Batters excel in Peoria

PEORIA – The early hitting camp seems to have paid off as several minor league hitters in the Padres' system are swinging the stick with authority.

One of the most talked about names in Peoria is that of shortstop/second baseman Seth Johnston. Picked in the fifth round in 2005, Johnston has a certain swagger to his game that exudes confidence – a trait that was missing from his game for much of 2005 in the system.

Johnston responded with a grand slam in the Lake Elsinore game against the Royals, a game the quasi-Storm squad won. He battled off several pitches, overcame a personal battle with himself for swinging at two high pitches and swatted one over the left field fence.

"I fouled off a pitch that I shouldn't have swung at," Johnston admitted. "I swung at some high pitches and luckily got some wood on them. With two strikes you try to put the ball in play and the guy threw me a split-finger, two splitties in a row, and the first one was down in the dirt and the second one he left up and I got the right part of the bat on it. It just got out of there.

Tim Brown, who ended up playing an away game in Yuma, is a prospect that is generating serious buzz. Several player polled named him as one of the most impressive bats they have seen and the latest rumblings say he could be ticketed to Lake Elsinore with his hot hand. That would, incidentally, bump either Kyle Blanks or Daryl Jones up to Fort Wayne and full season ball with Blanks having a slight advantage despite a strong showing from Jones this spring. Blanks has had more than a few good hitting sessions and Jones is seeing the ball clearly now and driving it.

Nic Crosta, another player picked up this offseason, is also being mentioned for his ability to hit. Several players have come away impressed with his power and knack for making contact.

Meanwhile, Tim Turner, the speediest man in camp, has a new approach at the plate. He admitted that he fell in love with the home run last year after historically not being a long ball hitter. It made his swing long and he worked all offseason to shorten his swing. Turner ended up staying late on Saturday to work on his hitting with Storm coach Tom Tornicasa.

Matt Hagen, a former Mariner, had an outstanding hitting session, spraying the ball to all fields and hitting the gaps. He earned constant praise from the coaching staff.

"I came out here a week before spring training for the tryout camp and signed out of that," Hagen said.

Not the long ball, but certainly worth of mention was a bunt laid down by Santiago Guerrero. The outfielder dropped a beautiful bunt down the third base line that trickled its way between the pitcher and third baseman.

"He does that every single day," pitcher Jon Link said.

Australian infielder Murray Hopley, a Tommy John surgery recipient, suffered a setback this winter in his recovery and is relegated to fielding grounders. He played winter ball overseas and felt fine before feeling soreness again. He has been shutdown but remains in high spirits.

"He is no stranger to hard work," roving infield instructor Tony Franklin said.

Josh Alley whiffed twice in the Lake Elsinore game, a feat that may not have happened all of last year. This blame goes to the home plate umpire who had an erratic strike zone. The umpires are from high schools around the area with the minor league umpires on strike.

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