PEORIA, Ariz. -- Randy Smith has spent most of his three decades in baseball with the Padres. Currently the team's vice president for player development and international scouting, he also has served as general manager and scouting director.
Smith has been with San Diego for National League West titles and for last-place finishes, and he has seen the farm system ebb and flow as well. He can't remember a time when the franchise had more Minor League talent than it does now.
"The strength of our system is that we have a lot of depth," Smith said. "I've been around the organization on and off since 1984, and this is the most depth I can recall. Some of our higher-ceiling guys are probably going to be in 'A' ball, but we're in very good shape."
Two of the Padres' Top 20 Prospects, catcher Austin Hedges and right-hander Matt Wisler, actually will begin the season with Double-A San Antonio and might not need much more than another year in the Minors. That San Antonio club also will have outfielder Rymer Liriano and shortstop Jace Peterson, two of the system's best all-around players. Triple-A El Paso should have an all-prospect rotation headlined by Burch Smith.
By investing $29 million in the last three First-Year Player Drafts, San Diego has added plenty of talent at the lower levels of the system. First-round picks Joe Ross (2011) and Max Fried ('12) and supplemental first-rounders Zach Eflin ('12) and Walker Weickel ('12) will headline the rotation at Class A Advanced Lake Elsinore, where they'll be joined by another first-rounder, outfielder Hunter Renfroe ('13). Class A Fort Wayne will feature a talented infield anchored by shortstop Franchy Cordero and third baseman Dustin Peterson, a 2013 second-rounder.
"Ownership and the front office have been focusing on the Draft, focusing on scouting and player development," Smith said. "With all of the arms we took a couple of years ago, and the bats from last year, we feel pretty good about what we have. But you can never have enough."
Three questions with Fried
Perhaps the best high school left-handed pitching prospect since Clayton Kershaw, Fried went seventh overall in the 2012 Draft and signed for $3 million. He and Lucas Giolito became the seventh pair of prep teammates to go in the first round of the same Draft when the Nationals took the fellow Harvard-Westlake (Studio City, Calif.) prospect 16th overall.
MLBPipeline.com: You came down with some elbow tightness in February that led to the Padres shutting you down for about three weeks. Was that the first time you've ever dealt with an injury concern? And how is the elbow now?
Fried: It was just a little tightness, and we wanted to make sure it was all gone. It's the first time I ever had something like that. No one on the medical staff was too concerned, they just wanted to knock it out. It was frustrating because, as a baseball player, you want to get out there and play. I wound up doing a lot of shagging, a lot of strictly lower-body work, participating in PFP [pitchers' fielding practice] without throwing. I started throwing again in the past week, just taking it easy starting out.
MLBPipeline.com: What was it like being on the same high school pitching staff with Giolito?
Fried: It was unbelievable. Lucas is one of my closest friends, and we stay in contact all of the time. Going through that, even with him being hurt [his senior season with an injured elbow], was special. I think we'll always be in different leagues, so I don't think we'll ever meet in the Minors. I know he's doing well, though. To pitch against him in the big leagues would be ideal. It would mean we both accomplished our goals. I have a long way to go, a lot of things to work on.
MLBPipeline.com: What are you working on?
Fried: Definitely my control. Also not overanalyzing and overthinking situations, just focus on trusting myself. I know if I put my stuff out there and do everything I can, I should be OK.
Camp standout: Ross
After signing for $2.75 million as the 25th overall pick in the 2011 Draft, Ross received a rude introduction to pro ball. He battled his command early in the 2012 season at Fort Wayne, came down with shoulder tendinitis and went winless in his first full season.
Ross bounced back at Fort Wayne last year, showing as much upside as any of the Padres' right-handed pitching prospects. His fastball already reaches the mid-90s, and there's still room for projection in his lanky 6-foot-3 frame, and his hard slider gives him a second potential out pitch.
As part of his deal when he signed, Ross received an invitation to big league Spring Training this year. Though he was the youngest player in the Padres' camp at age 20, he wasn't overwhelmed. Ross gave up one run in three innings over two outings and got to spend some time with his brother, Tyson, San Diego's No. 3 starter.
"He matured over there in big league camp," Smith said. "Having his brother there helped. When he came back over here, he has been throwing well, 92-94 mph and touching 95 or 96. His command is better. He's getting the ball down better this spring. He's growing into his body, getting more coordination, repeating his delivery better."
Breakout candidate: Cordero
Cordero had a sensational U.S. debut in 2013, batting .333/.381/.511 in the Rookie-level Arizona League. The Padres believe in his bat enough to send him to the Class A Midwest League this season as a 19-year-old.
Cordero can do more than just hit. He's an above-average runner who stole 11 bases in 35 games without being caught last year. And though Cordero is big for a shortstop at 6-foot-3, he's a fluid athlete with a strong arm who should be able to stay at the position.
While Cordero might be three or four years away from San Diego, he has a higher ceiling than any position player in the system. His performance in Peoria has reinforced that notion.
"Cordero has been fantastic," Smith said. "He has a chance to be a five-tool shortstop. He drives the ball the other way very well, especially for a young hitter. His best tool is his bat. Not to sell his other stuff short, but what makes him sexy is he can hit and he has power."