January 13, 2014
Prospects Will Break Your Heart
San Diego Padres Top 10 Prospects
The Top Ten
1. Austin Hedges
What Happened in 2013: After a successful full-season debut in 2013, Hedges took another step forward in 2013, playing his way to the Texas League to finish the regular season, and then showed off his impressive defensive chops in the prospect-heavy landscape of the Arizona Fall League.
Strengths: Near-elite defensive profile behind the plate; plus arm; quick release and accurate; excellent footwork; excellent receiver; strong hands and quick feet; high baseball IQ; excels at game management and battery relationship; good swing at the plate; tracks well; shows good bat speed and strength; has some pop; crazy makeup.
Weaknesses: Can get overly aggressive with the arm (back picks, etc); bat unlikely to achieve big impact; struggles against arm-side stuff; good not great bat speed; can drive the ball but power unlikely to play above average; below-average run.
Overall Future Potential: 7; all-star player
Realistic Role: 6; first-division player
Risk Factor/Injury History: Moderate risk; limited exposure to upper minors; questions about offensive utility.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: The fact that I’d probably take Hedges seventh or eighth for fantasy purposes says everything you need to know about his defensive potential. Unfortunately, unless you’re in a sim league, he’s just not going to be much more than a borderline use of a farm spot—even if he maxes out and hits around .275 with 15 homers, that’s barely above replacement level in one-catcher leagues. If you can shop him on his name value, do it.
The Year Ahead: Hedges is the best all-around defensive catcher I’ve had the privilege of scouting at the minor-league level, with a strong, accurate arm, quick and coordinated actions, and the in-game management qualities of a seasoned major-league veteran. The glove is going to carry him a long way, but the bat could make him a perennial all-star if he proves to be more than just a tough down-the-lineup out. He has some offensive qualities, with a sound swing and good strength, and it’s not a stretch to envision a .275 hitter with 15 HR pop, a formidable profile given his near elite defensive projections. We were high on Hedges last season (#1 in the org and top 20 overall in the game), and will continue to sing his praises heading into 2014, as he once again takes the top place in the system and will once again find himself ranked among the top 20 prospects in the game.
Major league ETA: 2015
2. Matt Wisler
What Happened in 2013: Early buzz in spring training turned into an industry choir over the course of the season, as Wisler proved to be more than just camp hype, pitching his way to Double-A and missing a bat an inning as a 20-year-old.
Strengths: Good size; athletic; big arm strength; fastball works comfortably in the 92-94 range; can touch 98 in shorter bursts; good arm-side life; slider is bat misser; low-mid-80s with sharp two-plane movement and excellent depth; punisher pitch against right-handed bats; changeup shows average potential; mid-80s with sink; good deception; flashes playable curveball; good feel for control.
Weaknesses: Delivery has some noise; tendency to cross-fire and lose release points; struggles to locate against left-handers; slider not as effective against LH; overall command is fringe-average at present; changeup can get too firm; curveball can lose tight rotation and feature more tumble than snap.
Overall Future Potential: 6; no. 3 starter
Realistic Role: 5; no. 4 starter
Risk Factor/Injury History: Low risk; 20 Double-A starts; mature stuff.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: Wisler offers that combination of upside, floor, attractive home park and proximity that is so attractive to fantasy owners—especially ones in deeper leagues. The Padres’ rotation may be full to start the year, but with the way they go through UCLs, an opportunity is likely to present itself before mid-season. He can do a pretty good Mat Latos-in-Petco impression, with a full tick down in strikeouts.
The Year Ahead: Wisler looked the part of a major-league arm during his stint in Double-A, so its easy to forget the former seventh round pick was only 20 years old and still in the developmental process. The delivery doesn’t always look the part despite the utility he is able to achieve, and the command doesn’t always allow the plus raw stuff to play to its potential. But with more refinement, Wisler can not only stick in a rotation long term, but thrive in the middle of it, with two easy plus weapons in the fastball and slider, and two playable change-of-pace pitches in the changeup and curve.
Major league ETA: 2014
3. Max Fried
What Happened in 2013: In his full-season debut, the much-hyped lefty flashed the stuff to justify the lofty praise, but battled command inconsistency throughout the year and struggled against right-handed bats.
Strengths: Excellent size/physical projection; delivery is easy and smooth; excellent arm action; fastball has some jump in the low 90s; projects to settle in the plus velocity range; good late action to the arm-side; snaps very good curveball (present); tight rotation and heavy break; bat-misser (at present); changeup might end up as best pitch; good arm deception and late action; will be difference maker offering.
Weaknesses: Fastball command is below average; tendency to cast his pitches and lose deception and intensity; fastball is pedestrian at times; curveball might end up being a better minor-league pitch than major-league pitch; break can be long and easy to track; changeup can hang up in the zone.
Overall Future Potential: High 6; no. 2 starter
Realistic Role: 5; no. 4 starter
Risk Factor/Injury History: High risk; yet to achieve Double-A level; sizeable gap between present/future.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: Wisler vs. Fried is still a very tough decision, as no one in the Padres’ system can touch Fried’s ceiling. I said before the season that I thought Fried would be top left-handed fantasy pitching prospect in the minors at the end of the 2013 season—and he is, although that’s more because it’s a weak group overall than his performance. A 3.25 ERA and nearly a strikeout per inning are possible if he can make that next step forward.
The Year Ahead: Fried’s size, present stuff and arsenal projection set a high bar of expectations, so when the results are only solid, the evaluation can read as a bit of a disappointment. Fried has a long way to go, but could/should end up with three above-average offerings from the left side, with enough athleticism and simplicity in the delivery to project for at least an average command profile. I think the changeup will eventually pass the curveball as his go-to secondary offering, but both have a chance to play as plus pitches at the end of the day. If the fastball velocity ticks up and holds steady, and the command refines, Fried is going to live up to the hype and then some. He will pitch the 2014 season as a 20-year-old, so the prospect explosion might be a year away.
Major league ETA: 2016
4. Hunter Renfroe
What Happened in 2013: Selected 13th overall in the 2013 draft, Renfroe was considered one of the better college bats in the class, a well-rounded player with middle-of-the-lineup impact power.
Strengths: Excellent strength; good athlete; good bat speed; power is carrying tool; could play to plus-plus; swing geared for over-the-fence power; leverage, loft, and back spin; good run; coordinated; glove could play above average in a corner; arm is strong; run producer profile with some hittability.
Weaknesses: Swing-and-miss in the profile; tracks well but likes to swing and can get overly aggressive; can struggle against arm-side spin; power over hit; offensive profile could become one-dimensional at highest level.
Overall Future Potential: 6; first-division player
Realistic Role: 5; major-league regular
Risk Factor/Injury History: Moderate risk; limited professional experience; questions about hit tool.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: Having just clocked in at no. 14 in my dynasty draft rankings, Renfroe has the power/speed combo that fantasy owners look for—even if it comes packaged inside a questionable hit tool. He should move relatively fast as a college hitter, and it’s not unreasonable to think he can hit 25-plus homers and steal close to 20 bases in his prime.
The Year Ahead: Renfroe has well above-average right handed power, and if the hit tool can play to average, he has a chance to develop into a middle-of-the-order power bat from a prototypical right field profile. His game is always going to feature a lot of swing-and-miss; not because of poor pitch recognition but because of an aggressive approach and hearty swing appetite. But Renfroe has more hittability than hack, and with a more refined approach and controlled attack, he can bring more power into game action and develop to potential. This is really promising offensive talent, and he is a good candidate to blossom in 2014.
Major league ETA: Late 2015
5. Rymer Liriano
What Happened in 2013: Much like organization mate Casey Kelly, Liriano missed the entire 2013 season with a Tommy John related illness, but with a full recovery, the scouting report from last season has not changed.
Strengths: Physical player; plus present strength; plus runner; plus raw power; easy plus arm in right field; hit tool projects as a 5; plus bat speed; all the tools to be a first-division talent.
Weaknesses: Despite the athleticism, doesn’t make it look easy; more raw tools than baseball-ready skills; power has yet to blossom; swing path isn’t always efficient; can open holes on inner third; early extension; bat might underperform.
Overall Future Potential: 6; first-division player
Realistic Role: 5; second-division player
Risk Factor/Injury History: High risk; limited experience at Double-A; Tommy John surgery on resume.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: The lost year for Liriano didn’t suppress his fantasy upside, even if it made him a riskier proposition. There is still legitimate 20-20 potential in his bat, and Chris Young type upside—remember when he was a fantasy target? However, expect a slow burn with Liriano who has historically struggled each time he’s moved up a rung in the minors.
The Year Ahead: Liriano has a chance to develop into a middle-of-the-order bat from a prototypical right field profile, but he comes at a higher risk than most prospects that have already achieved the Double-A level. Injury recovery and rehab aside (good reports on that front), Liriano struggles with consistency when it comes to putting his tools to use on the field; he can show all five, but teases more than showing full utility in the form of game skills and overall feel for execution. If he can step forward on the utility front, he has more than enough raw power to have impact at the highest level. I’m still high on this prospect, not only for the tool-based ceiling but the work ethic and makeup he brings to the equation. He’s dealt with on-the-field failure and physical setback, but he keeps coming back with the same intensity and determination. I like his chances despite the risk factor on the report.
Major league ETA: 2015
6. Burch Smith
What Happened in 2013: Smith shoved in his Double-A debut, was solid in his 12 Triple-A starts, and struggled with command in his major-league trial, but emerged as a future piece of the Padres future.
Strengths: Excellent size; huge arm strength; repeats; deception in the delivery; fastball is easy plus offering; often works in plus-plus range; sits comfortable in the 92-95 range; bumps 98; holds velocity; changeup is plus offering; good fastball disguise with some sink; shows average potential curveball; plays as change-of-pace off fastball.
Weaknesses: Fastball command is fringe; big velocity but can lack movement; drop and drive delivery and slot limits advantage of height; curveball is fringe offering; lacks bite; can show soft rotation and easy to track two-plane movement; struggles to stay over it because of lower arm slot.
Overall Future Potential: High 5; no 3 starter
Realistic Role: 5; late-innings reliever (setup)
Risk Factor/Injury History: Low risk; achieved major-league level
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: There is a philosophy that supports taking Padres’ pitchers because of Petco, but Smith doesn’t carry either the upside or certainty of the arms before him on this list. His potential lack of a breaking ball could lead to a career in the bullpen, and even if it doesn’t, it will certainly inhibit his effectiveness.
The Year Ahead: Smith has big arm strength and some strike-throwing ability, but he stumbles when the command isn’t sharp and the secondary stuff lacks the punch to bail him out of at-bats. Smith can miss bats with the fastball, especially when he can change sight lines and live above barrels. But the pitch can also play too firm at times, and without a solid breaking ball to back it up, he is at the mercy of his ability to locate his offerings with more precision than most power arms. The fastball will make him a bullpen arm as a floor, but he can stick around in the middle of a rotation if the command refines and the curveball improves enough to play or a slider is added to the mix.
Major league ETA: Debuted in 2013
7. Casey Kelly
What Happened in 2013: Tommy John surgery sapped the season, but a healthy Kelly should be able to mirror the scouting report prior to the injury setback.
Strengths: Plus athleticism; very good pitchability; fastball normally works in the 90-92 range, but can touch 95; shows good vertical action; good setup pitch; curveball is out pitch; tight rotation and quality depth; changeup can play as a 5; delivery is clean; good command profile.
Weaknesses: Lacks knockout stuff; fastball usually works a little below plus velocity; needs to hit his spots; changeup can get too firm; doesn’t always turn it over; will always walk tight line because of solid-average arsenal.
Overall Future Potential: 5; no. 3 starter
Realistic Role: 5; no. 4 starter
Risk Factor/Injury History: Moderate risk; achieved major-league level; Tommy John on resume (2013)
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: I’ve long been a Casey Kelly believer, and that’s not about to stop now. Assuming health, the big park should keep his ERA in the 3.50 and slightly under range with reasonable strikeout numbers (think 150-160 over the course of a full season). It’s the profile of a solid no. 4 fantasy starter, but he’ll be healthy in short order and back in the majors not long after that.
The Year Ahead: Kelly is likely to stick around in extended spring training this season, before proving full health and comfort on the mound and making his way back to the upper-minors. Because of the nature of the surgery and subsequent layoff, you can assume a certain amount of rust will form on the profile, but with any luck, Kelly can find his form quickly and climb back to the major-league level at some point in 2014.
Major league ETA: Debuted in 2012
8. Jace Peterson
What Happened in 2013: A first-round pick in 2010, Peterson had his best season as a professional, taking a big step forward in the second half of his California League debut, hitting .318/.414/.494 in his final 48 games.
Strengths: Strong and physical; good overall athlete; feel for game and baseball skills took big step forward; clean stroke at the plate; shows good bat speed and bat control; tracks well with a good approach; very good base runner; good first step quickness on base and in the field; solid-average glove; average but playable arm.
Weaknesses: Lacks impact tools; sum of his parts player; bat is more contact driven; power will play well below average; defensive profile is average; lacks plus defensive weapons; slower in the developmental process.
Overall Future Potential: 5; major-league regular
Realistic Role: High 4; utility player
Risk Factor/Injury History: Moderate risk; yet to play at Double-A level; good baseball skills.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: There’s a lot to like on paper here, with his very solid strikeout-to-walk ratios (174:166 for his minor-league career) and high stolen base totals (at an 80 percent clip), but he isn’t likely to be another Jean Segura. A .275 average with 25 steals and very little else would be a pretty good outcome here—and his plate discipline should give him a tick up in points leagues.
The Year Ahead: Peterson isn’t a flashy player, with a skill set that is more average than awe-inspiring. But he brings playable baseball skills to the table, pushing his tools beyond their paper grade in game action. Sources are still mixed when it comes to his ultimate role, as the defensive chops are good enough if the bat is good enough, but everything has to max out if he has a chance to be a major-league regular at the position. Double-A will be a big test for the bat and will end up telling us a lot about the player, as a strong season could push his name up this list and in the queue for major-league action.
Major league ETA: 2015
9. Alex Dickerson
What Happened in 2013: Acquired in the offseason for Jaff Decker, Dickerson is a big man with big power, and a chance to make it play if the hit tool and approach cooperate.
Strengths: Big boy size and strength; simple left-handed stroke; game power could play to plus or above; hit tool could play to average; shows some barrel awareness and control; arm is average.
Weaknesses: Power can tease; more 5 o’clock at present; will struggle against quality arm-side stuff; swing can get long; bat speed more strength derived; can beat him with velocity; better profile at first base; below-average run; limited range.
Overall Future Potential: 5; major-league regular
Realistic Role: High 4; below-average player/platoon
Risk Factor/Injury History: Moderate risk; Double-A experience; difficult profile (bat has to play to potential or above); some injury concerns (back)
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: Dickerson is the kind of player who fantasy owners often overlook, as he does not have the draft/prospect pedigree to fall back on. However, he continues to hit as he moves up and there's plenty of value in a .270 hitter with 15 homers (even at outfield) in deeper leagues. He could provide underrated value in 20-team leagues, while doing a half-decent Garrett Jones impression.
The Year Ahead: Very mixed reports on Dickerson, all centered on the power tool and whether or not it plays to potential at the highest level. If you believe in the power, you can see a second-division type at first base—or perhaps a corner—as the strength is there to punish mistakes even if the hit tool is unlikely to offer much impact against plus stuff. The more pessimistic view is a platoon bat with a one-dimensional weapon and limited defensive value. Personally, I think the bat will play better than the scouting report might suggest, and even with average utility from the hit tool, I think the power can play enough to eventually keep his name in a major-league lineup.
Major league ETA: Late 2014
10. Joe Ross
What Happened in 2013: Ross returned to the Midwest League with better results, but the lack of a punch-outs troubled scouts and clouded Ross’s ultimate projection.
Strengths: Prototypical size/strength; projectable; smooth in the delivery; Beckett-like mechanics; fast arm; fastball works low 90s; touches higher; heavy life; slider is plus potential pitch; two-plane with potential for good depth; shows average changeup potential; starter’s arsenal and strike-throwing ability.
Weaknesses: More weak contact than bat missing; fastball command is fringe; secondary arsenal lacks big knockout potential; how will he gets outs against better bats?; fastball can play soft.
Overall Future Potential: High 5; no. 3 starter
Realistic Role: 5; number five starter
Risk Factor/Injury History: High risk; Low-A resume; questions about profile/arsenal.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: The biggest risk of the Padres’ upper echelon of arms, Ross could potentially make for a pretty dynamite closer if he ends up taking the bullpen route. However, if he can make it through the gantlet and into the Padres’ rotation, he’s likely to be a guy who should put up better numbers than he does—but Petco can cover up a lot of sins (just ask his older brother). I still prefer Kelly’s certainty to Ross’s upside for fantasy.
The Year Ahead: Ross is a frustrating prospect when it comes to what he appears to be versus what he actually is. Ross looks the part; body beautiful pitcher with the physical attributes you want in a prototypical starter, and the lively fastball to set the table for the secondary stuff. But the fastball can play soft, geared more for missing the barrel than missing the bat, and the secondary stuff lacks the type of knockout utility to force the big swing and miss. It forces scouts to question how he will be able to get outs against better bats, which could limit his effectiveness as he climbs the professional ladder. The California League will be a test for the 20-year-old, and if the profile stays the same and he struggles to miss bats, the stock could fall in 2014.
Major league ETA: 2016
Prospects on the Rise:
2. 3B Dustin Pederson: Second round selection in the 2013 draft, Peterson has a highly projectable offensive profile, and a chance to eventually make it work at the hot corner. The tools are still very raw, and the statistical output will likely back this up in 2014, but the 19-year-old will flash enough upside with the stick to offset any defensive concerns and push his way up prospect lists as a result.
3. RHP Zach Eflin: Eflin is a prospect tease, with excellent size and present pitchability, including good feel for execution of a solid-average fastball and promising and projectable changeup. But the stuff isn’t always sharp, and as a result, the 19-year-old arm is more about missing the good part of the barrel than missing the bat. With an improved breaking ball and a little more meat to the fastball, Eflin has the potential to develop into a quality no. 4 starter. Look for him to take a step forward in 2014 and start showing more signs of his potential.
Factors on the Farm (Prospects likely to contribute at the ML level in 2014)
2. RHP: Keyvius Sampson: A fourth round selection in the 2009 draft, Sampson has masqueraded as a starter since he signed out of high school, but could develop into a major-league weapon out of the bullpen, a role he excelled in during the Arizona Fall League. With an easy plus fastball that can sit in the 92-95 range and touch higher in bursts, a sharp mid-80s slider and usable changeup, Sampson has the makings of a deep and intense late-innings arsenal. His command is below average and limits his potential in a rotation. But in short bursts, the lively arsenal can play loose, missing bats and limiting damage despite a propensity for the free pass.
3. 2B Cory Spangenberg: Selected 10th overall in the 2011 draft, Spangenberg is on the cusp of the major leagues, but his profile as a player is closer to below average than anything of impact. The speed is a weapon, but the bat plays light, with a slappy, soft approach that doesn’t force fear on any pitcher. The bat could improve—at least enough to play in some capacity—but the impact talent you would expect to find with a top ten pick has yet to materialize at the professional level, and given the offensive projection, Spangenberg seems unlikely to ever live up to his lofty draft status and initial hype.
Top 10 Talents 25 And Under (born 4/1/88 or later)
While San Diego has been a bottom-feeder in the National League West the last three seasons, the organization can start reaping the benefits of its farm system in the near future. This list’s shine revolves around pitching and catching. Given the spacious home ballpark and premium put on young arms around the league, the Padres seem positioned to start rebuilding their pitching staff and also have some assets to potentially dangle for an established player or two.
Catchers Yasmani Grandal and Austin Hedges sit in the first two slots of the list. Grandal ran afoul with a 50-game suspension for a banned substance, and ended up tearing his knee up shortly into his return, but was a clear choice for no. 1. Hedges is the superior player behind the dish, with a defensive package that can peak as well above average and considerably impact the game. The decision came down to Grandal’s present edge with the bat. If Hedges’ offensive game plays up, you could be looking at a perennial all-star type, but the questions on how it is going to look against elite stuff create enough of a gap that may never fully close. Both Grandal’s offense and defense provide good value as a regular at a premium position, though it could be with another club down the road.
Placing 21-year-old right-handed starter Matt Wisler at no. 3 ahead of Jedd Gyorko may be a touch aggressive given the relative volatility of arms to reach full potential, but the feel is that the clues point toward Wisler having a good chance to maximize his talent into an above-average role. Wisler’s arsenal boasts two present plus pitches, along with an approach and pitchability usually seen in more experienced arms. Gyorko can hit at the highest level, though he’s always going to have to hit consistently given the defensively limitations. It puts pressure on year-over-year performance to maintain the impact as a regular, and leaves the impression the body of work will prove to sculpt an average big-leaguer over the long haul.
Max Fried checks in at no. 5, and owns the highest ceiling of the arms on the list. There was thought of sliding the projectable left-hander up one spot ahead of Gyorko, but there are still dominoes to fall, mainly physical growth leading to additional fastball velocity. Fried can spin his curveball, with the offering capable of missing bats. He’ll need the fastball improvement to keep upper minors and beyond hitters to keep chasing it. Fellow lefty Robbie Erlin follows, and received a taste of The Show in 2013. The arsenal is average across the board, but it plays up via above-average command and an excellent understanding of how to execute his craft, giving him a shot to stick in the back of a rotation. Right-handed starter Casey Kelly would have slotted higher on this list had it not been for Tommy John surgery and the relative unknown of returning to prior form that comes along with the battle scar. --Chris Mellen
A Parting Thought: In the Padres organization, Tommy John surgery seems to be as contagious as the common cold, but with a franchise backstop up top, several mid-rotation arms in the middle, and a few power bats working their way up the chain, the system as a whole is strong enough to stand in the middle of the major-league pack despite the injuries that have delayed some developmental progress.