Lake Elsinore Storm 2008 Season Preview

Synopsis: This isn't the team that it was last year but still should feature a potent offense. A nice mixture of former college stars and young talent, but keep an eye on catcher Mitch Canham and centerfielder Cedric Hunter who could be in PETCO in a few years. The big question is how will the pitching hold up after Drew Miller and Cory Luebke?

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

Last year, you had quite a bit of success skipping Antonelli, Huffman and others from Eugene. Do you expect the same type of success this year from Canham, Kulbacki and Kluber and why?

Grady Fuson: Probably not as much as we did last year, but we do have some guys that are pretty advanced who were able to skip Low-A that you mentioned. One guy that could make a big jump is Eric Sogard who has a very polished approach, a good idea of the strike zone and is really just a very good hitter. I just don't see that game at the lower levels shutting this guy down. The rest of the guys, I just hope they keep their heads above water and in a perfect world Mitch Canham would catch nearly every game.

Is Drew Miller healthy and how has his changeup been coming along?

Grady Fuson: He's 100% healthy and his curveball graded out at a full grade better than it did last year. His change continues to improve; the key is getting a healthy year out of Drew.

What type of season do you expect from Cedric Hunter?

Grady Fuson: If it's anything indicative of what he did in camp this year, pretty good. He came into camp ten pounds stronger, really busted his butt and showed a lot of maturity. We had some little issues with maturity from before – when he came in after getting a lot of publicity from his big year in the AZL. We addressed it, and he's really come through. If you look at what he did last year in Fort Wayne, he never took a step backwards and it's a pretty impressive season for a 19-year-old. He's in a good position to put his name out there because a lot of times the Cal League is an easier place to hit than the Midwest League.

Projected Lineup:

1B Jeremy Hunt SP/RHP Drew Miller (MF#11)
2B Eric Sogard SP/LHP Cory Luebke (MF# 16)
3B Tom King SP/LHP Nathan Culp
SS Jesus Lopez SP/LHP Brooks Dunn
C Mitch Canham (MF#14) SP/RHP Corey Kluber
LF Javis Diaz/Robert Perry RP/RHP John Madden
CF Cedric Hunter (MF#4) RP/RHP Rolando Valdez
RF Kellen Kulbacki (MF#9) Closer/RHP R.J. Rodriguez
DH Outfield rotation- -

Key: MF = prospect rank

Notes: Rayner Contreras is out with an injury and will begin the year in extended spring training. Kulbacki has a leg strain, so Mike Baxter will begin the year in right field and will see playing time all over the outfield; the Padres really like his bat. The DH will be rotated among the outfielders.

Catch a Rising Star: Mitch Canham. The obvious choice is Hunter, but Canham, the star of Oregon State's National Championship team, has big upside. He's a tremendous athlete who is still learning how to catch. Canham has a solid batting eye and the Padres made some adjustments to his swing in the Instructs, which should result in more power.

Pitching: Miller has as much talent as any pitcher in the organization. If he can stay healthy and develop a changeup, he'll dominate this summer. Luebke, a supplemental first-round pick from last year's draft, had a great debut seeing time at three different levels of the system. The ex-basketball star throws three pitches and doesn't walk anyone, but he also threw a lot of innings last year. Culp had a nice year in Fort Wayne but wasn't quite as effective in Lake Elsinore last year, pressing at times to begin his assimilation to the Cal League.

Kluber is another one of the Padres' strong picks from last year's draft. He has good size, smooth mechanics, and a solid repertoire of pitches that just need to get a tad crisper to see success at this level. Rodriguez led the organization in saves last year; his only problem was when he wasn't in a save situation his ERA exploded. If Rodriguez has his breaking ball working to go along with a good sinking fastball and a plus change, he'll be tough.

Position Players: Last year, Fort Wayne didn't have the strongest team, which forced Hunter to try to do too much. When some re-enforcements arrived from the draft, he had his best month, hitting .317/.395/.471. With a better team around him, a better hitting environment, and warmer weather, he could have a big year. Kulbacki and Canham were two of the bigger bats on Eugene and are expected to improve upon last year's performance. Kulbacki got off to a slow start before devastating the Northwest League in his last month with a .356/.427/.656 line. Canham overcame a long season and a painful groin injury to still post a .379 on-base percentage, and the Padres raved about his game calling ability and natural leadership. His physical skills behind the plate need to catch up to the mental side of the game, but he could emerge as the Padres' top catching prospect before the year is up.

King and Sogard are both former college stars that put up impressive statistics in college and will look to prove that they can do the same in the Cal League this season. Last year, King showed some pop before injuries shortened his season. Sogard, after a big career at Arizona State, seemed tired from a season that just seemed to go a little too long. He seemed to struggle driving the ball with a wooden bat after posting .600 plus slugging percentages his last two years of college. He's another player that played well in the Instructs and in spring, so the Padres rewarded him with a High-A assignment.

Perry a late round pick by the Padres in last year's draft, played at three different levels, including briefly in Lake Elsinore. He has a very good eye, can play three positions and is another in a long line of quality Long Beach State alums.

On the Spot: Cedric Hunter: Last year, Hunter was being hailed by some as the next Tony Gwynn, and this year, some are describing what he did last year as a major disappointment. Both are wrong. He is a very good player with tremendous talent who has a chance to be a gifted MLB centerfielder with the ability to hit the ball into the gap and run. This year's Storm team should allow him to prove that, and, at the same time, erase some erroneous perceptions that he has an attitude problem.

Under the Radar: Robert Perry. A 16th-round pick by the Padres in 2007, Perry performed wherever the Padres put him. The quintessential leadoff man has surprising power for his size and should emerge as the catalyst for the Storm in 2008.

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