Yonder Alonso has been one of the top prospects in baseball for the last couple of years. So it's not surprising that when he was traded to the Padres in the pre-Christmas blockbuster that sent young ace Mat Latos to Cincinnati for Alonso, pitcher Edinson Volquez and highly touted Minor Leaguers Yasmani Grandal and Brad Boxberger, he immediately became his new team's top prospect.
But the deal didn't just clear first base for Alonso, who had been blocked by Joey Votto in Cincinnati. It also sent a message that the already-stout San Diego farm system has gotten burlier, and is now teeming with talent and players on the cusp of Major League readiness.
"Cincinnati drafted me, and I thank them for that. But I feel like we have elite players in the game, right now, when it comes to prospects in San Diego," Alonso said. "Only positive things are happening for the Padres.
"For myself, it's something I've been waiting for. I feel like I can contribute tremendously, and it's something I'm definitely looking forward to. This team is not only getting ready to win now, but in the future, too."
Just take a look at the top names and it's easy to see why. Alonso has been considered ready for the big leagues for a while, and his five home runs and 15 RBIs in 88 at-bats in the Major Leagues last year indicated that the Padres had good reason to say goodbye to their other first-base prospect, Anthony Rizzo, whom they obtained in the 2010 Adrian Gonzalez deal with Boston and dealt to the Cubs this winter.
Catcher Grandal immediately checks in at No. 4 on the Padres' MLB.com list, and reliever Boxberger, who is at No. 12, has a chance to impact the big club's bullpen at some point in 2012.
"Any time you're building the foundation for sustainable success, it starts with scouting, player development -- and there always seem to be those key trades that are tough to swallow sometimes and difficult to take. But they mean change in the organization," said Padres vice president of professional scouting A.J. Hinch.
"When you do a four-for-one and you're trading a talented pitcher like Latos, you'd hope the return is significant. One thing is that we hope to see the fruits of that trade pretty quickly. If the talent and timing matches up and everybody's happy, it's a pretty good success."
Top 20 Prospects:
No. 3 man Rymer Liriano's 2011 numbers at Class A Fort Wayne were indicative of the tools he possesses that the Padres are eager to see as he matures. Liriano hit 12 homers, plus had a slash line of .319/.383/.499 and stole 65 bases before struggling in 55 at-bats in his callup to high-A Lake Elsinore. But he's learning quickly.
The Padres love catcher Austin Hedges, who signed with San Diego after being selected in the second round of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft out of Junipero Serra High School in San Juan Capistrano, Calif., primarily for his defense, which is far advanced for a receiver his age. The club has faith in how his bat and power will develop.
And then there's Joe Ross, who went to San Diego with the 25th overall pick of the Draft. Ross, 18 and out of Bishop O'Dowd High School in Oakland, is the younger brother of Oakland A's pitcher Tyson Ross, and projects as a power right-hander with upside.
padres' top prospects
Under the radar:
Outfielder Luis Domoromo had a breakout year at Fort Wayne at the age of 18, driving in 68 runs in his first full Minor League season.
"He's an intriguing guy," Hinch said. "He's got a pretty good swing and a pretty polished approach for being a young kid. This will be a big year for him. He'll have the chance to put up some pretty decent numbers in high-A ball."
Blake Tekotte actually saw some big league time in 2011 at Double-A, so it's likely that he'll begin the year in Triple-A. The Padres would love to see any improvement from a solid offensive season last year, in which he hit 18 homers and drove in 67 runs, while posting an OPS of .891.
Hitter of the Year
Third baseman Jedd Gyorko exploded offensively in 2011, hitting .365/.429/.638 -- with 18 homers, 74 RBIs and 11 stolen bases in 340 at-bats at Lake Elsinore. He then adapted to his Double-A promotion well, putting up a line of .288/.358/.428, with seven more homers and 40 more RBIs in 236 at-bats with San Antonio.
Pitcher of the Year
MLB.com's No. 2 Padres prospect, right-hander Casey Kelly, improved dramatically in his second year at Double-A, going 11-6 with a 3.98 ERA and lowering his walk and hit rates, while becoming more of a ground-ball pitcher because of a better power sinker.