Top 5 fantasy prospects
1- Rymer Liriano, OF
Liriano has the highest ceiling of anyone in the system. He has more bust potential than most following him on the list, but I’d be willing to roll the dice. He’s only 20 years old, but already has almost 1,400 professional at-bats under his belt. He’s a burner, and showed the necessary base running instincts to make his impact felt as a base stealer in 2011 (65 stolen bases in 85 chances for a 76.5 percent success rate). Don’t mistake him for a one-trick pony though. He hit for enough power to produce a .180 isolated slugging (ISO) in 519 Low-A plate appearances. That solid ISO was generated by 50 extra base hits, 12 of which were home runs. His swing suggests he could hit 20 plus home runs in the majors. If that’s not enough for you, he hit .319 last year, and his contact skills are good enough to expect plus averages in the future as well. He could be a fantasy monster, and a five category stat stuffer. He struggled in High-A in both 2010 and 2011, and needed demotions each year to get going. He has moved a level at a time, and will get his third crack at High-A to begin this year. This time he should be ready.
2- Jedd Gyorko, 3B
Gyorko raked in High-A, Double-A, and the Arizona Fall League. He doesn’t strike out often, walks a fair amount, and projects to hit .300-ish with 15-20 home runs annually. His 12 stolen bases are misleading. Gyorko isn’t very fast, and 11 of his 12 stolen bases came in High-A. Advanced pitchers aren’t likely to sleep on him and allow him to steal bases on them. He’s likely to begin the year in Double-A, and challenge for the starting third base gig for the Padres in 2013.
3- Yasmani Grandal, C
Grandal is the crown jewel of the Mat Latos deal haul. He’s a switch hitting catcher that should hit for a solid average, and average power. His power will be hurt by playing his home games in PETCO Park, but he still projects to be a fantasy asset at a position historically lacking in offensive punch. The catcher position is deeper now, but Grandal will flirt with top-10 catcher status in his peak years.
4- Cory Spangenberg, 2B
Spangenberg was a junior college draftee in last year’s amateur draft. He was sent to Short-Season ball where he quickly showed he was ready for a more challenging assignment. The Padres moved him up to Low-A, a level more fitting for his advanced hitting acumen. He will hit for a high average, and walk plenty enough to profile as a leadoff hitter. His power will come in the form of doubles and triples more so than home runs, which he won’t hit more than a handful of. He has 65-70 grade speed, and should steal more than 30 bases yearly.
5- Robbie Erlin, SP
Erlin doesn’t blow scouts away with his 89-91 mph fastball that can hit 93 mph, but his control is pinpoint. He also throws a curveball graded average by some, and plus by others, and a change-up that is an unquestionable plus pitch. Like his fastball, his secondary pitches play up due to his exquisite control. In 148 innings spent in High-A and Double-A he walked just 16 batters. This southpaw has flyball tendencies, so trading Rangers Ballpark in Arlington for PETCO Park is huge for his fantasy value. He struck out better than a batter an inning last year, but that is unlikely to carry over to the majors. If he’s able to hover around league average, he’ll be a fantasy asset though, as his ratios should be stellar.
Bonus- Donovan Tate, OF
Tate is a bit of a forgotten man, and for good reason. He can’t seem to get out of his own way. He missed time in 2010 after suffering an ATV injury, and was suspended for 25 games in 2011 for failing a drug test for synthetic marijuana. Since being selected in the first round of the 2009 draft, he has only totaled 285 professional plate appearances. His swing needs work, and he can only get that work by staying on the field. His tools are loud, and still there. The sky is the limit for Tate, but crashing and burning as a prospect is a possibility. Of the two, failing as a prospect is more likely, but his tools are worth dreaming on.
Top 5 in 2012
1- Yonder Alonso, 1B/OF
Alonso is a victim of his position. He can hit, and should hit for a high average. He should walk, and be an OBP machine. The power he showed in a small sample seems flukey, but he probably also has more power than he showed in the minors (he did suffer a broken hammate bone in the summer of 2009). The problem is, the bar is set incredibly high at first base. He could see a bit of time in the outfield this year if the organization attempts to get Jesus Guzman on the field (either because he earns the time, or in an attempt to showcase him for trade). That would temporarily help his value. Long term, though, he’s a first baseman where he’ll fight to earn corner infield fantasy value. His skill set, and the lackluster other options the Padres have to turn to, should aid Alonso in laying stake to a spot in the heart of the order. Hitting third or fourth will give him the added benefit of being in a run producing position. This may sound like doom and gloom, but I think enough of Alonso to have made him my corner infielder in KFFL’s BAD (Baseball Analyst Draft) league. In addition to being a corner infield option and fourth/fifth outfield option in large mixed leagues, he’ll be a solid option in NL-only leagues that no longer have Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder available.
2- Brad Boxberger, RP
Boxberger is a power reliever who tightened up his control in Double-A, saw it slip a bit in Triple-A, and got back to harnessing it to a passable degree in the AFL. He struck out oodles and oodles of batters at each stop last year (14.94 K/9 in Double-A, 11.71 K/9 in Triple-A, and 14.85 K/9 in the AFL). Boxberger is a grip it and rip it reliever that throws a 92-95 mph fastball with movement, an average slider, and sprinkles in a below average change-up for good measure. The Padres should be out of it by the trade deadline, and Huston Street could be a nice trade chip for the club. If Street is moved, Boxberger could net himself some saves. If Street isn’t moved, Boxberger could be useful in holds leagues or leagues that value relievers with solid strikeout rates. He could break camp with the Padres, or start the year in Triple-A to further refine his control.
3- James Darnell, OF
Darnell got a taste of the majors last year. He didn’t blow up, but he didn’t embarrass himself either. He has always had superb control of the strikezone. The majors was the first stop in which he’d walked in fewer than 10 percent of his plate appearances, and that was just barely with him checking in at 9.6 percent in 52 plate appearances. Original developed as a third baseman, his new home is the outfield. He played both positions for the Padres, but is best suited for left field, and is blocked by Chase Headley at third base with Jedd Gyorko in waiting in the wings anyways. He has enough pop in his bat that 20 home runs isn’t out of the question with full time at-bats, expecting more is probably ambitious at best, foolish at worst. He only went to the plate 155 in Triple-A, making it likely he’ll be punching his ticket there to start the year. Half of the corner outfield is locked up by Carlos Quentin (while he’s healthy that is), while the other half will be filled by Kyle Blanks, Chris Denorfia, Mark Kotsay, Will Venable or some platoon combination of them. If you aren’t overwhelmed by that collection of corner outfielders, you aren’t alone. Darnell could toss his hat in the ring very early in the season.
4- Joe Weiland, SP
Weiland is essentially the right-handed version of Erlin. He came with Erlin from the Rangers in return for Mike Adams. Weiland added a few ticks to his fastball, sitting in the 89-92 mph range and popping the mitt at 95 mph more frequently than in year past. He throws two average breaking balls, a 12-to-6 curveball and slider, as well as an average change-up. Once again, like Erlin, all of his pitches play up due to his pristine control. Sequencing is key for Weiland, and he’s an intelligent pitcher that is quite adept at it. He has missed less bat in the minors than Erlin, and is right-handed, those factors rank him below Erlin on the overall top five. He’ll join Erlin in Triple-A to start the year though, and it will be a race to get to the majors. Because I didn’t cover Weiland above, a gave the nod to him here. Pitching in PETCO Park should put him on radars as a home stream option alone.
5- Casey Kelly, SP
Kelly still earns plus grades on both his fastball and curveball. The fastball gets its grade based mostly on movement, but he can pump it up to the 93-95 mph range. It is a groundball inducing weapon. He’s developing a change-up that flashes plus, but is inconsistent. The potential for three plus pitches makes Kelly a very interesting prospect. In spite of his deep arsenal, he hasn’t struck many batters out in the upper minors. He’s still young, and has time to figure out how to better utilize the goods, but at some point, the production needs to lineup with them. He should join Erlin and Weiland in Triple-A. If the light goes on, he could be the first of the trio to reach the majors. He also has the highest ceiling of the bunch. If he falls in love with inducing groundballs and pitching to contact, he could turn into an innings eater. That’s something fantasy gamers should be rooting against happening.