Muser on Padres hitting prospects

Former San Diego Padres bench coach and former minor league hitting coordinator Tony Muser went over some of the top prospects in the system with MadFriars.com.

Drew Cumberland has always been one of the most exciting prospects in the system, as long as he stays on the field. What did you see out of him this season?

Tony Muser: Some natural maturity. Offensively, watching over the years the type of swing that he had, he had kind of a hook swing where the barrel head would get out in front of the baseball so most of the balls he would implement were to the pull side. Being a shortstop, middle infielder type player he was going to have to be a guy who could use the whole field by staying inside the baseball a little bit better. But he has surprising power, not by strength but by bat speed. He can create a lot of bat speed.

The biggest adjustment he made was getting off the plate. He was on the plate so much that a ball down the middle would come in on him, and he'd have no choice but to hook or pull it. He did a nice job of being uncomfortable for a while and backing off the plate and one of the best adjustments he's made so far really helped him in Elsinor by implementing more balls to the middle of the field and having a better shot at controlling the pitch and the location of the pitch especially when they went away to him.

Luis Durango was challenged to drive the ball more. I am not sure we saw that in 2010. What does he need to do to make that a part of his game?

Tony Muser: Strength is going to be a huge part of it. He's not naturally a strong kid – small frame. He relies on his running speed to be a good offensive player. He's a tremendous bunter to the first base side when he's hitting left-handed and needs to work on going to the third base side. Just strength and that'll have to be worked on in the weight room, and he has to gain strength and believe that it's going to help him drive the ball a little better.

Right now you can play him so shallow in the infield and challenge him in the outfield by playing him so shallow that there's got to be some threat that when the pitcher makes a mistake that he can hit the ball over their head and in the gap. He's proven that he can do that from time to time but it hasn't been consistent for him. A huge part of his development is going to be strength.

James Darnell had a very slow start but came on towards the end of the year. What changed?

Tony Muser: He was a little bit passive and wants to be perfect in everything he does. Willingness to make a mistake and let the aggressiveness take over. He became a little bit cautious but I know (former hitting coach) Max Venable did a nice job coaxing him to just let it go. You play a position where strikeouts are going to happen. It's not a perfect game so let your natural ability take over with the aggressiveness and when there is failure don't back off from that - stay at it. Don't be afraid to make a mistake in all parts of his game.

He tried to be perfect on defense and a lot of his errors defensively were throwing errors because he was trying to be so perfect instead of just letting it go. Offensively, too, last time I was in San Antonio he took some very good aggressive swings early in the count and not looking so much like he's trying to be perfect or not trying to strike out.

Logan Forsythe didn't have the season many expected and his overall ability to drive the ball was down. What did you see from Logan?

Tony Muser: Aggressiveness, not exactly like James but in the same ballpark, of being a little passive early. Taking a lot of fastballs to hit early in the count and then getting to a two strike situation where he's very good. A lot of his RBIs came with two strikes. He has a very good ability to sit back and wait on the baseball and somewhat drive the ball to right center field but not really drive the ball to right center.

If he gets his mind set to be aggressive early in the count and looking not to be a pull hitter but to left center field would be his pull side, to really get the club head out there and take a chance and be aggressive that when he does implement the ball to right center it's going to be driven a little bit better.

It's a tough park to hit in and evaluate power in because of that wind blowing in to right center field. You can't just hit it in San Antonio. You have to crush it. It's a good park to learn in, but I think Logan is a lot like James and he's learning. He knows what he has to do and you can't just click your fingers and have it come overnight but he understood it at the end of the year. I wasn't disappointed in him because I know he's still making transitions and adjustments but the ability for him to do it is still there.

Cedric Hunter looked like he took the patient approach to heart this season and swung at better pitches. Is that an accurate assessment?

Tony Muser: Yes. He had such a great year in Lake Elsinore – he only had 5 or 6 games where he took an 0-for. I don't know how many records he set, but he may have set a record for number of hits in a season. He just had a tremendous year, but the jump from Elsinore to Double-A baseball is a big jump. Strength was an issue with him. He's not a super strong kid and he has to develop bat speed to create strength. Naturally he got a little bit stronger.

The one element in his tools is that he can put a ball in play. He doesn't just swing and miss. When he swung at a borderline pitch at the fringe of the strike zone, something he had to reach a little bit away or up or down if he wasn't on perfect balance that was ball was caught but it wasn't driven. He tightened up his strike zone.

They say he doesn't have power, but I've seen him really click some baseballs with good power when he takes a good balanced, aggressive swing. There's more power in there than I think people think.

I'm a fan of Cedric's – always have been. I know he had it down the year before. He's learning and starting to understand the game. Knowing his talents and what he has to do and knowing what pitchers try to do to him has gotten better. I was proud of him this year for pushing himself, and I think at the end of April he was probably ready for AAA baseball but we left him there to give him a good solid season under his belt. Eventually he did go to Portland.

Matt Clark hit 28 homers and 12 came at home. That has to get noticed for his future potential to hit the ball out of Petco.

Tony Muser: I totally agree. We all know that the Texas league can be a tough place to hit homers. There are some homer-friendly parks, but for the most part it's a tough league to hit homers in. When you put up those kind of numbers, the numbers don't lie. He did it, and he's got what I call loft power. When he hits them he hits them not just far but high.

He's like a lot of young hitters - off-speed pitches and sitting back, understanding when there's a base open he's going to get fed some off-speed pitches where pitchers don't have to give in to him with the fastball. I think adjustment up in the strike zone with fastballs up he's going to have to learn to get on top better.

You can't pitch him down. He'll hurt you when the fastball is down. He has to blend in with his pitch command of getting the ball down more and not biting at the high fastball but at the same time learning to get on top of the high fastball. Like all young hitters, learn to approach the breaking ball and take what the pitcher gives you. The good pitchers won't give in to him. He has the ability to go up the middle. I've seen him hang in against tough left-handers and take the ball the other way. I was proud of what he did and the numbers he put up. In some people's eyes he's a good prospect. In other people's eyes he's not, but those numbers don't lie.

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