|One of the Padres' biggest questions is what to do with Jedd Gyorko, who is trying to convert to second base. (AP)|
Prior to the start of the season, we'll highlight a few players in each team's minor-league system to let you know which players you should be paying attention to throughout the year. These aren't meant to be comprehensive top-prospect lists, but should provide a look at some key players within each team's organization.
The top farm system in the game last season remains strong even after graduating a couple of players to the majors in 2012. With Yonder Alonso and Yasmani Grandal now at the big-league level, the Padres' system remains talented and deep. The club doesn't have as many players that can contribute immediately but should receive significant contributions this year.
2013 Impact Prospect
RHP Casey Kelly
Kelly is a bit of a polarizing prospect. Scouts love his athleticism and stuff, but his performance hasn't always matched the hype. Although a big chunk of his 2012 was wiped out due to elbow inflammation, Kelly performed well when he did pitch. He was promoted after just eight minor-league starts last year, and struggled in 29 innings with the Padres. The strikeout and walk rates were solid in the majors, but he gave up far too many home runs in his brief debut with the team. Kelly is only 23 and has typically been young for his level, so there's room to expect improvement as he adjusts to this league. The back-end of the Padres' rotation is unsettled, and Casey could force his way into a starting role with a strong spring.
LHP Max Fried
Fried was the seventh pick in last season's draft, so his placement on most prospect lists is based more on projection than performance. He only threw 17 2/3 innings after signing with the team, making it impossible to draw any conclusions from what he's done. Fried will be 20 years old this season, and will likely start out in the lowest levels of the Padres' minor-league system. At 6-foot-4, he's got an ideal pitcher's build, and has pretty good velocity for a left-hander. Like most youngsters, he'll need a lot of seasoning, so it will take a couple of years before he makes his major-league debut. For now, he's a guy to keep an eye on.
A second-round pick in the 2011 draft, Hedges had a nice full season debut in 2012, leading to a high ranking from prospect analysts. Hedges ranked as one of the top defensive catchers in his draft, but his hitting came along a bit better than expected. Analysts are mainly impressed with his power, as he hit 10 home runs in just 373 plate appearances last season. The threshold for offensive performance at catcher is pretty low, so this was a big step forward for Hedges. He'll be 20 years old this season, and there's a lot he has to accomplish before he's close to the majors. He had a fine full-season debut but is far from a finished product.
3B/2B Jedd Gyorko
Gyorko probably belongs in the Impact Prospect area, but he's blocked at third by Chase Headley. The team is attempting to convert Gyorko to second base, but there's a question about whether he can handle the position defensively. He has hit in some strong offensive parks in the minors, but that shouldn't take away from his performance too much. In 408 Triple-A plate appearances last year, Gyorko hit .328/.380/.588 with 24 home runs. He's ready now if he can play second base. If not, he'll need the team to do something with Headley. If they re-sign Headley, Gyorko is a prime candidate to be traded. With Headley in the picture, it's hard to see how Gyorko forces his way on the team if he can't handle second base.
Liriano is another prospect who is ranked mainly based on what he could become, rather than what he is now. He showed excellent speed in 2011 with 66 steals, and he even added 12 home runs. Both of those totals went backwards last year, though. There's some thought that he could add power as he matures, but that would come at the expense of some of his speed. Not all analysts agree on whether Liriano is a big impact prospect. He was ranked 54 on Keith Law's list but was not ranked on Baseball America's top-100. Liriano will miss the entire 2013 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. The injury halts his progress, but he's a guy to watch once he returns.
Despite some recent graduations, the Padres remain a strong system. Most of the major talent lies in the lower-levels of the minors, but the team should get some help from their prospects this season. The biggest question surrounding the team is whether they believe Gyorko can play second. With the recent influx of talent into the majors, and the progress of the young players in the minors, this team is closer to contention than most think.