Padres Prospect Interview: Cedric Hunter

Fort Wayne, IN: Last year Cedric Hunter, 19, rose from being a semi-heralded high school draft pick to what many believe will eventually become the Padres' best overall prospect -a rangy centerfielder with the ability to help a team win with his bat, legs and glove.

So how did he do it?

Hunter had the rare combination of a great debut in the Arizona League, .371/.467/.484, and the "tools" that led many pundits to project that his future would be even brighter. So far he's had a nice year in Fort Wayne, .271/.330/.347, but not the type that is going to set hearts aflutter.

So were the pre-season rankings by many baseball publications, including by, hype?

Not really, but it's also a little early to know what Hunter will or won't be in a few years down the road. While he did have a very good year, it's still the Arizona League, which is for the most part glorified spring training scrimmages with second-tier draft picks, high school kids and young Latin players in their first seasons of professional baseball.

The Midwest League is a very big jump from that level, full of experienced college players in their first or second year of professional baseball. Hunter, who should be a college freshman, may not be dominating, but he is competing; holding his own at the plate and in the field against players three and four years older than him is impressive.

He's shown a good eye at the plate, 29/44 BB/K ratio, but needs to improve on only five stolen bases in 11 attempts, especially for a player with his speed. He can put on a good show in batting practice with his power, but needs to translate that power into games and add to only 18 extra base hits in 340 at-bats [statistics through Saturday].

Hunter does many things well, and he has the potential to become the player that many believe he will, but right now it's more of a vision than reality. The question is whether he will be to harness the talent that he has while still continuing to grow as a player.

But then again, that is what the minor leagues are all about.

Last year you had a very big year in your first year of professional baseball. Guys are supposed to struggle coming from high school but you didn't. What was your biggest adjustment from high school to the pros?

Cedric Hunter: Getting used to the pitching. You know in high school you don't see many guys that can throw 93. It's the same thing, it's hitting – all about getting your timing down.

Last year you were limited quite a bit to DH because of a sore arm. How does your arm feel this year?

Cedric Hunter: It feels much better than it did last year. You know I worked hard rehabbing it so I wouldn't have to have any surgery. Much better than last year and getting better every day.

How did you hurt your arm?

Cedric Hunter: I pulled a ligament while pitching in high school and it never really got better last year.

So I guess you've stopped pitching for now?

Cedric Hunter: Yeah, [laughs], that is not going to be happening anytime soon.

What has been the biggest adjustment this year to the Midwest League? This is a pretty good jump for you from the Arizona to the Midwest League?

Cedric Hunter: The ball carries a lot better in Arizona and the pitching [here] is better, they can throw a lot more pitches at different times in the count. It's hard to get a lot of hits on this field with the thick grass, but you know it just takes time.

Is it a matter of getting more comfortable, because you're numbers seems to be coming up every month?

Cedric Hunter: Yeah, I'm starting to feel better up at the plate, more relaxed.

You're power numbers are down, but the Padres' organization always preaches that you need to learn how to hit before you can drive the ball. Is that true for you?

Cedric Hunter: It's true for everyone. Hitting with power at 19 is pretty tough, not a whole lot of guys can do it. You know a lot of guys started out as slap hitters and learned to develop power later on, player like Griffey and Bonds. I hope that is going to be the case for me, but right now I'm just trying to hit it.

During the Instructional League the Padres made some adjustments in your swing. Can you talk about that a little?

Cedric Hunter: Yeah, in the Instructs I had a little hitch in my step. They turned me around got me a little smoother at the plate. I think I still have that hitch when I'm not going well, when I'm hitting I'm a little more smooth to the ball.

It seems a lot easier to write about changing your swing than actually doing it. When you're facing pitches in the 90's how do you change a swing that you have had your whole life?

Cedric Hunter: In the Instructs it didn't take that long, but I find myself now sometimes going back to it. I really have to concentrate to not do it.

Has it helped you're game more to be in centerfield than at DH? Players always discuss its easier to forget a bad at-bat when you can go back in the field instead of sitting in the dugout thinking about it.

Cedric Hunter: Playing centerfield everyday is a good feeling, much better than last year. I really like going out there every day.

What is the biggest thing that you have to improve upon?

Cedric Hunter: My throwing arm, and I need to be more consistent with my hitting.

How do you improve the strength of your arm?

Cedric Hunter: Long toss will do it and a lot of exercises with your shoulder and forearm will also help.

What is the best thing about playing centerfield to you?

Cedric Hunter: If you can run its fun because anything you can get to is yours and everyone else has to adjust.

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