Peyton on Padres hitting prospects in Eugene

Eric Peyton was part of the continuing education of San Diego Padres prospects in Eugene with names such as Matt Clark, Cole Figueroa, Beamer Weems, Jaff Decker, Emmanuel Quiles, and Bobby Verbick.

Matt Clark has exceptional raw power. What does he need to be successful down the road?

Eric Peyton: What he needs to do is, and he was working with me and (manager Greg) Riddoch, is just learning to continue on his separation. Get a good separation going – a little better pre-load, he has a little dip in his swing – because of that he brings his hands with him, but he was so strong he was able to out-muscle that ball to left-center field.

Pro-ball they pitch a little better with that off-speed they can get inside a little bit more. So once again, he realized that he needed to make an adjustment, he was getting mad at himself, which to me is good because it shows that he cares about the fact that he couldn't get into a consistent pre-load but every once in a while when he did he saw that he would become a better hitter and hit the ball out to right center.

I say he has power because I haven't seen Double-A, Triple-A, big league action in a long time to say what's really a home run hitter.

He came to work. Even on his defense, he's never worked on foot position at first base so he came out the last part of the season, last two, three weeks with Riddoch at 2:30 and proved his defense that same night. I feel he has a mind to want to make that adjustment once he keeps working at it. Plus, it's important he see other players. When they're around a lot of first-year players a lot of these guys are all pulling off, over swinging, like even James Darnell, once they start seeing other players and the way they approach their swings to the ball, they'll start seeing it more.

Cole Figueroa was a late arrival to the squad. What can you tell us about him?

Eric Peyton: Surprising. Surprisingly good. Very athletic, doesn't look athletic. Strong arm, another one trying to be a student of the game. Started asking questions, started understanding and reasoning.

He made an adjustment: he had a high-leg kick, took that away from him, try to change that, to stay more balanced early in the pre-set. Hitting the ball a lot better and just needs time, more time.

Good attitude, hustles, plays hard, and can play three positions: I'm surprised how well he played at short. And what I'd call good instincts. I can't say above-average because I haven't seen enough baseball players from this era. Good instincts: knows when to charge the ball, when it gets inside of it, still make a play, off-balance, up the middle, strong enough arm to make the play at that level, but I don't know when you move up how much more he needs.

Beamer Weems had some struggles with you through the year but never lost sight of being patient. What does he need to do to improve?

Eric Peyton: Beamer, what we call more of a game plan. I don't know how does he really look at himself, being that good of a shortstop.

But offensively, it's like asking, what kind of offensive player do you want to be? He has fast hands, very fast hands. Even when he was in Double-A, even Terry Kennedy who has 14, 15 years of big league experience was putting in reports: very quick hands, turning on fastballs, above-average fastballs, turning on them, pulling them fast, so I was trying to get him to understand that when you have that fast of hands just trust your hands more and be more of a very good situation hitter. I couldn't get him to understand that yet, because he kind of just was, what I call, was kind of giving up on himself on certain pitches that he probably handled all his life.

I knew that he would need a little bit more time of a drill of just hitting the ball the other way, like most of them, just sit there and try to drive the ball the other way until he starts believing in how quick he is the other way, too. You can do that the other way. And he started hitting some balls in batting practice with power the other way.

A game I learned, instead of saying, ‘Hit the ball the other way' I try to tell him, ‘Drive the ball the other way, but still through your legs.' And then when they saw how far they hit the ball the other way it kind of lit up something in their minds about what they're capable of doing. That's where he was. I told him to separate a little bit more and he hit a couple of doubles: right-center, left-center from the left side which is supposed to be his weaker side. And then he would nod and he would get back into his habit. But I knew if I could get him to do it one or two times…and we'll see if we can change his work ethic just a little bit more of him working real hard. I think he's been able to get away with a lot.

Jaff Decker was only with you for three games and then got hit on the hand in the last contest – but what were your impressions of him?

Eric Peyton: I like him because first of all I just thought any kind out of high school that hits whatever he did down in rookie ball, to me, is impressive. He came there, I don't think it phased him, I think he was just getting used to seeing better pitching, more consistent pitching, he had a better approach: he said he worked with Bobby (Skube) about getting his front foot down, and I thought, as they say, his swing was already advanced for his age. Pretty advanced; not unusual, just starts high, comes into a closed stance. Very quick, I mean, quick hands.

Has good strength for a high schooler. I'm looking for a high school kid to be even less muscular than that – very muscular. And he was a student: he actually came in after striking out that the guy was tipping his pitches and we were impressed with the fact that he even noticed stuff like that. I'm just glad he didn't get hurt as bad as he could; I mean, they ran that fastball right on his hands and I'm just glad it didn't break it or tear ligaments or anything like that; that would have been pretty bad. All he needs is just to play.

Plays outfield; another one – they kept telling me he's a body snatcher, but me being a smaller guy from my era, he has instincts. Where he's projected, I'm not qualified to say that. He was able to play center, left, strong arm, so, he's a lot more athletic than he looks. I kind of like that, because people assume you still always want to work out, but sometimes that's what God's given you. You just got to work with what you got. He's a good-looking kid for his age.

Emmanuel Quiles has a lot of raw ability but is still very young. Is one of the biggest things just adding strength to his game?

Eric Peyton: After seeing him, most of these catchers at instructs, yeah, he needs strength. He's quick. He's quicker than these couple catchers I saw. Very strong arm.

With his culture, he's pretty studious, he's out there. He wants to learn, and we're trying to even talk to him about, he wanted to go play winter ball then realized it would be more important for him to just go to Instructional League. He goes to Instructional League and keeps working and gets stronger. He's going to be a good one.

We worked on his hitting, and he got inside the ball, then last month started hitting the ball to right-center, right field, hit a home run to left-center, finally just learning to stay inside and all I have to do is say, ‘Where do you want to be?' and he gets to pulling his hand in.

So, once again with the younger people is trying to get him a good work ethic so he can start improving faster, which is one of the biggest things at this stage. He sat next to us during the game when he wasn't playing and we were talking about pitch selection, so that means he's into the game more and he wanted to learn more. And when we asked him questions, he wasn't afraid to answer, even if it was right or wrong. Some of the players it's hard when they don't speak the English language that much. For him, who doesn't speak it that well, to still want to be there and speaking the best way he can, I was impressed with that part of it, that he wants to learn that stuff. Good ball player, though.

You worked with Bobby Verbick on getting a better load in his swing. Were you beginning to see the benefits of that?

Eric Peyton: He was, and then he stopped doing it. I was surprised that he brought it back. And at 23 years old there's that mindset. Hopefully he'll work with it, and get results. He was doing well. In the last couple weeks, he stopped doing it. And so I figured he needed to just go through the ups and downs of a pre-load because he thought he was pre-loading, but we told him not enough. He's got to keep pre-loading. But now that I know him, he's a strong guy and needs to play; to get out there. And I told them all in a sense, what you learn and what you think you need to work on and just work on it. And hopefully Bobby will do it, will work on his pre-load better.

What were your overall impressions from the first year coaching?

Eric Peyton: They've got some talented players they've drafted, they've got some kids that have some stuff to offer and I get to learn instructionally what this instructional league, what kind of value that it has for you. Most guys might be playing winter ball; how can you work on something when you're tied up playing winter ball?

I think it's good to have this type of league, even the Arizona Fall League. You really work on a specific part of your skills that they want to improve. And I think my job, even in the second half of this instructional league, is to keep these guys motivated. ‘Hey, look, you're an athlete working on something. You're changing a work ethic, and you're changing a habit. I see down the future how it's going to help you and benefit you.' They're good kids. You're around Riddoch, it's hard not to be a good kid. He gets them to open up a lot, get to learn, get to know them more, and even me, myself, being my first year, it was a lot easier to open up, have a lot more fun, and we didn't get to the playoffs, but at least we got close. The kids were able to play under that kind of environment for the last two weeks, which was the best thing for them.

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