by Ben Davey

Continuing with my outlook at the full season minor league teams, we are now at AA San Antonio Missions.

Last year the Missions made the playoffs by the skin of their teeth (winning the 1st half) but were quickly sent packing. They finished exactly at .500 (70-70), but never showed signs of the dominance that you would like to see. Many of the “top prospects” from the 2009 team either had a disappointing year (Hunter, Carrillo) or were injured for nearly the entire season (Kulbacki).

The 2010 staff will feature a surplus of great pitching sent from Lake Elsinore, and a shot at redemption for a few quality prospects. If players can stay healthy 2010 can be a big year for the Missions.

Batting:

The Missions finished second in the league in both BA (.269) and OBP (.346) but were dead last in HR (62) and 6th in OPS (.715). While Wolff stadium is notoriously hard on RH, the absence of power was felt all through the lineup. Only one player hit over 10 HR on the year (Craig Cooper) and he hit 11. Luckily the Missions will get a shot in the arm with two big time power hitters in James Darnell (top 5 Padre prospect) and Matt Clark (led the organization in HR last year). Combined with a healthy Kulbacki, the Missions have three big time power hitters in the heart of their order.

The Lineup:

1) Cedric Hunter (CF/LF)- Last year Hunter was considered a top 5 prospect after leading all of MILB in hits in 2008, but after an extremely disappointing 2009 in San Antonio he needs to rebound to reclaim his status. Ideally Hunter will hit for a high average, not strike out (43 in 541 AB), steal bases, and have developing power (22 in March). Hunter needs to spend some time with Decker/Forsythe/Giles who have the patient aggressive approach. It’s good for a hitter to not strike out, but they shouldn’t just swing at the first few pitches EVERY time either.  Way too many weak outs.

2) Sawyer Carroll (RF/LF)- What didn’t Carroll do last year? He hit over .310/.400 in each of 3 different leagues, was a MWL all star and MVP of the all star game (going 5-5), top 3 in the organization in both RS (88) and RBI (96), and played above average D. The biggest problem might just be that Carroll only hit 8 HR, and for a corner OF unless your name is Tony Gwynn (Sr.) that’s not good. Because of this he might not be the top prospect that he would be with the power, BUT he is a guy that can hit anywhere in the lineup, score runs, drive in runs, steal bases, get on base, etc…. He does it all, and with a crowded Portland OF he might have an entire year in AA to show off.

3) James Darnell (3B) – There is some talk about Darnell moving to either C or LF, but for this year at least he will remain at 3rd. Darnell has massive power, and can draw a walk with the best of them (87 BB last year). He hit .311/.424/.536 across 2 leagues, and his 59 extra base hits were one of the highest totals in the organization. He is a top 5 Padres prospect on most prospect lists, and while there is a chance he remains in Lake Elsinore to start 2010, I have to imagine that the new regime will try and push both him and Forsythe (who will be in AAA). Look for a big season from Darnell.

4) Kellen Kulbacki (LF/RF) – Kulbacki went from an absolutely stellar 2008 in which he led the organization in HR (22) and hit a crazy .332/.428/.589/1.017 in the Cal League, to an injury riddled 2009 where he hit .201/.257/.254 in 134 AB in AA. While many people have dropped him off their top 10 prospects, I just give him a mulligan for 2009 and look towards 2010. Kulbacki had a very frustrating shoulder injury that he tried to come back too early from and was not the same player. When healthy Kulbacki hits for a high average, has good walk and strikeout numbers, can use all fields, work the count, and is really a complete hitter. The big hurdle for Kulbacki in 2010 will be getting out of the slow start. He is my breakout prospect for 2010, and hitting between Darnell and Clark will mean he gets some really good pitches to hit, and I don’t expect him to miss.

5) Matt Clark (1B) – Clark is a big guy standing at 6’5”, and uses every inch of his frame to hit for serious power. He led the organization in HR last year (24) and between 2 leagues posted a very nice .279/.360/.504 line. Clark’s biggest problem is that he has a really long swing, which is also something that the Padres brass has been working with him to change. The swing helped him launch 62 extra base hits last year but also hurt him 134 K). The F.O. seems to believe that they can shorten up his stroke just enough to cut back on some of those K’s without hindering his power. Unlike both Kulbacki and Darnell, Clark is a lefty, which means that his power numbers should not be hindered by Wolff Field. Look for big power numbers again for this prospect.

6) Beemer Weems (SS) – Weems is in the lineup and a prospect because of his defensive ability. He has arguably the best range, arm, and lateral speed of any SS prospect in the Padres organization and does everything with a poise that makes him look like a 10 year vet. The question would be his offensive numbers, but he showed something hitting .290/.464/.387 before the all star break last year. Weems doesn’t have much power, but if he can hit for a decent average and continue to walk at a good clip 21.72% (1st half) 17.47% overall. He will continue to be a solid SS prospect.

7) Luis Martinez (C) – Martinez has always been known as a defensive catcher, but had a great showing offensively in the Cal League. He hit .300/.389/.414 in 83 G last year with the Storm. At this point in his career Martinez is mainly a singles hitter and at 24 (25 in April), that power probably wont be developing any time soon. Despite this if he can continue to provide excellent D and hit close to .300 there will be a place for him somewhere.

8 ) Andrew Parrino (2B) – This is more of a guess than anything else, and Jesus Lopez could remain in SA for the 3rd year in a row, or they could push Figureoa to SA, but my guess is Parrino will be the starter. Parrino struggled in Lake Elsinore hitting only .235/.346/.312 in 94 games, and at this point is not much more than a space filler. There might be too many things wrong with his swing to fix, but for right now this might be his last chance to show something.

DH- Brad Chalk (mainly CF) and Felix Carrasco (also 1B)- If Chalk is playing he will be batting leadoff and either move Hunter or Carroll down in the order. Chalk was 2nd in the organization last year with 33 SB, #1 in triples with 12, and hit for a solid .301/.357/.398 in Lake Elsinore.

Of the 4 OFers Chalk is by far the best defensively, but doesn’t have the ceiling of the other 3. Chances are if Chalk is in the game (which is a fairly god chance he is in 70% of games) he will be in the OF with one of the other 3 as DH, but in the few games where there is no DH, he might be relegated to the bench.

If Carrasco is in the game it will be as a DH. He scares me as a 1B as he is timid on grounders (never charging which costs the team more than a few infield singles), and is still unable to pick the ball out of the dirt. Carrrasco has big time power but the problem is making contact (132 K in 115 G). He might stay at Lake Elsinore for another year, but I am not sure it will help him all that much. This will be a make it or break it year for Carrasco who needs to give the FO a glimpse of his potential, or they might very well cut ties with him.

Other names to see occasionally: Ali Solis (back-up C), Danny Payne (OF, S 1st rd pick but injuries have hurt him in 2008, and needs to hit for a higher average and work on the K numbers to be more than a back up OF on a minor league team), Jesus Lopez/Kevin Winn/Anthony Contreras (backup middle infield)

Overall the 2010 will have pretty good speed at the top of their lineup (Chalk, Hunter, Carroll), big time power in the heart of the order (Darnell, Kulbacki, Clark), and quite a few hitters who could/should hit over .300 (Carroll/Hunter/Darnell/Kulbacki). Expect this team to walk A LOT as the patiently aggressive Sandy Alderson approach will hit San Antonio big time this year. Despite this the 2010 team has enough talent to put up some big time numbers and together with the stellar pitching staff should finish over .500 and have a great chance to make a run at the Texas League Title previously won in 2007 when current Padres Chase Headley (league MVP), Will Venable, and Nick Hundley led the team.

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