Fort Wayne Wizards 2008 Season Preview

Synopsis: As with last year, this will be a very young team. The difference is the pitching is better and if the offense can show the patience the Padres expects of their hitters, their speed will generate runs. Where the power will come from is a big question.

Three Strikes with Grady Fuson/Padres Vice-President of Scouting and Development:

Can you explain to our readers what exactly the eight-man rotation is and why it's used?

Grady Fuson: Great question. Mainly it gives more of our pitchers an opportunity to start, which is really what you want to do when you have a very young staff. If we use an eight-man rotation, a pitcher gets 35 starts a year, as opposed to 28 and that is really what it is all about. It teaches the pitcher to be pitch efficiently, if you want to get that W in the fifth, you better be efficient with your pitches. The sides are better, which is truly the number one concern of a pitching coach, because they can throw at a higher rate of effort than if we were going with the standard rotation. So we are going to get more out of them on the sides and get them out on the mound more often, which is how pitchers get better.

Although Felix Carrasco was one of the Padres' bigger signings out of the Dominican Republic, he had a tough year last year in Eugene. How has he looked this spring and is he still switch-hitting or is just from the left side?

Grady Fuson: He's still switch-hitting. We're going to give this a run. He's been in our Arizona program for two years, and we have to begin to find out what he is going to bring to the party. He's going to be given an opportunity, and, if he doesn't succeed, we have two kids back in extended that will be given a shot. I'm not saying that it is his last chance, but out of respect to our Latin American program and him, we have to see what he can do in a full-season league.

Why isn't Mat Latos breaking camp with the Wizards? Also how has he looked in spring training?

Grady Fuson: He requested some time off for personal reasons so he missed five days of spring training towards the end of camp, two of which he was supposed to throw. When he came back his arm wasn't quite where we wanted, he had a little soreness, so we decided to err on the side of caution and keep him in extended. When his arm gets built back up again we'll send him out. Other than that he's been fine, his velocity has been up and his change and slider are coming along.

Projected Lineup:

1B Felix Carrasco/Angel MercadoSP/RHPMat Latos (MF#2) (extended)
2B Lance Zawadzki SP/RHP Jeremy Hefner
3B Justin Baum SP/RHP Jeremy McBryde
SS Drew Cumberland (MF #10) SP/LHP Matt Teague
C Luis Martinez SP/LHP Geoff Vandel
LF Luis Durango SP/LHP Allen Harrington
CF Danny Payne/Brad Chalk SP/RHP Robert Woodard
RF Yefri Carvajal (MF#8) SP/RHP Brandon Gomes
DH Angel Mercado Closer/LHP Colt Hynes

Key: MF = prospect ranking

Notes: Andrew Parrino will be playing quite a bit all around the infield. Payne will be out the first month with a hamstring injury. Aaron Breit, MF #19, will start the year on the DL with elbow problems, and Latos should be joining the team in a few weeks. Zawadzki and Cumberland with both split time between second and short.

Catch a Rising Star: Mat Latos. He won't begin the year in Fort Wayne but have no doubt; with his 6-foot-6 frame and mid-90s fastball, he will be the most watched player on the Wizards. Learning how to be a professional on and off the field, adapting to the travel and the constant demands of a full-season league will be a major test for the young pitcher. He is one of the very few pitchers that have a chance to develop into a #1 starter.

Pitching: The big difference between this staff and others in the past is quite a few of these pitchers – Latos, Breit, Hefner and McBryde - rely much more on power than guile. Hefner stuck out 74 batters in 62.1 innings against only 20 walks in Eugene. At 6-foot-5, the big right-hander was a steal in last year's draft and could be a rising star in the system. McBryde was the Padres other draft-and-follow selection and also has quite a bit of talent but seemed to wear down after a long year.

Despite a 0-2 record, Harrington, a late round selection in the 2007 draft from Lamar, pitched well for the Wizards last year, striking out 42 batters in 41 innings and allowing only 39 hits. Vandel had a great debut in 2005, earning Pitcher of the Year for the AZL, but the lefty has struggled to get out of Arizona the past two years beset by a variety of injuries and personal problems. It's a big year for him to return for a fourth year to the short-season leagues will do no one any good.

Hynes was the last player in the draft that the Padres signed and side-winder justified their faith in him, saving four games and striking out 50 in 41.2 innings against only six walks.

Position Players: A very young team that will struggle to find power but should be able to run. Cumberland, Durango, Payne and Chalk can all fly and have a good idea of the strike zone.

Durango won the Northwest League batting title with a .367 batting average and has more power than you would believe in a 5-foot-10, 145-pound frame with eight triples. Cumberland, 19, hit very well in Arizona and in limited time in Eugene, despite some hamstring injuries, but both he and Zawadzki struggled defensively.

Martinez is a solid defensive backstop that showed some ability at the plate last year in Eugene, but can be a little over aggressive. Carvajal and Carrasco are two of the Padres biggest names from the recent push in the Dominican Republic. So far, Carvajal has shown much more, destroying the AZL last year with a 340/.404/.500 line and rebounding in Eugene after a tough start with a .292 average in August. Carrasco has yet to show the big power that he was signed for but supposedly showed promise in the spring. After two straight years in Arizona, time is beginning to run out.

Mercado had a monster spring and could emerge as the everyday first baseman if Carrasco fails.

On the Spot: Felix Carrasco. Carrasco was one of the new regime's first big signings out of the Dominican Republic, a switch-hitting third baseman with power. The problem is he's fallen far short of his potential, and the Padres have even moved him to first base because he put on too much weight. He needs to show some of the potential that he did in '06 and a better work ethic if he's going to have a chance.

Under the Radar: Jeremy Hefner: Despite some other pitchers with bigger reputations, Hefner had one of the better years of any of the Padres' 2007 selections. He has good size, has some velocity and will pound the zone. Look for Hefner to be the most polished of the Wizards' staff.

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