The talk of the minor league camp has been the strong performance of SP/RHP Joe Ross, one of the Padres’ two first round picks in 2011 [editor’s note, San Diego had two first round draft picks and three supplemental first round picks in 2011].
Only 19 and less than a year removed from Bisho O’Dowd High School in the Bay Area, he seems to have a pretty good chance to break with the Fort Wayne club to begin the season; which is highly unusual for an organization that treads very carefully with young arms.
In camp he’s showed plus fastball command, an improving slider and has easily been the best pitcher that has been with the low-A team.
Along with Ross, catcher Austin Hedges appears to be ticketed for low-A in Fort Wayne. Hedges is the top of a talented catching depth chart for low-A and appears to be all that has been advertised defensively. The big surprise is that he doesn’t seem to be overmatched at the plate despite pre-draft concerns about his bat.
Physically Hedges is a much bigger person up close than he appears to be from the stands.
CF Rico Noel, who stole 50 bases in 54 attempts is being converted into a switch-hitter. At 23, he is a little old for the conversion, but Noel is a superior athlete who was recruited in both football and baseball in high school. So far the change seems to be working and if it takes his value could increase substantially.
At his best Noel is a similar player to the Phillies’ Shane Victorino, who was also introduced to switch-hitting in the minor leagues.
He is slated to be the starting center fielder in Lake Elsinore this year.
On Friday RHP/SP Adys Portillo got the start in the low-A game and while he did flash plus velocity his command, as was the case last year in Fort Wayne, still wasn’t there. The Padres still believe in Portillo’s high ceiling, he was the MVP on the pitching side of the Instructs this fall, but right now his lack of consistency is stifling his progress.
Because of the depth at catcher, the organization has moved Casey McElroy back to second base. In the off-season the Padres tried to convert the former Auburn Tiger but with the amount of depth at the position they decided to let the left-handed hitting McElroy stay at second.
Last year for the Emeralds McElroy hit .301/.381/.466 and is slated to start the year at second base for the TinCaps.
In the second half of last year in Eugene, SS Jace Peterson improved as much as anyone. The first round supplemental pick out of McNeese State split time between football and baseball and his athleticsm intrigued the Padres enough to make him a high pick.
So far this spring the left-handed hitting Peterson has shown good power but is still feeling his way defensively at short. The organization believes Peterson has just brushed the tip of his talent so far and right now just needs more repetitions and games to begin to tap into it.
2b Corey Spangenberg has looked every bit the player he showed last year in Eugene and Fort Wayne. The one noticeable difference is that he looks much more comfortable defensively at second than he did last year.
LF Jaff Decker, who was written of by some after a few bad months in San Antonio, has been one of the best players in camp and was only sent down today to the minor leagues. Decker was hitting .263/.391/.553 with the big club and may have earned a spot in AAA Tucson with the injuries at the big league level.
His coaches believe Decker’s success is due to a more aggressive approach at the plate, attempting to put the ball in play more instead of waiting for the perfect pitch. Expect too see his batting average climb this year whether he is in Tucson or San Antonio.
SP/RHP Keyvius Sampson is hardly recognizable from the slight 185 lbs. draftee he was in 2009. He now weighs in at a solid 225 lbs. and was joking that the equipment man now has to give him much bigger shirts.
Sampson, the MadFriars’ Pitcher of the Year in 2011 with the Fort Wayne TinCaps, said the biggest aspect of his game he was seeking to improve was his curve ball.