3/25/2014 11:00 A.M. ET
How do Padres' prospects fit San Diego's needs?
By Bernie Pleskoff / MLB.com
This series is designed to evaluate the role prospects play in each Major League organization, looking at the short- and long-term needs of each club and illustrating how prospects fit in both scenarios.
Here's my look at the Padres:
This is a team that has been bitten by the injury bug for the past couple of years. The Padres' pitching plans were impacted due to injuries to key performers. If they can remain healthy, though, San Diego has a nucleus of fine players that should be competitive. Few prospects figure in the Padres' 2014 plans.
Casey Kelly was a first-round selection of the Red Sox in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft. He is such a good athlete, he played shortstop when I first saw him in the 2009 Arizona Fall League.
PROJECTED 2016 PADRES LINEUP
Making the determination to stick with pitching exclusively, Kelly had elbow inflammation to begin 2012, but he then made it to the parent club for six starts that season. He had Tommy John surgery in April 2013. Kelly should be ready to resume pitching this season. When I saw him, he had good control and command of a 92-93 mph fastball. In fact, Kelly may have gotten too much of the plate.
Right-hander Matt Wisler is 6-foot-3, 195 pounds and came to the club directly from high school in the 2011 Draft. Now 21, Wisler has pitched for parts of three seasons in San Diego's system. He has a combined 2.81 ERA in 49 starts. Wisler has a solid 1.07 WHIP. A control pitcher, he walks an average of 2.3 hitters per nine innings. Wisler has a clean delivery and a deep arsenal. His slider and curveball are excellent pitches, but he does scuffle some against left-handed hitters.
One of the best overall catching prospects in the game is 6-foot-1, 190-pound Austin Hedges. Hedges impressed me in the recent Arizona Fall League as a take-charge player with skills on both sides of the ball. His contact rate is excellent, making things happen with a line-drive stroke that can hit the gaps.
But perhaps Hedges' greatest strengths are reserved for his advanced catching mechanics. For example, he has thrown out 32 percent of runners trying to steal in his three seasons in the Padres' system. Hedges has a quick release on a very strong, accurate arm. His footwork is outstanding, and his game management is advanced.
Shortstop Jace Peterson is a strong, speedy top-of-the-order hitter with an ideal physical frame, at 6-foot, 205 pounds. His contact rate and on-base percentages have always been good. Once Peterson reaches base, he is a candidate to steal. Last season at Class A Advanced Lake Elsinore, he stole 42 bases in 52 attempts. Defensively, Peterson has good range but needs a bit more time to refine his approach and gain a more natural flow.
I think outfielder Rymer Liriano will make an impact at the plate. Perhaps aggressive throwing early in his career led to Tommy John surgery in March 2013. After missing a year, Liriano could return to being a multitooled right fielder with a solid power bat.
When healthy, Liriano should be able to hit the gaps with his quick hands and good extension. Strong but agile at 6-foot, 225 pounds, he has much better speed than one might realize. Liriano has to improve his contact rate.
Max Fried is a big (6-foot-4, 185-pound) left-hander who can really bring some help to the future Padres rotation. His quick arm generates plenty of torque and a fastball that can hit 95 mph. But it is Fried's curveball that he commands well and fools hitters. Still walking too many, refining his command will be Fried's greatest development challenge.
Right-hander Keyvius Sampson was very impressive when I saw him pitch out of the bullpen in the 2013 Arizona Fall League. He has a nice fastball/slider mix with a changeup that he can use to miss bats and finish off hitters.
At 6-foot-4, 215 pounds, Burch Smith has the right-handed power arm that can bring his fastball to 97 mph. He made 25 starts last season, with seven of them in the big leagues, 12 of them at Triple-A Tucson and six at Double-A San Antonio. Smith had a combined 2.63 ERA in the Minors, striking out 9.9 hitters per nine innings. His control was good, as he walked only 2.2 per nine innings. Smith went 1-3 with a 6.44 ERA in 36 1/3 innings for the parent club, walking 21 and striking out 46.
Hunter Renfroe is an outfield name to remember. He has a combination of power and arm strength that profiles very well as a right fielder. Renfroe still has work to do on pitch recognition and patience at the plate, but he has the tools to progress as an important outfield bat.
Bernie Pleskoff has served as a professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. Follow @BerniePleskoff on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.