Tucson Padres 2011 Season Preview

The best offensive clubs the Padres have put together in years at this level and will have two or three strong starters at the top of the rotation with a solid bullpen. How long this team stays together will be determined by how long San Diego stays in contention.

Three Strikes with Randy Smith, Director of Player Development and International Scouting:

The knock on Anthony Rizzo is that he has hit for both power and average although not at the same time. Do you think he will become more selective at the plate this year and make more consistent contact?

Randy Smith: He's a very good young hitter and this year we will see an uptick in walks as his power rises. He's had a very good spring for us and the key for him is to not to try to do too much. He has plenty of power that is going to come just by taking his natural swing.

How close is Simon Castro to the majors?

Randy Smith: This will be his first extended stay in Triple-A and he's continuing to get better. His change still needs to develop more and he had some minor mechanical issues early in camp. At the end we had him topping out at 97 in one outing and both he and [Jeremy] Hefner are real close.

Cedric Hunter really turned some heads in spring. What was the biggest improvement that you saw?

Randy Smith: He had a really big spring. Cedric had always had great hand eye coordination but as he's matured he has a better understanding of what type of hitter he is and what he needs to improve on. He came into camp bigger and in great shape and I think you will see an improvement in his slash line - getting on-base a little more and power going up.

2011 Projected Lineup:

1B Anthony Rizzo SP Simon Castro
2B Logan Forsythe SP Jeremy Hefner
SS Everth Cabrera SP Will Inman
3B Jesus Guzman SP Wade LeBlanc
C Luis Martinez SP Josh Geer
DH Matt Clark  
RF Aaron Cunningham RP Aaron Poreda
CF Luis Durango RP Scott Munter
LF /Bobby Kielty* Closer Evan Scribner

*OF/1B Mike Baxter is starting the year on the DL and Cedric Hunter is on the big league roster until UT/OF Eric Patterson comes off of the DL

MadFriars.com Top 20 Prospects in Tucson: (6) Simon Castro (1), Cory Luebke* (4), Anthony Rizzo (7), Jeremy Hefner (15), Logan Forsythe (16) and Cedric Hunter (20).

*Opened the season on the big league roster.

Catch a Rising Star: Anthony Rizzo: Rizzo, who was one of three top prospects acquired for Adrian Gonzalez from the Red Sox, had a big spring and cemented his status as San Diego's first baseman of the future. A very good all around player, he could put up the best numbers of his career playing in a great hitting environment.

Starting Pitching: The 6‘5 Castro should be the ace of the staff after a good year in San Antonio. The key for the big right-hander's development will be keeping his mechanics clean. Cory Luebke should bounce between Tucson and San Diego at least in the first half but really has nothing left to prove at this level. Hefner, a fifth-round pick out of Oral Roberts in 2007, pitched nearly as well as Castro last year in San Antonio. His velocity picked up and he only allowed 55 earned runs in 167 innings. Inman returns to Triple-A after his year was cut short with injuries last season. He was once a top prospect but injuries and mechanical problems have stalled his progress. Geer spent most of 2009 in San Diego and all of 2010 in Portland. Geer lives and dies by his sinker and runs into problems if it elevates.

The Pen: The relief corps is one of the strongest parts of the organization with closer Evan Scribner leading the way. In Double-A, Scribner struck out 88 in 67 innings against only 15 walks and was 16-for-17 in save opportunities. If big Scott Munter was in any other system, he would have been in the majors but still put together solid numbers in Portland last season by only giving up 22 earned runs in 71 innings. LHP Aaron Poreda has tremendous potential but has struggled with his command the past two seasons.

Infield: Rizzo is the top position prospect and is also considered a superior defender. Cabrera was the starting shortstop in San Diego in 2009 before major league pitchers started to figure out how to get the former Rule 5 pick from Colorado out. The switch-hitting shortstop has speed, is solid defensively and needs to play everyday to become more consistent. Logan Forsythe could see time at all four infield positions this year and will be ecstatic to leave San Antonio where he hit .189 at home and .316 on the road. 1B/DH Matt Clark had a big year in San Antonio but with Rizzo joining the organization he's going to struggle to find a place to play. Guzman is a former Giants/A's prospect who put together a good spring and earned a spot in Tucson. Martinez is a solid defender who can flash some power.

Outfield: The normal outfield should be Baxter, Hunter and Cunningham, but only Cunningham will open the season. Cunningham can play all three outfield positions and should see some time in San Diego this year. Luis Durango is a speedster that can run but needs to get stronger to keep the outfield honest. Kielty is an eight-year major league veteran that has bounced between the majors and minors for the past few years. When he returns to Triple-A, Hunter could have the best season of his career when surrounded by much better players than in the past. Baxter is a professional hitter and had one of the best overall years in the organization last year with 58 extra-base hits and 22 stolen bases.

On the Spot: Everth Cabrera: With Jason Bartlett signed to a two-year contract on the big leagues and top prospect Drew Cumberland behind him, Cabrera has to put up some offensive numbers that made him such a promising player in 2009.

Under the Radar: Cedric Hunter: A bad 2009 season sent the once top prospect scurrying down the prospect ladder, but he bounced back in 2010, hitting .299/.365/.453 at home; by far the best numbers of anyone on the team. The key for Hunter will be to build what he did on spring training, continuing to improve upon his secondary hitting skills and power.

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