Name: Vince Sinisi
DOB: November 11, 1981
A second round draft choice of the Texas Rangers in 2003, Vince Sinisi had one of the sweetest bats in the land while playing at Rice and leading them to a National Championship. He had power and plate discipline but a devastating injury derailed his forward progress.
In June of 2004, Sinisi suffered a complex fracture of his left forearm in a collision with Joaquin Arias. It, combined with a staph infection, required seven surgeries to fix and put him out of baseball for a year, sapping some of his power, which was questionable to begin with among scouts, along the way. The bacterial infection (MRSA) developed next to a metal plate that was inserted into his arm and nearly killed him, resistant to antibiotics that doctors introduced.
Hugh Laurie would have had his work cut out for him in this case.
"They had to put a plate in his arm," Grady Fuson, the Padres' vice president of scouting and player development, said. "It got infected a couple of times and had to go in their surgery wise to clean it out. Kept him out of the weight room for a year and a half."
He would miss spring training the following year and stay behind in extended. When he was sent to the California League, Sinisi tore through the league, hitting .363 over 35 games for Bakersfield. After a quick jump to Double-A and a week of success, Sinisi hit a wall and the bat speed that was prominent during his college days had slowed to a crawl.
"He got a little stronger – played on the WBC team with Italy," said Fuson. "He put on 15 pounds from a year ago."
After spending 32 games across Double-A and Triple-A in the Texas system, he was placed in Double-A Mobile where he spent the rest of the year.
In 102 games for the BayBears, he hit .269 with 33 doubles, seven homers and 48 RBIs. His double total ranked fourth in the league and the six doubles he accumulated over the first 32 contests would have placed him second.
In a league where two players hit over .300, the tenth ranked player batted .285, and the best team batting average was .263; Sinisi's season was, therefore, a success and a hopeful springboard for the future.
"He got off slow as far as the power numbers but during the last month he started to drive some balls and hit a few more doubles," 2006 Mobile manager Gary Jones said. "He had a stretch there where he hit a few homers also. Sinisi is a hitter. Right now he is a line drive, gap type hitter but he has a chance in the future to hit a few home runs. A guy who can play first base and left field and can be a good bat off the bench."
"He is a hitter," said 2006 Mobile hitting coach Arnie Beyeler. "He gets out of bed hitting a baseball. He is a productive left-handed hitter and he just needs to play and continue to improve. He is a great National League guy with the ability to play first base and the outfield. He can play multiple spots in the outfield; he played centerfield for that Italian World Cup team with Piazza and those guys. He needs to continue to get reps because he has missed about a season and a half. He had a solid season."
Sinisi, more than anything, needed to play. He had just 177 games played over his first three seasons in the minors thanks to injury.
"Before this year I was really the only manager he ever had," Beyeler said. "That was the big thing for Vince was to play a season. This was the first year he had a full season under his belt and he got close to 500 at bats. He has never done that before. We got him in Texas out of the draft and he finished the season with us and the next year he was halfway through to the point where they had talked about promoting him to Double-A and he got hurt. Then he didn't play until the halfway through last season and he finished strong and went up to Double-A. He went home and got a little bigger and a little stronger and I guess started in Triple-A and we brought him back."
With a full season now under his belt, the Padres are interested to see if the doubles power turns into more homers. Scouts have been concerned that it may never come but Sinisi showed he could still make hard contact with his level swing. Power is the last thing to arrive for most players – but Sinisi, 25, is now at an age where it should have arrived. What he doesn't have is pull power. With a level swing that generates little uppercut, his hits to right field came mostly on line drives.
Sinisi, a left-handed hitter, has a solid, compact approach at the plate and keeps the bat head through the hitting zone. He has a good feel for the strike zone and will take his share of walks and pitch recognition is something he is working on.
When he is off his game he will reach on the outer half of the plate and send fly balls out to left field or get on top of the ball and ground out to second. When things are going well, Sinisi distributes the ball evenly to all fields, going the other way as often as he pulls the ball.
"This guy is a hitter," Fuson said. "Taking young bodies like that and getting them stronger – the power will come."
In a strange twist, Sinisi hit .315 off left-handed pitching and just .246 off right-handers.
Sinisi split time between left field and first base in 2006, logging most of his time in the outfield. He is athletic enough to not butcher the outfield but will never be gold glove capable. He has a good arm and recorded six assists on the season but will struggle with his reads and path to the ball.
"When I drafted him I wanted to convert him to the outfield," Fuson said. "He played a little bit in college. When he transferred to Rice he was a full-time first baseman."
He won't ever be known for his speed but is a smart baserunner that will take a bag or two as the opportunity presents itself.
ETA: Sinisi has a friend in Grady Fuson. Fuson is loyal to his men and has already proven with Adrian Gonzalez that his belief in their power potential is well founded. At 25, the power must come soon or he will be just another outfielder who can hit for average but can't punch runs across the board. His time is dwindling quickly and a strong 2007 season in Triple-A Portland is a must for him to be in consideration for a future major league job.