As highlighted by our “Future Friar” series (with features on Anthony Rizzo, James Darnell, Keyvius Sampson and Jedd Gyorko), the Padres farm system is quickly improving. Ranked as the eighth-best among MLB teams heading into the 2011 season, Baseball America’s Jim Callis thinks that may just be the beginning:
“The Padres system definitely is looking up. Many of their top prospects coming into the season had terrific years in the minors, including first baseman Anthony Rizzo, third baseman Jedd Gyorko and third baseman/outfielder James Darnell. Others took big steps forward, most notably outfielder Rymer Liriano and righthander Keyvious Sampson. San Diego also has added plenty of talent via the draft (starting with first-rounders Cory Spangenberg and Joe Ross), trades (getting lefty Robbie Erlin and righty Joe Wieland from the Rangers for Mike Adams) and the international market ($1.1 million for Venezuelan catcher Jose Ruiz).
The Padres have one of the better farm systems in baseball, and I expect their ranking to move up from No. 8. They had 18 different players make our various minor league Top 20 Prospects lists, tying the Rays for the most of any organization.
When we unveil our 2012 Top 100 Prospects next spring, I anticipate that the list will include Rizzo, Gyorko, Liriano and Erlin for sure, with several other San Diego farmhands having a shot. Other candidates include Darnell, righthander Casey Kelly, Ross, Sampson, Spangenberg and Wieland.”
Time for our fourth Future Friar installment as we try to introduce you to some of the players you are likely to see at PETCO Park in the future. Today we visit someone you are probably fairly familiar with already. He made his debut this year and is likely to return before the season is over. He figures to be a large part of the Major League team going forward. Meet…Anthony Rizzo.
Anthony Rizzo, 22, was born on August 8, 1989 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. He played his high school ball at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, hitting .468 his senior season. That performance resulted in his selection in the sixth round of the 2007 Draft by the Red Sox.
In the Sox minor league system, Rizzo hit .284 (307-for-1080) with 85 doubles, 38 home runs, 180 RBI and 170 runs scored in 282 games over four seasons before being acquired by the Padres as part of the trade that sent Adrian Gonzalez to Boston.
While posting solid numbers on his journey through the minors, Rizzo faced his largest challenge off the field. At the age of 18, while playing with the Red Sox Single-A Greenville affiliate, he was diagnosed with limited stage classical Hodgkin’s lymphoma. To combat the disease, Rizzo underwent six months of chemotherapy treatments after which doctors informed him that the cancer was in remission. When he returned to the field, he picked up right where he left off, terrorizing minor league pitching. He played two more seasons in the Sox system before joining the Padres last offseason.
After a solid performance at Big League camp for the Friars, Rizzo was sent to Triple-A Tucson to begin the 2011 campaign. It was here that his numbers really took off. Over the first couple months of the season, Rizzo hit .365 with a .444 OBP and .715 SLG (1.159 OPS), earning a promotion to the Padres. He made his Major League debut on June 9, collecting a triple for his first Big League hit.
The trip to the Majors served as a reality check for Rizzo, as his numbers came back down to earth. He was optioned back to Triple-A on July 21, his offensive attack picking right back up. Upon his return to Tucson, he hit safely in nine of his first 12 games, going 18-for-48 (.375) with seven doubles, six home runs and 22 RBI.
“Rizz has had an MVP-type season at Tucson, hitting for both average and power along with excellent run production,” says Padres Vice President of Player Development Randy Smith. “He has continued to improve as the season has progressed from a defensive and offensive standpoint. All in all a tremendous season from a guy who just turned 22 in August.”
In 80 total games at Triple-A this year, Rizzo has hit .345 (105-for-304) with 31 doubles, one triple, 23 home runs, 95 RBI, 56 runs scored, a .422 OBP and .681 SLG. In addition to his hot bat, the 6-3, 220 pound first baseman has committed just 11 errors in 689 chances at first base, posting a .984 fielding percentage.
Here’s a great fan video of Rizzo’s first hit from the Padres June 9 win over the Nationals. Skip ahead to 1:30 for the good stuff.
Today we introduce another of the Padres top prospects, this time taking a trip to the mound. Meet…Keyvius Sampson.
At 20 years old, Keyvius Sampson (pronounced KEY-vus) is quickly making a name for himself at the minor league level. Currently in this third year in the Padres organization, Sampson is backing up the hype that had the Padres select him in the fourth round of the 2009 Draft out of Florida’s Forest High School.
After signing in 2009, Sampson took to the mound and posted a 3.38 ERA in four appearances (two starts) during his first professional season, split between Rookie-level Peoria and Short-A Eugene. In his second year, Sampson had some success on the hill, but missed time due to soreness in his arm. He went 3-3 in 10 starts, recording a 3.56 ERA (17 ER/43.0 IP) with Eugene.
Feeling like his old self again, the right-handed flame-thrower has spent the entire 2011 campaign with Single-A Fort Wayne. Through 20 starts this season, he has gone 9-2 with a 2.53 ERA (28 ER/99.2 IP), blowing hitters away with an electric fastball.
“Key has an explosive fastball that runs into the mid 90′s that he compliments with a very good change,” says Padres Vice President of Player Development Randy Smith. “Sampson is a good athlete that competes very well.”
Midwest League hitters would agree. Sampson has limiting opponents to a .175 average while striking out nearly 11 hitters per 9.0 innings pitched. He has not allowed an earned run in nine of his 20 starts, including each of his last three outings, and has yet to surrender more than six hits in a game all season.
For more on Sampson, check out this interview with milb.com.
Continuing our Future Friar series, today we take a look at one of the Padres top hitting prospects. In just his second year of professional baseball, he is clubbing his way through the minor league system. Meet…Jedd Gyorko.
Gyorko (pronounced JERK-oh), was born in September 23, 1988 (age 22) in Morgantown, West Virginia. He graduated from University High School before attending West Virginia University, where he majored in business management.
The Padres signed Gyorko as a second round selection in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft and he has been terrorizing opposing pitchers ever since. The third baseman hit .302 in his first professional season, splitting his time between Short-A Eugene (26 games) and Single-A Fort Wayne (42 games). He knocked 17 doubles and seven home runs while driving in 41 and scoring 35 runs.
His stellar debut proved to be just the start as he has improved upon those numbers in 2011. In 119 games this year between High-A Lake Elsinore and Double-A San Antonio, Gyorko has hit .333 with a .403 OBP and .559 SLG. The slugger has tallied 40 doubles, two triples and 22 home runs and has already driven in 97 with 102 runs scored.
He began the year at Lake Elsinore, where he hit safely in 69 of 81 games before earning a promotion to San Antonio. With the Storm, he tallied 38 multi-hit games, including 25 two-hit games, nine three-hit games, three four-hit games and one five-hit performance. In the middle of an 11-game hitting streak from June 6-17, Gyorko tallied nine consecutive multi-hit games, hitting .558 over the nine-game stretch.
“Jedd has great hands and feet with a knack for putting the barrel on the ball,” says Padres Vice President of Player Development Randy Smith. ” He is a good defender but it often gets overshadowed because of his bat.”
In 80 games at third base this season, Gyorko has posted a .954 fielding percentage, committing just 11 errors in 238 chances. He has split his time between the hot corner and designated hitter, appearing in 80 games at third.
His performance at Lake Elsinore this year landed him on the California League All-Star team. He led the Cal League to a 6-1 win over the Carolina League and was named the game’s MVP. In their recent Tools Survey, Baseball America rated Gyorko as the California League’s best batting prospect.
You’ve heard it ever since Jed Hoyer and his team took the reins down here at PETCO Park: The key to winning in San Diego is drafting and developing players who will make an impact at the Major League level. As we approach two years into Hoyer’s tenure, the Padres minor league system has vastly improved, ranking as the eighth strongest this year according to Baseball America (compared to 29th two years ago).
The talent behind this improvement is getting closer and closer to PETCO Park. In an attempt to make sure you know who these guys are when they get here, we will be profiling some of the Padres top prospects over the next few days. Today…meet James Darnell.
Darnell, born January 19, 1987 (age 24), played his collegiate ball at the University of South Carolina before he was signed by the Padres as a second-round selection (69th overall) in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft. He has slugged his way through the Padres minor league system, already seeing action at Short-A Eugene, Single-A Fort Wayne, Advanced-A Lake Elsinore, Double-A San Antonio and Triple-A Tucson before making his Major League debut this week.
He earned his promotion by hitting a combined .317 with a .415 oBP and .573 SLG between San Antonio and Tucson this year, belting 23 homers. He obliterated Texas League pitching, hitting safely in 57 of 76 games with 24 two-hit games, six three-hit games and one four-hit game. He hit over .300 against both lefties and righties in the TL and has hit a combined .406 against lefties between San Antonio and Tucson this year.
A third baseman by trade, Darnell has also seen time in the outfield in 2011. He has posted a .935 fielding percentage at the hot corner this year, committing just 11 errors in 170 chances.
Darnell’s success at the plate 2011 has been recognized outside of the organization as he was named to the 2011 US Futures Team and Texas League All-Star Team, where he was selected as the game’s MVP after knocking a two-run homer.
Over his four seasons in the Padres system, Darnell has hit a combined .304 (399-for-1313) with 95 doubles, seven triples, 56 home runs, 229 RBI, 220 runs scored, a .404 OBP and .515 SLG. He was named the Padres Minor League Player of the Year following his 2009 performance (split between Fort Wayne and Lake Elsinore).
Darnell was a college teammate of 2008 first-round picks Justin Smoak and Reese Havens at the University of South Carolina.