Spring Training 2012 - Final Notes

McElroy is proving the "haters" wrong

PEORIA, AZ: One of the toughest parts of Padres' Director of Development Randy Smith's job is to find playing time for his top thirty-two position players and top twenty starting pitchers across four different levels of competition.

Frequently you can have too many players at one level and too few at others. Injuries and some solid performances in the spring should help round out the rosters for the T-Padres, Missions, Storm and TinCaps by April 1.

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On Monday SP/RHP Joe Ross took the mound against the Kansas City Royals Low-A team and looked every bit as good as advertised. Over three innings Ross' fastball sat between 91-94 MPH and touched 96.

Ross struck out the Royals' Bubba Starling, one of the top picks in the 2011 draft twice; once on a slider and the other going up the ladder with a four-seam fastball.

Right now he looks like the top pitcher going to Fort Wayne.

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Despite Kevin Goldstein's draft day assessment, 2B Casey McElroy, may be the best hitter going to the TinCaps. The former Auburn Tiger has a unique ability to put the barrel of the bat consistently on the ball and drive it.In the three games that I saw he rarely missed driving the ball hard somewhere

He doesn't have great range, but can catch about anything that he can get his hands on to go along with the ability to fill-in at shortstop.

This off-season the organization toyed with idea of making him into a catcher, even sending McElroy to the Dominican Republic to learn the position. But with top pick Austin Hedges headed to Fort Wayne and a good battle for the back-up position between Matt Colantonio and Robert Kral for the back-up, there is more room at second than behind the plate.

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MLB.com's Corey Brock is reporting that the organization will start Keyvius Sampson in AA San Antonio, as opposed to High-A Lake Elsinore.

This is going to come as a surprise to Sampson who on Monday was talking about trying to stay away from the In-N-Out Burger just off of the exit to the Diamond, but Brock has pretty good connections and is an accurate reporter.

The move up of Sampson is reflective of the Padres' strength in pitching at the AAA and low-A levels but also of the paucity of talent at the AA and High-A levels. Last season the Storm and TinCaps staff had a few good starters but their success relied upon strong bullpens as opposed to dominant starting staffs.

In the same piece it's mentioned that Erlin may start the year in San Antonio, instead of Tucson, and a few starters from the Eugene team last season should toe the rubber for the Storm in 2012. SP/RHP Matt Andriese, who was the MadFriars' Pitcher of the Year in Eugene, is one of the candidates to fill one of those spots.

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Skipping High-A is rare and in recent years the only two top prospects that they have moved in this manner have had so-so results.

The success story is with Will Venable, the Padres' starting right fielder. In 2007, after a big year in Fort Wayne, the Padres promoted Will Venable to San Antonio partly to accelerate the development process because of his age, he was 24 at the time, where he hit .278/.337/.373.

While Venable did struggle in AA it paid off the next year as he had his best year in AAA Portland hitting .292/.361/.464 before being called up to San Diego.

The one that didn't work was with pitcher Travis Chick, whom after going 5-0 with a 2.13 ERA in Fort Wayne in 2004 the Padres took a gamble and sent him to their then AA Southern League affiliate Mobile where he was shelled [2-9 5.27 ERA in a pitcher's league] before being traded with Justin Germano for Joe Randa.

Chick, a lanky 6'3" righty, had a big fastball but his change-up wasn't consistent and he couldn't throw his slider for strikes. In the Midwest Leagues batters would chase his slider, at AA they made him throw it for strikes which he couldn't.

The result was a one pitch pitcher and that doesn't work at higher levels.

The difference between Sampson and Chick is that Sampson has probably as good a fastball as Chick, with a little more deception, and a much better change-up which was the reason for his stellar performance last year.

This spring Smith and the rest of his staff must have seen the improvement of Sampson's curve, which Keyvius believes will be on par with his fastball and change, or they wouldn't be sending him to AA.

Still, it is a very big jump.

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Edison Rincon's bat is punching his ticket to AA San Antonio; the real question is wether his glove will come along for the ride. The organization has worked with him extensively in left field as a way to get both him and Jedd Gyorko in the lineup everyday in a league where most teams don't use the DH. [When two National League affiliates play each other the DH is not in use].

Rincon is one of the harder working and more intelligent prospects in the system but the swirling winds of Nelson Wolff Stadium is not the best place in the world to learn how to play the outfield.

However he hit .329 in Lake Elsinore in 2011 and has looked very good this spring at the plate. If he can find a defensive position, he's someone to watch.

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1b/DH Cody Decker who looked like he was going to set the Texas League record for home runs in April before injuries slowed him down is back and looks better than ever. The Padres have been working Decker at third and left in addition to first.

Decker, one of the few baseball players who openly express his love for performing in musical theatre, is not only one of the better power prospects in the organization but also puts out an entertaining blog.

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1b/3b Connor Powers legged out a triple in the High-A Game and looks like he is going to pick up where he left off last year in Fort Wayne where he hit .338 with power. He came to camp in great shape and, like Cody Decker, can also play third and left.

Editor's Note

My colleague Ben Davey pointed out that the Padres also skipped Simon Castro from Fort Wayne to San Antonio in 2010.

While the results for Simon were pretty good that year - a 2.92 ERA and 107 strikeouts in 129.2 innings - he obviously didn't develop into the pitcher that they thought he would be by falling flat in 2011 and eventually traded this off-season.

Did skipping a level hurt him? It's hard to say because Castro's problem were more mechanical after being injured early in the season. When his mechanics were off in Tucson, he couldn't throw his slider or change and became a one pitch pitcher.

In a nutshell, it is a big jump for Sampson but right now he has two plus pitches; his four-seam fastball and changeup, which is much more than Chick had in 2005 or Castro in 2011.

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