Saturday, November 29, 2008 | By Alex Eisenberg
For an overview of the process I use to grade players, the factors I use to determine where a player ranks, and other frequently asked questions, please click here. All grades are subject to change based on any new information I receive before the season starts. If you disagree, you can make your case by contacting me.
You can find a full listing of each team's top prospect list in the Top Prospects of 2009 Archive Page. Also, each team will have their Team Page published when their top prospect list becomes available. Team pages include team rosters, stats, payroll and front office information, past Baseball-Intellect articles related to that team, and links to some of the team's best fan sites. We stay in the NL West by looking at the San Diego Padres...
*Updated 4/9 - A couple grade changes I wanted to make before the MiLB season starts...click here to review the changes made
Body Type - stocky
Before I begin, I'll openly state that I am already somewhat biased toward Kulbacki as he 1.) is a fellow JMU alum and somebody I actually had a couple classes with and 2.) he has one of the best names in baseball.
But make no mistake that Kulbacki can play. His stock took a hit because he played in a conference not all that highly regarded, his home park was viewed as a heavy hitter's park, and he didn't exactly have that look of a baseball player given his height and frame.
Kulbacki had an impressive debut in short season Eugene as he put up an .873 OPS, but struggled to open the season as he dealt with injuries. However, once he was promoted to A+ Lake Elsinore, Kulbacki took off. To go over some of his numbers:
.332/.428/.589/1.017, .257 ISO, 13.3 BB%, 14.4 K%
So he was able to hit for average and power, he showed excellent patience at the plate, and had a relatively low K% for a power hitter. He also kept the ball off the ground by hitting a fly ball in 47.7% of the times he put a ball into play.
Kulbacki showed no significant lefty/righty split and was actually more productive away from his home park. His park-adjusted numbers actually come out better than his raw totals.
Kulbacki doesn't have the ideal baseball player's body, but his hand-eye coordination is excellent and his pitch recognition is rapidly improving.
In addition, Kulbacki has a pretty looking swing. He's got a healthy loading of the hands as he strides into foot plant, but he's generally able to keep the bat connected to his body.
He's shortened his swing somewhat over the past year and really found his comfort in the second half of the year. Kulbacki efficiently carries his weight forward and uses a firm front leg in which to turn his hips on. See how in the above clip, Kulbacki's head is for the most part still. This makes it easier for the hitter to track the ball and and is an indication of keeping the hands back.
Defense - not a strong suit, but average across the board except for speed, where he's slightly below average. He's played right field his entire career, but some feel he's best suited for left field.
Other Notes - Kulbacki played last season as a 22 y/o, which is just a little older for a high level prospect. He's also dealt with injuries the past two seasons and his durability is something that should be watched. Considering he didn't play a full season at Lake Elsinore, Kulbacki probably didn't play enough for pitchers to adjust to him, which means his numbers are likely somewhat inflated.
Best Case Outcome - Above average or top-10 corner outfielder
More Likely Outcome - Average corner outfielder
Body Type - very tall with a lanky build...does have some projection, but also doesn't really have the frame to put on a ton of weight
Fastball - pretty electric with late life...it gets on hitters quickly as it has a deceptive quality to it...thrown between 92 and 94, touching 96
Curveball - I believe he's classified it as a knuckle-curve and it's thrown in the high 70's, shows great depth, a tight spin, and it comes in on a similar plane as the fastball. It still needs work, but he shows an ability to throw the pitch for strikes and it has the makings of a plus pitch
Change-up - still in development, but shows a feel for the pitch...needs innings to continue to improve it
Latos also throws a slider, but he doesn't throw it as often as his other secondary pitches
Latos is an excellent athlete with the ability to repeat his mechanics. However, his wind-up is very unathletic looking. He's a tall-and-fall pitcher that doesn't use momentum to his advantage. You can see what I mean by viewing the clip of Latos below:
Latos hasn't altered his mechanics much since high school, so the video does have some relevance. He mostly stays back and doesn't get out in front, which means his arm is given less room to decelerate. It also leads his arm to recoil at the end of his delivery, which is somewhat concerning.
However, the fact of the matter is he's a pitcher with power stuff, good control, and he repeats his mechanics. Why mess with a good thing? Maybe a few tweaks here and there, but for the most part he should be left alone.
Mental Make-Up - Questions have dogged Latos since high school about his state of mind. Some feel he's immature, some feel he doesn't have a certain "presence" on the mound, but he's eased some of those concerns as a professional, and while I personally feel mental make-up is important, I do think people can let their biases and personal feelings toward an individual influence the view of that person's mental make-up.
Performance - Latos hasn't pitched much as a professional, but when he has, he's been mostly dominant though he was merely good in 24 innings at Single-A Fort Wayne. He's shown above average to plus command and the ability to miss bats. He hasn't shown much weakness in any area, but the level of competition hasn't been strong and the sample size has been small.
Best Case Outcome - Front end starter, possibly a No. 1 type if everything goes right, but more in the range of a No. 2
More Likely Outcome - No. 3 starter though it's tough to say because he's so far off. His mechanics do concern me somewhat and he still needs to improve his secondary pitches.
I'm happy to say Blanks was one of my hitting prospects to watch entering the 2008 season, and he didn't disappoint.
Body Type - the build of a run stopping defensive end, standing 6-foot-6, around 280 pounds, but with less muscle.
Blanks generates his power with a healthy amount of torque. He has no stride; he simply raises his foot and plants forcefully, which leads to the torque. I don't see his swing as too long, but you can bust him inside given the length of his arms. He does keep the bat head in the hitting zone for a good while and has a good swing plane. Blanks lets the ball travel deep into his hitting zone, which is a trait you see in good hitters and a good indicator of bat speed. He still needs to stay back on off-speed stuff.
Blanks has improved his plate discipline over time, resulting in a career low K% of 16, but there are still times he appears to not see the pitch thrown. It usually results in a check swing, meaning he's indecisive about the location a pitch will end up.
He's got plus raw power that didn't quite show up in games last year. The .185 ISO-power is solid, but not great, especially for a first baseman.
Defense - Because of his size, Blanks is solely a first baseman, though he's very athletic for his size and actually quite light on his feet. His speed still rates as below average.
Best Case Outcome - Average to above average everyday first baseman...he would have better value in the American League because he could DH
More Likely Outcome - Average everyday first baseman or above average DH...there isn't much difference between his upside and mid-level projection.
This is an aggressive ranking for Decker, but I like his skill set. He plays a premium position in center field, is an underrated athlete and already displays advanced plate discipline. Should he not succeed as a hitter, he can give pitching a shot since he was considered an early round talent as a pitcher as well.
You can read more about Decker in this write-up. Since that time, Decker conquered AZL pitching to the tune of a .352/.523/.541/1.064 slash line. He walked over 25% of the time, while striking out 17% of the time. There is a question as to how much projection Decker has left as he is already physically strong with a mature frame. This does hurt his upside somewhat.
Best Case Outcome - Above average everyday center fielder
More Likely Outcome - Average everyday center fielder or very good fourth outfielder...his value does take a hit should he move off of center field.
Body Type - he has a pretty projectable build and is a solid athlete though his bottom half looks a somewhat heavy
Hunter possesses excellent bat speed and impressive hand-eye coordination. Both attributes make Hunter a difficult player to strikeout. He struck out in just 7.3% of his plate appearances last year, which is a huge improvement over his last two seasons. However, his BB% is just middling--6.6% last year and that number needs to improve going forward.
Given his high contact rate, we should expect to see Hunter hit for moderately high average, which will keep his OBP respectable. His power on the other hand, is still developing.
Hunter swings hard and with intent, but relies mostly on his quick wrists to generate power. This results in a lot of hard hit line drives. He's also shown the ability to drive pitches up and out over the plate. However, Hunter has shown little power other than to his pull side. Hunter's ISO-power went from .091 to .124, but he'll need to show more improvement next season.
The good news for Hunter is his age: he's just 20 years old, so he has plenty of development time left and that makes his upside higher than some of the more polished players on this list.
Defense - Hunter is fine in center for now. However, his arm sorta fringy and his other defensive tools don't grade out as much more than average. If he has to move off the position, his value takes a steep drop because he won't have the power numbers to play either corner infield spot.
Best Case Outcome - Average regular center fielder though given his youth, his upside is potentially higher
More Likely Outcome - Fourth outfielder that can play all three outfield spots
Next Up: San Diego Padres, Prospects 6 - 15
Also See: San Diego Padres Team Page
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