Fort Wayne TinCaps 2011 Season Preview

Another young team that will be led by the strong pitching of Keyvius Sampson and Adys Portillo. Offensively the TinCaps have great potential, particularly in the outfield, but whether they can realize is another question.

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

How has Donovan Tate looked and what are the organization's expectations of him this year? Randy Smith: Our biggest expectations for him is to just play everyday and improve. He's had a good spring and Instructs so we are going to hope for the best. For Donovan the biggest thing is just to get in a baseball routine and play.

Last year you shut down Keyvius Sampson with some shoulder problems. Is he back and how has he looked this spring?

Randy Smith: He's looked great with his velocity and stuff. We don't see any problems with his shoulder that bothered him at the end of last year. Also he's really improved his command and secondary pitches from last year.

Jose Dore, who was in high school last year, made the team. What did he do to impress you guys?

Randy Smith: He earned it. He put up consistent quality at-bats and used the whole field. It's a tough league and he is going to struggle a little but he's tough enough mentally to handle it.

2011 Projected Lineup:

1b Wes Cunningham/Medica SP Keyvius Sampson
2b Chris Bisson SP Adys Portillo
SS BJ Guinn SP Zach Cates
3b Jake Blackwood SP Matt Branham
C/DH Gale,Quiles & Medica SP Mark Hardy
RF Jose Dore RP Yefri Carvajal
CF Donovan Tate RP Adam Dominick
LF Everett Williams RP Chase Marona Top 20 Prospects in Fort Wayne: (2) Keyvius Sampson (12) and Adys Portillo (13).

Catch a Rising Star: Keyvius Sampson As good as Matt Lollis was last season, Sampson was the best pitcher in Eugene for the first two months. He struck out 53 batters in 27.2 innings pitched allowing only 12 earned runs in eight starts as batters hit .200 against him in June and .198 in July. Not the biggest pitcher in the world, but he has a deceptive motion combined with a low 90's fastball that comes on batters fairly quickly.

Starting Pitching: The TinCaps will open the season with a rotation of five starters and two "piggyback" pitchers who will get their innings in by coming in after the starters on a scheduled basis, at least to begin the year. The strength of the team will be Sampson and Portillo, although Zach Cates has the talent to join them rather quickly. Sampson was as good as anyone in Eugene before a sore shoulder slowed him down in August. Portillo was the equivalent of a high school senior last year with the Ems and struggled with his command but still struck out a batter an inning with a mid-90's fastball. He is someone to watch. Cates is a young right-hander the Padres got in the third round by buying his way out of full ride to Oklahoma State. He is a converted catcher with a big fastball and a good feel for the change-up and will only be in his second full season as a pitcher. Matt Branham was the pitcher of the year in Eugene and allowed less than two runs in fourteen starts and was a great find in the 27th round of the 2010 draft. At 6'5" with a low 90's fastball he has some projection as well.

Pen: Marona was the top man out of the bullpen for the Emeralds last year striking out 13.2 batters per nine innings while issuing just three walks during his tenure with the Ems. Marona also pitched briefly with the TinCaps last year. One of the more interesting arms in the bullpen is former Wizards outfielder Yefri Carvajal, who is now trying to make it as a pitcher. Adam Dominick was an Independent League signee out of the Frontier League and at 6'5" 235 has the size the organization likes in the bullpen.

Infield: Bisson has the type of athletic ability and on-base skills the organization wants to see in the middle infield. After a strong start in the AZL Guinn was worn out by the time he got to Eugene. Both Bisson and Guinn should provide Fort Wayne fans with the most athletic double play combination than they have seen in a long time. Cunningham was the best hitter on last year's Emeralds' team and is the classic OPS style hitter leading the team in walks and finishing second in extra-base hits. Blackwood is a minor league Rule 5 selection from the Giants and was the MVP of the Independent Northern League. The downside is he will be 25 this year.

Catching: The TinCaps will go with a rotation of three catchers who will also see time at DH. Rocky Gale and Emanuel Quiles saw action last year for the Ems but the most interesting player could be Tommy Medica. Medica, a late round pick in the 2010 draft, hurt his shoulder going into his junior year at Santa Clara has always been able to hit. If he is fully back from his injuries he will be someone to watch. Medica will see time both at catcher and first in addition to DH.

Outfield: Offensively this will be the most interesting group to watch and how well they hit will determine the success of the team. The big questions with Tate are on his ability to make consistent contact; defensively he could be pretty special. Williams should be a much better player than he showed last year but it is difficult to project someone of his size and limited power as an everyday corner outfielder on a big league roster. The Padres got 2010 eighth round pick Dore to forgo his commitment to Florida State by giving him third round money in last year's draft.

On the Spot: Donovan Tate Multiple injuries and poor performances in the Arizona League delayed Tate's debut in the Midwest League. But the Padres believe he has started to turn the corner after strong performances in the Instructs and spring training. His biggest problem will be for his baseball skills to catch up to his athletic ability. The first few months in Fort Wayne are always difficult for young hitters and the added attention of being the number three overall pick in the 2009 draft will draw extra scrutiny.

Under the Radar: Jose Dore There was mixed reviews on Dore coming into the draft but the Padres believe that injuries in the summer after his junior year prevented him from getting the type of attention his skills merit. He tied the state record for home runs as a junior and has strong arm for the outfield. A late sign, he was only able to get four games in the AZL but hit rapped out six hits in seventeen plate appearances.

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