League where he played well, posting a .308/.333/.510 slash line in 104 at-bats. He was very aggressive at the plate, walking a paltry five times. He showed good contact but the over aggressiveness started to work against him upon his promotion in August to the Midwest League. He had a 66% contact rate in a small sample size of 66 at-bats, and again, walked only four times.
Renfroe’s biggest weakness is pitch recognition. He can clearly hit a fastball and with his bat speed, he can hit the ball a long way. However, he still can’t handle off-speed pitches very well and that might not allow him to tap into his plus power potential. It’s something that the Padres worked with him on in the fall instructional leagues and will continue in 2014.
Fantasy Impact: Renfroe’s tools are what you want in a fantasy player. He has plus power and plus speed and could be a 20/20 player if it all comes together. The question is will he hit enough? Even though he is a college player, there is a lot of risk in owning Renfroe in a Dynasty League but the payoff good be significant.
|2014 Age: 22||Ceiling: Role 6
|Ht:6-0 Weight: 225||Bats: Right Throws: Right||ETA: 2014-15|
It was a tough year for Rymer Liriano as he blew out his elbow in Spring Training and missed the entire season due to Tommy John reconstructive surgery. I was hoping that the Padres would have sent him to the Arizona Fall League as the Nationals did with Matt Skole, but unfortunately that did not happen. So, we are left to wonder what the effect a year layoff will have on the 22-year-old Dominican.
Assuming he comes back healthy, Liriano still has the ceiling of Role 6, first division starter. He has great bat speed and is a strong, broad shouldered athlete. While he’s never hit for a lot of power, there is power in the bat and as he matures, the power should arrive. While he’s an aggressive hitter, the hit-tool should provide enough contact for him to profile as an above-average if not more hitter – .260-.280 batting average.
Liriano is also a plus runner and while the 32 stolen bases in 2012 were impressive, as he mature and fills out, that total will fall. I would expect totals of 15-20 and not 30 plus.
Fantasy Impact: I see Liriano as a classic right fielder with plus power and a plus arm. Early in his career, he could profile as a 15/30 player hitting in the middle of the Padres lineup. Over time, you should see the power and speed totals flip-flop. Liriano could still make the back-half of our Top 100 list but will definitely be a draft bargain in Dynasty Leagues.
|2014 Age: 23||Ceiling:#3 starter|
|Ht: 6-0 Weight: 185||Bats: Right Throws:Right
The Padres aggressively promoted 22-year-old Keyvius Sampson to Tuscon in the Pacific Coast League to start the 2014 season and it didn’t go well. In his first four starts, he posted an 8.03 ERA with a 12BB/7K strikeout-to-walk ratio and three home runs in only 12.1 innings. While it was a tiny sample size, the Padres moved him back to Double-A and he flourished. Sampson dominated Texas League batters with a 9.58 K/9 rate while walking less than three per nine. He also kept the ball in the ballpark while only giving up nine home runs in 103.1 innings.
Then on August 10th, back to Tuscon goes young Keyvius Sampson and once again, it went poorly. He posted a 6.66 ERA in 25.2 innings with an 18K/16BB ratio. It begs the question…who is the real Keyvius Sampson?
Sampson is primarily a fastball/change-up pitcher. While he throws both a two and four-seamer, the two-seam fastball is his better pitch with nice glove-side run that sits 91-93 MPH. His change-up is a plus pitch with great deception and fade. When I saw him in the Arizona Fall League, he also threw both a curve ball and slider; with the slider flashing above average. His Triple-A difficulties aside, Sampson has very good control of his arsenal and pounds the plate.
The ability to throw strikes can be traced back to his very good pitching mechanics. He has good balance and posture and gets great extension on his pitches and despite his size, keeps the ball down in the zone. Sampson is also a premium athlete and has the swagger you like to see, but more importantly, he has the body control to repeat his delivery. The only glaring negative is some scapular loading that will put undue stress on his arm.
So, that sounds great…but what are we to make of the results in Triple-A? Firstly the PCL is not kind to pitchers and in particularly, Tuscon is one of most hitter-friendly parks in all of baseball. The dry air makes it difficult for pitchers to get a grip on the ball and in particularly throw their off-speed pitches. A real factor or am I looking for an excuse? Probably a little of both, but regardless, Sampson will need to learn to pitch in all environments if he is to be successful at the highest level.
At 6-foot and 185 pounds, some believe that Sampson does not have the size to carry the load of a starter and is therefore a better fit for the bullpen. While he did have arm trouble early in his career, the Padres have been methodically adding innings since 2011. It should be noted that Sampson pitched exclusively in relief during the AFL. Were the Padres limiting his innings or were they trying to see how he would perform in short burst? I’m not sure, but I still like him as a starter. Remember, always bet on the athlete.
Fantasy Impact: Sampson should see San Diego at some point during the 2014 season. From a fantasy standpoint, he could put up strikeout rates in the 7.5 to 8.0 per nine while putting up better than league average ratios. Plus, Petco Park will be his friend as it is with all Padres.
|2014 Age: 20||Ceiling: #4 starter|
|Ht: 6-4 Weight: 200||Bats: Right Throws:Right
The Fort Wayne TinCaps had a stacked pitching squad that went Fried, Shepard, Ross, Weickel , and finally Zach Eflin. While Eflin might not have the same upside as Max Fried, he had a better statistical year and showed the Padres he was worth the 33rd overall pick in the 2012.
Drafted as a high-schooler, Eflin has the projectable body that organizations are always searching for – 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds. He’s primarily a fastball/change-up pitcher with his fastball sitting 90-93 MPH with a lot of glove-side run. The change-up is a nice pitch that sits 81-82 MPH with a great deal of deception as he’s able to throw it with the same release point as his fastball. He also throws a slurve at a similar speed to his change-up but it’s just an ok pitch for me.
While he has the height, he doesn’t use it very well as he’s primarily a fly ball pitcher. The fastball moves well laterally but doesn’t have a lot of sink. The mechanics are solid, although they are a little stiff and deliberate. The release point is not consistent but the mechanics should allow him to eventually repeat his mechanics and ultimately improve both his control and command.
Eflin should begin the 2014 season in the California League with Joe Ross and Max Fried. While there is work to be done, his size should allow him to be a back-of-the-rotation innings eater.
Fantasy Impact: Zack Eflin is draftable in deeper Dynasty Leagues and has the ceiling of a number five or six fantasy pitcher. He should post strikeouts in the seven-range with league average ratios. He could be homer-prone but Petco should help with that.
|2014 Age: 24||Ceiling: Role 5
|Ht:6-0 Weight: 205||Bats: Left Throws: Right||ETA: 2015|
I had a chance to scout Jace Peterson in the California League and he is a lot better than what I thought going into the games. While I will admit, he doesn’t have any true carrying tool; he does most everything really well.
No carrying tool? What about his 42 stolen bases and 132 in three years in the minor leagues? His true speed is only a 55-60 on the 20/80 scouting scale, but he does have a different gear once he gets on base. The guy can flat out steal bases and it looks like his speed picks up as he’s digging to second.
While he’ll never hit for a lot of power, he does have the elements of a nice hit-tool. He posted an 86% contact rate and also showed excellent strike zone awareness by walking 54 times in 423 at-bats. While he has nice size at 6-foot and 205 pounds, he doesn’t use his lower half very well and his swing is mostly a wrist-based swing. Therefore, it’s hard to project him to hit more than high single-digit home runs.
Even though Peterson was drafted 58th overall in the 2011 draft, the Padres have progressed him very slowly through the organization. Part of the reasoning was Peterson was a two-sport athlete in college and just got started late in baseball. In other words, he just wasn’t ready to jump levels and taking a slow and grow approach was sensible. However, he’ll turn 24 in May so time is starting to tick.
Peterson should start 2014 in Double-A with the potential to see San Diego in 2015. He has the ceiling of a Role 5 player but could fall into a super utility role.
Fantasy Impact: Jace Peterson is a hard case to make for a Dynasty League. The stolen bases are alluring but the profile might be a utility role instead of a starting middle infielder. If you have a League with 250 or more minor league roster spots, I would be adding Peterson, otherwise, I would take a pass.
9. Casey Kelly (RHP)
Casey Kelly never got a chance to post a box score in 2013 as he injured his elbow during Spring Training and underwent Tommy John reconstructive surgery on April 2nd. Kelly’s arsenal is very good with a fastball that averaged 92.16 MPH in 29 innings in the big leagues in 2012. However, the offering plays up based on the tremendous sink he gets on the ball. Both his curve ball and changeup are above average pitches that will miss bats. While Kelly’s pitching mechanics are not ideal, he is able to repeat his delivery and command his arsenal. Provided he can stay healthy, Kelly still has the upside of a number two starter.
10. Reymond Fuentes (OF)
Once a top prospect, Reymond Fuentes was overmatched in 2012 as a 21-year-old in the Texas League – but what a difference a year makes. Not only did he hit .330 across Double-A and Triple-A, he also had a .413 on-base percentage while stealing 35 bases. The Padres rewarded the 22-year-old with a promotion to San Diego in September.
Fuentes is a reminder that not all gifted athletes rip through the minors like Mike Trout and start producing as a 20-year-old at the highest level. Instead, it takes time to recognize off-speed pitches and to learn the nuances of the game. Fuentes is starting to figure that out and I believe has a chance to be a solid-regular at the highest level. He’s got plus-plus speed, is short to the ball and should eventually develop double-digit power.
2014 Emerging Prospect:
Franchy Cordero (SS)
In 141 at-bats, teenager Franchy Cordero posted the second highest OPS in the Padres organization at .888. It wasn’t a fluke as the Dominican has serious bat speed and is already demonstrating good bat-to-ball skills. While he only hit three home runs, he did slug .511 and as he fills out his 6-foot-3 frame, the power will come. Not only is there plus future power potential, Cordero has above-average running speed and could develop into a 20/20 threat at the highest level. Cordero turned 19-years-old in September and the Padres could challenge him with a Fort Wayne assignment to begin the 2014 season.