Fort Wayne TinCaps 2009 season preview

Synopsis: Fort Wayne opens the season with a new name and an impressive new stadium at Harrison Square, Parkview Field. This year's team should feature a very strong outfield and power on the corners to go along with a nice mix of potentially high ceiling pitchers.

Three Strikes with Grady Fuson, Padres' Vice-President of Scouting and Development:

Castro really grew as a pitcher last year how has his progress been this spring?

Grady Fuson: Tremendous, the arrow continually is in the upward direction. Right now, he is ready to go and do his thing in a full season league. There will probably be some bumps and bruises, but he is really coming on.

There were some questions about Cumberland's ability to stay at shortstop. What improvements have you seen defensively from him since last year?

Grady Fuson: He did miss some time in the instructs with his finger injury, but if you go back to the second half before he broke down, he was starting to get a little more sure on his routine plays and throw more accurately. The only potential negative with Drew is that he has a natural cut on his throws which tends to take the ball off of its plane. At 20, he still has a ways to go in his development, but as far as reaction and range there is no reason why he can't stay at shortstop.

Who do you think could surprise people on this year's squad?

Grady Fuson: I'm not going to put Schmidt in there because right now he's in pretty good shape, it's just a question of him getting some games under him. I think both Bass and Castro are geared to have very good years and Musgrave was a huge guy in college. I guess my answer would be that I'm looking for Cumberland to really put a full season together. We have a very strong outfield in Decker, Robertson, Tekotte and Carroll. Carroll especially has been hitting the ball much better to the opposite field and is a guy that has a chance to move if he gets off to a good start.

Projected Lineup:

1B Matt Clark/Allan Dykstra SP Simon Castro (RHP) (MF#14)
2B Jeudy Valdez SP Anthony Bass (RHP)
3B James Darnell (MF#10) SP Rob Musgrave (LHP)
SS Drew Cumberland (MF#9) SP Stiven Osuna (RHP)
LF Jaff Decker* (MF #2) SP Nick Schmidt (LHP)
CF Blake Tekotte (MF#16) RP Erik Davis (RHP)
RF Sawyer Carroll/Dan Robertson RP Tom Davis (RHP)
C Adam Zornes/Robert Lara Closer Brad Brach (RHP)

Key: MF=Madfriars' Top 20 2009 Prospect Rankings

Notes: Decker suffered a concussion and is being held back in extended spring training for precautionary measures. He should join the team shortly. Mat Latos (MF #4) arm is being "stretched" out since he missed time being in big league camp with shoulder stiffness. He also should join the team shortly.

Catch a Rising Star: Jaff Decker. Only 19, Decker is coming of an unbelievable year in the Arizona League where he hit .352/.523/.541. Arizona State recruited him as a combination outfielder/pitcher, as he threw 92 off of the mound in high school. Although he is a much better athlete than given credit for – he played half of his games in center field – what separates him from others is his instincts for the game, which are best on display when he is at the plate.

Pitching: The TinCaps will have a very strong staff led by Mat Latos and Simon Castro, two young right-handers with some very big arms. The 6-foot-5 Castro, 20, led the Ems in strikeouts with 64 in 65 innings and the 6-foot-6 Latos appeared briefly in Fort Wayne, but lost most of the year to injury. When he was healthy, he blew away the competition, striking out 69 against only 13 walks in Arizona, Eugene and Fort Wayne. Both Bass and Musgrave should shine in their first full year of pro ball after coming off of heavy workloads in college. The Padres have a lot of confidence in 2007 first-round pick Nick Schmidt, who is a year removed from Tommy John surgery. Osuna was one of the stars of last year's Arizona team and has very good control, he with a 57/11 K/BB ratio and allowed only 11 earned runs in 70.1 innings. Brach was the closer on the AZL team and struck out 33 against only five walks in 22 innings pitched.

Position Players: The TinCaps will feature a very strong outfielder led by Decker. Also, look for two of the mainstays of the Eugene Emeralds team, Tekotte and Robertson, to provide speed, defense and some power. The 6-foot-4 Sawyer Carroll put up some good numbers in Eugene before slowing down with the Wizards last year. The undersized Robertson, who was the 2008 MVP of the Northwest League, should become a fan favorite quickly with his all out play. Keep an eye on third baseman James Darnell who put up some flashy numbers in only 16 games in Eugene, hitting .373/.462/.582. There are some questions about his ability to play third, but he may be one of the best athletes in the system. Dykstra, the Padres first-round pick out of Wake Forrest last year, and Matt Clark could probably both double as bouncers at the local clubs in their spare time; they both should split time between first and DH. Cumberland began to turn it on in June last year before going down with an injury and hopefully will be able to stay healthy for the whole year. Cumberland can really run and the team believes the former FSU football recruit will eventually develop into a quality leadoff hitter with some pop. Lara, who hit .344/.490/.484 in Arizona, and Zornes give the TinCaps some solid backstops.

On the Spot: Allan Dykstra. The Padres first-round pick signed late because of concerns of a high school hip injury and was only able to play a few games in Lake Elsinore. With the team's history of undistinguished first-round picks, the organization needs some good news.

Under the Radar: Despite being blessed with a fastball that sits in the mid-90s, Simon Castro hasn't received that much attention. He's taken tremendous strides with his changeup and control and could very much emerge on the prospect radar this year in the Midwest League.

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