Season Recap: This year's version of the lowest level of the San Diego Padres' system was one of the more talented squads that the organization has put on the field in a long time.
Three players, outfielder Jaff Decker, catcher Robert Lara and right-hander Stiven Osuna made the post-season All-Star team, as the Padres "T-ball" team finished the season with a 33-23 record – missing the playoffs by a game. The most notable features of the team were a league leading team on-base percentage of .392 and the pitching staff gave up the fewest amount of walks in the league.
The Arizona Padres led the AZL in OBP with a .391. Last year it was .375 and in '06 it was .391. What is the reason behind the success with plate discipline at this level?
Grady Fuson: Number one when you look at some of the core of the team you can see that we had some older college players that were maybe short on some skills, but we were able to see something where they fit into what we were trying to do. Some of the talented young guys also had a feel for what we were trying to do; they had a feel for the strike zone along with an ability to drive the ball. When you put those two things together you have a pretty good player.
It seems like recently even the young players you get straight out of high school like Cedric Hunter, Drew Cumberland and Jaff Decker had a good feel for the strike zone, which is difficult to find in young players.
Grady Fuson: I would like to think that everyone in our organization has that to some degree. When we look for players that is one of our keys; if they are selective in looking for a good pitch to hit. With some of the younger guys that we have taken, it's more of a combination of using some stats to validate what we are seeing with our eyes.
This year we led every league in walks. Now again, a walk is not what we are teaching, but it is a byproduct of a solid approach at the plate. What we are teaching is to be disciplined enough to lay off a bad pitch and to wait for something that you can drive. Our hitters start to find out when you get in those 2-1 or 3-1 counts you start seeing a lot more of those pitches.
Jaff Decker had an amazing year at the plate. Before you get into what he did at the plate he's also a much better all-around player than he was given credit for before the draft. He's stolen nine out of 10 bases, and you guys had him playing in center field half the time. Could you give us an idea of not only what he can do at the plate but also his all-around game?
Grady Fuson: He was a centerfielder in high school and also pitched. He could throw 90 to 92 off of the mound and more importantly he had a feel for pitching. That is one of the keys how you gauge a young player's ability to play the game, their instincts. He's not the prototype centerfielder that is 6-foot-2 and long and lean, but he has instincts to succeed out there. He gets great jumps and reads on the ball. The only misnomer about him is everyone just looks at what he can do offensively, and there will be some limitations on him because of his size and body type, but he can play and is athletic.
If not for Decker the story may have been catcher Robert Lara. Not only did he hit .344 but he also led the AZL catcher's in fielding percentage at .994 and threw out nearly 35 percent of opposing base runners. How does he profile defensively, and do you think he will start next year in Fort Wayne?
Grady Fuson: Oh yeah, he is definitely in the mix for Fort Wayne next year. It was an odd summer for him. His whole history has been as a catch-and-throw guy, he's never really done that much damage with the bat. When we took him, we knew we would have to rebuild his whole approach at the plate, but he bought in to what we were trying to do and really put up some numbers. He did struggle a little bit defensively, his throws were a little off, but overall he had a very good year.
Grady Fuson: Codiroli has a slight build, live body and is a center fielder type, can run a bit and has a contact approach. He did a nice job at the beginning and tailed off a little as the season went on. Murphree is about the exact opposite, a little older played in the SEC at Arkansas, has big power, good arm and we'll see if we can compliment some of his existing skills to get him to move up.
Chris Wilkes, despite his tremendous size for his age, 6-foot-3, 234-pounds, has been somewhat of a surprise; mainly because he was seen more as a football than baseball player. What did the organization see in him before the draft and how did you get him away from signing with Ole Miss' football team?
Grady Fuson: It was old school scouting. We never really saw him pitch in a game, and he really didn't pitch that much in school. Everything we learned from him was based off of workouts. Our scouts, after talking with him, thought he had more of an interest in becoming a professional baseball pitcher than a quarterback in the SEC and we were able to get it done.
Can you give us an idea of what he throws and his velocity?
Grady Fuson: He's a good size kid with an innate feel for getting the ball downhill. He's really fallen in love with our changeup program down there and has developed a pretty good one. He competes and throws in the 87-91 range with a slider and a change.
Last question, two strong pitchers from your Latin American program are Venezuelan Stiven Osuna and Jose DePaula from the Dominican Republic; both are described as more control pitchers. Osuna is known for his sinkerball and DePaula is the proverbial "crafty lefty". How do they project?
Grady Fuson: I'm not so sure if that is accurate since both of them are developing arms. We signed both of them when they were 17 and were throwing in the mid-80s. Now, they each throw in the upper 80's and touch 90. Osuna definitely has a chance to throw with a little more velocity, and DePaula, as a left-hander, controls the ball a little better right now and should move up a little faster.
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