Synopsis: This is a classic Triple-A team with some prospects, others that are blocked and some guys trying to work their way back. The thin desert air and near cement infield at Kino Stadium in the summer months make this very much a hitter's paradise but not as much as some of the other stadiums in the PCL South.
Three Strikes with Randy Smith, the Padres Director of Player Development and International Scouting:
How has Robbie Erlin's health been this spring?
Randy Smith: Robbie has really been fine since last summer. He didn't have any problems in the fall or the spring. Right now I'm not even worried about the injury possibility.
Jaff Decker has looked good. What part of his game has improved since last year?
Randy Smith: With Jaff two things come to mind the first is just getting healthy. The second is getting more aggressive at the plate. He has a great eye but we want him to become more aggressive so he doesn't get down in the count. This spring I think he's done that.
How has Jonathan Galvez looked defensively?
Randy Smith: He's been pretty good spring defensively. Its only his second year at the position and as he gets more comfortable he's going to improve. The past couple of seasons he's just made too many careless mistakes and this spring we really emphasized making the routine plays.
2013 Projected Lineup:
RHPTim Stauffer2BJonathan GalvezSPRHPSean O'SullivanSSGregorio PetitSPLHPRobbie Erlin3BJesus MerchanSPRHPThad WeberOFKyle BlanksSPRHPKeyvius SampsonOF
Dan RobertsonRPRHPBrad BoxbergerOFJaff Decker
RPRHPNick VincentCJason Hagerty
MadFriars' Top 20 Prospects in Tucson: Robbie Erlin (3), Keyvius Sampson (9) and James Darnell (18).
Darnell will begin the year on the disabled list but should be at third base.
Catch a Rising Star: With Casey Kelly and Corey Luebke down, Robbie Erlin is the next man up. He's not the biggest pitcher in the world at six feet but the lefty can command his four-seamer to all four quadrants of the plate to go along with a solid change and good breaking stuff. The only downside is elbow tenderness kept him out for long stretches of last year and it will be interesting to see how aggressive the Padres will be with him early on.
Starting Pitching: Erlin has the highest upside but Stauffer and O'Sullivan are interesting candidates. Stauffer, the Padres' first round pick in 2003 and fourth overall, is coming back from elbow surgery and is going to need a little bit of time to get his feet under him. Valhalla High's Sean O'Sullivan had as good a spring as anyone but was fighting an uphill battle to make the big league squad. O'Sullivan has been in and out of the major leagues since 2009 but he may have turned the corner last in AAA Las Vegas with a 2.72 ERA in 89.1 innings. How good is that? In Tucson Las Vegas is considered the offensive stadium. Keyvius Sampson is coming off of a much better second half than his first. Its still unclear whether the Padres see him as a starter or relief pitcher going forward but at press time he appears to have the fifth slot. Thad Weber, 27, was acquired from the Tigers organization by the Padres last August and pitched in limited action for the T-Padres last year.
Pen: Nick Vincent, Brad Boxberger, Tommy Layne and Miles Mikolas all have major league experience and should be on regular shuttle flights between Tucson and San Diego. Keep an eye on Jorge Reyes who was a starter last year but whose stuff will play better out of the pen. San Diego has preliminarily tabbed him as the team's closer and his velocity is going to attract some attention.
Infield: If Kyle Blanks is in the infield he will be the one to watch and if he's in the outfield it will be the same. Blanks, who has been beset by injuries the past few years, seemed to be all the way back this spring but there just wasn't room for him on the roster. However anyone who watched Carlos Quentin rumble around in spring training knows that he could be up soon. Cody Decker could see time at first base, DH, the outfield corners and yes, they may even let him squat behind the plate on occasion. A good player and a better person, if Cody gets the at-bats he will put up some offensive numbers. Jonathan Galvez will hit, he has always hit. The big key is can he convince enough people that he belongs in the infield defensively. Utility man Dean Anna is going to find his way into the lineup, he always does because he can play anywhere and provides a professional at-bat. James Darnell is a talented player who has just had difficulty staying on the field the past few years.
Catching: Jason Hagerty has had an up-down career in the organization but a durable switch-hitting catcher with some power is always going to garner some attention.
Outfield: Jaff Decker had some huge years in A ball but injuries really cut into his effectiveness in AA San Antonio. Dan Robertson can play all three outfield positions and about everything else on the baseball field. An injury to an outfielder on the big club where they need someone who has the ability to play center and hit off the bench could be his ticket to the big leagues.
On the Spot: After a couple of injury plagued years Jaff Decker looks healthy and coming home to Arizona should help. He has always been able to crush fastballs the key for him is how well he handles the off-speed and is aggressive early in the count.
Under the Radar: Sean O'Sullivan is not going to be someone to lead a major league rotation but the 6-2, 240 lbs. former Valhalla Viking is the type that could eat a lot of innings at the back of a rotation. If there is a need earlier in the year with Stauffer not all the way back and the organization still taking its time with Erlin, Sullivan should be the man.
For more on the Padres' minor league teams, check out MadFriars.com