San Antonio Missions 2007 season preview

Synopsis: Some good talent from with third baseman Chase Headley and outfielder Will Venable and a few of the pitchers that could eventually develop into back of the rotation starters.

Three Strikes with Grady Fuson /Padres Vice-President of Scouting and Development:

First what was the reasoning behind skipping Will Venable past Lake Elsinore and straight to San Antonio? Secondly where is he going to play this year? Many people believe his lack of arm strength only allows him to play LF?

Grady Fuson: I had him penciled into LE, and if he got off to a really good start then mid-season in San Antonio. We invited him to big league camp because he was our Minor League Player of the Year (MadFriars.com's too) and he really showed us something with his maturity and approach. I still think he's a year away from learning how to turn on ball. This year I want to put him in the middle of the field as much as possible. He has the instincts to play there and will be a better outfielder in the long run for it, so he's going to split time in centerfield with Macias. His approach is solid and he really understands what he is doing and what we expect him to do.

Sean Thompson had a good year in the Southern League last year, why is he back in Double-A?

Grady Fuson: Primarily because of numbers and depth and he didn't have a great big league camp. To us it was a sign of where he was at and he struggled a little with his fastball command. I don't expect Sean to be there all year and we want to put him in a position to succeed. He's been very mature and has really went about his business very well and understands what he needs to do. He's still pretty young and has a lot of ability.

Will the bullpen come together in San Antonio?

Grady Fuson: It's a very veteran bullpen with a couple of young guys Jamison and Ellis in the back. We also are going to have Frank Brooks, Paul Abraham and Roger Deago, whose done just about everything for us at one point in time for us.

Projected Lineup

PositionPlayerPositionPlayer
1B Michael Johnson SP Mike Ekstrom (RHP)
2B Sean Kazmar SP Sean Thompson (LHP)
SS Juan Ciriaco SP Jose Oyervidez (RHP)
3B Chase Headley SP Cesar Ramos (LHP)
C Nick Hundley SP Josh Geer (RHP)
RF Will Venable RP Frank Brooks (LHP)
CF Drew Macias RP Roger Deago (LHP)
LF Peter Ciofrone RP Jon Ellis (RHP)
DH Tim Brown Closer Neil Jamison (RHP)

Madfriars.com Top Prospect – 3B Chase Headley (#4)

Pitching: Ekstrom, 24, Thompson, 24, and Ramos, 23, are all potential candidates for a back of the rotation slots with the big club. None of them have the overpowering fastballs, but all have been effective in the lower minors and have plus pitches other than fastballs.

Ekstrom, an undersized right-handed pitcher, reminds some within the organization of Clay Hensley in the way that he consistently keeps everything down in the zone with an especially tough sinker. He struggled some after being promoted to Double-A last year and lacked run support like every pitcher in Mobile but should bounce back with better support. It's a bit of a mystery why Thompson returned to Double-A after leading the organization with 134 strikeouts in 154 innings and a nearly 3-to-1 K/BB ratio. He relies on a very good curveball and changeup but needs to hits spots down with his fastball to be effective. Ramos, a supplemental first round pick in the 2006 draft, is somewhat like Thompson in that he pitches backwards, his best pitches are a changeup, curveball and cutter. Where he isn't like Thompson is that he got hit quite a bit more in Lake Elsinore allowing 161 hits in 141 innings, but he can bring his heater a little more consistently.

Oyervidez, 25, finished second in the organization in strikeouts with 131 and nearly threw as many innings as Thompson, 149 in Mobile last year. His strikeout to base-on-balls ratio, however, was lacking – 131-to-75. He has all the pitches; it's just a question of controlling his walks. Geer, 23, a right-handed pitcher from Rice University, is another pitcher without dominating "stuff" but seems to find a way to win. He throws four pitches, all down in the zone, fastball, curveball, changeup and slider in the 86-90 mph range.

The Missions will have two experienced relief pitchers in Brooks, 28, and the venerable Deago, 28, (hey, my wife enjoys inventing dates about her age too) to get the ball to Jamison, 23. Jamison, whose 34 saves led the organization, throws everything down and has great movement on his pitches.

"He has a fastball that sinks and a slider that he locates," Padres' scouting director Bill "Chief" Gayton said. "He does not have real big velocity but has good tilt to his slider and a fastball."

Position Players: Headley, 23, will lead the position players. The switch-hitting third baseman led the Storm in hits and was in the top three in nearly every other offensive category with the team, finishing second in OPS at .823. The two knocks on Headley last year was a rather low slugging percentage for the California League (.434) and he struggled as a right-handed batter, hitting only .111. He's put on 10 pounds from last season and was driving the ball much better in the spring and has really worked to improve from the right side. Johnson, 27, has always put up good numbers when he's been healthy; the problem is he hasn't been healthy for prolonged amount of times anytime in his professional career. Kazmar, 22, has as much talent as anyone in the organization but has been plagued by inconsistency, but had a big August for the Storm, leading the team in RBIs and tying for second in extra base hits. For the past two years he's finished strong, he's had a very good spring and this could be the year he puts it together for the full year. Ciriaco, 23, will return for his second trip to Double-A after hitting .222 in Mobile last year.

Venable, 24, will lead the outfield after a breakout year in Fort Wayne, finishing second in the league in batting average (.314), RBIs (91) and fourth in doubles (34) and total bases (225). Venable showed good control of the strike zone – a BB/K ratio (55/81) – but is going to need to hit for a little more power and show that he can play centerfield. Macias, 24, is one of the more talented outfielders in the Padres system, but struggled at the plate, hitting .256/.334/.365 in Mobile after a hot start. Ciofrone, 23 can hit, but doesn't really have enough power to project as a major league outfielder but has enough to earn regular playing time after posting a 292/.396/.426 mark in Lake Elsinore.

Nick Hundley, 23, caught a bit of break when Colt Morton went down with a torn labium, which helped him escape a return to Lake Elsinore. Hundley, who is the Padres best catching prospect, had an up and down season with the bat in 2006 possibly putting a little too much pressure on himself. When he's on he's going to draw a decent amount of walks with some pop. Defensively, he has all the tools to be a quality major league backstop but struggled last year with his footwork but seems to have corrected the problems in spring training.

On the Spot: Michael Johnson was given a good chunk of cash out of the draft in 2003 and has the type of bat the Padres like when he's healthy, patience and power. If he can produce look for him to move up to Portland by mid-season. If he's not, it could be his last year in the Padres' organization.

Under the Radar: Sean Kazmar has as much talent as any infielder in the system. He has range and surprising power for someone his size, it's just a question of doing it on a consistent basis.

Outlook: A good farm team with several players who may help future Padres teams. Not really any future stars, although Venable has a chance given his learning curve, but some very solid players who will field a much better Double-A team than we saw last year.

John can be reached at conniff@sandiegosports.net

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