Randy Smith on the 2014 Lake Elsinore Storm

We caught up with Randy Smith, the Padres’ Director of Player Development from his headquarters in Peoria, Arizona for our fourth segment of our six part interview on the top prospects in the system.

This week we take a look at Lake Elsinore, which was the best place to see the strength of the Padres’ system; quality pitching and a pair of quality outfielders in Hunter Renfroe and Mallex Smith.

When going over the numbers this year this may have been one of the more impressive pitching staffs that you have sent to the Cal League in quite a while.

We’ve talked about Zach Eflin with you in the past, specifically about you being really impressed by what a competitor he is. We know about his two-seam fastball, what do you look for him to develop more next season?

Randy Smith: He really just has to continue to harness his stuff. He is a great competitor and as the season went on we saw an uptick in his velocity. Zach throws three pitches well and has a pretty good feel for what he is doing.

I’m pretty sure both we and Zach expect that to continue next year in San Antonio.

You have always been a big proponent of Colin Rea for some time now and this year he had his best season yet.

What was the reason for it?

Randy Smith: I think Colin finally started to believe he was as good as we always thought he was [laughs]. This year he threw his fastball with more confidence along with better command. He was more aggressive on both sides of the plate and let his natural movement work for him.

He’s another guy that we expect success from in San Antonio.

When I interviewed Elliot Morris it seemed like he was pretty much a four-seam fastball only pitcher. I know Bronswell Patrick has been working with him on his slider and change-up, but he was pretty good this year with just throwing a fastball.

What do you see for him in the future?

Randy Smith: We are trying to develop him into a more complete pitcher. He’s kind of like Zach in that we really like the way he competes and he has also flown under the radar somewhat.

He’s a very good kid, great makeup. The biggest thing for Elliot is to just continue to developing his secondary pitches.

It’s going to be another pretty good staff we will be sending to San Antonio next year.

What was the biggest improvement in Brandon Alger this year?

Randy Smith: The main thing is I think Brandon is just more comfortable in relief. His velocity picks up but he also added a cutter this season and a splitter, which he started toward the end of the season, that is really coming along too.

He’s equally tough on both righties and lefties. It’s funny we thought both him and Colin Rea were going to have big years in 2013. We were right, just a year off.

Adam Cimber was very tough on right-handers but struggled against lefties. What does he need to do to change that?

Randy Smith: Right now he profiles as a right-on-right guy but that could change if he starts to have more success with his change-up to lefties or some other weapon. We really like what Adam did for us this season. He takes the ball and competes and is pushing his way up the ladder.

I was a little surprised how well Hunter Renfroe played this year in only his first season.

What was the Storm coaching staff able to do to get him to dramatically reduce his strikeouts from the first month?

Randy Smith: Jody Davis [the hitting coach in Lake Elsinore at the time and later El Paso when Jacque Jones resigned], just did a great job of getting him to flatten out his swing a little. He’s really a strong kid and didn’t need to load up as much to hit it out.

We like what Hunter did in High-A and he did pretty well in AA considering this was his first full year. He has a tremendous amount of talent but there is still a lot of work to be done to get it all out.

Mallex Smith started the year repeating Low-A and by the end he led the entire minor leagues in stolen bases. What improvements in Mallex’s game are you looking for next season?

Randy Smith: He continues to understand the game and improved himself from both a mental and physical standpoint. To me the biggest thing is that he understands what he is trying to do; get on base, keep the ball out of the air and steal bases.

As for what he needs to improve upon is just continuing to refine his skills. Take better routes and get better jumps in center and learn more about base running, when to run and when to pull back when he doesn’t get the jump.

This year he really improved his bunting. Mallex had a really nice year.

SS Jose Rondon was considered by many the best prospect that came over in the Huston Street trade. How would you describe his game?

Randy Smith: He’s very steady. Jose is going to make all the routine plays and more. He showed that he can hit at a very young age and was driving the ball a little bit more when he was out here in Arizona.

He has a good frame and I think is going to get a little stronger. The more I’ve seen of him the more impressed with what he can do.

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