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January 16, 2009

Future Shock

Padres Top 11 Prospects

by Kevin Goldstein

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top 11 prospects

SAN DIEGO PADRES
Team Audit | DT Cards | PECOTA Cards | Depth Chart

Four-Star Prospects
1. Mat Latos, RHP
2. Kellen Kulbacki, RF
3. Adys Portillo, RHP
Three-Star Prospects
4. Kyle Blanks, 1B
5. Jaff Decker, OF
6. Cedric Hunter, CF
7. Allan Dykstra, 1B
8. James Darnell, 3B
9. Matt Antonelli, 2B
10. Jeremy McBride, RHP
Two-Star Prospects
11. Drew Cumberland, SS

Just Missed: Logan Forsythe, 3B; Will Inman, RHP; Will Venable, OF

Ranking Challenges: Who's number one? You could make an argument for many of the players here, and while I'm confident as to the four-star prospects, there are people who'd add Blanks and Hunter, although both players have their fair share of doubters as well. As for positions 10 and 11, there were ten candidates, which says more about the mediocrity of the system than it does about the talent.

1. Mat Latos, RHP
DOB: 12/9/87
Height/Weight: 6-5/210
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 11th round, 2006, Coconut Creek HS (FL)
2008 Stats: 3.28 ERA at Low-A (24.2-24-8-23), 7.48 DERA; 3.21 ERA at Rookie-level (14-12-2-23); 1.04 ERA at Short-season (17.1-13-3-23)
Last Year's Ranking: 3

Year in Review: This high-ceiling arm impressed in limiting innings while spending much of the year dealing with oblique problems.
The Good: Latos has all of the core ingredients to be an elite hurler. He has the perfect frame and clean arm action, and his height gives him a downward angle on his fastball, which he easily throws at 92-95 mph while touching 97. Beyond the velocity, his command is considerably more advanced than most pitchers with his size and limited experience. He made late-season progress with his slider, and team officials are optimistic about his changeup, as they scrapped his previous, more complicated version for a straight change that offers more upside.
The Bad: More than anything else, Latos needs to stay healthy and rack up innings. He still struggles with consistency with his off-speed pitches, often overthrowing the slider or babying the changeup, and he lacks the confidence to use either pitch in key pitch-count situations.
Fun Fact: During his three rehab-esque starts in the Northwest League last August, batters facing Latos with runners in scoring position and two outs went 0-for-10 with eight strikeouts.
Perfect World Projection: He'll be a front-line big-league starter.
Glass Half Empty: His inability to stay healthy, a lack of improvement on his secondary pitches, and his aggressive style all lead to a closer-type role.
Path To The Big Leagues: When you're the top prospect in the system, you forge your own path.
Timetable: After a lost season, Latos will likely return to Low-A Fort Wayne , but the hope is that he'll dominate there and move up to the California League by mid-year.

2. Kellen Kulbacki, RF
DOB: 11/21/85
Height/Weight: 5-11/185
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Signed: 1st round, 2007, James Madison University
2008 Stats: .164/.260/.295, .118 EqA at Low-A (18 G); .332/.428/.589, .291 EqA at High-A (84 G)
Last Year's Ranking: 10

Year in Review: After getting off to a slow start while being plagued by minor injuries, Kulbacki was among the best players in the minor leagues during the second half of the year, hitting a whopping .379/.449/.680 after the All-Star break.
The Good: One talent evaluator summed up Kulbacki with a three-word scouting report; "Dude can hit." He has an excellent understanding of the strike zone, impressive hand-eye coordination, and the strength to drive the ball to all fields. He also earns high praise for his makeup and desire to improve.
The Bad: His bat is his ticket to the big leagues, as the remainder of his tools rate as average or below; he's neither big, nor especially athletic. He's a slightly below-average runner, and he needs to improve his routes and jumps in the outfield.
Fun Fact: Kulbacki was a two-sport star in high school, but not of the standard football/basketball variety; he was an all-conference selection in soccer at Hershey High in Pennsylvania.
Perfect World Projection: He has enough on-base and hitting skills to be an above-average corner outfielder.
Glass Half Empty: Debates about his ultimate power do exist, which could be a problem for a player who profiles best in left field.
Path To The Big Leagues: The Padres outfield doesn't exactly wow anyone, and the big-league lineup needs bats.
Timetable: Kulbacki will play at Double-A San Antonio in 2009, a tough place to put up big power numbers. If he can succeed there, he'll be firmly in the Padres future plans.

3. Adys Portillo, RHP
DOB: 12/20/91
Height/Weight: 6-4/185
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: Venezuela, 2008
2008 Stats: None
Last Year's Ranking: N/A

Year in Review: Seen as the top Latin American pitcher not named Inoa, Portillo is the poster boy for the Padres' new efforts in the international market after signing for $2 million.
The Good: While overshadowed by Inoa's historic presence, some international scouts felt that Portillo was among the top arms seen in Venezuela over the past five years. His height and thick build just ooze with potential, and he already sits at 89-92 with his fastball while touching 94. He has some feel for a slider and a changeup, and he was not overwhelmed mentally or overmatched physically while facing more advanced hitters in the instructional league.
The Bad: Portillo is still very raw. His mechanics are sound, but he still struggles to throw strikes consistently, especially with his secondary offerings. He's a project who will require patience as he learns to pitch and adjusts to the lifestyle of professional baseball.
Fun Fact: How young is Portillo? He was born just 11 days before the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Perfect World Projection: The sky is the limit.
Glass Half Empty: The sky is very, very far away.
Path To The Big Leagues: Like, really, incredibly far away.
Timetable: Portillo will spend the spring in Peoria refining his game before he finally shows up in some box scores this summer once the complex league begins.

4. Kyle Blanks, 1B
DOB: 9/11/86
Height/Weight: 6-6/270
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 42nd round, 2004, Moriarty HS (NM)
2008 Stats: .325/.404/.514, .287 EqA at Double-A(132 G)
Last Year's Ranking: 9

Year in Review: He's a monstrous slugger who had breakout season in the Texas League, reducing his doubters dramatically by handling upper-level pitching with ease.
The Good: Blanks is massive, but he's not a big-swinging slugger. In stark contrast to most players his size, he's a highly adept hitter with excellent contact skills and significant leverage in his swing. He's a phenomenal athlete, plays a good first base, and has enough speed to not be a base-clogger.
The Bad: As strange as it may sound, there are questions about Blanks' power. He doesn't incorporate much of a force-load into his swing, and though his size provides natural power, he doesn't do much to take advantage of it. While he's in better shape than he was early in his career, he's still closer to 290 pounds, and the Padres have all but given up on their earlier hopes for him as a Dave Parker-esque outfielder.
Fun Fact: A tiny town of about 2,000 residents in central New Mexico, Moriarty is home to the annual Pinto Bean Fiesta, held every October.
Perfect World Projection: He'll become a .300-hitting first baseman with walks and plus power. Kind of like Adrian Gonzalez, but with a glandular issue.
Glass Half Empty: That body is just way too big, his game is just too weird, and he's a Quad-A player in waiting.
Path To The Big Leagues: Adrian Gonzalez is the best position player on the team by a mile, he's locked up through 2011, and it doesn't look as if Blanks can play anywhere else.
Timetable: Blanks will continue to move up the ladder to Triple-A Portland, but it's hard to figure out where his Padres career will go from there.

5. Jaff Decker, OF
DOB: 2/23/90
Height/Weight: 5-10/190
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Signed: 1st round, 2008, Sunrise Mountain HS (AZ)
2008 Stats: .352/.523/.541 at Rookie-level (49 G); .200/.333/.200 at Short-season (3 G)
Last Year's Ranking: N/A

Year in Review: As a supplemental first-round pick, he had an eye-popping pro debut that included MVP honors in the Arizona Summer League.
The Good: Decker was one of the best pure hitters in the draft. For a teenager, his strike zone recognition borders on the sublime; in his first exposure to pro ball, he almost never swung at a bad pitch. He adds plenty of loft and backspin on contact, and is already drawing the occasional Brian Giles comparison. He plays a fundamentally sound outfield and has a strong arm.
The Bad: Decker's size and overall tool package is what knocked him out of the first round. He's only an average runner now, and there's some trepidation about how much of his athleticism he can be expected to retain once his body fills out.
Fun Fact: Against lefties in the Arizona Summer League, Decker had 29 at-bats and 15 walks.
Perfect World Projection: Like they're saying, Brian Giles.
Glass Half Empty: The bat has to carry him, and there's not enough power for him to make a true impact in the big leagues.
Path To The Big Leagues: It all depends on the bat.
Timetable: Decker will face a much tougher challenge in the cold weather and big parks of the Low-A Midwest League in 2009.

6. Cedric Hunter, CF
DOB: 3/10/88
Height/Weight: 6-0/185
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Signed: 3rd round, 2006, Martin Luther King HS (GA)
2008 Stats: .318/.362/.442, .240 EqA at High-A (134 G)
Last Year's Ranking: Just Missed

Year in Review: He recovered from a tough 2007 campaign to lead the minor leagues with 186 hits.
The Good: Hunter employs a quick, quiet swing, rarely swings and misses, and laces line drives from pole to pole. He hits lefties well and has tremendous plate coverage. His average speed plays up on the basepaths due to excellent instincts.
The Bad: Beyond his ability to make contact and hit for average, there are questions about the rest of his tools. He doesn't provide much in the way of power, and there are doubts that he can stick in center field due to a lack of first-step quickness and his low-end throwing ability.
Fun Fact: In the fifth innings of game for Lake Elsinore, Hunter went a remarkable 29-for-60 (.483).
Perfect World Projection: If he can stay in center field, he's an everyday player and an ideal number two hitter.
Glass Half Empty: One scout called him, "kind of like Juan Pierre without wheels," which doesn't exactly inspire confidence.
Path To The Big Leagues: The Padres don't have a center fielder right now...
Timetable: Like Kulbacki, Hunter will face a big test in 2009 at Double-A San Antonio.

7. Allan Dykstra, 1B
DOB: 5/21/87
Height/Weight: 6-5/240
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted/Signed: 1st round, 2008, Wake Forest University
2008 Stats: .292/.469/.458 at Hi-A (7 G)
Last Year's Ranking: N/A

Year in Review: Among the top college performers in the game, this 2008 first-round pick saw his signing delayed by a dispute over a pre-existing hip condition.
The Good: Dykstra has as much raw power as anyone in the system. He has proven plate discipline, waiting for a pitch to drive and then generating immense pull power from the left side when he gets one. He's a highly intelligent, cerebral hitter with great makeup. The hip issue held up his signing, but he had played three years of college ball without any problem.
The Bad: Dykstra is a poor first baseman with well below-average athleticism. His swing can be a bit long at times, leaving him behind on good fastballs. He's an extremely slow runner who clogs the bases.
Fun Fact: While certainly not knows for his defense, Dykstra nonetheless holds the ACC single-game record for putouts with 29 during a 20-inning affair in his freshman year.
Perfect World Projection: He's an on-base/power machine with enough skills there to make up for his deficiencies.
Glass Half Empty: The bat has to carry him as an everyday first baseman. There simply are no other options.
Path To The Big Leagues: First base is a crowded position for the Padres right now.
Timetable: Dykstra will begin the year back in the California League, where he could put up some massive numbers.

8. James Darnell, 3B
DOB: 1/19/87
Height/Weight: 6-2/195
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 2nd round, 2008, University of South Carolina
2008 Stats:.373/.462/.582 at Short-season (16 G)
Last Year's Ranking: N/A

Year in Review: On a South Carolina team with two big-name first-rounders in Justin Smoak and Reese Havens, Darnell led the team in RBI and was impressive overall in his pro debut.
The Good: Unlike many college products, Darnell is toolsy and projectable. His strong, muscular build provides plenty of power, and he's also a good runner with an arm that's more than adequate for third base.
The Bad: Despite his age and experience, many aspects of Darnell's game are rough around the edges. His swing is a bit long and forced at times, due to his tendency to lunge and chase outside pitches. While he has all of the tools for the hot corner, he's a sloppy defender who needs considerable improvement on his footwork and positioning.
Fun Fact: Darnell is an accomplished trumpet player.
Perfect World Projection: He'll be a classic third baseman who bats fifth in the lineup.
Glass Half Empty: If he's forced to move into a corner outfield spot, the offensive expectations, his value, and his chances all fall dramatically.
Path To The Big Leagues: It's not something to worry about yet, but the Padres have two third basemen in the majors, and they've already moved one (Chase Headley) to the outfield.
Timetable: While the Padres generally begin their college draftees at High-A for their full-season debut, Darnell's lack of polish might get him a Low-A Fort Wayne assignment.

9. Matt Antonelli, 2B
DOB: 4/8/85
Height/Weight: 6-0/200
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 1st round, 2006, Wake Forest University
2008 Stats: .215/.335/.322, .220 EqA at Triple-A (128 G); .193/.292/.281, .000 EqA at MLB (21 G)
Last Year's Ranking: 2

Year in Review: The Padres' second baseman of the future saw the future delayed by his miserable season at Triple-A.
The Good: Antonelli still possesses the tools. He works the count extremely well and offers plus speed on the bases. He continues to make significant progress defensively, now projecting as a solid first baseman with good range and a solid arm.
The Bad: Antonelli did not respond well to his initial struggles, and he began to tinker with his swing, which only led to further struggles. His 2007 power surge has been written off by some as a California and Texas League mirage, with most now believing he'll hit no more than 10-15 home runs annually.
Fun Fact: It won't take much for Antonelli to become the top big-league player in Wake Forest history, as Cory Sullivan is the all-time leader with 259 hits, while Tommy Gregg holds the all-time home-run mark with just 20. Unfortunately, he now has system-mate Allan Dykstra to deal with as well.
Perfect World Projection: He should become an everyday second baseman, but not the star he looked like he'd become a year ago.
Glass Half Empty: If he doesn't return to previous form, he's stuck.
Path To The Big Leagues: The Padres signed David Eckstein this week to take the pressure off of Antonelli.
Timetable: Antonelli will return to Triple-A in 2009, with the hopes that he can regroup enough to take over in the big leagues the following year.

10. Jeremy McBryde, RHP
DOB: 5/1/87
Height/Weight: 6-2/195
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 26th round, 2006, Rose State JC (OK)
2008 Stats: 4.28 ERA at Low-A (136.2-151-24-158), 8.74 DERA
Last Year's Ranking: Not Ranked

Year in Review: The little-known draft-and-follow prospect had a semi-breakout campaign, finishing second in the Midwest League with 158 strikeouts.
The Good: McBryde is a live arm who parks his fastball in the low 90s and consistently touches 94 while pounding the strike zone. His made progress with his slider throughout the year, and began to mix in an improving changeup late in the season as well.
The Bad: McBryde is just too hittable, and his problems are a perfect example of the difference between command and control, as he needs to learn how to not only throw strikes, but how to throw good ones; far too many of his fastballs are right down the pipe and high in the zone. His secondary pitches are merely good, and he needs to be much more consistent with them.
Fun Fact: The Padres had their eyes on McBryde for some time, also drafting him in the 38th round of the 2005 draft out of Midwest City High School in Oklahoma.
Perfect World Projection: He could be a solid, but unspectacular fixture in the rotation.
Glass Half Empty: He ends up as a guy with nothing but velocity and the ability to throw strikes. That's something, but not of much value.
Path To The Big Leagues: It's hard to imagine until we know what his ultimate role will be.
Timetable: McBryde faces the unenviable task of moving from the Midwest League to the high-octane environment of the Southern Division of the California League with an assignment to Lake Elsinore in 2009.

11. Drew Cumberland, SS
DOB: 1/13/89
Height/Weight: 5-10/175
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted/Signed: 1st round, 2007, Pace HS (FL)
2008 Stats: .500/.500/1.000 at Rookie-level (3 G); .286/.348/.350, .201 EqA at Low-A (53 G)
Last Year's Ranking: 6

Year in Review: An athletic middle infielder who was finally making some progress with the bat, he had his season cut short by a thumb injury.
The Good: Cumberland's best tool is his speed, as he's a plus-plus runner with good range on the left side of the infield and the ability to steal bases at will. The Padres worked to reduce the many moving parts of his swing and get his bat into the zone quickly, and he was on a roll with it before the injury, projecting to hit for average and at least some gap power. He grew up around the game (his brother is in the Reds system) and has good baseball intelligence.
The Bad: Cumberland is a free-swinger at the plate who often commits early to bad pitches, struggles terribly against left-handers, and provides questionable power. While he has all of the tools needed to be a shortstop, he's prone to simple miscues, and many scouts question whether his hands are good enough for the position.
Fun Fact: Drew was a teammate of the Brewers 11th-ranked prospect Caleb Gindl at Pace High School.
Perfect World Projection: He could pan out as a speedy everyday shortstop with a good batting average but limited power and on-base skills.
Glass Half Empty: He'll settle for being a multi-faceted utility player.
Path To The Big Leagues: With Khalil Greene moving on, the Padres don't have a big-league shortstop, nor a system full of young ones on the way.
Timetable: The Padres hope that Cumberland can put together a successful and (more importantly) healthy season at High-A Lake Elsinore.

The Sleeper: Third-round pick Blake Tekotte has solid tools across the board (except for his arm) and a good approach at the plate. He's at least a good fourth outfielder in the big leagues, with potential for more.

Top 10 Talents 25 And Under (as of Opening Day 2009)

1. Chase Headley, LF/3B
1. Mat Latos, RHP
2. Kellen Kulbacki, RF
3. Adys Portillo, RHP
4. Kyle Blanks, 1B
5. Jaff Decker, OF
6. Cedric Hunter, CF
7. Allan Dykstra, 1B
8. James Darnell, 3B
9. Matt Antonelli, 2B
10. Nick Hundley, C

I'm a big believer in Headley, who is an excellent breakout candidate for 2009. Besides his on-base skills and burgeoning power, he's a high-effort, high-intelligence player who gets the most out of his talents. Hundley is a backup catcher forced to start in an organization with very little at the position. Not making the list is Cla Meredith; there just isn't much value in a ground-ball inducing ROOGY who gets torched by lefties and is merely good, not great, against right-handers.

Summary: The Padres system remains weak overall, but it's on the way up due to some good recent drafts and a new-found commitment to Latin America.


Up next: the San Francisco Giants

---

Padres' Director of Minor League Operations Mike Wickham joins Brad Wochomurka as we check in on the Top 11 Prospect Lists at BPR.


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Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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