Friday, February 18, 2011

TEAM #13 – San Diego Padres

Decker is slowly making believers

What’s that old saying about the definition of ‘insanity’? Over the last five drafts, the Padres have signed forty draft picks that were selected in the first seven rounds—70% of them from the college ranks. Yet when you look at the 12 players in the system that grade out a ‘B’ or better and were initially signed by the Padres, five of them come from Latin America, five of them from the prep ranks, and a grand total of two of them from colleges. While we certainly can blame Kevin Towers and Bill Gayton, neither of which is still in the organization, for this philosophy; Jed Hoyer and Jaron Madison didn’t deviate very much in their first draft last year—perhaps explaining why their initial draft ranked near the bottom in 2010. We aren’t advocating a preference for high school players over collegiate players—just a preference for an upside that teams like Padres don’t seem to find among the college ranks. With back-to-back disappointing drafts, it is little wonder why the Padres rankings are stepping backwards from last year (TEAM #8 – San Diego Padres)—despite the talent infusion from the Adrian Gonzalez trade.

At the Major League level, the Padres have a very good young pitching staff. The problem is that they are likely to struggle to score any runs to support it. They would like to be able to add from within, but no offensive help seems to be on the way until at least 2012. That lack of near ready players is one of the weaknesses of the Minor League system, as eleven of the top fourteen prospects played the majority of their time in A-ball or below in 2010. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t talent in the system, however, as the Gonzalez trade alone likely netted a return that boosted the Padres ten places in the rankings. There is a nice mix of high-ceiling and high-floor players, and a good breakdown between pitchers and position players. While it is far too early to call Donovan Tate a bust yet, it isn’t too soon to point the finger at some horrific first round draft choices. Between 2004 and 2008, the Padres signed seven picks that were among the first 35 players taken for a total of $10.6 million. That list: Matt Bush, Cesar Carillo, Cesar Ramos, Matt Antonelli, Kyler Burke, Nick Schmidt and Allan Dykstra; has produced a record of futility that would be difficult to match. While their Latin American pipeline remains among the game’s strongest, it will be difficult for the system to make substantial strides without better drafts. With a relatively new front office in place, we will reserve judgment on the overall direction of the franchise.

Best Pick from 2010 – Despite all of the criticism that he receives for not having the prototypical body type, we have been high on Jaff Decker since his debut. We ranked him in the Top 100 (#57), and #2 on our Padres list, last year and he has done little to change our mind, as he moves up this year on both lists.

Worst Pick from 2010 – While we were more cautious about Donovan Tate than most, we still rated him #1 on this list last year. He’ll have to stay on the field to provide any value, something that has been difficult thus far, but for now Tate is far more potential than production.

Grade A

1) Jaff Decker, OF (2010 Performance Scores– Power 78; Discipline 34; First Base Rate 60; Speed 42)

The ‘tools’ community has been wishing for his failure ever since he destroyed the AZL in his 2008 debut. For if Decker succeeds, it will be a relatively disturbing development for the ‘tools’ fanatics, as he has few to none. Instead, Decker is a short, squat, thick-bodied player that looks like the kind you might find in the park at a Sunday softball game playing for beers. Despite that, he continues to rake—season after season. In 2009 he led the Midwest League (MWL) with the circuit’s top Performance Score and in 2010 he finished fourth in the California League (CAL). Decker has average corner outfield power, above average contact skills and some of the best plate patience in the Minors. The downside is that he possesses below average speed and fringing pitch recognition skills—something that has led to him posting a 21% strikeout rate over his professional career. Defensively he has the potential to be adequate at either corner. This gives him the upside of an above average everyday Major League outfielder. Decker will take his game to the Texas League (TXL) in 2011, where the critics are sure to follow. If, however, he continues on the current development curve, look for him to become an everyday outfielder in San Diego sometime in 2012.

Grade A-

2) Casey Kelly, RHP (2010 – Dominance 48; Control 52; HRrate 42; Stamina 61)

It is difficult for us to do a Kelly ‘write-up’, because we aren’t as high on him as others are and it is difficult for it not to sound more negative than we truly believe. We’ll start by discussing what everyone likes about him. Kelly is an extremely polished 21yo, with a low-90s fastball, a plus change and a useable curve, that pitches with heavy sink that has thus far induced a GO/AO ratio of 1.58 over two seasons. With that repertoire, there is every reason to believe Kelly could become a solid #2/#3 starter at the Major League level. The problem is that many envision Kelly as a front of the rotation stud, and we just don’t see it. Start with the fact that Kelly uses his fastball to set up his change. Add to that his breaking ball is a fringe average offering. Need more? At 6’3”, 210lbs, and given his current advanced polish, we don’t find a high degree of projectability left. Additionally, Kelly has yet to post a K/ 9 IP ratio greater than 7.6—not the kind of numbers you find in the Minor Leagues for a future ‘ace’. Make no mistake, this is an elite pitching prospect, just not as elite as many believe. Look for Kelly to begin 2011 in AAA. He needs additional work on his control, so we hope that the Padres keep him there until at least September.

3) Anthony Rizzo, 1B (2010 – Power 75; Discipline 37; First Base Rate 36; Speed 64)

Rizzo was the return piece that is supposed to end up replacing Adrian Gonzalez in the San Diego lineup sometime in 2012. That is a tall order for anyone, and certainly it is a tall order for a 21yo. All Gonzalez replacement comparisons aside, Rizzo is a quality first base prospect. He possesses plus power, as was demonstrated by his 24 home runs in 2010—more than double his previous season high—and excellent first base defense. 2010 saw him post the #4 Performance Score in the Eastern League (ESL). On the negative side, Rizzo possesses below average speed, and he needs to work on pitch recognition, as he continues to strikeout at around a 22% clip. While there is wide debate about his contact skills, Rizzo began pulling the ball more in 2010, leading to his lowest average as a pro. If all comes together, Rizzo has all the makings of an average offensive first baseman with plus defensive ability. The Padres will start him in AAA in 2011, and he could see San Diego by September.

4) Simon Castro, RHP (2010 – Dominance 54; Control 64; HRrate 56; Stamina 72)

We continue to waiver on Castro, sometimes believing that he could become a powerful #2 Major League starter, and other times not sure that he wouldn’t be best used as a dominating back of the bullpen reliever. Castro has been on our radar longer than most anyone, as we first took notice when he posted a Top 10 Performance Score in the Dominican Summer League (DSL) in 2006. In 2008, he posted another Top 10 Score in the Northwest League (NWL), followed by a #12 Score in the MWL in 2009 and a #8 Score in the Texas League (TXL) this past season. The point is that he has been remarkably consistent over a five year stretch—something that bodes well for his longer term outlook. At 6’5”, 210lbs, Castro is remarkably durable—averaging 26 starts for each of the last two seasons. With a low- to mid-90s fastball—that he throws from a large downward plane—and two at least average secondary offerings—all of which he has above average command, Castro has substantial upside. While the downside is limited, we do still have concerns. Castro has a tendency to over rely on his fastball. His change still needs considerable work Finally, Castro doesn’t possess the pitchability that would give us more confidence in his eventual role. The Padres skipped Castro over Hi-A in 2010, and the 22yo looks ready to take on AAA in 2011. He will battle Casey Kelly for the opportunity, if one should arise, in San Diego this season.

Grade B+

5) Drew Cumberland, SS (2010 – Power 50; Discipline 68; First Base Rate 64; Speed 63)

Cumberland was in the midst of a breakout campaign in 2010 when he injured his knee shortly after his promotion to AA. That has been pretty much the story of his professional career as Cumberland’s 303 Abs in 2010 were the most in his four professional seasons. He still managed to post the CAL’s #3 Performance Score with his first half, and we have confidence in his ability to continue on that development path. Cumberland’s bat is his most potent weapon, as he has plus contact skills and controls the strike zone with the best in the Minors. Perhaps his greatest attribute, though, is the combination of substantial athleticism, melded with an aggressive approach to the game and a high baseball IQ. Defensively he has soft hands and quick feet. While he has a strong arm, it is often erratic, causing some to suggest that he may have to move off of shortstop. His bat will play at either middle infield position, so that isn’t too much of a problem. The only other negative is Cumberland’s dearth of power that has produced only 10 home runs in 912 At Bats. Cumberland looks to be a prototypical #2 hitter at the next level, playing either shortstop or second base. He will return to the TXL in 2011, hoping to remain healthy for a full season.

6) Juan Oramas, LHP (2010 – Dominance 79; Control 65; HRrate 56; Stamina 48)

Oramas is a player that has gone overlooked far too long. While his path to this point has been unconventional, it has definitely been successful. Oramas first appeared on our radar screen when he posted a Top 10 Performance Score in the DSL in 2007—as a 17yo, but didn’t gain our full attention until the Padres lent him to Mexico City in the Mexican League in 2009 where he posted unbelievable numbers for a 19yo—earning the circuit’s Top Performance Score. Proving that he could have success on U.S. soil, Oramas spent most of 2010 in the hitter friendly CAL, and posted that League’s #3 Performance Score—his best season yet. He finished up his successful 2010 with an excellent performance in the Mexican Winter League. So why hasn’t he garnered any attention? A bad-bodied prospect in the Jaff Decker mold, Oramas stands at 5’10”, 215lbs. With a fastball that is a low 90s offering, an average curve and an adequate change, there is plenty of reason to believe that he could be a solid #4 type starter, but there isn’t a lot of additional upside projection. Only 20yo, Oramas should begin 2011 in AA.

Grade B

7) Reymond Fuentes, CF (2010 – Power 41; Discipline 49; First Base Rate 56; Speed 80)

The third piece that the Padres acquired in the Adrian Gonzalez deal, Fuentes is a prospect that is more potential than production at this stage. Athletically gifted, Fuentes best skill is his plus-plus speed. But that is far from the only thing Fuentes offers. A slightly built 6’0”, 170lbs, Fuentes makes solid contact and has reasonable strike zone management skills. While he doesn’t presently offer much in the way of power, the belief is that he will eventually become a 15+ home run per year hitter. Defensively, he covers tremendous ground, and shows plus center field defensive skills. The only real negative is that Fuentes is tremendously raw and is only likely to advance one level at a time. He will begin 2011 in the CAL and could eventually become a game changing top of the order threat.

8) Matt Lollis, RHP (2010 – Dominance 43; Control 69; HRrate 65; Stamina 77)

One of the largest players in the Minors, Lollis stands at 6’7”, 280lbs. A 15th round draft pick in 2009, Lollis had a surprising season as he posted the #5 Performance Score in the Northwest League (NWL) and a Top 10 Score in the MWL. With a low-90s fastball, an average slider, an average curve and a developing change, Lollis has a four pitch repertoire, that he commands well, that should provide him the opportunity to become a mid-rotation workhorse. The only downside is the lack of a historical record of success of pitchers his side, as conditioning will be a key determinant of future success. Look for Lollis to move up to the CAL in 2011.

9) Jedd Gyorko, 3B (2010 – Power 72; Discipline 56; First Base Rate 67; Speed 34)

Gyorko was a shortstop in college who most thought would slide over to second base in the pros. We had him rated as a likely sandwich round pick, but he fell to the Padres in the second round. The Padres decided that they would try him at third base, rather than second, and they sent him to the NWL to make his debut where he posted the circuit’s #16 Performance Score. His bat is his premium tool, as he makes above average contact, has solid plate discipline, and should eventually hit 15-20 home runs per year. The negatives include being another in the bad-bodied Jaff Decker mold, possessing below average speed, and having defensive limitations. While he has enough arm for third, and surprising quickness given his 5’10”, 210lb frame, he may come up a bit short on the usual power expectations for a third baseman. You may see an offensive explosion, as Gyorko will get a crack at the CAL to open 2011.

10) Donovan Tate, OF (2010 – Power 63; Discipline 21; First Base Rate 58; Speed 71)

When we wrote about Tate last year, we cautioned about his comps extensive wash-out rate and relatively low (for a #3 overall pick) expected career WAR values. That wasn’t enough for us to ignore his tremendous athleticism and we still ended up ranking him as the top prospect in the system. A year has passed, little evolution on the development curve has occurred and Tate now has more questions, as he apparently has an uncanny knack for missing time due to illness or injury. All else being equal, just these events are going to lead to a downgrade in his prospect status as he is now 20 years old with no professional At Bats outside the complex rookie leagues. An amazing athlete, Tate has a nearly unlimited Power/Speed combination potential. Defensively he covers substantial ground and has the arm of a right fielder—a position he may have to eventually transition to with Fuentes ahead of him on the depth charts. However, the big question surrounding Tate has always been whether he can make consistent enough contact, and unfortunately we are no closer to answering that. Tate will try it again in 2011, hopefully this time making his debut in the MWL.

11) Keyvius Sampson, RHP (2010 – Dominance 77; Control 47; HRrate 30; Stamina 67)

Arguably, no pitcher in the system has a higher ceiling than the 20yo Sampson. With consistent mid-90s heat, a curve that flashes potential of a plus pitch, and an average change, there is enough raw stuff here to envision a quality towards the front of the rotation starter. Unfortunately, Sampson remains more thrower than pitcher at this stage. His secondary offerings are inconsistent and he struggles mightily with command. That, however, didn’t stop him from posting the Top Performance Score in the NWL in 2010. While we have seen hundreds of these profiles never develop or end up as purely bullpen material, we can’t ignore the considerable ceiling here. Look for Sampson to make his full-season debut in the MWL in 2011.

12) Jonathan Galvez, SS (2010 – Power 59; Discipline 30; First Base Rate 67; Speed 70)

Galvez made his US debut by posting the #2 Performance Score in the AZL in 2009. He followed that up by posting the #16 score in the MWL this past season. Signed as a 16yo, for $750,000 in 2007, Galvez is a shortstop that is likely to change positions due to fundamentally poor defensive skills. Although some have suggested a move to third base, we believe his below average arm makes second the only real possibility. While his defense may be lacking, there is absolutely nothing wrong with his offensive game. With advanced strike zone management skills that we don’t usually see in young Latin American hitters, Galvez works pitchers to gain a hitter’s advantage. Far from mature physically, his 6’2”, 175lb frame, portends eventual plus power and solid contact skills. His plus speed may be his most potent weapon. Galvez can get into ruts where he tries to pull everything. This leads to more strikeouts than we would like, but the overall package is extremely intriguing. We can envision a future above average offensive Major League second basemen. Only 20yo, Galvez will move to the CAL in 2011.

Other Potential Top 300 Prospects – 13) James Darnell, 3B; 14) Adys Portillo, RHP; 15) Edison Rincon, 3B/LF.

Feel free to post any questions and or comments. We will try to answer them in our weekly Mailbag segment.

You can find an explanation of our grades here Diamond Futures Annual Prospect Rankings Series and an explanation of our 2009 Performance Scores here Do-It-Yourself - Understanding Performance Evaluation and here This Week's Mailbag - Prospect Rankings Questions. The Performance scores represent the player’s performance relative to the leagues that they played in during the 2009 season.

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