Tom Gamboa on Padres Prospects

EUGENE, OR: What are the impressions of Jaff Decker? What makes him so special? How do the Padres rate the year of Cedric Hunter and how special can he be? Has Will Inman become one of the top pitching prospects in the system and is his velocity consistent? caught up to Tom Gamboa, the Padres minor league field coordinator, to get the answers.

You came to Eugene from Arizona and had a chance to see Jaff Decker. It looks from here that this is a special young man.

Tom Gamboa: Very special. I had to go back in my memory bank – the only high school I can remember coming into pro ball as advanced mechanics, confidence, technique as Decker was many years ago with Milwaukee we drafted a kid named Dion James who at age 21 was hitting .300 in the big leagues.

A real pure swing, great mechanics, and it is a real credit (to our scouts). I called Grady as soon as I left Arizona because Decker's body type does not fit what you are looking for when you are looking at a top three round draft pick. He is a very strong kid, but normally when you are looking at just body types and potential big league athletes. I looked at the (Jeremy) Barfield kid from Oakland and when you see a body type like that he has to prove to you that he can't play because you want to like him right away. We signed a kid after the draft in Chase Williams who has played well down in Arizona and he is built like Erik Davis and Rayner Contreras. You look at the body and think this kid was an oversight in the draft – there is athleticism here. You look at Decker who is a prototype of Matt Stairs.

It is not ideally what you are looking for and some might move a guy down or not draft him at all. To Grady's credit, when Grady sees someone who can hit – and this kid Decker is a real, real, real quality hitter. To step in from high school – he has gone hitless in a handful of games since he has been in pro ball. Tremendous makeup, a good athlete, knows the game, good pitch selection. He is going to get himself on the map real quick as far as being one of our real quality hitters.

Let's go to Lake Elsinore for a minute. I think some were down on Cedric Hunter last year because of his numbers in Fort Wayne, but he also saw more breaking balls in a lineup that didn't have a whole lot of protection. I thought he had a great year and would be better off going into this year.

Tom Gamboa: Ced came to us as a real gifted athlete. He has a phenomenal first year and was the MVP of the rookie league. In development, there is always at some level a point where there is a step taken backwards. The greatest hitters in this game fail seven out of ten. That is how tough hitting is.

I would classify Fort Wayne as a real good learning experience for Ced last year. Certainly he didn't perform up to his capabilities but it was a step backwards is the biggest thing we have harped on him since when he signed is his hand-eye coordination is so good that he has to be very careful what he swings at. A lesser guy might swing at a 1-0 changeup – looking fastball – and will swing at it and miss it or foul it off. At the very worst he is even in the count and still has his at-bat. But Ced's hand-eye coordination is so good that he will swing at that changeup off-balance and ground it out to second base.

One of my big teaching lessons to Ced is the last game I saw him play in Fort Wayne last year I saw him go 0-for-4 and literally ground out weakly to second base four times. Not one being a pitch he should have been swinging at. He is so aggressive, being a young guy at 19, he didn't know how to balance our patiently aggressive approach and know the difference between yes I want to be aggressive but I also want to be selective.

In his fifth at-bat with the game on the line and in a 2-0 count, the pitcher centered a fastball right down the middle and he hit a rocket like Valdez did that short hopped that little wall in right field. I left there thinking, ‘That is what he is capable of doing.'

Ted Williams was the last guy to ever hit .400 and he prefaced every hitting talk that he ever gave – number one, above all mechanics, is you have to get a good pitch to hit. He was forever trying to convince people that a bad hitter hitting ninth could hit a good pitch better than a great hitter could hit a pitch on the knees on the outside corner that was a pitcher's pitch.

Having not done as well - .280 is not bad – but my feeling is he took a step backwards but learned a lot from those 500 at-bats. Now at a higher level, we are seeing a much more productive hitter this year in terms of on-base percentage, his average has been above .300 since day one, he has played with a lot enthusiasm and he is having more fun because he has been more successful. He has learned from it.

To the credit of Tony Muser and Shane Spencer, they made a mechanical adjustment in his setup. Where his head was more cocked to the side, now he is getting a level, two-eyed look at the ball, he has eliminated some of the rapt, which has made his swing more compact. We think we have a guy who is right on track towards working his way to the big leagues.

I only got a chance to see Will Inman once last year and his velocity was mid-80s and when I saw him in spring training I saw him at 90-92 and he became a far different pitcher.

Tom Gamboa: We are real happy with that deal last year. We were fortunate to stock our system with three impressive pitchers for a proven big leaguer in Scott Linebrink. The way that Heath Bell had come on for us and I liken it to the old Branch Rickey theory that you are better to trade a player a year too soon that still has value rather than when it is too late. Scott did a great job for us but the way Heath Bell came on and we had the confidence he could do that setup role, the opportunity to get Joe Thatcher – we didn't have a big league lefty reliever – and to get two pitchers of the quality of Will Inman and Steve Garrison was terrific.

Inman's velocity has been real consistent this year between 88-91 with a real, real plus curveball. A true curveball that you just don't see anymore. More like the old Don Sutton type that is falling off the table. As Will improves the command of his fastball, because he has had a consistent and winning year, but the outings that have been less than up to his standard is where he has lacked fastball command and has either gotten behind in the count or had some base on balls.

To his credit, he has always had command of that curveball. He has great feel for is and has the confidence to throw it in any count. When you can drop that thing not only ahead in the count but also behind that is a great equalizer for hitters.

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