Last year the High-A Lake Elsinore Storm won the Cal League Championship, so they will look to build on that momentum in 2012.  Of course they will do so with nearly a completely different roster, but that is just some of the fun of following minor league baseball.

The Storm will have at least two first round picks in their lineup, which should boost the offense.  The Storm’s offense was hurt last year after promotions of Jedd Gyorko and Jason Hagerty, and an injury to Edinson Rincon.  The weakness of the offense, though, was the lack of hitting from the outfielders.  Fuentes (.711 OPS), Meeley (.707 OPS), Olabisi (.658 OPS), and Payne (.245 BA, .819 OPS) all struggled in the very hitter-friendly Cal League.  This year should be different with Midwest League MVP Rymer Liriano, first round pick Donavan Tate, and Rico Noel all patrolling the outfield.  So without further ado, here we go…

1)      Rico Noel CF/DH .253/.345/.347 50 SB, 4 CS
Noel struggled to find consistency with the bat last year.  However, Noel provides speed at the top of the order on a team that will challenge for the lead in SB.  Between Fort Wayne and Elsinore last year, Noel stole a combined 62 bases with only 5 CS.  Unfortunately in a deep lineup, with plenty of outfield, Noel will have to hit closer to .300 if he wants to remain hitting at the top of the order.  No matter how bad his offense is, Noel’s defense in center field will allow him to get ample playing time.

2)      Cory Spangenberg 2B .316/.419/.418 25 SB, 8 CS
Spangenberg was mister everything in Eugene, reaching base safely in all 25 of his games.  More impressive was that Cory had nearly a 2:1 BB:K ratio — that’s right nearly 2x as many BB as K.  The tides changed in Fort Wayne as he struggled the first month to make solid contact.  He rebounded nicely hitting .360 over his last 30 G.  Cory has the tools to demolish Cal League pitching.  While we might see his power numbers increase slightly, they will still not be nearly that of a Chase Utley.  Still, look for Spangy to hit around .330 with 25 SB at the break and be promoted to Double-A San Antonio shortly there after.

3)      Rymer Liriano RF .319/.383/.499, 12 HR, 65 SB
We all know about Liriano by now, so I figured I would point out an interesting nugget of info on him.  Looking at Liriano’s triple slash line, and knowing he hit third in the TinCap’s lineup you would assume he would have more than 62 RBI in 116 G for the TinCaps.  Nope.  Liriano last year found himself more as a table setter than anything else.

Everyone is excited about Liriano’s five tool ability, and believe me I have been on the Liriano band wagon since I saw him in the AZL a few years ago, BUT despite his impressive line, and his Midwest MVP award, I will hold off on anointing him the Padres number one prospect.  The reason for that is Liriano (who is now 20) is still young and has a long way to go before we see him in San Diego.  Two years ago we were all hailing Simon Castro as the next great Padres pitcher throwing him into the same sentence as Peavy, and yet when Castro was recently traded this offseason no one made much of a fuss (ed. note: Myron did!).  I am a huge Liriano supporter but as many of us know there is about as good of a chance that Liriano will never make it past Double-AA as there is he becomes an everyday MLB player.  I sure hope he lives up to his potential and becomes the next Vlad, but I am cautious.

4)      Connor Powers 1B 338/.422/.538
While Liriano rightfully won the Midwest League MVP, it was a tough decision to even name Liriano the team MVP because of what Connor Powers did for the club.  Powers gave Liriano someone to protect him in the lineup, and was able to “clean up” the bases every time Liriano got on.  Despite playing in 40 fewer games than Liriano, Powers ended up only one double behind him (30 vs. 29).  Powers doesn’t have the raw power that Storm fans are used to seeing from their previous first basemen (Freiman and Decker), but Powers has the ability to hit for a higher average, and has enough power that he could still belt 20 home runs in the Cal League.

5)      Donavan Tate CF/LF/DH .288/.410/.411 39 G, 29 BB, 35 K, 19 SB
Tate could eventually be the leadoff hitter, but without another “power” type bat to hit behind Powers, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Tate start the year off hitting fifth.  We all know about Tate’s abilities and we all know about his shortcomings.  If he can ever get his head on straight he can battle with Liriano for Cal League MVP.  Of course that is a big IF.

6)      Jake Blackwood 3B .269/.319/.456 17 HR, 36 2B
***OR Everett Williams LF/DH*** Blackwood was a Midwest League all-star before his promotion to Lake Elsinore (when Gyorko was promoted to Double-A) and he didn’t light the world on fire in Elsinore.  Still, Blackwood will either be around in Elsinore or San Antonio depending on what the Padres do with Gyorko.  Rincon will not be the everyday third basemen in San Antonio, as his defense still hasn’t improved, and Blackwood could provide that other bat in SA.  If that happens look for Bisson to be the everyday 3B.  Williams will split time in the outfield and DH.  Williams has a lot of potential, but had an attitude problem early in his career (too good to practice).  Well not much in stats and a big injury later and we will see if Williams has matured.  Williams still has excellent speed, but has not developed the pop everyone thought he would.  The potential might still be there but he is far away from reaching it.

7)      Rocky Gale/Emanuel Quiles C .267/.310/.333 (Gale), .211/.241/.279 (Quiles)
Quiles got the bulk of the starts last year behind the plate as he is a plus defender (at least compared to the other catchers the TinCaps had last year).  However, as you can see, he couldn’t hit his way out of a paper bag.  In 300 at bats, Quiles had 13 xbh, 11 BB, and 64 K.  Gale provides more in terms of offense and got the bulk of the starts down the stretch.  Gale is a singles hitter, who is mainly just organizational depth.  As much as the Padres don’t want to rush Hedges, if he is hitting at all in Fort Wayne, look for a midseason promotion.

8)      Chris Bisson 3B/DH/2B  .261/.345/.321
Bisson, as well as teammates Noel and Guinn, were taken fairly highly in Jed Hoyer’s first draft.  Most importantly, all three of them were billed as “Petco park type players.”  Well so far, they may be Petco park players but they were not Midwest League players.  Bisson improved over the second half of the year hitting .274/.358/.341, but for a light hitting 2B it wasn’t enough.  Bisson should improve a bit in Elsinore, but unless he starts hitting over .300 with 30 SB he will get passed up and/or released.

9)      BJ Guinn SS .245/.307/.307 34 SB, 104 K
Speaking of light hitting middle infielders.  Guinn was supposed to lead the team with a .300 BA, 50 SB, and 100 RS.  Well, he had 18 extra base hits all year, a .551 OPS through the first half of the year and committed 29 errors at short.  We knew Guinn wouldn’t hit for much power, but the low BA, high K, and low OBP numbers are concerning.  Guinn was one of the big reasons the TinCaps struggled so much in the first half last year.  He will be kept around as the Padres need shortstop’s, but this might be his last chance, especially if Peterson hits well in Fort Wayne.

Look out forTommy Medica.  Medica hit fairly well in Fort Wayne before getting injured.  When he came back the Padres didn’t want to risk him getting re-injured and out for the remainder of the year so they kept him at DH/1B.  He hit .302/.440/.504 in Lake Elsinore.  If Medica is going to make the majors it will be as a catcher (where he has enough hitting ability to be a top 20 prospect on most teams).  However with Grandal in Tucson, Hagerty will stay in San Antonio which means if Medica is going to catch everyday like the organization wants it will be in Elsinore.  Also don’t forget that San Antonio only has DH half the time, and they also have big Nate Freiman at 1B.  While I originally had Medica in San Antonio, and he still might end up there, do not be surprised if he is the everyday catcher in Lake Elsinore (especially since there is not much else there).

Final Thought: This has the potential to be every bit as lethal of a lineup as the Storm have had over the past two years.  The team has some serious speed in Noel, Tate, Spangenberg, Liriano, Guinn, and Bisson.  They also have plenty of hitters that should hit at or close to .300.  Look for the team to challenge the league leaders in runs per game.  With the aforementioned hitters they have the ability to go all the way in the Cal League, especially considering they will have a rotation anchored by Madfriars numbers prospect Keyvius Sampson.