Organizational Rankings: Future Talent – San Diego

The San Diego Padres organization is in a transitional period. With the spacious PETCO Park, the club is making the shift to a team that focuses on pitching and defense but the big-league roster currently features few, if any, impact MLB players outside of Adrian Gonzalez.

The club’s best young offensive player is Kyle Blanks but he’s not really well-suited to the park. At 6’8” and 285 lbs, the 23-year-old prospect’s game is power – not speed. He’s currently miscast as a left-fielder due to Gonzalez’ place at first base. Other young outfielders like Aaron Cunningham and Will Venable are probably fourth outfielders on playoff teams. Third baseman Chase Headley has been bounced around positions (left field, third base) despite having played just 255 big league games so sticking to one spot will be good for his development. He showed some promise last season but his offensive ability has been stunted by the power-dampening effects of the home ballpark.

Rule 5 steal Everth Cabrera had a nice rookie season but expectations for the shortstop were low and many talented rookies have struggled during their sophomore seasons. We don’t know what to expect from the 23-year-old infielder in the long-term. With that said, he’s the type of player (young, fast, promising on defense) that the club should focus on in trades, as well as the amateur draft.

On the mound, the organization has focused recently on filling holes with organizational soldiers, inexpensive free agents with low ceilings, and rejects from other organizations. The big ballpark means that the club can turn a fringe big leaguer into a league-average starter. The best pitcher currently on the staff, from a future talent standpoint, is Mat Latos, who has the makings of a No. 1 or 2 starter – even outside of San Diego. The club’s next best pitching prospect is Simon Castro, a 2006 international free agent signing.

The club did a nice job of focusing on toolsy and athletic players in the ’09 draft. It nabbed two prep outfielders with its first two picks in Donavan Tate and Everett Williams. On the downside, both players will require significant development time. The organization’s strength is definitely in its offensive depth – especially at third base. The club has Logan Forsythe, James Darnell, and Edinson Rincon currently in the pipeline, although the club is looking at shifting Rincon to the outfield (another area that’s getting crowded). Forsythe’s line-drive approach may make him the best-suited for a role in San Diego, although the other two could have higher ceilings, especially if they’re traded to other organizations (for high-ceiling pitching help).

The club’s history of drafting in the first round is not good… and I’m being very generous with that statement. The best pick over the past 10 years (outside of Tate, perhaps) is Khalil Greene. The club scored in the ’08 amateur draft with the likes of Jaff Decker, Forsythe and Darnell (as well as Blake Tekotte and Sawyer Carroll, who should be useful fourth or platoon outfielders). With eight picks before the third round of the ’07 draft, the club infused some depth in the system but it went with lower-ceiling college picks and that has not turned out well from a talent standpoint. Only one player out of the eight (pitcher Cory Luebke) is a Top-10 talent.

The club has made some noise on the international market by handing out some big bucks, but it’s still too early to know if the right decisions were made.

The trade market for Gonzalez heated up last season but the club may have whiffed on the opportunity. He has a very favorable contract but the first baseman’s value as a trade commodity diminishes with each season that falls off of his contract (which expires after a club option for 2011). Even in the National League West, this team is not going to compete over the next two seasons and Gonzalez is almost assuredly going to be too expensive for the organization to re-sign after 2011. Boston was said to be hot-and-heavy for the veteran first baseman and the Padres organization may have missed an opportunity to nab some talented, young players although none of us truly know what was offered (and rejected).

The Padres organization appears pointed in the right direction. It appears to have the right people for the job. Now it just needs to execute and have a little luck, too. New general manager Jed Hoyer has changed things up in both the scouting and development areas. Scouting director Bill Gayton was let go after nine seasons and has been replaced by Jaron Madison. Farm director Grady Fuson was let go in ’09 and Randy Smith is now the go-to guy. It will be important for this organization to ensure that everyone is on the same mission. With a modest budget, the club needs to make every opportunity count.

Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.

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14 years ago

It doesn’t make sense to me to refer to Will Venable as a 4th outfielder on a playoff team. He put up 2 WAR last year in half a season. Extrapolate that out to a full season and he’s a 4 win player. Here are some starting outfielders on 2009 playoff teams:

Juan Rivera – 3.4 WAR
Andre Ethier – 2.5 WAR
Brad Hawpe – 1.3 WAR
Nick Swisher – 3.6 WAR

Venable looks to be in pretty good company.

And in regards to Kyle Blanks, despite being “miscast”, he put up 1 win in less than 200 PAs in his first trip to the bigs. If his bat holds up, which judging on his spring so far it looks like it will, the Padres are better having him out there no matter where he plays. And he wasn’t even a total disaster in the outfield. In a small sample size, his UZR was only -1.9.

I’m not arguing they’re great, but to call them one of the worst in baseball is a reach, I think, especially when you can look and see the potential they have for 2012 and beyond.

14 years ago
Reply to  maestro876

I’m pretty sure Marc is not saying that Kyle Blanks is a bad player its just that as a 6 foot 8 285 pound guy its probably not best to have him running around in the outfield especially Petco. If they end up trading Gonzalez then I’m pretty sure they’d be fine with him at 1st but having him in the outfield would worry me especially as he gets older.

14 years ago
Reply to  maestro876

Venable’s WAR was in part due to his UZR, but the sample is small, so not sure how reliable yet. Since he has played some cf, he may indeed be a really plus glove in rf.

But give me the guy in Cunningham who is 3 years younger and out wOBA’d Venable in the minors the last 2 years. Venable has had the better major league time thus far, but again the sample are small. And Venable’s power was pretty good last year. I still think Cunningham is the better hitter in the long run.

Given Petco’s size, maybe Venable is preferable for now for the glove and power, but I’d still go with Cunningham since I think he will be better long term.