San Antonio Missions 2009 Season Preview

Synopsis: Outfielders Cedric Hunter and Kellen Kulbacki are two of the brighter stars in the Padres organization and a few others could emerge by the end of the year, but there could be some questions about the Missions' defense. On the mound both Cesar Carrillo and Will Inman will look rebound and turn their potential into performance.

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

Before he got hurt in 2007, Carrillo was pretty close to the majors. How far back is he and what has changed, if anything, from how he pitched before?

Grady Fuson: The whole injury has brought some awareness to him on how he pitches; not taking his side work as seriously as he should, the violence of his delivery, pitching versus throwing and so on. It's still not two years complete since he's had the Tommy John surgery, but he did have some good starts in Lake Elsinore last year and the Arizona Fall League. He didn't have a good MLB camp, but he dominated in his last start, the exhibition game with the big club. We've put him in a safe place where he will have some time to perform and not throwing him to the wolves in Portland. I think with some time he will come around, but he needs to develop more of a sense of urgency and begin to pitch with a little more aggression.

What type of improvement do you expect to see from Hunter this year? Specifically, do you expect him to become a more patient hitter and drive more balls into the gaps?

Grady Fuson: Cedric is a patient hitter; it just doesn't show up when you talk about walks. He hits a lot of pitches that other guys would swing through; he has an extremely high rate of contact. We've been happy with what he has been able to accomplish so far, but he needs to take the next step. We have great hope that he will continue to improve his all around game and continue to develop physically. When we signed him he was around 180-pounds, and we think he will eventually play in the majors around 200 to 205-pounds. As he gets stronger, I think you are going to see more doubles, gap shots and he could end up hitting double digits in home runs by the time he gets to the majors.

Inman led the league in strikeouts and walks last year. What changes has the organization made to his delivery to help him with his control?

Grady Fuson: We didn't do a whole lot in the spring, and he showed up in big league camp pretty much the same. We did try to work a little bit on his arm angle and where his shoulder ends up afterward. It's a big year for Will in that he is going to have to show us that he is efficient enough with his pitches to be a starter. Right now, the quicker path to San Diego for him might be as a two-pitch reliever, with his fastball and curve, but is it the right thing to do? In order to move up, he is going to have to show us that he is efficient enough with his pitches to get us through at least five innings.

Projected Lineup:

1B Craig Cooper SP Cesar Carrillo (RHP)
2B Eric Sogard SP Nathan Culp (LHP)
3B Travis Denker SP Will Inman (RHP) (MF#19)
SS Jesus Lopez SP Stephen Faris (RHP)
LF Luis Durango SP Ernesto Frieri (RHP)
CF Cedric Hunter (MF#1) RPMike DeMark (RHP)
RF Kellen Kulbacki* (MF#5) RP Brandon Gomes (RHP)
C Mitch Canham Closer Evan Scribner (RHP)

Key: MF=Madfriars' Top 20 2009 Prospect Rankings

Notes: Kellen Kulbacki has a sore shoulder and will be delayed a few weeks, Mike Baxter will replace him. Steve Garrison is rehabbing and should be available in June. Seth Johnston will be in a utility role between first and third this year.

Catch a Rising Star: Cedric Hunter, 21, led the minors in hits and started to show a little more pop in the last month with six of 11 home runs coming in August. He is athletic and covers a big amount of ground in center. At the plate, he has excellent strike zone judgment and possibly the best hand-eye coordination in the organization. San Diego is looking for him to take the next step in his development, which he has the talent to do, become more selective at the plate, drive more balls, and improve his arm strength. Right now he is the heir apparent for center in San Diego.

Pitching: The staff has some talent, but it's an open question if will they be able to put it together. Before he got hurt in 2007, Carrillo was arguably a few starts away from going to San Diego. When he's on, Carrillo brings a very good low-90s fastball with control and a two-plane curveball along with the requisite changeup. That is what he did before he was injured; the question is will he get back to that level? Nathan Culp won 14 games in Lake Elsinore and is the stereotypical "crafty lefty" without much heat, but he does know how to keep the ball on the ground. He could put up the best numbers in San Antonio with its pitcher friendly stadium. Last year, Inman led the Texas League in strikeouts and walks, and like so many other pitchers on this staff, it's hard to tell which one will show up. Faris, although he pitched well for most of the year in San Antonio last year, returns to the Missions as a victim of the tickle down of Geer, LeBlanc and Ramos. He throws a solid two-seam fastball and curveball, but needs to improve his changeup to be effective at higher levels. Columbian native Frieri has a plus fastball but the key for him will be the development of his secondary pitches.

Position Players: Cedric Hunter and the injured Kellen Kulbacki will get the most attention. Hunter is an ideal #2 hitter and Kulbacki is the type of batter that you want in the middle of the order; power and patience. Kulbacki started last year injured and came back to dominate the Cal League for the last three months; hopefully the same will hold true for the Texas League. Durango and Sogard are two players that are somewhat under the radar but could end up being very valuable components for San Antonio. Durango is blessed with incredible speed and won three batting titles in the Dominican, Arizona and Northwest Leagues. After a slow start in Fort Wayne, he came on and finished the season very strong with a late season promotion to the Storm where he proceeded to hit .431/.506/.514 in 17 games. Sogard led the Cal League in doubles with 42 and finished with a .394 on-base percentage. The questions about each player are defensive, Sogard's range at second and Durango's instincts and arm in the outfield. Mitch Canham was one of the stars of Oregon State's championship team and is relatively new to catching. The Padres love Canham's makeup and believe the left-handed hitting catcher can develop into a quality backstop. His problems are also on defense; Canham gave up 131 steals in 107 games only throwing out only 17-percent of the opposition. Also look for Jesus Lopez to shine in the field. In a brief 18 game call-up, he hit .356/.441/.424, which are light years from his career numbers of .241/.314/.311. If he could hit somewhere in the middle of those numbers, he's a prospect.

On the Spot: Will Inman: He has the talent; it's just a question if he can bring it every time he toes the rubber as a starter.

Under the Radar: Eric Sogard. In April, June and August he hit .381, .343 and .344, respectively. He slumped the other two months at .243 but his monthly OBP only dropped below .361 once. Suffice to say, most people are pretty confident that he can hit. The key to Sogard is if he can convince everyone he has the range to become a major league second baseman. If he can, he could surpass Antonelli.

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