Three Strikes with Grady Fuson /Padres Vice-President of Scouting and Development:
A few of your top picks are still unsigned. Do you foresee and problems with any potential extended holdouts?
Grady Fuson: No, none at all with the exception of some of the players that we drafted after the 9th round. We knew those guys were going to take awhile if we are able to sign them at all.
Two guys that we’ve heard a lot about coming into this year are Mat Latos and Jeremy McBryde. How are both of them looking right now and was there much rust on them since their seasons ended over a month ago?
Grady Fuson: No, we really haven’t seen any rust on them that is what mini-camps are for. Right now everything is a go and they’re ready to be in the rotation.
Last year you had some hitters, who didn’t have that much publicity going into the year, which really tore it up in Eugene - such as David Freese and Craig Cooper. Anyone this year on Eugene’s roster you believe has a similar chance this year?
Grady Fuson: I think Kulbacki and Payne have a chance to do that for us this year. Payne has an opportunity to be in center field for us and he’s very gifted with his discipline and patience at the plate. He had a ton of walks at Georgia Tech to go along with some gap power. We’re just going to play it out, we’ve given Greg Riddoch a free hand to put what he thinks is the best team out on the field and we’ll just go from there.
As opposed to our other pre-season previews this is the team that we believe Eugene will eventually have once everyone is signed and makes their way to Track Town, USA. Until then we will see quite a bit of movement between the Arizona League and Eugene.
Madfrias.com Top Prospect in Eugene: Mat Latos: He’s 6-foot-6, 220 lbs. and is armed with a live fastball that consistently sits in the mid-90’s and could become a number one starter at the major league level. There simply isn’t any other pitcher in the Padres’ organization with as much potential.
Pitching: The Padres have a different system for pitching in Eugene in that they keep very strict and limited pitch counts for the first half of the season until everyone is stretched out. So you will frequently see the team listing two starters for a given night, which is why we didn’t differentiate between starters and relievers at this point.
All discussions will begin and end with Latos, 19, but Nick Schmidt, 21, the number one selection of the Padres this year, profiles as more than another crafty lefty that can change speeds. At 6-foot-5, 230-pounds Schmidt is the University of Arkansas’ all-time leader in strikeouts with 345 in 340.1 innings pitched. The only downside for Ems fans is that he has already pitched 124 innings this year, so the team is going to be extremely careful with him. Cory Luebke, 22, is the other left-hander that the Padres selected out of Ohio State in the supplemental first round. A very good athlete, the 6-foot-4, 200-pounds Luebke was an all-state basketball player in Ohio in addition to excelling in baseball. He doesn’t have the greatest velocity on an 88-91 MPH fastball, but he places it well and throws an effective slider. Jeremy McBryde, 20, was the other draft-and-follow selection by the Padres out of Rose City JC in Oklahoma. McBryde who had been drafted by the Padres in 2005 and 2006 is described as a power pitcher at 6-foot-2, 195-pounds. Australian John Hussey, 20, had a good year at Arizona last year but has struggled with Fort Wayne in 2007. Also keep an eye of fifth-round pick Jeremy Hefner from Oral Roberts, who was a teammate of top Padres prospect and former Emerald Drew Miller in junior college. He throw a fastball in the low-90s has a good slider and change in a 6-foot-5, 200-pounds frame.
Position Players: Once everyone finishes with their college commitments and is signed, the Emeralds should feature a pretty good lineup of college hitters, the best probably being either outfielder Kellen Kulbacki, second baseman Eric Sogard or hometown favorite, catcher, Mitch Canham. Kulbacki, 21, put up some staggering college numbers for both power and patience, the watch words of the Padres’ organization, and packs a pretty big wallop in a relatively small package, 5-foot-11, 200-pounds. Canham, 22, is a left-handed hitting catcher out of Oregon State and is renowned for his leadership skills, but there are a few questions about his defense. Sogard, 21, another left-handed hitter out of Arizona State University, put up some very good numbers .400/.490/.616, and many believe he is one of the better all-around hitting infielders in the draft. What is interesting about all three players is that nearly everyone believes that they will hit; the question is do they have the ability to stay at their positions defensively?
Danny Payne, 21, hit .370/.512/.543 for Georgia Tech. He is a center field prospect that can cover a great deal of territory along with having a strong arm. This year, Payne saw some action as the Yellow Jackets closer with 15 appearances. He should split time with Luis Durango, 21, who had a big year in the Arizona League Padres hitting .378/.470/.438 and stole 17 bases in 23 attempts. He could develop into one of the organization’s top leadoff hitters, but his defense is going to have to pick up in the outfield.
On the Spot: Kellen Kulbacki He put up some big numbers at James Madison this year, .398/.538/.785 and that was an off year from his junior season .464/.568/.943. Some question if the Padres selected Kulbacki a little too high because he profiles more as DH because of his sub par defense. Depending on whom you listen too or read, he is either the second coming of Nick Swisher or Jack Cust. So far, Grady Fuson has a pretty good track record on selecting college hitters; this could be his next one.
Under the Radar: Jeremy McBryde was treated as an afterthought by some in the media with the signing of Latos, but McBryde could become a pretty good pitcher as well. Although a 4-5 record with a 4.09 ERA aren’t going to set many hearts aflutter, his peripheral statistics were very good 76 IP/65 hits and an 82/22 K/BB ratio.
Outlook: On paper this could be one of the best teams in the Northwest League, but a lot is going to depend on when many of these players sign and how much energy many have after a long college season.
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