This 30-part series will look at the projected Top 5 freshman contributors for each big league club for the year ahead. The rankings take into consideration a mixture of ceiling, readiness and potential playing time allocation, which is to say some players with lower ceilings may be ranked ahead of others with higher ceilings because they project to have a greater impact in the coming season.
In a Nutshell: The massive roster overhaul by Padres’ front office has shed some prospects in trades and block others with newly-acquired veteran players. The outfield is especially deep with nine outfielders on the 40-man roster, which doesn’t bode well for the two outfield prospects on the list below (one of whom isn’t even on the 40-man).
1. Matt Wisler, RHP: Like the outfield, San Diego has beefed up the pitching depth, which could leave Wisler in Triple-A for much of the season. However, a number of the pitchers are well-acquainted with the disabled list (such as Brandon Morrow and Josh Johnson) so that depth will likely be tested in 2015… and this young hurler is tops in the system. Even if he doesn’t break into the starting rotation this year, though, Wisler could make an impact in the bullpen where his stuff could play up and thrive.
2. Hunter Renfroe, OF: It might seem a bit hasty to expect this 2013 first round draft pick to reach the Majors in 2015 but he spent half of his 2014 at the Double-A level after dominating A-ball. Renfroe will almost certainly open 2015 back in Double-A but a quick start could accelerate his time table. He’ll likely have to shift to first base — where the underwhelming and injury-prone Yonder Alonso can be found — after San Diego completely remade the outfield with off-season acquisitions of Justin Upton, Will Myers, and Matt Kemp. The big question with this prospect, though, is how well his best tool — his power — will play in San Diego.
3. Rymer Liriano, OF: Liriano, 23, missed all of 2013 due to injury but came back strong in 2014 and played at three levels. He even spent time at the MLB level. The toolsy outfielder might have to wait for a trade to receive regular playing time given the depth around him. If he gets a fair shot, he could challenge to become a 20-20 (homers-steals) player although he’s slowing down as he fills out. His biggest nemesis is the strikeout, which comes from an overly-aggressive approach.
4. Casey Kelly, RHP: Like Liriano above, Kelly missed all of 2013 (and most of 2012 and ’14) due to injury. Simply staying healthy in 2015 would be a significant accomplishment but the athletic right-hander might open the year in Double-A, which could set him up nicely to arrive in the Majors in the second half of the season. There are a lot of question marks surrounding Kelly’s future and just how well he’ll recover his previous talents. Still, he’s an interesting sleeper given the positive pitching environment.
5. Austin Hedges, C: One of the top defensive catchers in the minors, Hedges’ bat has yet to develop as hoped. He rarely walks, struggles with consistent contact and even when he makes contact — it’s usually weak contact. Hedges’ best attribute will be is ability to make his pitchers better and he could get a chance to do that in 2015 — even if he continues to struggle with the bat. Ideally, it would probably be best for the young catcher’s development to stay in the minors all year and the acquisition of Derek Norris take some of the pressure off. However, there is not a ton of depth with just two catchers (Norris and Tim Federowicz) on the 40-man roster.
Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.