Surplus of young talent has Padres excited
From Luebke to Baxter, Friars have influx of promising players
The San Diego Padres may have fallen just short of their ultimate objective -- making the playoffs -- but that doesn't mean there isn't plenty of hope for them to reach that promised land in the future.
That's largely because of a core of young talent that has come up and established itself in the big leagues, from Chase Headley at the plate to Mat Latos on the mound. And there's more on the way.
Padres fans got a glimpse at Cory Luebke late in the season and should be excited for his full-time arrival in 2011. Big right-hander Simon Castro isn't too far behind him. There are other intriguing arms joining that duo, giving the Friars an apparent strength on the mound. With a young roster up top, San Diego is starting to build what every organization wants: depth.
"Competition is healthy," said Padres farm director Randy Smith. "We'd like to be backlogged from Triple-A all the way to the Dominican. In San Diego, we're always going to have to grow our own. We won't have the luxury to go out and get free agents.
Those kids had some success over the course of the season. Padres affiliates finished with a combined .473 winning percentage, placing them 25th among 30 teams. The two Class A teams, Lake Elsinore in the Class A Advanced California League and Fort Wayne in the Class A Midwest League, finished well above .500 and made their respective playoffs.
But Minor League development is not all about wins and losses.
"I think we had a pretty solid year," Smith said. "We were able to move some kids along from a development standpoint and we enjoyed some success with both A-ball clubs making the postseason. We had some disappointments on the injury side with guys missing considerable time, but on the whole, I thought it was a pretty solid year for us."
And because of the relatively young big league roster, it was a year built with prospects playing right where they should be, without anyone being asked to jump to a level they weren't quite ready for.
"Guys should move at their own pace," Smith said. "It's hard to force guys up. The success we had at the Major League level, it did afford us to be patient with some. Others, frankly, earned promotions. We didn't have to force anybody up."
MLB.com's Preseason Picks
Jaff Decker, OF: The combination of his hitting skills and the California League seemed too good to be true -- and in some ways, it was. A hamstring injury kept him out until May, allowing him to play in just 79 games all year. Even when he did start, it took a while for Decker to get going. His August, though, could be a sign of things to come: Decker hit .360/.492/.860 in 14 games and 50 at-bats in the season's final month.
Wynn Pelzer, RHP: The idea of Pelzer pitching in San Antonio's pitching-friendly park made him a good choice for the preseason prediction. The right-hander went 6-9 with a 4.20 ERA in 22 games (18 starts) before he was sent to the Orioles in the Miguel Tejada trade. Pelzer threw largely in relief in the O's system, finishing up with a 4.50 ERA in 20 innings for Double-A Bowie.
MLB.com's Postseason Selections
Mike Baxter, OF: Baxter finished third in the organization in batting average (.301) and tied for third in homers (18) while driving in 72 runs. He also swiped 22 bases, banged out 30 doubles and legged 10 triples for good measure. That led to his first big league callup, where he collected his first eight Major League at-bats and his first hit.
Cory Luebke, LHP: Had he thrown enough innings to qualify, the 25-year-old lefty would have led the organization with his 2.68 ERA across two stops in the Minors. He also held hitters to a .200 batting average, beginning in Double-A, continuing to Triple-A and up to the Major Leagues. Luebke is on the cusp of being a mainstay in the San Diego rotation.