Scouting Padres Prospect Cedric Hunter

How do you follow up a season that had critics wondering how high the ceiling is? You lead the entire minor leagues in hits. San Diego Padres prospect Cedric Hunter accomplished the feat in 2008.

Vital Statistics;
Name: Cedric Hunter
Position: OF
DOB: March 10, 1988
Height: 6-foot-0
Weight: 195
Bats: Left
Throws: Left

Selected in the third-round of the 2006 draft, Hunter was assigned to the Arizona Rookie League. Over 52 games, Hunter dominated the competition, hitting .371 with 18 extra base hits, 44 RBI and 46 runs scored. He also drew 40 walks compared to 22 strikeouts for a .467 on-base percentage. The outfielder added 17 stolen bases in 22 attempts. Hunter reached base safely in each of his first 48 games en route to winning MVP honors.

Sent to Fort Wayne in 2007, the outfielder hit .282 over the course of 129 games. He tallied 29 extra base hits, including seven homers, scored 53 runs and notched 58 RBI. He also drew 47 walks compared to 78 strikeouts for a .344 on-base percentage. He also swiped eight bases in 17 attempts.

High-A Lake Elsinore was on tap for the '08 season. Batting first, second and third most of the season, Hunter ended the season with a .318 average – hitting over .300 in all but one month during the campaign.

The outfielder also notched a career high 47 extra base hits for the Storm, including 11 homers, and scored a team-high 98 runs while driving in 84.

A left-handed hitter, Hunter nearly halved his strikeout numbers from the previous season, dropping from 78 to 47 in more games. His eight percent strikeout rate led the circuit. He drew 42 walks to give him a .362 on-base percentage.

He also notched a team-high 11 sacrifice flies, adding productive outs to his list of achievements. Hunter swatted .406 with runners in scoring position while hitting .340 off southpaws and .312 off right-handers.

His 186 led the California League and the minors, and Hunter placed third in the circuit in batting average and second in runs scored. His 95.5 wRC (weighted Runs Created based off weighted On Base Average) ranked third in the Cal League.

"It wasn't so much about what specific aspect of his game improved it was more of a level of a growth in personal maturity," Padres vice president of scouting and player development Grady Fuson said. "He really found a passion for the game, a passion for wanting to get better, a passion for preparation and mainly just trying to get better every day."

Hunter has a smooth, level stroke that sees maximum time within the hitting zone. He is able to turn on balls on the inner half and stay inside the ball while reaching full extension to pelt balls on the outer half. His compact swing is conducive to line drives, giving Hunter gap power.

"He's just learning, learning how to turn on the inside pitch," Lake Elsinore manager Carlos Lezcano said of Hunter's 11 bombs. "He's got that natural swing to left field. He got a little stronger, and they threw some pitches inside. Most of them he hit off to right field. He's learning how to turn on that inside pitch. It's just a matter of learning how to do it, maturing and getting stronger."

He is much more at ease going the other way with the ball, as he works the opposite field with fervor. Learning to pull the ball more consistently will up the power potential, as seen by his homer run near the end of the year.

The 93rd overall selection is one of the best bad ball hitters in the organization. He has impeccable hand-eye coordination and prefers to put his bat on the ball rather than drawing walks. That has hurt his overall plate discipline.

While he has a good batting eye and understands the strike zone, Hunter will swing outside of it, and because of his innate ability, he will often hit the ball – albeit weakly when it isn't in a spot he can do some damage.

"I want to see his walk rates at about 6-8 percent," Padres director of minor league operations Mike Wickham said. "I have been thinking a lot about this over the winter because he is one of our best prospects. I think there is a tradeoff there. A player such as Ced who has such a high contact rate – he just makes contact – he is going to walk less. He puts balls in play. It doesn't matter if it is a 0-2 count or 3-2 count. He makes contact at such a high clip that he won't walk a lot. As long as he is hitting for such a high average, and has a high on-base percentage, you can look at a player like him and say, ‘he might be able to have success without walking an above-average amount of time.' That is rare. There is a small group of players who can do that.

"Most guys you would say have to walk above average to have solid power numbers. He hit 11 home runs this year and is an interesting center field prospect. I think he could hit 15 – just guessing and projecting. His contact rate is in the high 80's (percent)."

The outfielder could double his walk total if he was focused on hitting a pitch that can be driven. Because he does well recognizing pitches, he can follow the path of the ball and still make good contact off the plate. His hands adjust quickly to where the pitch is thrown. Hunter even allows the ball to travel deep before turning on the offering but would be better served allowing borderline pitches to skirt by unchallenged.

Targeting more balls within the strike zone may actually result in a higher hit tally in subsequent seasons. It will also up his power numbers, as there is little that most hitters can do on a ball that is placed down and away. Narrowing the strike zone, therefore, will be a positive.

"He is not swinging at that many pitches far outside of the zone," Wickham countered. "His batting average tells you that he is not swinging at balls. For a stretch, he could swing at balls outside of the zone and get some seeing-eye singles, but he could not do that consistently.

"I think you have to make an exception for the high contact rate. If he walked one percent of the time than that is bad. He has walked eight percent over the last three years, which is two percent less than what you would expect at average."

When the ball is thrown down the pipe, Hunter rarely misses it and makes hard contact the norm. He is excellent at the hit-and-run and small ball aspect of the game.

"Offensively, we have always thought he had something of a magic bat," Fuson said. "He has a real gift for getting the barrel of the bat on the ball. His body is maturing; he's getting much stronger and is answering the call."

The Georgia native has good speed but doesn't utilize it well. It takes him time to reach full speed, as his first-step quickness is lacking. He has the ability to steal some bases and can take an extra base thanks to his knowledge of the game but will never be a true burner.

Defensively, Hunter's game took a step forward. Playing center field, he showed he could move well laterally to both sides and track down balls that previously gave him trouble.

"I think this year he showed that he could really play center, got great jumps and reads on the ball and made all the throws," Fuson said.

Conclusion: Hunter wakes up and can hit the ball. Because of a calm approach and consistent foundation at the plate, Hunter is not prone to prolonged slumps. He is among the leaders in hard contact each year and can improve even more in that arena. His defense has improved, and it appears has maturity has taken a step forward as well.

Hunter is a talented individual that brings a lot of tools to work each day. If he is able to increase his power numbers and walk totals without taking away from his ability to make contact, Hunter has the potential to be a force that can play at the highest level and contribute in a big way.

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