Spotlight on the Padres
An up-close look at the club as we approach Opening Day
More team spotlights:
Jaff Decker, OF: A supplemental first-round pick this spring out of high school in Peoria, Ariz., right down the road from the Padres' Spring Training/instructional league complex, the just-turned-19-year-old hit a combined .343 with five homers and 34 RBIs in his debut there (with a brief taste of short-season Eugene down the stretch). The left-handed hitter led the Arizona League in several categories including runs (51), on-base average (a remarkable .523) and walks (55) to earn league MVP laurels. He has a plus arm as well.
Allan Dykstra, 1B: A late sign out of Wake Forest, Dykstra was the club's top pick this spring and, after Antonelli, the second player from the Demon Deacons that they took with their first pick in three years. He hit .292 with 10 RBIs in seven games in his brief foray at Advanced A Lake Elsinore and saw time down in the Dominican Republic as well, but he was also rehabbing from arthroscopic surgery on his wrist and the club is being careful with him as a result this spring. An old hip injury which was surgically repaired is not impairing him now, but there is some concern that down the road it could become an issue. In the meantime, the 21-year-old left-handed hitter is one of the top pure power prospects in the system.
Cedric Hunter, OF: Hunter, a third-round pick out of high school in Georgia in 2006, is a graceful all-around athlete who has been maturing steadily as a hitter. He batted .318 with 11 home runs and 84 RBIs at Lake Elsinore, ranking third in the system in RBIs and average among full-season hitters. His 186 hits led the Minors, while his 98 runs scored tied for eighth overall. The left-handed hitter, who just turned 21, was Arizona League MVP in his pro debut when he hit .371. He hits to all fields with good power potential while playing a solid center field.
Kellen Kulbacki, OF: A supplemental first-round pick in 2007 out of James Madison University, Kulbacki may have had the best '08 campaign of any of the club's recent first-rounders, despite missing a few weeks with shoulder trouble in August. After a slow start in April at Fort Wayne, Kulbacki moved up to Lake Elsinore and it all clicked for him in late spring. The 23-year-old left-handed batter hit .332 with 20 homers (as well as two more at Fort Wayne) and 66 RBIs in just 304 at-bats. He would have led all full-season Padres farmhand had he had enough at-bats to qualify. As it was, he still tied for the organization lead in home runs, and after offseason rehab of the torn labrum, he is healthy and ready to go this spring.
Mat Latos, RHP: Latos was considered a first-round talent, but slipped to the 11th round as a draft-and-follow in 2006 out of junior college in Florida. He made his pro debut with a 3.83 ERA and 74 strikeouts in 56 innings at Eugene that summer. Throwing a plus fastball in the mid 90s, his 2008 was not as promising, as a combination of injuries and other issues limited him to just 15 games between the Arizona League, Eugene and Fort Wayne. The good news was his 2.57 ERA in that span with 69 strikeouts vs. just 13 walks in 56 innings. The 6-foot-5 right-hander adds a hard slider and changeup to his arsenal.
Adys Portillo, RHP: The young Venezuelan won't even turn 18 until next Christmas, but the 6-foot-3 195-pounder already glows as one of the gems of the system. Signed last summer, he is with the Padres in Arizona and is everything that was advertised -- with a fastball in the low-mid 90s, the makings of a great changeup and remarkable poise and mechanics for a 17-year-old. While he will likely not make his professional debut until the short-season teams break camp, do not totally rule out the possibility that he could get a taste of a full-season team such as Fort Wayne by August.
Eric Sogard, 2B: The Padres' second-round pick in 2007 out of Arizona, he has impressed as one of those quintessential players whose whole package exceeds his individual tools, especially on offense. In his first full season he hit .308 with 10 homers, 87 RBIs and 42 doubles at Lake Elsinore, finishing among the Minor League leaders in doubles, second in the system in RBIs and ninth in the system in batting. He has decent speed and great strike zone discipline and could find himself fast-tracked in a hurry.
Will Venable, OF: Plenty of players are coached by their dads at one time or another. And plenty of players have big league legacies. But Venable, a seventh-round pick in 2005 out of Princeton University, is one of the rare breed to fit both profiles as his dad, Max Venable, was his hitting coach last year at Portland. And he clearly did a good job with his son, who hit .292 with 14 homers and 58 RBIs. He made his big league debut to boot, hitting .264 in 28 games in San Diego, enough to put him in position to be back there again in a hurry.