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Padres loaded behind plate, on mound

Backstop Hedges developing alongside group of righties
December 4, 2013

This offseason, will be honoring the players -- regardless of age or prospect status -- who had the best seasons in their organizations. We're taking a look at each team to determine the outstanding seasons in Minor League baseball. Select a team from the dropdown below.

The Padres' wealth of talent in the Minors paid off with yet another Double-A championship in San Antonio this past season, and with the organization maintaining a modest payroll at the Major League level, the youngsters coming up now know they have a shot at making it in the near future. A quick look at San Diego's 40-man roster shows nearly every current and former highly regarded prospect in the Padres' system.

"The hardest part is creating room for them -- we have a number of good candidates, and I'm not sure we'll get them all on," said Randy Smith, the Padres' vice president of player development and international scouting. "It's a nice problem to have. We have a lot of depth, and hopefully that's how it shows up at the Major League level."

San Diego's system is stocked with talented right-handed pitchers and aggressive base-stealers -- an organization devoid of any prolific power hitters in the Minors, the Padres instead had four players steal 40 or more bases in 2013. Double-A San Antonio went 78-61 and claimed its fifth Texas League championship since 2002 while Class A Fort Wayne went 72-67 and reached the playoffs before falling to South Bend in the second round. The Rookie-level Arizona League Padres won their division, finishing 28-26, but also lost in the second round.

Triple-A Tucson finished 77-67 but missed the playoffs in its final season before relocating to El Paso, Texas for 2014, while both Class A Advanced Lake Elsinore and Class A Short-Season Eugene finished in last at 61-79 and 27-49, respectively.

Padres Organization All-Stars

Catcher -- Austin Hedges, San Antonio (20 games), Lake Elsinore (66 games): Hedges is arguably the best defensive catcher in the Minors. San Diego's No. 2 prospect hit .260 with four homers, 38 RBIs and a .333 on-base percentage in 86 games this past season, but the most telling stat is this: in three seasons, Hedges has thrown out 32 percent (87-of-269) of would-be base-stealers -- the Major League average for catchers in 2013 was just over 27 percent.

"He's getting really close to, mechanically, catching in the big leagues," Padres manager Bud Black told during the Arizona Fall League. "He's checking off some boxes."

"I hate to anoint a Minor League player anything prior to his time, but there's no reason why he can't play in the big leagues for a long time," said Tigers manager Brad Ausmus, who worked with Hedges prior to joining Detroit. "I would expect that 15 years from now, that he would have a good [Major League] career and that he would still probably be playing."

And Hedges, who received a $3 million signing bonus, isn't the only talented backstop in the system -- Robert Kral had 16 homers and 53 RBIs with a .405 OBP at two levels, while Rene Rivera provided some depth, hitting .343 in 74 Triple-A games before coming up to San Diego.

"We think he's going to hit," Smith said of Hedges. "He had a hand injury early in the season that set him back a little, but we moved him up. He had a decent fall league offensively and his defensive skills are well known. His arm strength, accuracy, his relays are plus. He'll probably open the year at Double-A and progress fairly rapidly at that point. He's a young guy but we think he'll be a complete catcher."

First base -- Tommy Medica, San Antonio (76 games), AZL Padres (five games), San Diego (19 games): Medica, a 2010 14th-round Draft pick, made his Major League debut after ripping apart the Texas League, where he hit .296 with 18 homers and 57 RBIs. Toss in his rehab stats and he finished the season with an organization-best 20 long balls, 65 RBIs and a .370 OBP. Even in the Majors, the right-hander hit .290 with power. 

"He's always been a guy whose hit and driven in runs," Smith said. "He has a knack for barreling up the baseball and he improved defensively at first. But his bat is his calling card."

Second base -- Dean Anna, Tucson (132 games): The 26-year-old hit .331 with nine homers, 73 RBIs and a .410 OBP in his first season at Triple-A to earn Pacific Coast League All-Star honors twice. He set career highs in average, RBIs, runs (90), hits (165), doubles (38), triples (five), slugging (.482), OPS (.892) and OBP.

"It's hard not to reward Dean with the year he had, especially after leading the PCL in hitting," Smith said. "He showed some power, had a very consistent offensive year and performed very well."

In November, the Padres sent Anna to the Yankees for right-handed pitcher Ben Paulus.

Third base -- Gabriel Quintana, Fort Wayne (88 games), AZL Padres (six games): The 21-year-old made his Class A debut and delivered, hitting .307 with nine homers and 47 RBIs despite breaking his hand in May. He hit equally well against righties and lefties and finished strong with a .345 average in August.

"He came back in July, struggled a little, and then crushed it again in August," Smith said. "If he doesn't break his hand, he would have had a monster year. We like his bat, love his frame. He hit for average and power -- he's a guy who's starting to grow into his body."

Shortstop -- Jace Peterson, Lake Elsinore (113 games): Peterson, a first-round pick in 2010, is one of four Padres prospects to have stolen more than 40 bases in 2013. Currently the team's No. 10 prospect, Peterson hit .303 with seven home runs, 66 RBIs, 42 steals and a .382 OBP. He walked 54 times and whiffed 58 while also besting his 2012 hits total by one (128).

"Jace is a guy who is a really good athlete," Smith said. "He was a football player in college, so he's still adapting to being an everyday baseball player. He's a good athlete -- the sum is greater than his parts. He's a leader, a gamer, has good control of the strikezone, gets on base and he showed a little more power. He's a good-looking kid."


Jeremy Baltz, Lake Elsinore (67 games), Fort Wayne (43 games): San Diego's second-round pick in 2012 showed off his power at two levels, hitting .293 with 15 homers, 87 RBIs and a .348 OBP. Baltz whiffed 95 times and drew only 29 walks, but he still posted a great average and finished with 126 hits, including 30 doubles and three triples.

"He's a guy who has actually gotten stronger in his first full year -- he progressed to the Cal League, and we think his power will continue to increase as he continues to fill out," said Smith. "He's got a good frame -- we think he'll become a more dangerous hitter. The walks will go up and the strikeouts will improve as he matures."

Travis Jankowski, Lake Elsinore (122 games): The Padres' No. 19 prospect stole 71 bases to go along with a solid .286 average. San Diego's first-round pick in the 2012 Draft had 141 hits, a .356 OBP, scored 89 runs in 122 games and hit .301 against right-handers. Jankowski possesses no power, finishing with one homer and 38 RBIs, and he struggled against left-handers, but he ranked fourth in the Minors in steals, finishing with 19 more thefts than Major League leader Jacoby Ellsbury.

"We're really pleased with his steals -- he's done a tremendous job there," said Smith. "He's done a better job hitting on a line and on the ground. He needs to fill out and keep the defense on their toes."  

Reymond Fuentes, Tucson (14 games), San Antonio (93 games), San Diego (23 games): The Padres' No. 16 prospect reached the Majors in 2013 after ranking third in the Texas League in average and then batting .418 at Triple-A. The left-handed Florida native was Boston's first-round pick in 2009 and came to San Diego as part of the Adrian Gonzalez deal in 2010. The cousin of Carlos Beltran was an Organization All-Star and a Futures Game selection in 2011. Overall, he hit .330 with six homers, 43 RBIs, 35 stolen bases and a .413 OBP in 107 Minor League games.

"I think realistically he goes to Triple-A to start," Smith said. "Just a really solid season between Double-A and Triple-A -- he matured and we're hoping he does what Jankowski did. He played good defense in all three spots, and he'll need to do that to break into the big leagues. He had a super year in terms of getting better and understanding the kind of player he'll be."

Honorable mention: Rico Noel hit .266 with 41 RBIs and 59 steals at San Antonio, Mallex Smith finished .262 with a .367 OBP and 64 steals, and Kyle Gaedele combined both power and speed at Lake Elsinore, hitting .256 with 13 homers, 57 RBIs and 27 thefts. At Fort Wayne, Alberth Martinez batted .277 with 10 dingers, 58 RBIs and 10 steals.

Designated hitter -- Yeison Asencio, Lake Elsinore (57 games), San Antonio (74 games): The Padres' No. 11 prospect hit .277 with seven homers and 76 RBIs between two levels, finishing with 148 hits, including 35 doubles and five triples. The 2012 Midwest League batting champ was a Futures Game selection in July and an Organization All-Star in 2012.

"This guy can hit," Smith said. "He doesn't get cheated, he hits the ball hard, he's a really good thrower, his assists in the outfield are amazing, and he swings the bat very well. He's got power, good raw power that he hasn't taken into games, but he's got a lot of extra base hits."

Honorable mention: First baseman Cody Decker hit .262 with 19 homers and 70 RBIs at Tucson and San Antonio. Cal League All-Star Cory Spangenburg, a first-rounder in 2011, hit .292 with six homers, 51 RBIs and 36 steals between San Antonio and Lake Elsinore. Brandon Allen, who became a free agent in November, batted .267 with 17 homers, 76 RBIs and a .347 OBP at Tucson.

Right-handed starting pitcher -- Matt Wisler, Lake Elsinore (six games), San Antonio (20 games): A seventh-round pick in 2011, Wisler moved up two levels, finishing 10-6 with a 2.78 ERA, and 131 strikeouts in 136 innings. San Diego's No. 5 prospect, Wisler's ERA ranked second among all full-season Padres Minor Leaguers, and he was even better in the Texas League playoffs, where he went 1-0 with a 0.56 ERA and 13 strikeouts in 16 frames for the Missions.

"I can't say enough good things about Wis, he's a stud," Smith said. "A good competitor, good stuff, he commands it -- he's got a really bright future. He's got four pitches. I can't say enough good thing about him -- a tremendous year."

Honorable mention: Keyvius Sampson, the Padres' No. 15 prospect, went 12-7 with a 3.57 ERA and 135 strikeouts in 141 1/3 innings, ranking first in wins among all Padres Minor Leaguers. Zach Eflin, the Padres' No. 12 prospect, led all San Diego full-season pitchers with a 2.73 ERA to go along with seven wins and 86 strikeouts. Matt Andriese went 11-7 with a 3.27 ERA and 105 strikeouts, ranking second in wins, while 2013 Draft pick Pete Kelich dazzled in the Arizona League, finishing 7-1 with a 1.40 ERA and 69 strikeouts in 58 frames. His ERA ranked second in the system.

Left-handed starting pitcher -- Max Fried, Fort Wayne (23 games): The Padres' top prospect went 6-7 with a 3.49 ERA and an even 100 strikeouts in 118 2/3 innings in his Class A debut. The team's first-round pick (No. 7 overall) in 2012 walked 56, allowed just seven homers, held opponents to a .249 average and combined with three relievers on a no-hitter against Great Lakes on May 9.

"In his first full year, I thought he had a good season," Smith said. "He learned what it's like being a professional going out every five or six days. He's got great stuff, a great body, good curveball, a plus fastball, a great frame. For him, it's all about innings and experience and maturing. He's going to be a good one."

Honorable mention: Juan Oramas made just 14 starts in 2013 but produced nice numbers, going 3-2 with a 2.87 ERA and 79 strikeouts in 62 2/3 innings after a rough 2012. He cut his ERA in half, from 6.37 a year ago.

Reliever -- Leonel Campos, Fort Wayne (28 games), San Antonio (26 games) and Kevin Quackenbush, San Antonio (29 games), Tucson (28 games): How do you pick between the pair of stellar seasons posted by this duo? Campos, a right-hander in his second year, went 3-1 with a 1.61 ERA, seven saves and 106 strikeouts in 67 innings, ranking fourth in strikeouts among all Padres Minor Leaguers despite working out of the bullpen. Quackenbush, an Organization All-Star last year, went 10-2 with a 1.66 ERA, 17 saves and 84 strikeouts in 65 frames. He walked just 29 and ranked third in both wins and saves. Other closers, like Tucson's Mike Mikolas (26) and Fort Wayne's Roman Madrid (22), had more saves, but it's hard to ignore the dominance of this duo.

"Campos is averaging two strikeouts an inning -- that's ridiculous," Smith said. "Coming off Tommy John surgery, in his first year, we signed him late out of Venezuela. He played soccer, he was late to the pro game, but he has a plus fastball, a wipeout slider, good arm action. It's his first year in pro ball, so it's amazing to run through Double-A and put up the numbers he did."

"Quack continued to do very well -- we pushed him and he continued to succeed. He improved with his breaking ball, had improvement when he added his split finger, so that gives him another weapon," Smith added. "He pitches off his fastball, and he's got great deception. It's almost invisible -- he throws it up there at 92, and they swing at it like it's in the upper 90s. Tremendous success, I think both are close to seeing the big league level soon."

Danny Wild is an editor for Follow his MLBlog, Minoring in Twitter.