Lake Elsinore Storm 2009 season preview

Synopsis: An unusual team for Lake Elsinore in that it will be dominated by pitching as opposed to bats as in the past. Look for solid pitching from the big three of Pelzer, McBryde and Hefner and a few of the talented, yet enigmatic position players, should step up this year.

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

Both Carrasco and Carvajal did some things well and struggled in Fort Wayne last year. What was the main reason for promoting both of them instead of having them repeat the Midwest League?

Grady Fuson: We wanted to give them an opportunity. Sometimes there is a false analysis when comparing hitting in the Midwest League, especially in April and early May to the Cal League, but you know it's also a good test for the young guys. When you look at Carvajal, he is one of our most talented young prospects, and we wanted to keep challenging him. He did a good job in the instructs and camp and he earned his spot; which was also the same thing with Carrasco. Last year, we decided that before we made any decision on what his future would be with the organization we were going to find out what he could do in a more competitive situation and he improved. He hit some home runs in the first half, and, despite the strikeouts, his ability to control the strike zone improved. We'll see how he answers the bell this year. You know we have two quality guys in Fort Wayne [Matt Clark and Allan Dykstra] and we'll find out what we have when summer rolls around. Justin Baum, who had a good year in Fort Wayne, will also be playing some first along with third base. He had an outstanding camp and really seems to have an idea of where he wants to go.

This has to be one of the best staffs you have had for any team since you have been here. What is the biggest difference you see on these five pitchers compared to the pitchers you have had in the past?

Grady Fuson: Across the board, this is the best rotations that we have had in a long time. Everyone one of our starters could be considered a prospect or someone that could help a major league club. Everyone of our starters on the Elsinore squad has stuff, they are all big strong guys who throw hard, especially when you are talking about pitchers like McBryde and Kluber.

Forsythe beat out some pretty good competition for the everyday third baseman job. What did he do to impress the organization in order to win it?

Grady Fuson: I think we have talked about this before, but when we drafted him we always liked him quite a bit. He has a lot of skills and polish to his game to go along with the fact that he is a tremendous competitor. We thought he could handle the jump and also we are trying to find ways to get as many at-bats for all of the players that play similar positions, such as Darnell, Baum, Dykstra and Clark all playing every day. Forsythe has a chance to be a plus defender, controls the zone and has some power potential.

Projected Lineup:

1B Felix Carrasco SP Cory Luebke (LHP)
2B Cole Figueroa SP Wynn Pelzer (RHP) (MF#6)
3B Logan Forsythe SP Jeremy Hefner (RHP)
SS Beamer Weems SP Jeremy McBryde (RHP) (MF #11)
LF Yefri Carvajal SP Corey Kluber (RHP)
CF Brad Chalk RP Bryan Oland (RHP)
RF Danny Payne RP Aaron Breit (RHP)
C Luis Martinez Closer Jackson Quezada (RHP)

Key: MF=Madfriars' Top 20 2009 Prospect Rankings

Notes: 2b/SS Lance Zawadski is currently out with a high ankle sprain and should be rejoining the lineup in a few weeks. Drew Miller has been hurt and has not been available all spring. Mat Latos could join this staff during the season but will start in Fort Wayne after he stretches out.

Catch a Rising Star: Wynn Pelzer. Last year, Pelzer led the Wizards starters with a 3.19 ERA with solid velocity, movement and an improving slider. A ferocious competitor, if his changeup picks up, he could be the ace of a very good staff.

Pitching: Pelzer, McBryde and Hefner will make up the corps of a very solid rotation. If McBryde can learn to throw off-speed more consistenly to go with a very good sinking fastball and slider, he will experience the kind of success that he did in the second half, when he where he had 96 strikeouts over 80.1 innings pitched with only 10 walks. Pelzer is slightly undersized for a pitcher, but is athletic and came back from a severe knee injury to have a very good year. He was considered to have much more talent than his draft status (ninth-round in 2007) indicated. Hefner is the most polished and the kind of pitcher San Diego likes, he pounds the strike zone with a variety of pitches at a variety of speeds. The one difference between Hefner and other Midwest League stars in the past is that his fastball comes in at the low-90s. Kluber and Luebke both struggled at the Diamond last year, but rebounded in Fort Wayne. Quezada came into his own last year leading the organization with saves with 27. The big Dominican has seen his velocity and command improve every year.

Position Players: An unusual line-up that doesn't feature one Madfriars' Top 20 player, but quite a few of them beat out guys that were listed in those spots. Several of these players have a chance to jump into the Top 20 by the end of the year. Despite playing in only 12 games last year, the Padres like what they see in Forsythe, a player they project will be a very athletic third baseman. Outfielder Danny Payne lost last year to hamstring injuries but rebounded with a strong instructional league and spring. When he's on, the former Georgia Tech star has strong strike zone judgment, emerging power and can hit anywhere in the lineup. Brad Chalk is one of the Padres top defensive center fielders and the speedy ex-Clemson star makes any ball hit on the left side a close play. The big question for him will be his ability to drive – not slap the ball. Both Carrasco and Carvajal had their moments last year in Fort Wayne, but both need to put up some numbers with the talent the organization has coming up. Figueroa had a solid year in Eugene, and although he will play some short, profiles much more as a second baseman. Weems is the best defensive shortstop in the organization, but didn't hit at all in Eugene (.186). Zawadski, when he gets healthy, could be a sleeper. In the second half, he was Fort Wayne's best offensive player.

On the Spot: Felix Carrasco. Last year he hit .258/.319/.493 with 25 extra-base hits in the first half and in the second batted .212/.359/.296 with seven extra-base hits in 219 plate appearances. With big time college sluggers Allan Dykstra and Matt Clark behind him in Fort Wayne, and with Justin Baum, who was one of the better offensive players on last year's Wizard's team, he won't have that luxury of consistent at-bats if he doesn't perform.

Under the Radar: Jeremy Hefner. In two years with the organization, Jeremy Hefner has arguably been the best pitcher on each team he has been on, if not one of the best in the league. Over the winter, he has developed a solid curveball to go along with a hard sinking fastball and a very good changeup. There are other pitchers that will enter with more hype, but Hefner is hard man to bet against.

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