The San Diego Padres are certainly a team in transition and, coming off of a 2008 season in which they managed to avoid the dreaded 100-loss mark while lounging in last place in the NL West, Friars fans' hopes are high that things can only get better from there.
Even the Minor League part of the equation has had its share of woes of late, with more than its share of injuries to some of its top picks over the past several years.
An up-close look at the club as we approach Opening Day
But hopes are high for some big comeback seasons, and combined with some breakout performances from a few promising if unsung starting pitchers, the future could be a lot brighter than many have been predicting.
While the obvious rays of light come on offense, as evidenced by eight hitters listed in our "10 prospects to watch" package, there is intriguing potential depth when it comes to starting pitching, even if the names aren't as big.
In addition, fans can get excited about some new faces that have joined the system via the international market, most notably teenage pitching sensation Adys Portillo from Venezuela, who will get his pro feet wet in extended spring training.
Matt Antonelli, 2B:
Coming off a disappointing 2008 campaign between Triple-A Portland and the big leagues, the 2006 first-rounder from Wake Forest is still very much in the future picture in the Majors and a hot start back with the Beavers would solidify that status.
Everth Cabrera, SS:
As a Rule 5 pick from Colorado, it's unlikely the Rockies wouldn't grab him back if offered, so if the Padres want to keep him they'll need to find a spot for him on the 25-man roster. He led the Minors in 2008 with 73 steals at Class A Asheville.
Josh Geer, RHP:
A third-round pick in 2005 out of Rice, Geer looks like the odds-on favorite for the No. 5 spot in the Padres rotation after impressing with a 2.67 ERA in five late-season starts with San Diego. He won't knock you out with his stuff but mixes his pitches well.
Will Venable, OF:
A Princeton product and the son of Padres' Minor League coach and former big leaguer Max Venable, he hit .264 in 28 games in a late-season audition and batted .292 with 14 homers and 58 RBIs before that at Portland.
Jeremy Hefner, RHP:
A fifth-round pick in 2007 out of Oral Roberts, Hefner posted a 3.33 ERA at Class A Fort Wayne in his first full season and limited Midwest League hitters to a .228 average. His 150 total strikeouts were second in the system and now he's added a plus curveball to his repertoire, which could really accelerate his climb.
Chad Huffman, OF:
The Padres' second-round pick in 2006 out of Texas Christian, the younger brother of veteran Royce Huffman brings some serious right-handed power potential to the table and has had a great Spring Training after hitting .284 with nine homers and 58 RBIs at Double-A San Antonio in 2008.
William Inman, RHP:
His unusual delivery has seen him limit hitters to a .213 average over four pro seasons, and he led the Texas League in strikeouts with 140 last summer at San Antonio while posting a 3.52 ERA.
Wynn Pelzer, RHP:
Signed at the deadline after being a 10th-rounder out of South Carolina in 2007, Pelzer was 9-6 with a 3.19 ERA and 100 strikeouts over 118 1/3 innings in his pro debut at Fort Wayne. He's come closer to mastering an outstanding changeup to go with an electric fastball and hard slider.
2008: Allan Dykstra, 1B:
The club's second first-round pick out of Wake Forest in three years, Dykstra adds even more depth and power to the Padres' first-base scenario, already one of their strengths. A surgically repaired hip could present issues further down the road, but he hit .292 with 10 RBIs in just seven games in his debut at Class A Advanced Lake Elsinore.
2007: Nick Schmidt, LHP:
The Padres are thrilled to be getting the former Arkansas ace back on the mound after Tommy John surgery wiped out all of 2008. When healthy, the poised southpaw had a fastball around 90, a plus curve and a changeup. He's also been looking good in Spring Training.
2006: Matt Antonelli, 2B:
There is no reason not to think that 2008 was an aberration for the Wake Forest alum, who combined to hit .307 with 21 homers, 78 RBIs and 28 steals between Lake Elsinore and San Antonio in 2007. He never got on track in 2008, hitting .215 at Portland and .193 in 57 big-league at-bats. His makeup and discipline are outstanding.
2008 Draft Recap
OF Jaff Decker (1S) leads the list of exciting young players to look forward to, combining to hit .343 with five homers and 34 RBIs between Arizona and Eugene in his brief debut. He led the Arizona League in runs, on-base average and walks. ... 3B James Darnell (2) out of South Carolina has power to all fields, a plus arm and hit .373 with two homers and 15 RBIs in 16 games at Eugene after a deadline sign. ... OF Blake Tekotte (3) batted .285 with six homers and 29 RBIs at Eugene with 43 runs scored and seven steals in 47 games. He was taken out of Miami. ... RHP Eric Gonzalez (24) struck out 34 batters while walking five with a 1.19 ERA in 22 2/3 innings in his Arizona League debut. Born in Spain, he attended college on a student visa, but it took awhile to get the work visa arranged for him to go pro. ... OF Dan Robertson (33), out of Oregon State, finished fourth in the Minors with a .377 average and won the Northwest League batting crown and MVP honors at Eugene. His 20 steals ranked third in the system.
Hitter of the Year -- 1B Kyle Blanks:
With Adrian Gonzalez in place at first base, there is no need to rush "Little Hurt" to the bigs. So barring injury or anything else unforeseen, the system's top hitting prospect should get a full season to rake at Portland.
Pitcher of the Year -- Wynn Pelzer, RHP: An out-of-the-box pick, if Pelzer can add his promising changeup to his already electric fastball and hard slider, that three-pitch arsenal could be deadly for hitters in the California League this summer.
One of the most effective hurlers from '08, southpaw Steve Garrison, will be shut down until at least midseason following rotator cuff surgery. He had a 3.83 ERA in 24 starts at San Antonio last summer. ... RHP Matt Buschmann, a 15th-round pick in 2006 out of Vanderbilt, led the system in ERA last summer with a 2.98 at San Antonio, almost identical numbers to his '07 season at Advanced A Lake Elsinore when he was 12-6 with a 2.89 ERA. ... Keep an eye on RHP Greg Burke, who zoomed from non-drafted free agent sign out of Duke to one of the most effective relievers in the system. With the Missions last summer, he posted a 2.24 ERA at Double-A San Antonio with 23 saves. ... Also one to watch is Panamanian mighty mite OF Luis Durango. At just 5-foot-10 and 145 pounds, he's hit a combined .335 in five pro seasons. He's won two batting crowns in that span and hit .431 in a late-season move to Lake Elsinore, where he'll start 2009.
"Our Minor League rotations are as good and as competitive as I've seen here in a long time. There are five or six or seven decent guys with 'something' in every rotation all the way down to Fort Wayne." --Grady Fuson, San Diego Padres vice president of scouting and player development
Lisa Winston is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.