Name: Cedric Hunter
DOB: March 10, 1988
Hunter burst onto the scene in his first professional season, hitting .364 across two leagues with 41 walks compared to just 25 strikeouts.
A third-round pick in 2006, Hunter capped that first season with Arizona Rookie League MVP honors, hitting safely in 48 straight games to open the year and leading the league in runs scored.
After a solid Spring Training, Hunter was pushed up to full season ball with the Fort Wayne Wizards of the Midwest League.
The centerfielder hit .282, leading the team with 58 RBIs and 47 walks, tying for the team lead with 20 doubles, and tying for second with 53 runs scored. He also clubbed seven homers and was walked intentionally a team high four times.
"I think anyone is crazy who thinks he had a bad year," Padres vice president of scouting and player development Grady Fuson said. "He is a 19-year-old kid who put up some pretty good numbers in a tough league. He's durable and there is still a lot of growth that needs to come baseball wise and physically."
Hunter got a taste of Triple-A, spending three games with the Portland Beavers and going 2-for-4 with a homer and three RBIs. He even went 1-for-3 with Double-A San Antonio in the playoffs.
"I thought the way he went about it – he has great presence on the field," Fort Wayne manager Doug Dascenzo said. "Nothing seemed to shake him up. At least he never showed it. For him to be a second year guy fresh out of high school and hit .280-.285 is pretty impressive.
"Fort Wayne – the ballpark there is a pretty tough place to hit. To be honest, the grass is a little slow and I think he hit seven homeruns – that shows you what kind of talent this young man has. He has a good line drive swing. He does not back down from the game. He competes very well."
This season, Hunter saw more breaking balls than perhaps any player in the system. It was a result of a poor supporting cast – Hunter being the only consistent threat that could do damage. That could turn into a blessing. Hunter was able to recognize pitches better as the season wore on and should be better served in the future for going through a season such as this.
It led to more strikeouts and less walks over the course of the year but taught him some valuable lessons along the way.
Waiting for his pitch is something he excelled at in his first season but the approach had to change slightly in year two. With the steady diet of off-speed pitches, Hunter had to focus on not missing the fastball and finding out which breaking pitch he could drive.
"He was a much better breaking ball hitter at the end of the year," former Fort Wayne and current AZL Padres hitting coach Bob Skube said. "He pretty much hit third for us all year and got a lot of breaking balls in hitters counts. He learned how to be patient. He did a much better job of pitch recognition by the end of the year.
"He did a better job of paying attention to the game and watching pitchers pitch to guys on his own team so when he got to the plate he pretty much knew what the pitcher was going to try and do to him. He is a very intelligent young man and really a natural hitter.
"I was happy with what he did in 2007," former Padres minor league field coordinator and current MLB scout Bill Bryk said. "I was not happy with what he did in the Instructional League. He did not give us the effort we needed in Instructional League. It was addressed and he knows it. He did not give us the same work habits.
"With that said, he is young and I expect him to come back and be one of the best hitters in the California League in average and his power numbers will increase. He is going to be a good player. This kid has a chance."
His numbers should see a significant jump next year when he hits the California League and has protection surrounding him.
"If he would have been surrounded by some better hitters I have no problem telling you I think he would have hit .300 in that league," Skube conceded. "With all the injuries and what happened to us as a team, he was thrown in the fire at 19 and came out with the fourth highest amount of hits in the league. He got a chance to play in Triple-A and finish up in Double-A. From the coaches – and opposing coaches that saw him play – were impressed with his play."
The Georgia native has a sweet swing that is repeatable and stays inside the ball well. He is in a relaxed position as the ball leaves the pitcher's hand and stays back on the ball – giving him time to recognize the pitch.
His hands come through the hitting zone on a level plane and he drops the bat head with a snap of the wrists, giving him solid plate coverage and an ability to go the other way or pull the inside pitch.
Line drives and keeping the ball grounded are his specialties. He hits the top half of the ball and when the ball is in his sweet spot he will drive it into the gaps.
"When you are talking about a high school kid competing against 23 and 24-year-old pitchers and having success doing it you have to be excited about that," Dascenzo said.
Hunter will chase down and away when the pitch sequences fool him, often popping the ball up to the left side of the infield.
Hunter understands his swing very well – but that can also be a problem. He listens and learns during batting practice, but does not take what he learns into the game, preferring to stay consistent with his current mechanics.
What he has to accept is the coaching staff is only trying to help him improve over the long haul. It may result in a lower batting average today but ironing out any hitches could pay dividends down the road. That has led some to believe he can be stubborn. It is more a product of not wanting to mess with success – a hard trait to abandon.
There is a perception that he does not hustle in the outfield and has a lazy approach. The real story is he simply needs to improve on his jumps and reads off the bat. He has had trouble recognizing the flight of the ball and takes circular routes rather than the best route. He has good makeup speed and has worked extensively on improving in this area.
Hunter's arm isn't great but is not as bad as originally advertised. He has good mechanics with his throws and sets himself up in good position to throw by coming in on the ball and aligning his feet.
His ability to run the bases took a hit this year, as he swiped just eight bags in 17 attempts. The balance in his stance doesn't put him in position to get that first-step quickness towards the bag. He has to rely on reading the pitcher and getting caught flat-footed gives the catcher an extra split-second to throw him out.
"When you're talking about a teenager you are never talking about a finished product," Fuson said. "We think he's going to fill out a little more and there are some things with his swing we weren't able to fix last year because he was a little overwhelmed in Instructs last year.
"Ced is one of those guys who has tremendous ability. He is still searching how to put everything together. That is typical for a kid that is 19, 20 years old. I think he is still searching for his own maturity level – all the things young kids go through when they enter this game and are dealt a hand of playing the pro game at the young age of 18 and going through the trials and tribulations and everything that goes into it.
"I think everyone knows how we feel about him and how excited we are to be a part of him putting it altogether. We are just looking for continued improvement."
ETA: Hunter is on track to begin the year in Lake Elsinore and it is expected he will have a monster year. That should put him on track to tackle Double-A as a 21-year-old and from there anything is possible.
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