Name: Rayner Contreras
DOB: September 21, 1986
"Contreras played two years in the Dominican and always hit well," Padres Latin American coordinator Felix Francisco said. "This year he had a slow start and some people were questioning whether he could play or not but it was only a matter of time and he put up pretty good numbers. In Arizona he showed what he had shown to us before. He can hit. He can play second base. He can steal a couple of bases – not many at 6.9 in the sixty. I would say he plays pretty good second base. He can play the occasional shortstop but he does not have the quickness to play shortstop."
Things didn't start off well for Contreras. He began the year in extended spring training and had just four hits in 38 at bats during a 12-game stretch for the Fort Wayne Wizards, batting eighth. It was no surprise when he was shipped back to Arizona for remedial work.
When the Arizona Rookie League Padres season began, Contreras started off in a 1-for-9 slump before turning on the jets, hitting .327 the rest of the way and winning the league RBI race with 52 (in 44 games).
A manual transmission, Contreras was the clutch that made the Peoria squad go.
During one six game stretch, Contreras knocked in 17 runs, including three or more in four of those contests. He drove in three runs or more in eight times on the season. The infielder hit .427 with runners in scoring position (RISP) (32-for-75) and .433 with RISP and two outs. There was no one better in the entire system.
"They called him ‘Wow' in the Dominican and I never saw ‘Wow' when he came to the states," Padres minor league field coordinator Bill Bryk began. "I never could call him ‘Wow' because I never saw the wow. This year, I can call him ‘Wow.'"
"Contreras had an outstanding spring and moved to Fort Wayne and he came back and he was a little lost," 2006 AZL Padres manager Carlos Lezcano said. "He hit in the bottom of the lineup but I said, ‘Let me hit him second because that is where he hit all spring and extended.' Once I put him in hitting second he took off. I was a little worried about him when he came back from Fort Wayne but…it was an outstanding year all the way around."
"That is ‘Wow,'" AZL Padres hitting coach Manny Crespo acknowledged. "At the beginning of spring training, everyone wasn't sure about him. When he came over this year with me you could see small things, spurts that he would have, and all of a sudden he got his confidence and that was all he needed. When you hit deeper in the lineup, he knew he didn't belong there. When we got him hitting second that is when he came alive. That is the kind of player I think he is going to be. He could hit the ball in situations, move runners over but if there is runners on base, he wants them all. He had a couple of games this year with five RBI's. Definitely one of our clutch players."
The 20-year old Santo Domingo native also batted .316 on the year, placing him seventh best in the league.
His pre-pitch routine consists of bringing his front foot up to his chest before dropping it to the ground. His hitting trigger isn't nearly as pronounced when the pitch comes in but his leg kick definitely provides the timing for his ability to drop the bat head into the zone and get extension.
Despite the hitch in his leg that reminds of Daryl Strawberry, Contreras is able to get his bat into the hitting zone to lace line drives. When he is in the groove, a place he often found in Peoria, he pummeled the middle of the field.
Contreras holds his hands in a natural hitting position and his quick wrists allow him to overcome the slower process of putting his foot to the ground in his stride towards the ball.
Contreras spent two seasons in the Dominican Summer League before migrating to the states. At 6-foot-0, 175-pounds, he has room to fill out and adding weight and strength to his frame is a priority. Adding muscle to his frame will allow Contreras to drive the ball into the gaps to match his run producing affinity.
He isn't a patient hitter but drew 20 walks and tends to lay off more pitches when the bases are empty. When men are on base, Contreras tends to take more chances on pitches he believes he can handle – a move that paid off quite well in 2006.
"I think from the first day of spring training till the end of the year he hit everything on the screws," Padres director of international scouting Randy Smith said. "He drove the ball. He had a great extended spring. He had a great summer, a very good Instructional League, a bad 40 at bats at Fort Wayne that really was a matter of coincidence than being overmatched. He was hurt before he went up there and he got up there and he went a week or ten days without playing and the 40 at bats killed him up there.
"I think this guy is going to take the biggest jump from our Latin players."
Splitting time between three positions on the infield, Contreras is best suited for second base but will likely end up at third. He has good range but needs to work on consistency with his exchange. He will, at times, rush his throws, making him more of a detriment at shortstop and third. Contreras does have good balance and turns the double play quite well. Time will be in his favor as he projects to play third base regularly this season.
"Contreras – the second baseman, shortstop, third baseman, whatever you want to call him," Smith began. "I think he is going to grow into a pretty big man and might be a third baseman."
Lacking first step quickness, Contreras has not been able steal bases and is not adept at taking an extra base. Baserunning smarts overall will be a trait he must perfect, especially since he has the athleticism to be more than a station-to-station runner.
ETA: Contreras spent 2006 in rookie ball but because he spent two seasons in the Dominican his clock is ticking. If he has a good spring it is quite conceivable he could skip Eugene. The Padres believed he could have handled the league last year but wanted to get the most out of him by working closely with him in extended. He will set his own timetable based on how he plays and there are more than a few scouts who think his frame will fill out and turn into a more powerful machine, making him a prospect to watch in the future.