Padres farm system: Deep and talented

In case you haven’t noticed, the San Diego Padres have rejuvenated the farm system. If there’s reason to be excited about the future of this franchise, the talent in the minor leagues should do the trick.

The system has been making gradual strides over the years, but it was during the Jed Hoyer/Jason McLeod regime where the biggest steps were taken, thanks to big returns for Adrian Gonzalez and Mike Adams and a couple of nice drafts.

Over the last couple of days, top Padres prospect lists have been released by Baseball America, Kevin Goldstein, and John Sickels, all vital sources for minor league/scouting coverage. Here’s a chart listing the top 10 prospects from each of the above mentioned:

Baseball America Kevin Goldstein John Sickels
1. Anthony Rizzo, 1B 1. Rymer Liriano, OF 1. Anthony Rizzo, 1B
2. Rymer Liriano, OF 2. Robbie Erlin, LHP 2. Rymer Liriano, OF
3. Casey Kelly, RHP 3. Jedd Gyorko, 3B 3 Jedd Gyorko, 3B
4. Cory Spangenberg, 2B 4. Cory Spangenberg, 2B 4. Robbie Erlin, LHP
5. Austin Hedges, C 5. Joe Wieland, RHP 5. Joe Wieland, RHP
6. Jedd Gyorko, 3B 6. Anthony Rizzo, 1B 6. Keyvius Sampson, RHP
7. Joe Wieland, RHP 7. Casey Kelly, RHP 7. Casey Kelly, RHP
8. Robbie Erlin, LHP 8. Austin Hedges, C 8. Cory Spangenberg, 2B
9. Joe Ross, RHP 9. Joe Ross, RHP 9. James Darnell, 3B
10. Keyvius Sampson, RHP 10. Keyvius Sampson, RHP 10. Joe Ross, RHP

The three lists contain almost an identical group of players, except for James Darnell who was included by Sickels and not the other two (Sickels left off Austin Hedges). There’s certainly a good deal of agreement at the top of the Padres system, although the order isn’t necessarily all that close.

To give you an idea of how the Padres system has developed, consider the following: In 2008, Kevin Goldstein gave the Padres a total of nine players with three+ stars (he rates them on a one to five scale). This season, nine Padres received  a *four star* rating and Goldstein noted in the comments that the Padres would have three star prospects all the way into the late-teens.

The system isn’t overflowing with high-ceiling talent, but there’s a ton of depth that has been built up over the last few years, from a variety of sources. Though the Padres are lacking at the MLB level, the combination of a solid young foundation in the bigs to go with an incredibly deep farm system will make them very dangerous in the near future.

More lists

MadFriars does an exceptional job covering the minor leagues, and they have a number of prospect lists posted (subscriber-only) by familiar names like Ben Davey and John Conniff.

Peter Friberg, long-time Pads prospect expert, is running through his list at Friarhood (he’s currently at #8).

Padres Prospects has posted their top 25.

Baseball Instinct’s top 10.

Looking for writers

We are currently looking to add contributors at Friar Forecast.

We’re hoping to provide more extensive coverage of the San Diego Padres heading into the 2012 season, and one of the best ways to do that is to add some new voices.

Preferably, we would be interested in someone with an analytical mindset and some writing/blogging experience. Any type of specific knowledge, be it prospects, sabermetrics, business, etc., is a plus.

New writers would be expected to contribute (at least) once a week on a scheduled day, but this is negotiable.

If interested, use the contact form above or e-mail Myron at myronlogan5 [at] yahoo [dot] com. Please don’t be hesitant to inquire, even if you’re not sure if you meet the “requirements.” We’re flexible and would be happy to work something out.

Thanks
-Myron

The Andrew Friedman approach

While other teams were busy spending big dollars on free-agents at the Winter Meetings, Tampa Bay Rays General Manager Andrew Friedman locked up left-handed pitching prospect Matt Moore to a five year, $14 million dollar deal. The deal could extend to eight years, $40 million thanks to three club options.

The Rays have become notorious for locking up their young talent (Evan Longoria, Carl Crawford, etc.) to long-term, cost-effective deals, buying out arbitration and free-agent eligible seasons and saving a lot of dough.

Moore has only pitched 19.3 big league innings (23 strikeouts, 6 walks), so the Rays are taking a bit of a risk. He’s worked his way up the Rays system in dominant fashion, but he wasn’t a sure-thing by any means, drafted in 8th round of the 2007 draft.

Still, the Rays are trying to compete with the Red Sox and Yankees on a considerably smaller budget, and one way to keep the payroll down and hold onto their star players for as long as possible is to a take calculated risk like this.

That brings us to our San Diego Padres, who are in a similar situation trying to compete with the spending of the Dodgers and Giants (not to mention the D’backs and Rockies). Here’s a look at NL West payrolls, over the last five years (data courtesy of Cots Contracts):

nl west spending 

The Padres have planted themselves at the bottom of the division in spending, sitting well back of the Rockies and Diamondbacks, let alone the high-rolling Dodgers and Giants. There are a number of reasons that could explain the gap, but the Padres aren’t going to outspend the rest of this division anytime soon.

To compete the Padres need to be more efficient with their resources. One way to do that would be to sign some Freidman-like extensions. How have the Padres fared in this area?

The Padres did sign Adrian Gonzalez to a four year, $9.5 million deal (plus an option) back in 2007, which likely saved them a large chunk of change and may have increased Gonzalez’s trade value last offseason. The deal didn’t, however, buy out any of Gonzalez’s free-agent years to keep him in San Diego longer.

The Padres got closer when they signed Jake Peavy to an extension in 2005, buying out one of his free-agent years with a club option. They extended his contract in 2007, with a more free-agent-like three year, $52 million deal.

This current version of the Padres have not extended any young players. Chase Headley’s contract has been played year-by-year, and he has three arbitration-eligible seasons remaining (thanks to super-two status) before he becomes a free agent.

Ace righty Mat Latos hasn’t been extended yet, and he’s due to become a free-agent in 2016. Incidentally, Tom Krasovic reports that Latos and Headley may not be in the Padres long-term plans.

There are a number of other young players to consider: Cameron Maybin (Free-agent: 2016), Will Venable (FA: 2016), Nick Hundley (FA: 2015), Clayton Richard (FA: 2015). There are unestablished guys like Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Blanks, too.

Moore, Longoria, Crawford, Pedroia, Lester – all guys who have been signed to these type of long-term deals as young players, giving up the potential to maximize their earnings and hit free-agency sooner for money in the bank. They are all special players, of course, and you could argue that Latos and Headley (among other current Padres) don’t warrant that type of commitment.

It’s all about picking the right guys, of course, and not just handing out extensions to anyone. With a slew of good prospects on the horizon, and young big-league talent like Latos and Maybin, the Padres are going to have some decisions to make. 

Rule 5 draft

Albert Pujols signing with the Los Angeles Angels slightly overshadowed the always entertaining Rule 5 draft this morning.

For the most part, the Rule 5 draft has become rather insignificant over the last number of years, though the San Diego Padres did pick up Everth Cabrera a few years back.

This year the Padres lost a couple of pitchers in the minor league phase. Lefty Aaron Poreda was once the key piece coming from the Chicago White Sox in the Jake Peavy trade, and he was selected by the Pirates today. The main issue with Poreda was his control. Despite converting to a reliever in the Padres organization, Poreda wasn’t able to harness his control. And that’s being nice.

In the last two season, split between Double-A and Triple-A, Poreda walked a whopping 127 batters in 123.7 innings. He has strikeout ability and rarely allows a home run, but those walk numbers are ridiculously high. While he still may have talent, it’d be hard to classify him as a prospect at this point, and the Padres likely won’t miss him.

It’s a little disappointing because the package received for Jake Peavy, outside of Clayton Richard, hasn’t been overly good. Then again, Peavy has not been good himself in Chicago.

The Padres also lost right-handed pitcher Matt Buschmann to the Washington Nationals. I once ranked Bushmann as the Padres 26th best prospect way back in 2007. He had another solid year in Double-A after that, but could never succeed in Triple-A. He’ll be 28 in February and is obviously not looked at as a prospect at this point.

The Padres picked up shortstop Michael Wing from the Angels in the Triple-A phase. Wing is 23 and was ranked as the 38th best Angels prospect by an Angels forum early in 2011. If anything, Wing is at least a fringe prospect.

Though he’s listed as a shortstop, Wing has spent more time at second base and third base over the last few seasons. He hasn’t risen past High-A ball, but he’s put up a pretty good offensive track record, hitting .300/.363/.465 in his minor league career. Perhaps Wing can stick as a utility player on the big club, though it would take a Cabrera-like jump for him to succeed in the majors.

Padres acquire Huston Street from Rockies

The San Diego Padres have acquired closer Huston Street from the Colorado Rockies for a PTBNL and cash considerations.

It’s hard to truly evaluate this deal until the player heading to Colorado is identified. The cash, apparently, is $.5 million in 2012 and the $.5 million buyout in 2013 if the option is declined.

Anyway, I had read a lot about how the Padres were looking to acquire a proven closer, and I was thinking about drafting an article on why they shouldn’t. If you know how I feel about how the Padres should approach this offseason, you probably know why. The Padres are unlikely to be a true contender next year, so whether they have a “proven” closer or Luke Gregerson/Ernesto Frieri isn’t all that significant.

It wouldn’t be wise to invest too much, in dollars or prospects, on a relief pitcher. However, if we assume the Padres lost a relatively insignificant player, this deal isn’t all that bad. The Padres will owe Street $7 million in 2012, not a bad price for a solid closer. Further, they don’t have to commit any length or dollars to Street if things don’t work out.

Street’s a very good reliever who will benefit greatly – like any pitcher would – from switching to Petco Park from Coors. Seriously, that’s one end of the spectrum to the other. Street’s stats:

Street Innings ERA HR/9 BB/9 K/9
OAK (05-08) 269 2.88 .6 2.6 9.1
COL (09-11) 167.3 3.50 1.2 1.8 9.1

Street was better with Oakland (he also threw more innings/year), but he’s remained effective with the Rockies. In fact, his strikeout-to-walk ratio has actually improved with Colorado. He’s struggled more with the long ball, which has hurt his value, but that should be remedied by a move to Petco.

Street makes the Padres better in 2012, but even if they’re not competitive (very likely), they can use him as a trade chip at the deadline. Closers can attract a lot of attention from contenders with bullpen problems mid-season, and if Street can prove he’s still an asset in the back-end of the pen, he’ll have a number of suitors.

This isn’t a great deal, and it doesn’t really fit into a long-term plan to rebuild. But it also doesn’t sacrifice prospects (hopefully) or a big dollar commitment to improve in the short-term. And it’s hard to blame the Padres for at least attempting to improve the major league club for next season.

Padres trade Wade LeBlanc for John Baker

The San Diego Padres have traded LHP Wade LeBlanc to the Miami Marlins for catcher John Baker.

LeBlanc has posted a 4.54 ERA in 293.3 innings for the Padres, spread over the last four seasons. He’s basically been somewhere around replacement level in his time with the Padres.

Baker is a little more interesting. The catcher hasn’t played much since 2009 due to Tommy John surgery late in the 2010 season. A concern certainly has to be Baker’s ability to prevent base stealing, as he wasn’t particularly good at that (19%) before the surgery.

Still, his bat is very good. Offensively, he is right around league-average both by OPS+ (99) and wOBA (.333). He doesn’t have a lot of power and he strikes out enough, but when he puts the ball in play he does pretty good damage (.334 BABiP) and he possesses solid patience (11% walk rate).

For a catcher, that’s perfectly acceptable and he should be a solid backup for Nick Hundley. The Padres will have all three of Baker’s arbitration-eligible years until he becomes a free-agent in 2015.

Front office meanderings

So, we’ve been gone for a while. We’re back, at least for now. You know, we’ll see how things go.

Some things have happened. The Padres went 71-91, finishing last in the NL West. The pitching was okay, the offense was dreadful.

Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod are gone — to the Cubbies with Theo Epstein. Josh Byrnes has been promoted to GM. It would be silly to act nonchalantly to Hoyer’s departure. I was certainly a big fan during his relatively brief tenure as Pads GM.

He made a number of good moves, seemed to have a good grasp on the long-term health of the organization, and built a good infrastructure of baseball talent in the front office.

That said, for the most part, that infrastructure should remain intact. Josh Byrnes was already in the organization, and he comes from a similar school of thought as Hoyer (including some Red Sox roots). I wouldn’t expect many major changes in front office personnel or organizational philosophy.

Byrnes also has GM experience with the Arizona Diamondbacks (much of it good) and a good working relationship with Jeff Moorad. In short, he should provide a very capable replacement for Hoyer. It’s never good to lose smart baseball minds like Hoyer and McLeod, but fortunately the Padres have enough fire power stocked in the front office to soften the blow.  

The curious case of our AAA outfielders

Whenever prognosticators “look to the future” of what a MLB teams lineup will look like in 1-2 years they look for the top prospects throughout the farm system and inter mix them with present MLB outfielders.  In the case of the Padres those top prospects are AA outfielders Jaff Decker and Blake Tekotte.  Both players have outstanding hitting and fielding abilities, despite reports by ill informed journalists who say the contrary.  However, standing in between Decker/Tekotte and the big leagues are AAA outfielders Aaron Cunningham, Cedric Hunter, and Luis Durango.  While none of these hitters are slouches themselves, with so much hype on Decker/Tekotte and the likes of Maybin, Venable, Dino, and Ludwick in SD, the question becomes will any of our AAA outfielders ever get a chance to prove they can succeed in San Diego?

Of course of the above names, the name that most people recognize is Aaron (Richie) Cunningham.  Cunningham hit .288/.331/.417 while playing excellent D in San Diego.  Mark Grant and Dick Enberg were recently talking about a diving catch that Cunningham made last year in LF, as one of the best defensive plays last year.  At only 25 (just turned 25 in April), Cunningham is entering his prime and ready to do damage in San Diego.  The problem with Cunningham, however, is that he doesn’t do anything special offensively outside of hit for a pretty high average.  He doesn’t hit for much power(8 last year, 12 the year before), doesn’t steal a lot of bases (0 this year, 3 last year, 11 in 09’), and his BB/K ratio leaves something to be desired.  Cunningham has hit for a bit more power this year, and has improved his BB% to 13.5% (up from 8.0% last year), and lowered his K% 17.4% (23.8% last year).  While Cunningham will never hit for power to make him a legit corner OF, considering Venable is hitting .236, and Ludwick is hitting .208, a player with excellent defense who can hit close to .300 in the majors might deserve at least the same playing time he got last year in San Diego.

Cedric Hunter was at one time the #1 prospect in the Padres system.  The idea was excellent CF, great approach at the plate, and would develop power.  However, the power has never really developed, and when a singles hitter struggles he drops down the rankings fast.  After leading all of minor league baseball in hits as a 20 year old in Lake Elsinore just 3 years ago Hunter is now trying to prove he is worth another shot at the majors.  Watching Hunter in the OF reminded me a lot of watching Andrew Jones just float to the ball.  However, unlike Jones, Hunter’s offense leaves a lot to be desired.  While he has speed he has never translated it into SB.  The 17 SB he stole in 52 G as an 18 year old in Arizona (AZL MVP) remains the most in his career despite spending the last 5 years in full season ball.  Hunter does have 6 SB so far this year in 30 G.  Hunter has never had much power but is also 23 in AAA.  While some think he still has a chance to develop power, those people are getting few and far between.  The greatest thing about Hunter is that he does not strike out.  Hunter struck out just 8.1% last year, and is at 7.9% this year.  Unfortunately, he also doesn’t walk much.  The value in Hunter really depends on him being able to hit over .300, with his great K numbers, and enough power/SB to keep pitchers on their toes.  Either way, at least now, he doesn’t profile or deserve much in the majors.  Another year or two of improving numbers in AAA, and he might (again only 23), but by that time his MLB callup will probably be with another organization.

No one has more speed on the basepaths than Luis Durango.  Even better is that Durango is an excellent bunter and keeps the ball on the ground and an astounding rate.  Durango has stolen 40+ bases each of the last 2 years including 7 of 8 in San Diego.  However, it became a joke last year when Luis Durango would get his first extra base hit.  He had 7 xbh in over 400 AB last year, and hasn’t hit a HR since May of 2008 in Fort Wayne.  Speaking of power it was also reported that Durango had an OF arm that made Juan Pierre throw like Willie Mays.  Durango has been working on building muscle each of the last 2 off seasons and reports are that he is stronger and able to at least keep runners honest in the OF and fielders not playing him like an 8 year old girl in over the line.  Durango really needed a strong 2011 to show that he belongs at least as a 4th OF in the majors.  So far it hasn’t happened L In 35 G Durango is hitting a career low of .257/.342/.305 with his worst SB ratio (4 in 8 attempts) in his career.  Despite his best efforts Durango will never evolve into an MLB starter, however he does have tremendous value in his speed.  With Durango’s speed, his ability to get down a bunt, and steal a base, he would be an ideal 4th/5th OF on an AL team.  Think Boston with Doc Roberts.  However, San Diego is not an AL team and has plenty of 4th/5th OF types already with the above 2, Denorfria, and Eric Patterson.  If Durango is going to make the majors and stick there he will need to increase his SB% which has always been one of his crutches.  Even more unfortunate is that Durango is already being challenged for playing time with Hunter, Clark, and Cunningham in the OF and will find it even harder when Baxter comes back.  Combine that with the likelihood of seeing at least 1 OF from AA being called up at the ASB and Durango’s time is dwindling.

All 3 players have the “potential” to be a solid contributor at the MLB level.  However, all 3 also have the drawbacks that make them overshadowed by the players in SD and those in AA.  With all 3 players on the 40 man roster,  they might be crossing their fingers for an injury to get a chance one last time in San Diego to prove that they belong.  Of course of the 3 which one will be chosen?  Hunter made the opening day roster with Patterson hurt, but that was partially attributed to Bud Black saying they wanted to let Cunningham start everyday in RF.  Cunningham has put up the best numbers in AAA but none have been spectacular.  Will any of them get the call before someone is DFA to make room for a AA  OF or Anthony Rizzo?

Don’t you know how I hate losing to the Pirates?

I didn’t catch much of the Pirates’ series, thankfully.

The San Diego Padres had a nice 6-5 win on Tuesday night, propelled by unlikely home runs from Mat Latos and Eric Patterson. unfortunately, that win was bookended by two ugly losses, making the series just another part of the early season disappointment.

The Padres have won just two series so far this season: the opener at home against St. Louis and the recent series at LA. Coming of that series win against the Dodgers, the schedule set up nicely for a little run by the Padres – six home games against the Pirates and Diamondbacks. You know, a stretch where you take advantage of a soft schedule and roll off five of six.

Now the Padres will have to take two of three against Arizona just to break even on the short home stand. They start an eight game road trip in Milwaukee on Monday, followed by stops in Colorado and Arizona.

There is plenty of time to get it going, but each lost opportunity makes it that much tougher. Soon enough, we’ll be talking about what will become of Anthony Rizzo and the propensity at which Padres fans should boo. In other words, there’s also plenty of time to continue to stink.

April prognosis

9-16. 2.8 runs per game.

These are not good numbers.

I can make them uglier, if you’d like. By my count, the San Diego Padres have batted in 237 innings. Thanks to all the extra innings games, that actually equates to 26.3 full 9 inning games. New RS/G – 2.7.

Okay, not much uglier (how much worse can you get?). But the fact that the Padres have played 13 extra innings already and still have scored so little just emphasizes the point. The offense has been terrible. Like you-can’t-even-use-Petco-for-an-excuse terrible

The silver lining, of course, is the pitching. It’s been great, which has allowed the Padres to at least keep touch with the rest of the NL West.

Dustin Moseley won’t keep it up, but he’s been very good despite an ugly 1.4 K/BB ratio. Tim Stauffer, Aaron Harang, and Clayton Richard have all been solid in the rotation. Latos hasn’t, but he should be okay once he figures out how to stop giving up home runs.

The bullpen has been lights out, as usual. Mike Adams has allowed a solo homer in 12 innings. That’s about it. Ernesto Frieri has struck out 18 and walked three in 14.3 innings.

Offensively, as we’ve discussed, it’s been a struggle. Nick Hundley, Cameron Maybin, Chris Denorfia – they’ve been solid. Nobody else (with significant PAs) has an OPS+ above 94.

Brad Hawpe has four walks and 23 whiffs, which just about sums up his performance to date. Will Venable has one extra base hit (and only 12 singles) in 83 plate appearances. Jason Bartlett also has just one extra base hit. Eric Patterson has two hits (of any kind).

The good news – it can’t get any worse. At least not in the long-term. These guys are going to start hitting, at some point. If the Padres can keep pitching like this, they’ve got a chance.

Of course, regression to the mean giveth and taketh away. The pitching has been very good, but it will likely come back to Earth a little bit too.

Certainly, it’s been a tough month. Not all hope is lost, the outlook is just much worse. Even if we assume the Padres are still an 85 win team (.525%), and they play that way the rest of the way, they’ll still just barely check in at .500 on the season.

In other words, to win 90 games again and have a reasonable chance at the playoffs, this team has to win 59 percent of its remaining games.

Prognosis: not good.

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