Mini-camp leads off Emeralds 2006 Season

Ernesto Frieri

EUGENE- The Eugene Emeralds, the Padres' single-A short-season affiliate, got an early start to their summer with a five-day mini-camp this past week in Eugene, Oregon. Led by first time manager Doug Dascenzo and the rest of his coaching staff and roving instructors, the team took a crash course on the fundamentals and basics of Padres baseball, before their first game on June 19.

Players returning to the team include first-baseman, Casey Smith, and pitchers, Ben Krosschell and Geoff Vandel. First round pick Matt Antonelli, selected 17th overall in the 2006 amateur draft, arrived on Thursday and leads a host of new players to the team and the organization.

Most of the Emeralds' players, which includes players who spent the spring in Peoria, Arizona, at spring training plus new draftees, arrived in Eugene on Sunday, June 11, giving them time to get settled before the mini-camp started at 10 am the next day. Emeralds manager, Doug Dascenzo, who has been an outfield/base-running instructor for the organization since 1999, had the team practicing outfield throws and cutoffs, bunt coverage, pickoffs, base-running, and hitting throughout the week to get ready for their season.

"It's been great," said Dascenzo, commenting on the mini-camp, which is new for the Emeralds team. "We've been getting the work done."

The camp, which is usually held in Peoria, was held in Eugene for the first time this season to let players get comfortable on their home field, Civic Stadium, and new town.

"It's important to let the players come into town for seven, eight, nine, ten days, rather than having the mini camp somewhere else," said Dascenzo. "It lets the players get a little more comfortable."

Casey Smith, who hit .357 with three homeruns and 18 RBI in July for Peoria last season before being promoted to the Ems, leads a contingent of veterans on the team. But the majority of the team, thirteen of the currently 27-man roster, is from this year's draft class, including pitcher Matt Buschmann, from Vanderbilt University; first baseman Craig Cooper, from Notre Dame; and Antonelli, third baseman out of Wake Forest University.

Vandel and Ernesto Frieri are returning to the mound after a successful 2005 campaign. Frieri went 7-1 in 46.1 innings in Peoria last season with 59 strikeouts, and posted a 1.17 ERA, the best in all of minor league baseball.

Vandel, drafted out of high school in the 34th round of the 2005 draft, started two games for the Ems at the end of the season, posting a 0.90 ERA and striking out 11 in ten innings. Prior to being moved up, he had gone 1-1 in Peoria with a 0.43 ERA in 11 games, striking out 32 in 21 innings.

"It's always great to have a stellar year like that," said Vandel, 19-years old, who spent the off-season in the weight room working on arm strength and endurance. "We look very strong this year, and I just plan on having the best season I can and doing the best with my opportunities."

Antonelli, the Padres' first draft pick of 2006, capped off a very successful collegiate career with an outstanding senior season, hitting .333 with 11 homeruns, 38 RBI, and was named an all-ACC, Atlantic Coast Conference, selection. He was in the ACC top-ten in runs, homeruns, doubles, total bases, walks and slugging percentage.

Another draftee, Kody Valverde, comes off a 2nd team All-SEC selection season for the University of Alabama. He was drafted in the 10th round by the Padres and joined the Ems roster mid-way through the week. Valverde hit .347 with 12 homeruns and 59 RBI in 2006, helping the Crimson Tide to a Super Regionals appearance against North Carolina.

The team leaves for Idaho this Sunday for the season opener, which is part of a five-game series against the Boise Hawks.

"Development brings winning, and learning how to win brings development," said Dascenzo, who will be developing his players for the Padres, as well as trying to put together a successful managerial debut this season.

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