And the next Rymer Liriano is …

I should have just called this ‘Padres Minor League players to watch in 2012’ … though that seems like a boring title, doesn’t it.

At any rate, I had a conversation with Randy Smith, the Padres vice president of player development and international scouting last week. We talked about a number of topics — maybe you saw the post Saturday on the prospect list?

I asked Smith who he thought could take a big leap forward in 2012 — sort of like outfielder Rymer Liriano did in 2011, when he treated the Midwest League like his own personal playground as a 19-year-old who only turned 20 on June 20.

Liriano, of course, is regarded as one of the Padres top prospects (again, it depends on what list you’re looking at … ha!). He’s a pretty dynamic player who will take a crack at Class A Lake Elsinore this season.

So who will be the Rymer Liriano of 2012? I was hoping for a real sleeper, but the main name Smith gave me was one I’ve talked with others about and read plenty about — outfielder Luis Domoromo.

You might remember Domoromo from that ballyhooed class of international prospects the Padres signed in June 0f 2008 when they spent nearly $5 million on four highly-touted Latin American players and an outfielder from Australia. I wrote about it here when it happened.

Domoromo, who turned 20 on Feb. 4, was one of those players, an athletic outfielder who had a bat the Padres were excited about at the time. He actually played alongside Liriano last season in Fort Wayne, compiling a .283/.335/.405 slash line with a .740 OPS in his first full season in the Minor League system where he received more than 400 at-bats.

Domoromo has a little pop (32 extra-base hits) but doesn’t walk much (36 times in 112 games). He’ll make the jump to Lake Elsinore to start the 2012 season where — like Liriano — he’ll be young for that league. At the very least, Liriano and Domoromo are reasons enough to make the short drive to Lake Elsinore this season.

Smith mentioned a few other names that he’ll keep his eye on in 2012:

Pitcher Matt Lollis, who opened some eyes during big league camp in Spring Training last season but struggled in the California League, going 4-8 with a 5.35 ERA in 31 games (19 starts). There’s no denying that Lollis has a big arm (114 strikeouts in 119 1/3 innings). The Padres would like to see him miss more bats in 2012. He won’t turn 22 until September, so he’s still very young.

Pitcher Joe Ross, who like fellow draftee, catcher Austin Hedges, turned down UCLA to start his professional career. “Everyone is excited about Ross,” Smith said. What’s not to like? Ross impressed during the fall instructional league, sitting in the mid-90s with what might be an advanced approach to pitching. It will be interesting to see if Ross is ready to start the season in April with Fort Wayne. That’s a decent sized jump for a pitching essentially just out of high school.

Catcher Austin Hedges. We just mentioned him but the Padres feel good about his chances to begin the season in Fort Wayne, where he’ll be one of the youngest players in the league. Hedges, like Ross, was impressed in instructional league, especially with his handle on the mechanics of catching, handling pitchers, etc. The Padres are also pleasantly surprised with his bat. There might be some struggles offensively at times in the Midwest League for Hedges, but the Padres have no doubt he’ll shine behind the plate. “I’ll be very surprised if he’s not the Opening Day catcher in Fort Wayne,” Smith said.

Pitcher Adys Portillo, like Domoromo, was part of that 2008 international signing class. Portillo struggled mightily as a 19-year-old in the Midwest League with Fort Wayne in 2011, posting a 7.11 ERA in 23 games (20 starts). Still, there’s a lot to like here, like the 10.60 K/9IP rate. Better still, the Padres were very impressed with the way he pitched this winter, going 2-1 with a 4.29 ERA with 23 strikeouts in 21 innings. He could start the season back in Fort Wayne. This guy was clocked as high as 100 mph last season and sat at 94-95 mph this winter with success against veteran hitters, many with Major League experience.

Corey Brock,

Twitter: FollowThePadres

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