AZL Padres prospects have impact potential

Former Arizona Rookie League Padres hitting coach Manny Crespo saw some burgeoning young talent in the desert. He shared his thoughts on Angel Mercado, Keoni Ruth, Lance Zawadzki, Edinson Rincon, Ali Solis, Edgar Garzon, Clint Naylor and Jeudy Valdez.

Angel Mercado quietly had a good year for you, showing some pop and playing well. What did you see out of him?

Manny Crespo: Angel started off really hot with us and he ended up getting hurt and that slowed him down. I have no doubt that had he not gotten hurt he might have been able to come out of rookie ball and move up.

In this game, if you lose a couple of weeks to injury, things happen.

He came back and was able to put up some good numbers. It is a matter of consistency for him too. Angel has a pretty good swing. It has to be his overall mindset of going out there and knowing what he has to do. Angel, when he started doing really well, he started getting a little anxious and wasn't seeing pitches. He kind of took himself out of his rhythm. Angel is a guy that has to have confidence in himself to be able to relax and see pitches.

It is very tough to go out there and see any one pitch from anybody. The fact is you don't know whether the ball is moving, cutting, the velocity. The philosophy is the more pitches you see the better chance you are going to have because when you see the pitch you want you will have the correct approach to hit it well.

No one had a better start than Keoni Ruth. How can he continue to be successful because he didn't necessarily get a lot of playing time when he left you guys?

Manny Crespo: Keoni is going to be a role player on any team he plays on. He knows how to play the game and has an overall good approach to hitting.

He can hit the breaking ball, he can stay behind it, and he hits the fastball the other way as good as anybody because his swing is an inside-out swing. That is too his advantage coming from college because most guys have that aluminum bat swing where he is already focused on staying inside the ball. It gives him an advantage.

For him to continue getting better it is just like anybody: bigger, faster, stronger. Baseball doesn't change very much – it just gets faster. People run faster, they throw faster – he has to be able to adapt.

He has enough tools to carry him along and play a role on teams. That is what he did this year and if he comes back next year ready he will do well.

Lance Zawadzki wasn't with you long but tore the cover off the ball. What were your impressions of him?

Manny Crespo: Lance was hurt – he has probably better talent than most, especially down here in rookie ball. His talent was superior in those aspects.

He has pop from both sides of the plate. We couldn't really see him run because of the injury but he has a good arm and good range at shortstop.

A lot of times, he had to let things go a little bit easier. He is very intense. You learn that. In this game, there are going to be a lot of ups and downs and you have to maintain it in the middle. That middle spot – mentally he is prepared to continue moving up that ladder.

He is a definite competitor. I want him on my team.

Edinson Rincon struggled out of the gate, going hitless in his first 22 at bats. But what adjustments did you make to get him on track?

Manny Crespo: I think Edinson, at the beginning, was just trying to do too much. He wanted to prove to everyone he should have been here. Being 16, it is impressionable on a young guy coming to the states facing guys who are older. He had high expectations for himself.

The best thing about Edinson is he never got down on himself. Being 16 and over here while going 0-for-22 has to be really tough. Everybody was joking around about it and he said, ‘You know what? I am going to get a hit today. If I don't get a hit today I will get a hit tomorrow.' He never let it bother him.

As far as mechanics, I worked with him but the main thing for him was to just see better pitches. I think next year when he comes back it is going to be a totally different story. He is going to come back and have an idea and be more comfortable.

That is a thing that people don't understand – these guys are coming from a country where they have never seen anything like they are seeing here and now they have to perform in a place where it is 120 degrees. It is not an easy thing to do. He has the talent and the maturity. He has the concept of what it takes to come in and work hard. He will be fine.

Ali Solis came up with some big hits for you. He might have also taken the next step, much like Garzon.

Manny Crespo: I got to work with him a lot this year. He would stay early and stay late, asking a lot of questions.

The biggest thing for any young person is to be able to understand what is being taught and put it into play the next day.

Solis and Garzon hung out together and were both able to help each other. They are two different hitters but they were able to excel.

Solis really did come a long way. If he continues to enforce that plan that we came up of letting balls get in on him, he can't pull balls that he has a tendency to pull.

Overall, the constant repetition – they worked really hard this year. The evidence was there for the guys who worked hard.

We have talked about Clint Naylor needing to add weight to his frame in the past. Is the same still true?

Manny Crespo: The thing is – a little known fact was that Naylor was hurt pretty much all year. He had something wrong with his foot. It happened in Spring Training and he felt pain throughout the year. It is something he tried to play through and he did. I think it showed through in a lot of other things like throwing and hitting. It was tough for him to push off that foot.

The fact that we didn't have that many catchers – there were a lot of bullpens and a lot put on top of him. He didn't get the rest he needed to go out there and perform the right way.

He has still got room to improve. He just wasn't healthy this year. I think we would have seen more progress had he been healthy.

Jeudy Valdez had a fantastic year. What do you see out of him in the future?

Manny Crespo: Jeudy was one of our most talented players. You can see some longevity and him continuing to play.

He came out late and I think his bat didn't surprise me as much because I thought he could hit. He has great bat speed and great power. He has mechanical flaws. He is learning and seeing pitches for the first time – and for the first time seeing better pitching he did well.

He improved significantly in the field. He started out shaky out there. That comes with age. He is 18 or 19 and his first time here.

He got tired at the end. He fell off because he was playing a lot. In that environment, there is nobody who can play everyday and not get tired. For his first year in pro ball he did really well.

Coming back next year with confidence after doing well and if he can prolong his strength through the whole year he will do well.

I saw a little bit of Rayner as far as the competitiveness. ‘Wow' is still a step ahead as far as hitting ability. (Contreras) understands it a little bit more and makes adjustments a little quicker. ‘Wow' is a totally different hitter. Jeudy is still trying to get a feel for what kind of hitter he is. He is still trying to figure it out. I think so much success early on kind of hindered him. He expected to hit like that the whole season. That just does not happen. There are very few Cedric Hunter's around. If he continues to mature physically and mentally – the best you can do is the best you can do and you can't do much more than that. He pressed a little bit at the end.

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