Name: Rayner Contreras
DOB: September 21, 1986
Over two seasons in the Dominican, the infielder batter .270 with 41 RBIs over 81 games.
In his debut in the Arizona Rookie League, Contreras lived up to the moniker ‘Wow'. He hit .316 and cracked 14 extra base hits in 44 games. But his real contribution came with men on base, smacking a league leading 52 RBIs.
That was just the tip of the iceberg, scouts said.
"You have to like his tools," former Padres minor league field coordinator and current MLB scout Bill Bryk said. "He is a 6.6 runner with a good arm. The only thing that holds Rayner back is the time he has spent being hurt. Hopefully, he is done with all that."
His efforts allowed him to skip over short-season Eugene and begin the 2007 season with the Low-A Fort Wayne Wizards.
In half a season with the Wizards before succumbing to injury, Contreras showed he was able and could meet the challenge.
A 3-for-29 stretch in his final eight games brought his average down from .297 to its final resting spot of .276 for the season.
He clubbed 21 extra base hits, including seven homers, and knocked in 37 runs – good for second-most on the team at the time of his injury.
A high ankle sprain ended his year in mid-July, never seeming to heal properly.
"He is an amazing talent, no question about it," Fort Wayne manager Doug Dascenzo said. "He has all the ability in the world. He has age on his side. He is young. He has been over in the states for only a couple of years. He is playing against these guys – we are very excited about what we saw from Rayner this year, even though it was on a limited basis."
"This guy is special," Padres director of international scouting Randy Smith said. "He needs to stay healthy, physically mature a little. He has a chance to be a big man someday. He has the right frame.
"Surprising power – he drives the ball as well as anybody. He is a real interesting case. When the weight starts sticking to him and he stays healthy, I think you are going to see average with power numbers – and this guy can run too. He was a 6.6 guy in Spring Training."
A wiry athlete that has a lot of room to grow, Contreras has thump in his bat. He has quick wrists and a solid approach at the plate with a developing acumen of the strike zone.
"Contreras has a lot of upside to everything he does," Padres vice president of scouting and player development Grady Fuson said. "We are hoping he stays healthy and gets a full year under his belt."
His trigger – a Daryl Strawberry foot lift – has settled down so it is not as pronounced. He still lifts his foot but not nearly as high. It gives him better timing to sit back on the off-speed pitches and get it down in time to transfer his weight on fastballs in tight.
"He is one of our bright young stars from Latin America," former Fort Wayne and current AZL Padres hitting coach Bob Skube said. "He is definitely a good young hitter. He can backspin balls and hit balls into the gap. He has an exceptional amount of power for a small guy. He is not going to be a small guy much longer. He is going to blossom out and put some weight on and get stronger. He is another bright spot in our organization.
"He is an exceptional power-hitting guy. He hits the ball in the gap and hits the ball over the fence just as well."
Contreras faced more off-speed pitches this year because of the lack of protection around him, especially when he hit fifth in the lineup.
Benefits outweigh the drawbacks in this circumstance, as he should be better prepared to recognize pitches in the future.
He has a good follow through on his swing that propels the ball into the air with backspin and his natural strength allows him to attack the gaps.
As most young Latin hitters, he is susceptible to the outside breaking balls and will lose his balance and lean over the plate to hit the ball, losing any leverage or strength. He also has a tendency to want to pull those pitches rather than going with the pitch, making easy grounders a way of life.
"Rayner has always been able to hit," former Padres Latin American scout and current Astros director of Latin American scouting Felix Francisco said. "He has hit everywhere he has played. There is nothing with hitting that surprises me with Rayner because he played two years in the Dominican Summer League and was our best hitter. He went to the Arizona Rookie League and was the leader in RBIs and hit like .318. This year, he went to Fort Wayne and was among the three best hitters on the team. That is not a surprise since he has been hitting since day one."
Strength is an area of focus for Contreras. He has the frame to pack on another 20 pounds without taking away from his ability or speed. Packing on the pounds will also lead to more power in a body that is already lithe and quick.
Contreras has good agility but has little knowledge on how to accelerate or get a good jump on the basepaths. His first-step quickness, the reading of a pitcher's move and balance in his stance need to improve before he can be considered a threat. He still swiped seven bags in 13 attempts this past season.
Fielding is an area of concern. At second base, Contreras had a .900 fielding percentage on the year and at third base that number dipped to .859 with 27 errors in 61 games at the hot corner.
Rushing everything from footwork to glove to hand exchange and his throw, Contreras first needs to settle down and trust he has the time to make a play. He is often caught between hops as he charges the ball or will take a few extra steps when his mind is on making a good, clean throw, costing him valuable seconds. Fielding it cleanly, he will also stand up too tall and his ball will sail on its way to the first baseman.
"I think his best position is second base – more than third," said Smith. "I think he can be a big enough man and have the power to play third and can, if necessary, play the outfield. His bat is going to play."
Faith in his abilities and his arm will go a long way, as will proper footwork and throwing mechanics. He currently has too much to think about and needs to let his innate ability take charge.
"I think he is going to be a second baseman – a Ryne Sandberg-type, bigger guy that can play some third," Bryk said. "I think he is most comfortable at second. He can be an everyday major league regular."
ETA: His progress will be measured by health and firming up his defense. Offensively, there are few big question marks but more a matter of when. He should continue to hit and how he hits could elevate him even further up the prospect ranks.
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