Peoria, AZ-- Nathan Culp and Aaron Breit are among those that headline the Fort Wayne Wizards…
This is one of the youngest squads since the Padres have been at Fort Wayne. Do you see that as a permanent direction?
Grady Fuson: Well your direction is always governed by what happened in the draft last year. We took several very polished college players such as (Matt) Antonelli, (Craig) Cooper and (Chad) Huffman who we thought had a lot of ability and they have done nothing to change our minds so we moved them up to Lake Elsinore. Really it just depends what the breakdown of the draft is between college and high school.
Second round pick Kyler Burke has a tremendous amount of talent but struggled last year in the Arizona League. What did he improve on in the Instructional League and in Spring Training to make the Fort Wayne roster?
Grady Fuson: Taking a high school player is always a bit of a risk, but we made it a mission to really work with him in the Instructional Leagues and in Spring Training. We've invested a lot in him and we really like his ability. He had a tremendous camp and we owe it to him and everyone else to see what he can do. Things can change, but he earned his spot in camp and hit the ball as hard and consistently as anyone.
Two of the better pitchers in the organization, Aaron Breit and Drew Miller will be in Fort Wayne this year, what are you looking for each of them to improve?
Grady Fuson: The main thing is getting them out there every fifth day, repeating their delivery and just hitting spots. Really it's what you try to work on with every young pitcher, consistency.
|1B||Daryl Jones||SP||Aaron Breit (RHP)|
|2B||Tom King||SP||Drew Miller (RHP)|
|SS||Jesus Lopez||SP||Andy Underwood (RHP)|
|3b||Rayner Contreras||SP||Orlando Lara (LHP)|
|C||Brian Hernandez||SP||Nathan Culp (LHP)|
|RF||Kyler Burke||RP||Brooks Dunn (LHP)|
|CF||Cedric Hunter||RP||Ernesto Frieri (RHP)|
|LF||Sam Carter||RP||Rolando Valdez (RHP)|
|DH||Jeremy Hunt||Closer||R.J. Rodriguez|
Madfrias.com Top Prospect in Fort Wayne: OF Cedric Hunter (#3)
Pitching: Two of the Padres better pitching prospects Breit, 21, (#13) and Miller, 21, (#19) will be in Fort Wayne this year. Both are tall, lanky and can bring the heat in the low-90s consistently. Breit is the little more polished of the two, while Miller may have the bigger upside. Culp is another one of the seemingly myriad of "finesse" lefties that the Padres have who had varying degrees of success with the Wizards last year. Some of his struggles, as was with Underwood who was shutdown midway through the season in Eugene, were due to fatigue from long college seasons. Lara put together a solid season in Eugene only allowing 37 hits in 47.1 innings while striking out 59 against 14 walks.
The bullpen will have some solid arms in Dunn, Frieri and Valdez – with Dunn a possibility to move into the starting rotation before the season ends. Finally, one of the better free agent signings that the Padres had in 2006 was closer R.J. Rodriguez out of Bethune-Cookman College who led Eugene with 14 saves. He went 2-3 with a 1.78 ERA, allowing only 23 hits and six earned runs in 30.1 innings in Eugene. He fanned 27 against five walks.
Position Players: All discussions about Fort Wayne this year are going to start with Hunter, 19, who rose rapidly up the Padres' prospect charts with a great debut season in Arizona hitting 371/.467/.484 and reaching base safely in his first 48 games. While there is a lot to like, there are still questions that Hunter will have to answer in first full professional season, namely can he play centerfield and how will he fare against the superior competition of the Midwest League, as compared to the second tier draft picks he went against last year. The rest of the team will be very young, featuring Burke, 19, who was the Padres' #2 selection in the 2006 draft but had a bad year in the Arizona League last year, hitting .209/.313/.294. Burke, however, impressed the team enough in the Instructional Leagues and Spring Training to win a spot on the team. If he can put it together he is a legitimate five-tool talent. Carter, 24, and Diaz, 23, will split time in left. Diaz is a solid player, a career .310/.391/.402 hitter, should rotate with Hunter in center and left field and hit leadoff when he is in the lineup. Having a fourth outfielder like Michael Campbell should help - he can play multiple positions as well.
Contreras, 20, hit in the AZL last year, .316/.389/.439 but not in the Midwest League, .105/.150/.105 in 38 ABs. He'll get another chance this year. Jones, 21, returns to Fort Wayne after an up-and-down season and should share time at 1B/DH with Hunt, who had a big year in on the Padres' Championship team in the Arizona League. King, 22, a former batting star in college but struggled last year in Eugene, will be at second with Lopez, 19, one of the better defensive shortstops in the system.
Hernandez, 23, is a solid defensive catcher but is going to have to hit for more than he showed last year in the Arizona League .258/.324/.301.
|Daryl Jones practices his swing in Peoria, AZ during Spring Training.|
Under the Radar: Late round pick first baseman Jeremy Hunt out of Villanova hit well .323/.423/.500, but got stuck behind Craig Cooper in Eugene and played most of the season in Arizona. The Tampa native hit led the Big East Conference in home runs (15) and slugging percentage (.743) while batting .385 with 56 RBIs. Hunt, a former college pitcher, at 6-foot-3, 220-pounds has good size and power and may get some opportunities in the outfield to provide him with some other options besides first base.
Outlook: One of the youngest teams the Padres have ever put in Fort Wayne and potentially one of the most talented. They should get better as the year progresses. Because of their youth, the majority of the team should be together for most of the year and Hunter, Burke, Breit and Miller all have legitimate shots to be in the majors one day.
John can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org