Muser on Padres hitting prospects

Roving hitting coordinator Tony Muser has managed at all levels and heads up the instruction of the San Diego Padres minor league hitting prospects. We caught up with Muser to discuss many of the young prospects within the system.

There is no denying the season that Cody Decker had, winning the MVP in the AZL. Can Cody also have success at the higher levels?

Tony Muser: Time will tell. I think he's a great competitor. He just kind of wills things to happen. He doesn't have what you'd call the prettiest swings, the type of swing that would be tough to project higher. He just jumped into our system and had great success. He's very strong, a very good competitor.

I would think that as the scouts evaluated him, he wouldn't be real high on the list. He wasn't a real high draft pick, but gets the job done. I think he's the kind hitter that will have to perform at each level that he moves up but definitely proved this year that he can move to the next level; no question about it.

He's got power, he uses a lot of the field, pretty good approach with two strikes. He's a real grinder on defense. He doesn't have great range and doesn't have a great arm, but he just kind of gets it done. He's a baseball player.

The success of Rymer Liriano has to be attributed to his improved pitch selection and cutting down on the strikeouts as the season progressed. Is that a fair assessment?

Tony Muser: No question about it. The total success that he has had this year was the ability to get better pitches to hit and to me was the identification of a breaking ball; the breaking ball within the strike zone and the breaking ball that he couldn't handle. He started to take and lay off those breaking balls that he definitely couldn't hit or would swing and miss, especially with two strikes.

Confidence grows out of that, and when you can put a breaking ball in play and be successful, not every at-bat, but now and then, you earn the right to get more fastballs, and that's what he did.

Jonathan Galvez is a kid that has solid patience at the plate and is also young. It seems like he takes either a bad defensive play to the plate or a bad at-bat to the field.

Tony Muser: Well, the Latin kids will do that. They have tons of pressure on them to succeed. When they come to the United States, I think if you put yourself in their shoes, it's a once in a lifetime chance. So there's a ton of emotion within them. With a kid that grew up in the United States and has a failure at-bat, it's probably three-fold in a Latin player. They just come from different parts of the world and their history is different. They know that maybe their opportunity is a little bit shorter than those that grew up in the States, and competed in the States, and were signed in the States. It's more of an emotional thing and they look at every at bat with more criticism by themselves.

It takes time for them to mature, it takes time for them to relax. I think patience on our part is imperative to watching their development, but Galvez – we've have three Latins that really improved: Liriano, Edinson Rincon who went to short-season and just had a great year offensively, and Galvez is one of those three that for a little guy has showed some power.

Identification of the breaking ball and strikes with fastballs are improving. Along with that success comes and following the success comes the confidence.

I know Everett Williams didn't get a whole lot of playing time. What were your initial impressions?

Tony Muser: I would compare him to Cedric Hunter with more strength. He has a real strong body for the size of the body that he has. It's thicker than Cedric.

For a high school kid, he jumped right in there. He's not in too much of awe about professional baseball. I like his strength. I like the quickness of his hands.

There's a lot of things he has to clean up. He gets a lot of balls in the air for a little guy. He's not extremely fast, but once he kind of gets underway, he can develop some speed.

Right now, I think he needs to focus on hitting line drives and not lifting the ball. He's got kind of a lift in his swing where he needs to get on top more and level his swing out.

I like his tools. He's kind of an exciting young kid. I like his strength because when he swings the bat and makes contact there's a pretty nice sound to the ball off the bat. He's an interesting kid.

You mentioned Edinson Rincon earlier. The ball takes off when it hits his bat as well. Like you noted with Everett, a different sound off his bat.

Tony Muser: Yes, no question about it. Eddie, he made, when I was up there for the mini-camp right after the draft and we were trying to sign our top picks, and it's kind of a difficult time during the season because they don't really have a solidified team yet and guys are filtering in.

But the draft picks, basically college guys came in there and when Eddie took batting practice and just went through the workouts, if you were naïve and just saw all the kids come in and it's the first time you ever saw them and you had to evaluate on a one day basis, Eddie Rincon was right there with all the college guys. I mean that's a credit to him.

He has good aptitude, very good aptitude, and he's made tremendous adjustments offensively and is very strong.

The only question mark with Eddie now is where he'll find himself defensively. The organization hasn't given up on him as a third baseman. One skill comes quicker than the other a lot of times.

The confidence, Eddie is just oozing with confidence. He's starting to show power, using more of the baseball field to hit with. Balls that are away from him, he's striking them to the opposite side. Balls he can pull, breaking ball identification, ball and strike identification has really come quick with him. I'm really proud of him.

I'm happy for the young Latin kids that are starting to develop some confidence in themselves through the success.

What are the differences you see in a guy like Nate Freiman vs. Matt Clark. Clark had success last year in Eugene and Nate exceeded those numbers this year with Eugene.

Tony Muser: I didn't get a chance to see Nate. I saw him take batting practice one day, the day we had our first workout of instructional league, and it's amazing how far the kids' come, not just Nate, but all of them from the first day they take BP just raw as hell, excited as hell, come off a collegiate or a high school season and are there for the first time.

Today, Nate, his swing has improved, he's dropped his hands a little bit better, he's got some stride, a little bit longer stride, because he's 6-foot-7. That's the difference with Clark. Clark is 6-foo-t7, he might be 6-foot-6, but he's a tall guy and doesn't have a lot of length to his stride. He's a shorter athlete when he makes his move to the baseball, where Freiman is a little bit longer. Nate has made great adjustments in his swing, better stride, better separation.

I love him because he's RBI hungry. He has a knack of driving in runs, and with runners in scoring positions it's tougher to hit than when you're leading off an inning. It's a tougher situation. Pitchers work harder to get you out, especially with a guy in RBI situation and there's a base open. They have more freedom to throw changeups, more freedom to throw you breaking balls, and that's just a credit without seeing a lot of Nate of his ability to lead that League in RBIs. He's a competitor.

Vince Belnome comes into Eugene and has a terrific year as a late round pick and then goes to Fort Wayne and carries them in the playoffs.

Tony Muser: It's a credit to the athlete. There are some guys, not a lot, in fact, very few that just cruise through with success through every level. Belnome hasn't missed a beat. This year we pushed a lot of players. Grady pushed a lot of players, the Clark's, the Forsythe's, the Darnell's, and he's pushed a lot of people and these kids have really succeeded in jumping levels. We're finding out real quick whether they can handle it.

Belnome, who I've not seen a lot, was not here yet because they were still in the playoffs, but he has contributed. If you have knowledge of the different levels, the short-season League has real young, young kids, that have tons of talent that were high draft picks, but it's mostly college pitchers that have come in to the short-season A's. They're seeing pretty good sliders and pretty good changeups, and fastballs with not great command, but high quality fastballs, high-90 or mid-90s.

Then you go to the Midwest League where the offspeed pitch is more prevalent, where they don't give in with the fastball and they're starting to find out what pro ball is all about. They just don't give in to the fastball.

Without even seeing Belnome a lot, he hasn't missed a beat. The one thing I liked about him on the two days that I saw him, he's not pull conscience. His ability to strike the ball with power the other way, he didn't have built in pull to his swing, which told me that as the bat travels through the hitting area, he's not trying to cheat and get the bat head out front to be a pull guide. His power was the opposite way to left center field, which helps him tremendously.

So he kind of came into pro ball with a pretty good swing and didn't try to cheat to get out front. High velocity didn't bother him where he had to cheat and try to get the bat head out front. He just stayed behind it and drove the ball and using the entire field was to me the reason for success.

Jaff Decker defends the Arizona Rookie League MVP honors pretty well by going out and performing in the Midwest League. I think there was 10 guys who hit over .300 and he was right up there.

Tony Muser: He can hit, he just has a lot of natural attributes. He can hit. There are some things, and probably some walls that he will hit. He's a guy that we will probably push. I would say having not gone over rosters or even having the Spring Training for '10 yet, he's probably going to be in Lake Elsinore.

I've always said this after four years of experience in this game, I call them stoppers. A kid that would be a one stopper is a guy like Decker. A season in Eugene, a season in Fort Wayne, a season in Lake Elsinore, a season in Double-A, and a season in Portland, and then we find out what we've got.

He is just so talented as a hitter. He's probably a one stopper.

There are certain guys that are a two-stoppers. It takes them maybe two years in Eugene to make it to Fort Wayne and it might take a year and a half in Fort Wayne and then they get it. Then there's three stoppers. The three stoppers might be a guy like Liriano, highly talented, has great tools as an offensive player, is making improvements on the defensive side, but it's a slow process.

Decker is, I would categorize him as a one stopper. He just has that kind of hitting ability, to figure things out; offspeed is probably going to take a lot of work on his side because he has kind of a unique open stance like Giles does and has a couple of moves in there where rhythm and timing are going to be an issue. As of yet, he's figured it out.

Allan Dykstra seemed to see the ball well in the last month of the season whereas in the first four or five months it was a constant battle to find a good stroke. What changed?

Tony Muser: Well, I go back to just what I said. He may be a two-stopper. He may be a guy that takes a year and a half to two years to figure it out.

He's a very strong guy. In college, he was a big, intimidating guy that they threw nothing but breaking balls to. He closed up his stance, he got off the plate, he dove into the play to accommodate how he was being pitched. When he got into pro ball, nobody was afraid of him, nobody had heard of him. He was a number one pick and completely opposite of what he had to deal with in college. Here came the fastball in, and it was presented to him that he had to make a huge adjustment real quick.

It's been tough for him to make that adjustment, to clean that swing up, to work on extension, to deal with an arthritic hip that gives him problems and maybe has something to do with his swing, but he's started to figure it out.

The one thing about him, he's got a great eye at the plate. Even though he didn't have success at what you' call homers and RBI and batting average, his on base was still good, and he contributed and that kept him going. That kept the morale factor going for him, and now he's starting to figure it out.

He's probably a two-stopper. But there's a lot of strength, a lot of life in the bat. He's got a ways to go, there's no question about it, but he contributed there in Fort Wayne. When he was done, he got a little time off from the playoffs and then we got him back in the instructional league and got to work on his swing a little bit more.

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