Lezcano on Lake Elsinore Storm prospects

Mike Baxter

One win shy of a championship does not diminish the talent that came through the San Diego Padres High-A Lake Elsinore Storm affiliate. Chad Huffman's clutch hits, Sean Kazmar's defense, Seth Johnston's consistency, Mike Baxter's second half, Joe Lobaton's game-calling, Manny Ayala's dominance, Matt Buschmann's resurgence, Steve Garrison's solid work, and the bullpen...

Chad Huffman had a great year for you before eventually being promoted. What did you see out of Huffman that made him so successful?

Carlos Lezcano: This guy used to be a second baseman and went to the outfield and did a good job. He was improving on jumps and routes and his throwing got better. Throwing a baseball on a swivel is not the same thing and he was getting better and better.

Hitting – he is a little bit of a streaky hitter but this guy can hit good pitching. We faced some guys that were very, very tough and this guy hit them pretty good.

There is a lot of hitters who kill the average pitching but struggle with the good pitching. This kid can hit good pitching – and easily.

Sean Kazmar regained his confidence after coming back down. More impressive, perhaps, was his fielding.

Carlos Lezcano: He mainly played second base. When Ciriaco got hurt, I put him at short. Ciriaco hurt his lower back and I put him at short. After three or four games there he got used to it and made some outstanding plays. He is has a good arm and plays good defense.

He handled the middle of the plate in very well. He needs to work on the middle-away and hitting the ball to right-center. He has been doing that and working on that. He got better towards the end. I think that is the reason he struggled at Double-A – because the middle-outside of the plate was hurting him. He improved on that.

He can really play short and could be a utility guy some day that can play short and second and third. To be a utility guy, you have to be able to play shortstop. There are no utility players in the big leagues that can't play short. He could be a good utility player at the higher levels.

Seth Johnston played a variety of roles for you. What made you believe he could be successful in the utility player role?

Carlos Lezcano: Seth has a good bat. He is a very good two-strike hitter. Defensively, he can play short and second and third. He has good potential with the bat.

Mike Baxter made significant improvements throughout the year. How did you and Max get him on track?

Carlos Lezcano: This kid is a true professional. He works hard every single day. I was not surprised to see him improve because of his work ethic – an outstanding work ethic.

He keeps a book on pitchers religiously. He has that book out everyday. He is a very consistent guy. If you want to learn more in this game you have to be that way. You can't be up or down – he is even-keel and comes to work everyday earlier. To me, he was the hardest worker. You knew he was going to give you 100 percent every day.

He has a nice swing. This kid is going to hit. He has a very pretty swing. At times he gets a little bit late starting and that hurts him a little. Everything together, he did a great job because of his ability and hard work.

He is also learning the outfield and did a nice job in left field and in right field. He needs to work a little on his jumps.

Jose Lobaton quietly had a good year. Were you happy with how he handled the pitching staff?

Carlos Lezcano: Absolutely. The pitchers loved throwing to him. He hit .260 with 10 homeruns. The guy can catch and throw. He is only 22 years old, a switch-hitter with some pop from both sides. Very pleased. He showed what he can do in the first time he got a chance to play everyday.

Manny Ayala had another dynamite year and battled some of the best in the game, losing 1-0 to Colon in the opener. What is it about Ayala that enables him to have success?

Carlos Lezcano: He was outstanding. He ended up with 11 wins and was money. He competed and was consistent all year long.

He had some kind of shoulder injury at the end, something minor, but he was a true pitcher for us. He was money.

There was no one who improved as much and was as consistent as Matt Buschmann. What changed from the start of the year until the end?

Carlos Lezcano: I think he struggled a little bit early with mechanics and was throwing to much across his body. When he got his fastball back and used his fastball more to get hitters out – that made him more aggressive. For the last three months he was outstanding.

He also works hard and has a great work ethic. A tall kid with a nice physique. He had a little sore elbow at the end and we shut him down. That hurt us in the playoffs not having him.

Steve Garrison is a relative newcomer but impressed. What can you tell us about him?

Carlos Lezcano: He reminded me of Mike Hampton a little bit with his sink and the way he throws. He is a finesse type guy who is not going to blow you away, but he keeps the ball down and has good command of the slider and the changeup down in the zone – he is going to get some people out. I think he was a little tired at the end.

I think we have a good one here. This guy can pitch.

Our starters at the end needed those four days in between to get their strength back.

Were you a little disappointed in your own bullpen throughout the year?

Carlos Lezcano: Well, no. The seventh and eighth inning early in the year was kind of a question mark. No I am not. Those guys worked hard and gave me the best they had. That is all I could ask. We never had a closer per say, all year long. All the guys in there worked their butts off and gave me all they had. To me, they did a good job.

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