The first thing you notice about the second half version of the TinCaps is that this seems to be the type of team that the organization wants to develop on the big league level; good pitching, sound defensively and they can really run. The regular lineup features four players that would probably be leadoff hitters on any other squad – 3b Chris Bisson, 2b Cory Spangenberg, SS B.J. Guinn and CF Rico Noel, who is the leadoff man.
Although all of them have stolen over twenty bases this year any time a ball is hit to the left side of the infield it better be a smooth transition by the opposing shortstop or third baseman or one of these guys is standing on first.
Throw in the fact that the main power hitter Rymer Liriano led the team with 65 stolen bases this year, and it's an interesting team.
1b Connor Powers is one of the best stories in the Padres' organization this year. After a so-so season in Eugene in 2010 he went home and lost twenty-five pounds and came back shedding his "aluminum bat swing."
Even though he didn't make the team out of spring training the extra time in Extended Spring turned out to be a benefit as it gave him time to incorporate his new swing into game situations without having to worry about the results.
Once he did have to be aware of the results it ended up being a .338/.422/.538 line.
RHP Keyvius Sampson has been the best pitcher in Fort Wayne this year if not in the entire organization. Since being drafted in 2009 he has put on thirty pounds going from 185 to 215, with the weight mainly in his legs and shoulders. Sampson relies on his ability to command a four-seam fastball up and down the zone which is offset by a much improved change-up.
As he advances he probably will have to get better with his curve and add a two-seamer to his arsenal, but there is a lot to like for someone who won't turn 21 until January.
The big question everyone has asked me is how does Cory Spangenberg look defensively? The quick answer is good, but there can be some improvement. First he has exceptional quickness and is very athletic. Once he learns more of the nuances of second base, which I suspect are going to be hammered into him at the Instructs and in Spring Training, he should be very good.
Offensively, this is the real thing. He can hit – to all fields, play small ball and has some pop. On the hard surfaces of the Cal League, he and most of his teammates on the TinCaps should put up some serious numbers in 2012.
Of all the selections in the 2011 draft we may see relief pitcher RHP Kevin Quakenbush first in San Diego. The former South Florida Bull throws hard, throws down in the zone and throws strikes. In August he nearly struck out two batters an inning and Fort Wayne manager Shawn Wooten believes that Quakenbush posses the perfect demeanor for a closer, works fast with a short memory.
For years the Padres, especially Randy Smith, the Padres' Director of Player Development and International Scouting, have always believed the Rymer Liriano is one of the few five tool players in the Padres' system – and to be fair not a whole lot of organizations are chalk full of them.
At 6' 220 lbs. he is a very strong player whom the groundskeeper before one of the final games asked if he could put a little more loft in his swing because his line drives were hurting the outfield walls.
Liriano has amazing tools but is still very much a work in progress from the outfield routes he takes, to when he attempts to steal a base to the pitches he swings at. However he has come a very long way in harnessing his immense athletic ability into a truly exciting baseball skill set.
Shawn Wooten, whom managed him last year in Eugene, believes that his biggest improvement has been his day to day approach to the game – of not getting to down on himself and working to improve at every at-bat.
An interesting sleeper candidate may be centerfielder Rico Noel who was much better in the second half (.277/.357/.349) than in the first half (.186/.313/.340). Noel struggled up in Lake Elsinore to find his swing but has performer fairly well since coming down to Fort Wayne and is one of the better defensive outfielders in the league.
On a team of burners, he may be the fastest and is every bit as athletic as anyone. However his biggest advantage maybe his baseball intelligence. This year he has stolen fifty bases in fifty –four attempts. Wooten frequently has Noel work with players on understanding when to run and what to look for in a pitcher.
His big goal right needs to be a little better understanding of the strike zone and maybe to get stronger to stretch some of the singles into doubles. He's someone to watch.