Padres Prospect Interview: Peter Ciofrone

SAN ANTONIO, TX-- In early July of 2004, the Padres didn't have room for relief pitcher Brandon Puffer on their roster and with relief pitching at a premium he wasn't going to clear waivers either. Instead of cutting him San Diego made the type of last minute deal that is frequently unnoticed – traded a marginal relief pitcher for a Low-A prospect no one had really heard of.

Mission's outfielder Peter Ciofrone, the proverbial player to be named later in that deal, is out to prove that assumption false. Puffer is back in the minors with his third organization since the trade while Ciofrone, 23, is starting to come into his own in San Antonio.

Ciofrone has steadily improved since arriving in the San Diego organization. According to Jeff Kingston, the Padres Director of Baseball Operations, Ciofrone has as good a strike zone judgment as anyone with three years of improving on-base percentages of .348, .391 and .396.

Last year in Lake Elsinore was his best, hitting .292 with career highs in slugging percentage [.426], home runs [8] and RBIs [74]. The team also moved him to left field, where he had only one error in 90 chances.

The knock on Ciofrone is that he doesn't really hit with enough power to be a corner outfielder and he doesn't have enough of a glove for second or third base.

At Fort Wayne in 2005, he made 12 errors in 40 games at third and in a brief appearance in Mobile in 2006 he made three errors in nine games. In fairness to Ciofrone, both instances he was thrown into the position in mid-season after being the designated hitter for most of the year in Fort Wayne and last year the first games he played at third were in AA after spending the whole year in left field.

Ciofrone's bat has always been his ticket to the big leagues and this year he's improved both his on-base and slugging percentages, as he has every year. As Ciofrone continues to impress with the bat, the Padres have become more determined to find him a place to play.

To Ciofrone as long as he's in the lineup, it's all good.

Currently you are hitting .467 against left handed pitching. Aren't left-handed hitters supposed to struggle against lefthanders?

Peter Ciofrone: [laughing] Actually I've asked that question a lot to myself . I've always hit lefties well. I don't know why it is I just see the pitch a little better, hang in there or what. I'm just trying to do it with righties too.

Some of the better left-handed hitters claim that they keep their left shoulder in a little more and tend to focus more on the opposite field or up the middle. Is your approach similar?

Peter Ciofrone: Yeah definitely. I think you force yourself to stay in there a little longer with your front shoulder and not try to do too much, just hit the ball up the middle.

At Fort Wayne you were playing third, second and designated hitter. At Lake Elsinore they moved you to left field. Obviously you want to be anywhere where you are in the lineup every day, but what position do you feel most comfortable at?

Peter Ciofrone: That is the main thing to be in the lineup. I've played the infield my whole life, but I am really comfortable playing the outfield. It's a little more relaxing but at the same time it's a challenge. It's always good to be able to play as many positions as you can.

I'm still taking ground balls in the infield, but I love being out in the outfield.

A couple years ago we had an opportunity to speak with Jeff Kingston who said that you had one of the best strike zone judgments as anyone that the Padres had in the system. Is that something you are born with or have you worked to develop it?

Peter Ciofrone: I think what has helped me was when I was drafted by the Boston Red Sox they preached and emphasized the same thing that the Padres do, which is on-base percentage. So as soon as I got to pro ball I learned that right off the bat. I've continued to try to do that see a good pitch and drive it. I try very hard to lay off something that isn't in my zone. I'll swing at bad pitches like everyone else, but I really try to focus on swinging at the pitches that are in my zone.

But so many players say that, but few seem to actually do it. Right now you are one of the leaders in the Texas League in on-base percentage, so you are actually laying off of the bad pitches. Again is that a skill you developed or were born with?

Peter Ciofrone: I don't really say that I'm looking for this particular pitch, but if it's in my zone I'm going to swing at it. I really don't know if it's something that just developed over time. It's probably just from a lot of reps in the batting cage and in BP, trying to only swing at good pitches. It's just my mentality to see a lot of pitches and wait for a good pitch to hit.

How did you get to become a left-handed hitter?

Peter Ciofrone: You know I can't even remember. It's just the way I grew up throw from the right, hit from the left.

One of the knocks on you as an outfielder is that although you've established yourself as a hitter at every level that you have played, do you really have enough power to be a corner outfielder. How do you balance the power expectations so it doesn't screw up what you do best, hit?

Peter Ciofrone: I get that question a lot. I always reply are you going to take a .300 hitter who has as many RBIs as much as a 3, 4, and 5 guys with a high average or someone who hits more home runs and hits .230? So there are pros and cons to it. There are guys in the big leagues that play left field and don't hit 20 home runs. When I play it's my mentality to just try and hit the ball hard and let everything else take care of itself.

How much extra work have you been doing defensively, but trying to stay sharp to play the infield and learning a new position in the outfield?

Peter Ciofrone: I'm out there during BP trying to get good jumps off the bat. Last year at Lake Elsinore I worked very hard every day trying to get comfortable in the outfield. I think it's starting to pay off because I just feel better out there every day.

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