Portland Beavers 2009 Season Preview

Chad Huffman

Synopsis: There will be many familiar faces, especially on the mound, and one very big new one in Kyle Blanks. Look for rebound years from Matt Antonelli and Chad Huffman as the 2009 Portland team could be pretty good. However with the current state of the parent club many of these guys won't be here for long.

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

What type of improvement do you expect to see from LeBlanc, Geer and Ramos this year?

Grady Fuson: I'm hoping this is the year they put it all together. Back-to-back games, back-to-back innings, fastball command, changing speeds; really develop into major league pitchers. I expect all of them to surface in San Diego sometime this year. So much of what all three of them are trying to do is having command and confidence in throwing their fastballs.

A big candidate for a breakout year is Huffman who, despite having an off year in San Antonio, finished in the Top 10 in doubles. Do you think he has the potential to hit for enough power to become a major league corner outfielder?

Grady Fuson: Without a doubt. Right now, it's mainly just a question of how many holes in his swing we can get cleaned up. Chad is not going to be the type of hitter that wins batting titles, but he is the type of hitter that is going to get on base, drive the ball and do quite a few things to help a team win. This year, he's made some adjustments, particularly on his ability to handle the breaking ball and go the other way. We're hoping this year we see more of the player we saw in the first half of the season in Lake Elsinore in 2007.

Who do you think could surprise people on this year's squad?

Grady Fuson: Probably the guy we were just talking about. Going into Double-A in San Antonio in 2007, he was held in pretty high regard, and he kind of stumbled a little there. He did some things well in San Antonio, but I'm pretty sure he would be the first one to tell you that he wasn't satisfied with his performance. He continues to make improvements at the plate and in the field and he could put some numbers in Portland.

Projected Lineup:

1B Kyle Blanks (MF # 3) SP Wade LeBlanc (LHP) (MF #12)
2B Matt Antonelli* (MF #8) SP Josh Geer (RHP) (MF#20)
3B Peter Ciofrone SP Cesar Ramos (LHP)
SS Sean Kazmar SP Matt Buschmann (RHP)
LF Chad Huffman (MF#7) SP Josh Banks (RHP)
CF/RF Drew Macias RP Gabe DeHoyos (RHP)
RF/CF Will Venable (MF#13) RP Arturo Lopez (LHP)
C Jose Lobaton Closer Greg Burke (RHP)

Key: MF=Madfriars' Top 20 2009 Prospect Rankings

Notes: Antonelli is having knee problems and the team does not know how long he will be kept out for. He will be replaced by Brett Dowdy, Craig Stansberry or Kevin Howard, all of whom will be on the Portland team in a utility capacity.

Catch a Rising Star: Kyle Blanks. Easily the most discussed Padres' prospect not only because of his enormous size, 6-foot-6, 285-pounds, but also because of his power potential and questions about where San Diego will put him with Adrian Gonzalez at first base. The Padres plan to have him take some balls in left field, and he could do some serious damage in the hitter friendly PCL.

Pitching: If you liked them last year, the main guys will all be back. LeBlanc's main problem is command and confidence in his two-seam fastball, a pitch he will have to throw the majority of the time in the majors to set up his plus changeup. If he can do that, he will become an effective major league pitcher. Geer was very impressive in September, but this spring there were doubts about how healthy his arm is because of the loss of velocity- something he doesn't have much to lose. Ramos may have the most talent of the three, but needs to miss more bats and keep the ball down; although he did have the best spring of the three. Buschmann is somewhat similar to Josh Geer and may be the sleeper on the staff with his hard sinker, solid slider, and developing change. Closer Burke took a giant step forward and was second in the organization in saves last year.

Position Players: This should be a pretty good and balanced lineup. The infield will be solid with Blanks, and Peter Ciofrone – one of the top players on the Beavers last year. An athletic double-play combination in Kazmar and Antonelli adds to the mix. Blanks had his best year in 2008 and could put some big time power numbers, but people will be more interested to see how much time he logs in the outfield. Kazmar got his first taste of the big leagues last year and has continued to improve at the plate, embracing the organization's mantra of waiting for his pitch. The outfield will be playing with two center fielders in Macias and Venable with Huffman an underrated defensive player. Venable had a solid 2008 in Portland and played well in San Diego during his September call-up. The Padres wanted him to continue his development by having him play every day and if he is still in Portland by July it will surprise everyone. Macias begins the year in San Diego while Cliff Floyd is on the disabled list. Emil Brown will take his place to begin the year.

On the Spot: Matt Antonelli. Antonelli not only had a bad year, with the exception of his last month in Portland, but he had a bad spring training in 2008, a bad AFL and his last month in San Antonio in 2007 wasn't that pretty either. The good news is that he looked much this spring and the athleticism is still there. Hopefully his knee injury at the end of spring training won't set him too far back.

Under the Radar: Drew Macias/Chad Huffman: Macias can play all three outfield positions and is the best defensive outfielder in the Padres' organization, period. The big improvement in his game has been at the plate where a more patient approach at the plate has generated more walks and a spike in his power numbers. PGE park favors left-handed hitters and he could put up his best numbers yet. Huffman's problems at home last year versus the road have been well documented and in a more neutral environment he could produce the way he did in Lake Elsinore in 2007 where he hit .307/.402/.522.

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