MadFriars' Top 30: Conniff Edition

Fried led the TinCaps in strikeouts in 2013

Top prospect lists are always fun to read but also come with a caveat. They are not a strict hierarchal ranking mainly because the comparisons are not made on a "apples-to-apples" basis.

Much of a players' value at the lower levels is wrapped up in what they may be able to do while at the upper levels the actual performance tends to carry more weight. So most of these lists tend to be disproportionately weighted to lower level players because it is always easier to think what a player may become as opposed to what they actually are.

All of us who make these lists tend to lean more one way than the other. I find more value in players that are closer to the majors, where there is somewhat a degree of more certainty. Players that have shown they have the ability to consistently perform over a full season, which is the development of a major league baseball player is about, carry more weight with me than inconsistency and promise.

In a nutshell the Padres' system going into 2014 is strong, but heavily skewed on the pitching side; with the rotations at El Paso (AAA) and Lake Elsinore (High-A) looking particularly strong. On the position side there are good players but nearly all of them come with an "if" statement. There is not a Jedd Gyorko waiting to claim an opening day spot this season.

The drafts have been improving as the Padres' have gone away from their college heavy approach of the Sandy Alderson/Grady Fuson years and have adopted the managed risk methodology of scouting director Jason McCloud and his successor Chad MacDonald with all of the top picks from the 2011, 2012 and 2013 draft making this year's Top 30.

1) Matt Wisler RHP/SP

Wisler was fairly well thought off coming into 2013 and after blowing through High-A he confirmed what many in the organization have believed all along; they have something special. At twenty years old in the Texas League he made 20 starts with a 3.00 ERA and held the opposition to a .223 batting average. He is able to dial his fastball up to 98 and sits in the low to mid 90s to go along with a good change and two quality breaking balls.

His biggest strength is his ability to get ahead in early the count and make batters swing at pitches they don't want too. At both Lake Elsinore and San Antonio he posted good but not great strikeout to base-on-balls ratio. His most impressive statistics were his low innings pitched (105) to hits (85) ratio to go along with walking slightly more than a batter a start.

2014: WIsler will begin the year in the minors and should be the ace of the newly christened AAA El Paso Chihuahuas and could be in San Diego before he turns 21. He may be the Padres' best pitching prospect since Mat Latos.

2) Austin Hedges C

PETCO Park is and will always be a pitchers park regardless of where the fences may or may not be. And if the Padres are going to win they not only will need a premier pitching staff but a backstop of equal ability behind the plate to accompany them.

Hedges is that player. He is one of the more athletic and cerebral catchers in the minors and defensively he may be as good as anyone on the big club right now. He may have been pushed a little too quickly to San Antonio last year, particularly on the offensive side, but it is hard to find someone in the organization that does not believe in his bat.

2014: Hedges should return to San Antonio as the opening day catcher for the Missions. The big challenge for the Padres will be to have the patience to wait for the offense to catch up to the defense.

3) Max Fried LHP/SP

Right now Fried's value is wrapped up more in his potential than his actual performance but he gave enough indicators of what he could be in Fort Wayne to keep everyone excited. In the Summit City he tossed part of a no-hitter and lead the team in strikeouts with 100 in 118.2 innings pitched. The downside is his command can be off at times with 56 walks, which easily led his fellow TinCaps' starters.

2014: Fried will begin the year in Lake Elsinore and depending on how much progress he makes with his command will determine his stay there. It's really tough to not like an athletic lefty with a plus fastball and two strong secondary pitches.

4) Burch Smith RHP/SP

Drafted in 2011 Smith continued his rapid ascent up the Padres' system with a debut in San Diego, where at times, he provided glimpses of what could be a very good pitcher. He has a plus fastball but he big question is how much he can improve upon his good change-up and if his fastball command can get up to major league levels.

Smith was very good in both San Antonio and Tucson and seemingly has little left to prove in the minors. In Tucson he struck out 65 in 61 innings against only 17 walks with a 3.39 ERA. For anyone that is familiar with the parks in the Pacific Coast League, that is very good.

2014: If there is an opening on the major league staff, for example if Ian Kennedy is traded after the signing of Josh Johnson, he should win a spot in the starting rotation.

5) Jace Peterson SS

Peterson was a multi-sport star when he was drafted out of McNeese State in 2011 and has quickly emerged as one of the best athletes in the system. He brings an ability to play the middle infield along with solid leadoff skills on the offensive side.

This past year he had his best season at the plate stealing 42 bases in 52 attempts and had a .909 OPS in the second half before succumbing to an ankle injury. The left-handed hitting Peterson may profile more as a big league second baseman but he has also improved every year at shortstop since he's been in the organization.

2014: He will be the everyday shortstop in San Antonio and at 24 the Padres might be a little aggressive in promoting him forward if he looks anything like he did in the second half of the Cal League.

6) Rymer Liriano OF

All of the hype around Liriano being one of the first true five-tool Padres' prospects is true. He is truly an elite athlete that can do it all but the big challenge for Rymer has always been what it is for every player with his tool set; how consistently can he perform.

2014: Liriano has always been a slow starter and after a full year off recovering from Tommy John surgery it will probably take him awhile to get back in the swing of things. He should begin the year in right field for the Missions.

7) Hunter Renfroe OF/RF

Renfroe has come up very fast. After hitting .252 in his sophomore year at Mississippi State he had a huge junior season for the Bulldogs with a 1.051 OPS which put him in the Top 20 of the 2013 major league draft. He put up solid numbers in Eugene .308/.333/.351before fading at the end of the year in Fort Wayne.

2014: Renfroe should begin the year as the everyday right fielder for the Storm, which is a big jump for a player less than a year into pro ball. The big challenge for Renfroe will be if he can improve upon his plate discipline to maximize his talent.

8) Robbie Erlin LHP/SP As with his minor league teammate Burch Smith, Erlin made his major league debut with mixed results in 2013. Erlin has pinpoint command with his four-seam fastball but needs to be effective with his two-seamer and secondary pitches to have success on the major league level. When he has two or three pitches working he is tough to beat.

2014: Erlin will be a candidate for a big league spot in the rotation, but right now it's looking pretty crowded. He will likely begin the year in El Paso and should be the first starter called up if the big club needs a start.

9) Joe Ross RHP/SP

The younger brother of Tyson and maybe with even more upside. In his second go-around in Fort Wayne he was very effective in the first half (2.71 ERA) and not so much in the second (4.98 ERA). At six-foot-three he is blessed with an athletic body and big fastball. According to those who saw him with the TinCaps he needs to trust his secondary pitches more, especially in fastball counts when batters began to hit him in the second half.

2014: Ross, along with Fried, Zach Eflin and Walker Weickel, will form a very strong Lake Elsinore Storm staff. Ross is a better pitcher than his numbers have shown so far, but he did make significant strides in 2013 and is an ideal candidate for a breakout year.

10) Casey Kelly RHP/SP

Kelly is a premium athlete who was good enough to be considered a major league prospect at both pitching and as a shortstop, which he played for two years in the Red Sox organization, in addition to turning down a football scholarship as a quarterback to the University of Tennessee.

Kelly missed all of 2013 with Tommy John surgery and sat out most of 2012 with elbow soreness, so its been awhile since he's taken the ball on a regular basis as he did in San Antonio in 2011. When he's on he has one of the more effective moving sinkers in the system and is a ground ball machine.

2014: He should begin the year with El Paso in AAA where we all will have a better idea of how far back he is from surgery. Before he got hurt, I thought Kelly was the best pitcher in the system.

11) Tommy Medica 1B/OF/C

The Padres have always believed that Medica can hit and he has yet to prove them wrong with a nice .290/.380/.449 line in 79 plate appearances in the big leagues during September.

He has fought through some tough injuries, which robbed him of his ability to be an everyday catcher, where he was a plus defender. He's made good progress defensively at first base and his bat has always produced. This season in San Antonio he had 41extra-base hits in 76 games.

2014: There has been some talk about letting Medica get some extra reps in the outfield but if he's going to make the big club he's going to have to supplant Jesus Guzman on the roster. He should begin the year as the everyday first baseman in El Paso. With his offensive ability it is hard to not see him ending up on the big league roster sometime next year.

12) Franchy Cordero SS

A six-foot-three left-handed hitting shortstop with power who won't turn twenty until the end of the season is going to make a lot of people take notice. In the Arizona League he hit .333/.381/.511 but made 11 errors in 35 games. However, most young shortstops are going to have similar defensive numbers. The important thing is that he can make all the plays at the position to stay there going forward.

It's important to remember that the Arizona League is a very long way from the major league but it is hard to not be excited by his talent.

2014: With Indiana native Josh VanMeter at second, this should be one of the better double play combinations in the organization this season in Fort Wayne. Playing a full-season with the early cold weather will be a challenge for the big Dominican, but he is going to be fun to watch.

13) Zach Eflin RHP/SP

Despite coming into the year with the least amount of hype among the TinCaps starters, Eflin had the best year after missing most of his first professional season recovering from mononucleosis. His 2.73 ERA was the best in the Midwest League and in the second half of the season with a 42/13 BB/K ratio in 63.1 innings.

2014: Right now Eflin has the best command of next year's Storm starters but at six-foot-four and well over 200 lbs. his big frame also should add some velocity to his fastball.

14) Cory Spangenberg 2B,p> Spangenberg had a solid year bouncing back from a concussion injury in Lake Elsinore last season. He was promoted in mid-season to San Antonio and hit very well in August for the Missions, at .330/.351/.459, in their championship drive. Missions' announcer Mike Saeger also through his athleticsm on defense was a big factor in San Antonio's championship run.

While Cory does have superior speed and is a good athlete, he also has a minor league career on-base percentage of .357 and was thrown out 11 times in 30 stolen base attempts with the Missions.

2014: Depending on what falls off of the major league roster and some other personnel moves he will be the starting second baseman at El Paso or San Antonio. To be effective on the major league level he is going to have to become more patient at the plate and show that he can pull the ball for power.

15) Travis Jankowski CF

Jankowski is a plus defender in center that can really run. At six-foot-three he eats up a lot of ground and takes solid routes to the ball. On the basepaths he stole 71 in 85 attempts to lead the Cal League and the organization. Although he posted a .286 batting average his secondary statistics; his on-base percentage (.356) and slugging percentage (.355) are going to have to improve for him to advance.

2014: Jankowski will be the starting centerfielder for the Missions. A big goal of his off-season was to get stronger and get better at pulling the ball to keep the defense honest. As with Spangenberg, his athleticsm is more advanced right now that his baseball skills.

16) Keyvius Sampson RHP/SP

Sampson really had two seasons this year; the good was where he was absolutely dominant in San Antonio and the other was in Tucson where he never found the rhythm that worked so well for him with the Missions. Keyvius has a good command of a four-seam fastball and a plus change but it will all begin and end for him on the consistency of his third pitch, the slider.

2014: Its going to be a crowded rotation at AAA El Paso but Sampson should be able to secure a spot. He's still very young at twenty-three and seems just a few adjustments away from becoming a serviceable major league starter.

17) Juan Oramas LHP/SP

Oramas may be the sleeper on the list. After going down with Tommy John surgery last year he returned and posted a 0.65 ERA over five August starts. Oramas at five-foot-ten and two hundred and fifteen pounds does not look like the classic pitcher but the Mexican native can pitch and also put in a solid performance in the winter league this year. He has a fastball that sits in the low 90's and a plus change-up.

2014: After Erlin, he should be the top lefty at the upper levels to begin the year. Additionally he could have an outside shot at making the big team in the bullpen role with the departures of lefties Colt Hynes and Tommy Layne.

18) Joe Wieland RHP/SP

Along with Casey Kelly and Cory Luebke, Wieland was on the sidelines all of this year with Tommy John surgery. He has three good pitches but his success relies upon all three of them working at the same time because he doesn't posses a single true plus pitch.

2014: For most returning from Tommy John surgery the velocity returns before the command and for a pitcher that relies upon precision as much as Wieland this could be a problem. He will begin the year in El Paso but the Padres may have him coming out of the pen for awhile to keep an eye on his innings and build up his strength and control.

19) Donn Roach RHP/SP

When he's on Roach projects visions of a right-handed version of Padres' icon Randy Jones in the way he gets batters to pound the ball into the dirt. The problems occur when the ball comes up. He was much better in the second half with an ERA of 2.66 as compared to the first.

2014: The rotation should be pretty crowded at the AAA level but the organization showed their confidence in Roach by adding him to the forty-man roster. At this point its still unclear whether he will begin the year at El Paso or San Antonio but if he performs as he did in the second half he could be called up from either spot.

20)Reymond Fuentes CF

Fuentes, the third prospect in the famous Adrian Gonzalez trade, put together his best season as a professional hitting well at both San Antonio and Tucson before getting a call-up to the big club. Fuentes got much stronger in the off-season as he improved his OPS percentage by over a hundred points from his previous best mark. He also stole 35 bases in 46 attempts for the Missions and T-Pads.

2014: Fuentes should be the opening day center fielder for El Paso and is going to need to continue to get stronger to have a shot as an everyday big league outfielder. Also he is the living embodiment of the old adage that he has "just enough power to get himself in trouble." He needs to continue to strive to put the ball in the gaps to utilize his plus speed and keep the ball out of the air.

21) James Needy RHP/SP

A sixth round pick out of Santana High School in 2009 Needy finally put together the type of season both he and the Padres have been expecting. The six-foot-six righthander threw 134 innings in the hitter friendly Cal League and finished with an ERA of 3.76. If you throw out some of his starts in the pinball havens of High Desert and Lancaster, he was even better.

2014: Needy will start the year in San Antonio where the pitching conditions of the Texas League should be extremely conducive to his game. He is not the type that is going to punch out a lot of batters but he won't walk many either. His value lays in his ability to eat innings and keep runs off of the board.

22)Cody Hebner RHP/RP

Hebner walked 41 batters in 74.2 innings and that is all I have on the bad news. The slight Washington native can throw a mid-90s heater to go along with a quality slider. He struck out more than a batter an inning and finished up with a 3.62 ERA, which is what you want to see in a relief pitcher. A starter throughout his career he's still getting used to his new role but he held right-handed hitters to a .153 batting average.

2014: He will begin the year in the Missions' bullpen and with his fastball could be a candidate for a big league call-up by mid-year.

23) Justin Hancock RHP/SP,p> For the first half of the season Hancock may have been the best pitcher in Fort Wayne. In 67.2 innings he posted a 1.73 ERA with a 44/20 strikeout to walk ratio for a 5-1 record. He was promoted to late June to Lake Elsinore where he struggled with a 5.14 ERA as he experienced trouble with his command and getting the ball up.

He's only 22 and at six-foot-four inches and 190 lbs. he has the physique you want to see in a pitcher. The key for him, which was a big reason for his success in Eugene and in the first half of Fort Wayne, is how well he can command his two-seam fastball.

2014: The staff at Lake Elsinore is very deep while the Double-A one is not. Hancock's stuff will probably play better in the Texas League than in the Cal League and the Padres may be a little aggressive and have him start the year in San Antonio.

24) Jaff Decker OF

After a few years of battling through injuries and adjustments to his approach at the plate, things really began to click for Decker in the second half in Tucson where he hit .317/.394/.537. He's been in very good shape the past few years and is now comfortable at all three outfield positions. Any way you cut it, he was one of the system's better hitters with a .333 batting average with runners on and two outs.

2014: During the off-season the Padres took Decker off of the forty-man roster exposing him to the Rule V draft. He could be taken but it is more than likely he will be back in the Padres' organization as the opening day right fielder in El Paso. If he's healthy he should put up good numbers and could push Reymond Fuentes for the spot as the team's first call-up for an outfield bat.

25) Walker Weickel RHP/SP

Weickel was one of the three high school pitchers the Padres took with their first four picks in the 2012 draft. This year in Fort Wayne the six-foot-six Florida native showed flashes of his potential, particularly with his plus curve ball. The problem, as with most of the young staff is his consistency and command.

2014: Weickel will begin the year as part of the system's best pitching staff in Lake Elsinore where he will learn very quickly the importance of keeping the ball down.

26) Alberth Martiniez CF/OF

After Liriano and Renfroe Martiniez is kind of "five-tool player light". He had a big year in 2010 in the AZL hitting .354 at twenty years old before injuries set him back the past few seasons. This year in Fort Wayne he had a .362 on-base percentage and was fifth in the league in slugging percentage at .478. He hit .303/.396/.523 in the second half.

2014: He should be the opening day centerfielder in Lake Elsinore to begin the year which will give the Storm a very athletic outfield in Renfroe, Martiniez and Mallex Smith.

27) Chris Nunn LHP/RP

Nunn has quietly been one of the organization's best relief pitchers for the past two years since he was drafted as a late round draft pick out of Lipscomb University in 2012. He had 66 strikeouts in 65 innings and led the TinCaps in innings out of the bullpen.

2014: He will be the set-up man again for the Storm in 2014 and could see an early promotion to San Antonio as left-handers that can throw strikes are always going to have a need.

28) Adrian De Horta RHP/SP

De Horta was an over the slot signee in this year's draft out of West Covina, California He flashed some ability in the AZL with 0.98 ERA in July when he struck out 26 in 18.1 innings before fading in August.

2014: He's an athletic six-foot-three and the Padres believe when his body fills up a little more we will see an uptick in his fastball. He should start the year in the rotation in Fort Wayne where the team will carefully monitor his innings as they build up his arm.

29) Rodney Daal C

Daal won't turn twenty until this March and as a teenager he improved every month hitting .295/.357/439 after becoming the everyday catcher with the promotion of Dane Phillips to Lake Elsinore. The big question on Daal is his defense where he led the catchers in the Midwest League in errors and only threw out 23% of runners attempting to steal.

2014: He is very young, athletic and had a chance to catch everyday in Lake Elsinore before going down with Tommy John surgery which will put him out for all of 2014. The Padres have been very good as of late at working defensively with catchers and he will be a prime candidate in 2015.

30) Pete Kelich RHP/SP

Kelich was twenty-two and competing against much younger players in the AZL after a four-year collegiate career at Bryant University in Rhode Island. Regardless of these facts the numbers he put up in the Arizona League were simply astounding. A 1.40 ERA in 58 innings pitched with 69 strikeouts against a single, yes, "one" walk for a 7-1 record.

2014: Kelich should be the opening day starter for the TinCaps and the Padres believe that they found a real steal in the thirty-eighth round. He throws three pitches for strikes and it will be interesting to see what he does against better competition.

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