Padres Spring Training Q&A: Grady Fuson

With Spring Training in full swing and games finally underway, San Diego Padres vice president of scouting and player development Grady Fuson discussed the hot topics being debated in camp this year.

One of the things that you have always been cognizant of is pitch counts. With several pitchers returning from injury, will that push you back to an eight-man rotation to save arms, specifically in Fort Wayne?

Grady Fuson: As we start right now, no, but we'll see how it goes and what the various crews we have and the depth at each level. Right now, we have about six or seven candidates on all four teams fighting for five spots.

Where do you expect to see Adys Portillo pitch this year, and do you believe there is a chance he could end up on the fast track to Fort Wayne next year?

Grady Fuson: I wouldn't consider it a fast track mainly because of the talent that he possesses. We plan to have him in extended this year and with a shot to be in Eugene at the end of the summer. I certainly could see him in Fort Wayne next year, but we are going to take it one step at a time.

The past few years you have skipped players a level, particularly from Eugene to Lake Elsinore with a lot of success. What goes into the thought process of whether or not to do this with a particular prospect?

Grady Fuson: We have an idea of what could happen pretty much right when we draft a player, especially a college kid with some polish. You know you are talking about guys that have played in some major conferences before thousands of people, in the Cape League on Team USA and so on. If we believe they have done well in the Northwest League and then instructs then, yeah, they can usually handle the competition in the Cal League. As you know, we've had some success with players like (Chad) Huffman, (Matt) Antonelli, (Eric) Sogard, (Wade) LeBlanc and others.

What kind of positional battles for who plays at a particular level are you expecting to work itself out this spring?

Grady Fuson: As I said earlier, we have some depth at starting pitching but there certainly are some position battles going on now. In Lake Elsinore, we have quite few guys competing for playing time in the outfield with Danny Payne, Brad Chalk, Luis Durango, Sawyer Carroll and Blake Tekotte. Third base at the A-ball level you have quite a few with James Darnell and Logan Forsythe combined with Rayner Contreras and Justin Baum also competing. In the middle of the infield we have Lance Zawadzki, who has been hurt so far, but we think he could have a big year. Cole Figueroa is very polished, and I think we may see Drew Cumberland back in Fort Wayne where he can play every day along with Jeudy Valdez. I really like (Beamer) Weems at shortstop too; he is our most polished defensive player.

Looking back to the instructional league last year, whose work were you most pleased with?

Grady Fuson: Danny Payne really stood out; especially when you consider that he missed most of the year. Brian Joynt, who was never really on the map, has put himself on the map with how hard he has worked and improved his game.

What hitter and pitcher have you targeted to have a breakout 2009 campaign and why? Last year you picked Sogard, so you have a decent track record.

Grady Fuson: The first guy that comes to mind is Chad Huffman who had some ups and downs as you know in San Antonio last year. He didn't play well in the Arizona Fall League, but I think he learned from that and has really come on in the big league camp. Now he's going to be in Portland, but I think being in a different ballpark could really help him. I like Jaff Decker quite a bit this year in Fort Wayne, but I don't think that is much of a surprise to anyone.

If I had to pick someone to really come on this year it would probably be Blake Tekotte.

For pitchers Wade LeBlanc has so much more talent than he has shown right now. It's just a question of him getting back on track with his fastball command.

Right now, I would probably pick Anthony Bass who can be a little erratic, but he has a nice combination of pitches that when he puts them all together could be pretty good. He's a little scattered right now, but he is a competitor.

At the A-ball level the pitchers seem to have more "stuff" or in layman's terms they throw harder than their counterparts at the Double-A level and above. Was this by design or have some of the injuries to Tim Stauffer and Cesar Carrillo caused this?

Grady Fuson: That is a good question. When you go back to the drafts that we had in '05 and '06 some of the guys that we drafted threw harder than they do now. Josh Geer has been slightly losing velocity each year since we took him out of Rice. When we drafted him he threw in the high-80s and was touching 90, and now it is around the mid-80s. Do we know the reason behind it? No. But has he become a better pitcher? Yes. He's never been injured until he has a little bit of an elbow problem at the end of last year, so that could or could not be the cause of it.

LeBlanc out of college was an 88 to 91 mph lefty with a changeup that was off the charts, but now he has kind of settled in a little lighter. There are differences between the college game and what we do in the pros, both in the workloads and the type of game.

On the opposite side, we've had guys like Stephen Faris whose velocity has gone up since college from 88 to 92.

We're always trying to find velocity along with pitchability. If someone throws 95 that is great, but you also have to look for other factors such as an athletic frame, chance for a repeatable delivery, feel for pitching and many other things; but good velocity is something you always want.

Finally, your favorite question, the San Diego Union-Tribune is reporting that Kyle Blanks is going to be taking balls in the outfield before games but not playing out there. What will the organization be looking for, and do you foresee him getting some time out there this year?

Grady Fuson: Kevin (Towers), Buddy (Black) and I just wanted him to get through what has been a long camp for him and not throw a position move on him right now. Once he gets to Portland we plan to gradually introduce him to the outfield position while he continues to get reps at first base. We're not going to force feed it, we're just going to see how it goes for right now.

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