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11/27/09 11:00 AM EST

Padres' farm system shows new depth

Young players like Castro, Carroll, Darnell part of club's revival

The youth movement continued in San Diego in 2009, and there were a few reasons for Padres fans to truly believe things are moving in the right direction.

First and foremost, of course, was the improvement at the big league level. San Diego went 39-35 after the All-Star break. The biggest contributors were homegrown products who were either rookies or very young big leaguers still establishing themselves. Offensively, that meant players like Chase Headley, Will Venable, Nick Hundley, Kyle Blanks and Rule 5 Draft find Everth Cabrera. Young pitching help came in the form of Mat Latos, Wade LeBlanc and some arms from the Jake Peavy trade with the White Sox (Clayton Richard, Adam Russell). There's little question there's a strong nucleus in the big leagues that is rapidly getting better.

NL East

AL East

NL Central

AL Central

NL West

AL West

In the past, that might have been it, as the Padres haven't exactly garnered a reputation of having a deep farm system. Those who work in the front office might have disagreed with that analysis, but they don't deny that there is a lot more coming up now behind the youngsters already in San Diego.

"We're in a lot better shape," said Mike Wickham, San Diego's director of Minor League operations. "The last couple of years, we've been ranked at the bottom. We've thought we had better players than that, but we're in good shape. We're happy with how things went this year on the whole."

Wickham points to legitimate big league prospects on both sides of the ball. Hitters like Logan Forsythe, James Darnell and Jaff Decker had big seasons offensively. Coming behind Latos, who could anchor that Padres staff in the near future, are intriguing arms like Simon Castro, a rejuvenated Cory Luebke, Wynn Pelzer and Anthony Bass.

"We're pretty happy with the way the pitching has gone," Wickham said. "This year and last year, we've taken more hitters than pitchers [in the Draft], so we've made great strides there."

All of this contributed to a system that finished over .500 (.501 to be exact) combined and saw three teams play in the postseason. Fort Wayne won the Midwest League title and won 94 total games for the best overall record in the Minors this past season.

Everything is moving along nicely. The only thing that could disrupt it would be some kind of big change in the front office ... oh, wait. Normally, a switch from longtime general manager Kevin Towers to someone else could throw things into disarray down on the farm. But Wickham thinks there was enough shared philosophy between the Padres and the Red Sox, the organization new GM Jed Hoyer came from, that there should not be too much of a break.

"We had good systems in place," Wickham said. "There'll be some tweaks to the system to carry on the vision they had in Boston, but Jed and the Red Sox valued a lot of the same things we value: pitchability, pitching to contact, power, getting on base. I don't think you'll see any major changes philosophically."


MLB.com's Preseason Picks

Kyle Blanks, 1B/OF: The top hitter in the system ended up spending a considerable amount of time in the big leagues, mostly in the outfield. He hit 10 homers in 148 at-bats with San Diego for a .514 slugging percentage after hitting 12 out in 233 Triple-A at-bats (.485 slugging).

Wynn Pelzer, RHP: In many ways, Pelzer did not disappoint in 2009, winning 11 games, posting a 3.94 ERA and finishing tied for third in the organization with 147 K's. His ERA was good for fifth in the hitting-friendly California League.

MLB.com's Postseason Selections

There were two players MLB.com felt were equally deserving of being named Hitter of the Year, so the decision was made to hand out co-recipients of the honor.

Sawyer Carroll, OF: The outfielder taken in the supplemental second round of the 2008 Draft spent time at three levels, beginning in the Midwest League and finishing up in the Double-A Texas League. And he hit everywhere he went, finishing with a .317/.413/.489 combined stat line. Although he hit only eight homers, he did double 40 times, led the organization in batting average, finished second with 96 RBIs and also stole 19 bases.

James Darnell, 3B: Another 2008 draftee -- a second-rounder this time -- Darnell also got promoted during his first full season, going from Fort Wayne up to Lake Elsinore midseason. Combined he hit .311/.424/.536, finishing fourth among full-season hitters in average, tied for second with his 20 homers and fourth with 81 RBIs.

Simon Castro, RHP: Castro's full-season debut was a huge success as the tall right-hander went 10-6 with a 3.33 ERA, a .226 batting average against and 157 K's (vs. just 37 BB) in 140 1/3 innings. He led the Midwest League and finished second in the organization in strikeouts, finished in the top 10 among full-season pitchers in K/9 ratio and fifth in the Midwest League in ERA.

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.