Portland Beavers 2007 season preview

Synopsis: The Beavers will feature a good rotation that, depending on who you listen to, may have two or three pitchers that could eventually end up in a big league rotation along with the now standard assortment of big league bullpen candidates. The offense, well…

Three Strikes with Grady Fuson /Padres Vice-President of Scouting and Development:

How is Cesar Carrillo's health?

Grady Fuson: Since February 1, we've had him on a diligent program. He threw 65 pitches before we broke camp the other day, so that is a good sign. Is he where he needs to be as far as location and velocity? Not yet. He hasn't been as aggressive with his breaking ball as we would like. His sides have been good, basically pain free, but he's a little behind the eight ball. He will probably mix and match his breaking ball until he really gets going. The one thing that has really helped him from the rehab process is he was only throwing fastballs and changeups, so his changeup has really developed. He's probably only going to go between 50 to 75 pitches for the first four or five starts; we really want to clear the slate, before he really stretches out.

Why was Tim Stauffer moved from a starter to a relief pitcher?

Grady Fuson: He had a little tweak in big league camp and just got back on the mound. He's really ready for only an inning or two. We still believe in him as a starter and once his arm strength comes back he'll return to the rotation.

Vince Sinisi started to come around in his last month in Mobile hitting .280/.367/.470. Is he all the way back from what he was before his injury?

Grady Fuson: I certainly hope so; he never really put everything together. I still hold him in high regard. He worked his butt off in the off-season. He came in early to camp at about 215 to 217 pounds, really in good shape. We've been working on him to pull balls in hitters' counts. He had a great camp in both minor and major league camps and will be in Portland as one of our everyday outfielders. He can play both corners and even a little center and is probably our best defensive first baseman.

Projected Lineup

1B Royce Huffman SP Cesar Carrillo (RHP)
2B Craig Stansberry SP Jared Wells (RHP)
SS Luis Cruz SP Jack Cassel (RHP)
3B Manny Alexander/Oscar Robles SP Ryan Ketchner (LHP)
C Luke Carlin SP Justin Germano (RHP)
RF Vince Sinisi RP Royce Ring (LHP)
CF Adam Shabala RP Justin Hampson (LHP)
LF Jack Cust Closer Leo Rosales (RHP)

Madfriars.com Top Prospect in Portland: Cesar Carrillo (#2)

Pitching: If Cesar Carrillo, 23, had been healthy the whole year he would be in San Diego right now. Instead, Carrillo tweaked his flexor tendon in his elbow in late May and spent the remainder of the year successfully avoiding surgery and rehabbing his arm after just one start in Portland. Despite a 1-3 record in Mobile, Carrillo struck out 43 batters in 50.2 innings against only 45 hits and 15 base-on-balls. He has exceptional control, two mid-90s fastballs and a two-plane curveball along a solid changeup. The good news is Carrillo is healthy, but the Padres are going to be careful with him and probably won't really stretch him out for the next month. He will be in Portland for a minimum of half a season, until the team is convinced that his arm has regained its strength.

Jared Wells, 25, also got off to a very good start in Mobile, with a 2.64 ERA in 12 starts, then was shelled in Portland with a 7.27 ERA in his final 15 starts. There are several reasons for Wells struggles, but they can be pretty much brought down to two. First, the physical: a nagging hamstring injury that he suffered in his last start in Mobile. The second: being unwilling to adjust his pitching style and listen to coaches.

"He was a guy that has got good stuff," his Double-A pitching coach Glenn Abbott said. "He has the stuff to pitch in the big leagues, but he is just a little bit stubborn. He thinks he has it all figured out. He didn't have the command he needed to pitch at the higher levels and that is something we talked about. His stuff was getting them out at Double-A. Of course as you could see, he had trouble making that adjustment in Triple-A."

"I think he will bounce back," said Bill Bryk, Padres minor league field coordinator. "He just has to learn how to use it."

Jack Cassel, 26, got sent down from Portland at the end of June and turned his season, and possibly his career, around. After going 3-5 with a 6.48 ERA in Portland, he was 6-3 with a 2.29 ERA with a 75/18 K/BB ratio with 66 hits in 78.1 innings for Double-A Mobile. The big change was a much more consistent breaking ball to go along with a decent fastball to suddenly gave him two quality pitches he could throw for strikes.

"He was our best pitcher in Mobile in the second half," said Grady Fuson.

Justin Germano, 24, and Ryan Ketchner, 25, come over from the Phillies and Dodger organizations, respectively. For Germano, it's the second time around with the Padres in Portland. Both could be potential spot starters in San Diego early in the season in case of injury before Carrillo and Wells are ready to go. Tim Stauffer, 25, will eventually go into the rotation but will slowly work his way out of the bullpen after suffering a minor arm strain towards the end of spring training.

The bullpen could provide several good candidates for the Padres' bullpen, led by Royce Ring, 26, and Leo Rosales, 25, who will move into the closer role for the Beavers. Rosales is known for having one of the best changeups in the organization.

Position Players: Not a whole lot to talk about with most of the roster consisting of a quasi-taxi squad for the big league club as compared to players Portland fans have seen in the past such as Jason Bay, Xavier Nady and Josh Barfield.

Luis Cruz, 23, had a nice year at Mobile, showing some pop, and he may be the best defensive infielder in the San Diego system and will return to his best position shortstop. He's going to have to improve his OBP from last year [.301] to have a shot of going any further.

Manny Alexander, 35, Oscar Robles, 31, and Craig Stansberry, 25, will all rotate between second and third base this year for the Beavers and will act as injury insurance in case anything happens in San Diego to Khalil Greene or Marcus Giles.

Royce Huffman, 30, the brother of Lake Elsinore's Chad Huffman, will play first this year for the Beavers, but can also play third, second and a little outfield. He is a career .302/.386/.431 hitter, and with the Padres in search of a right-handed hitter – he could be a candidate for a call-up. He doesn't really have enough power for an everyday job as a 1B/corner OF or the glove for third base, but he can play several positions and makes solid contact.

Luke Carlin, 26, and Pete LaForrest, 29, will give the Beavers one of the better catching tandems in the Pacific Coast League. Carlin is returning for his second go-around with Portland and LaForrest had a big spring, hitting .379.

To quite a few Portland fans, seeing Jack Cust, 28, return is a bit of a shock. Last year, Cust hit .293/.467/.549 with 30 home runs and seemingly has little left to prove to anyone in the minors. Although he had another good year at the plate, he did little to dispel the belief that (1) he has the ability to play a defensive position on a major league level and (2) major questions if he can hit quality pitching in the major league with 124 strike outs. Still, they are some solid numbers and Cust could get a shot with an AL team that suffers an injury and needs a bat, but with the number of left-handed hitters in San Diego it doesn't seem to be in the cards for him with the Padres.

The Padres signed Adam Shabala, 29, as a free agent from the Giants organization and will play him in centerfield, serving as an emergency outfield call-up for the Padres.

Vince Sinisi, 25, has the most upside of any of the three outfielders putting together a full season after some tough injuries. Towards the end of the year in Mobile, Sinisi's power began to come back hitting 280/.367/.470.

On the Spot: Jared Wells. There were a lot of expectations on Wells that went down the tube in the second half of the year. It's on him to not only pick up his performance but to convince the Padres he can listen to coaching and make adjustments at higher levels.

Under the Radar: Vince Sinisi. A former first round pick of the Texas Rangers out of Rice and one of the stars of their National Championship team, Sinisi suffered a bad forearm injury, which turned into a staph infection that took seven surgeries to fix. Finally healthy, he may be one of the few position prospects that may have a future after Portland with a compact left-handed stroke that sprays hits to all fields. If he can hit with some more power, he will have a shot.

Outlook: The Beavers will have some strong pitching, but could struggle to put runs on the board. How well Huffman and Sinisi perform offensively, along with another expected strong offensive performance by Cust, will go a long way in determining the success of Portland.

John can be reached at conniff@sandiegosports.net

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