Muser on Padres hitting prospects

San Diego Padres roving hitting instructor Tony Muser introduced the ‘stopper' talk last time. Sawyer Carroll might be a half-stopper. What changed for James Darnell? Is Logan Forsythe too patient? The key for Cedric Hunter? Other names covered include Eric Sogard, Lance Zawadzki, Chad Huffman, and Matt Antonelli.

Based on your stopper technology, is Sawyer Carroll a half-stopper?

Tony Muser: You could categorize that because he's definitely done a great job. He's, off the top of my head, second in RBI in the organization.

He's a very good competitor, very good competitor. Not what you'd call a classic swing, but a competitive swing. He made a great adjustment early on in his second year of not being pull conscience. He's doubles oriented, uses left center field, uses right center field. He's got a lot of loft in his swing and a future to hit with more power.

A very good competitor and probably, among our left-handed hitters, even throwing Decker in the mix, a very good competitor against left-handed pitching; which is something that I kind of keep in the back of my mind as how they approach left-handed pitching. He stays in there real good, doesn't give in, will take the ball the other way. I like him. He's kind of low-keying it; hasn't set the world on fire, but has done a very good job because we've pushed him too.

James Darnell has success in both leagues and is second in the organization in homers. Is he just starting to realize the potential?

Tony Muser: Well, he's made an adjustment from a hitting side. He's had a very flat swing. A very strong, quick swing but very flat. There was no loft in his swing, and his contact point was a little bit deep where he'd be a little bit late to the fastball but had some success because his swing was flat.

Now that he's starting to understand extension, and moving that contact point out a little bit farther, it has freed him up to loft. His contact point is out front more, where when he's catching it out front he knows he can loft a baseball.

He's still a line drive hitter, but there' a little bit of loft in his swing, and he's starting to create an extension to his swing and now starting to drive the ball out of the ballpark. He has real good power as anybody we've got who's center and right center. Very good power, strong kid, but because his contact point is starting to creep out in front a little bit he can take a breaking ball, a slider or a changeup and hurt you to left field with some loft. So he's made subtle adjustments to his swing.

Logan Forsythe is a little more of a contact type hitter. It seems like there are times when he is too passive, and when he went to San Antonio, he might have been too aggressive.

Tony Muser: Well yeah, and when young kids move up a level they try to have better success than they've had from where they've com from. They don't take that success where they've had and take it to the next level – they try and do more. I think that's where Logan got in trouble.

He is a very patient hitter – almost to the point of fault. Where we've tried to entice him to be more aggressive, because when you're looked at and you hit in a line-up for power you have the leeway to strike out a little bit more. More than at the top of the order and more at the bottom of the order where it's okay to swing and miss; and he is a little passive early in the count. He is such a good competitor.

He might be one of our better, I don't have the numbers to prove this, I'm just going by my mind and my thought watching him compete, one of our better two-strike hitters. We don't need him to be that good with two strikes on him. I would have him more aggressive early in the count and really let it fly.

I can give you a hitter in our system that mentally in his approach is very much like him and that's Kyle Blanks. Kyle kind of had that look to him where he would take good pitches to hit early in the count, but refuse to strike out and that's kind of where Forsythe is right now, but he's going to learn it.

Fall down swinging early in the count, strike out with two strikes and dare them to make a mistake with two strikes. So Logan's in that process of doing that and he's another guy we've pushed. He's a very good competitor.

Cedric Hunter – it is hard to get a read on him at times because he is a guy that likes to put the ball in play. He has such good bat control that I often wonder how many times he is swinging at bad pitches and putting them into play weakly.

Tony Muser: There's no question about it. All of the hitters, it doesn't matter where they come from, they work off success. That success is always history. Your confidence when you go up there and you're first at-bat and all of the games that you've played in are behind you. The years are behind you. Their success comes from history. His history is a great year in Lake Elsinore, great year. I don't know if he had nine games where he went hitless. It's an offensive league, it's a very fast, hard infield, it's a spacious park unless you pull it as a left-handed hitter down the right field line; but it is an offensive league. It's a league where he had great success at putting the ball in play.

He gets into San Antonio where right center field is dead, wind blows in, can't squeak a ball in that gap. The only time he could hit a homer was just pull it right at the scoreboard in that ballpark where the wind didn't affect the baseball. He is a hitter that was able to take borderline pitches away early in the count and get on top of them and have a lot of success with line drives over the shortstop's head and the five-hole between the shortstop and third baseman. The infield was so quick he could roll the ball through that three-four hole over there. It's an infield that's not as quick. The ballpark is not lively.

Now he's been presented with this wall of getting better pitches to drive. He is not a strong kid yet, but he's a very young kid and he's going to get stronger with a weight training program. He needs it badly.

But his pitch selection needs to tighten up. He had success by taking that same approach in Double-A, and it has not worked for him. But I'll tell you, I still believe in him, and in the playoffs, besides Sogard, he picked it up. I think he hit a homer in the playoffs, He also drove doubles. So he's a guy that got into better pitching, tougher pitching and rose above from the year that he had overall.

He's got to get stronger, but his pitch selection, you're exactly right. He offers at pitches he can't drive, and his physical strength affected him in the Double-A level. He may have to come back and repeat. I don't know where we'll be at during the four months over the winter. But strength and regrouping and his mental approach to driving baseballs and not just hitting baseballs will be crucial for him. I still like him. He's a player. He got better defensively in center field. He's throwing better. I like his competitive nature and I know it's been a down year for him when you look at the big picture, but I still believe in Cedric Hunter.

Lance Zawadzki is a guy with a ton of tools. He seems to be starting to put the pieces of the puzzle together.

Tony Muser: Yes. I think he's a guy that struggles with adjustments, very emotional. He's got great power from both sides of the plate, can really hurt you and takes pitches out of the strike zone to do it.

He does more of what he wants to do in his efforts and doesn't quite understand what to do with what is presented to him when that real good pitcher is on the mound. If it's away from him, left-handed from a right-handed pitcher, that's all presented to him. He'll take a swing and try to pull the ball away from him or up in the strike zone and try to pull it, instead of just staying that way.

His awareness, his aptitude and his understanding of better pitching and taking what the pitcher can give him and saying, ‘You know what, today I'm not going to get a pitch to drive out of the ballpark. My approach has to be I'm going to get two hits the other way to the left center.' A lot of that is knowledge and experience.

The tools are there. There's another kid that we pushed real quick. But he's got tools to hit. He's a good worker, great worker; he'll come around, his understanding. It will probably have to start out in Double-A next year, but he'll have a head start presenting himself to Double-A baseball. Great kid, has the ability to play shortstop.

What was the adjustment that Chad Huffman made. It was kind of a disappointing year for him until that final month when he hit extremely well.

Tony Muser: Well, I think he started to understand some things mentally. He wants to yank. He wants to pull. He wants to hit home runs. He started to understand, and I think when he got to the Triple-A level, that there are more pitchers than can present soft to you. They don't give in to you. Pitchers create their success when they get into a fastball count – they get smarter. And here comes the changeup. Here comes the breaking ball.

He got from a Double-A mode when most pitchers - when they say 50% of the time when they get two balls and one strike here comes a fastball. When they get three balls and one strike, here comes a fastball. When they get two balls and no strikes, here comes a fastball. On the Triple-A level, you get these crafty guys and then you know what, here comes the BP fastball, here comes a mediocre slider, here comes a changeup. He's biting at all these and rollover in pull mode.

He's learned to stay more to center and right side center and just think fastball; but now as the changeup is presented to him, he's got a swing to keep it fair and hurt you with a double down the line or hurt you with a ground ball in the shortstop-third base hole. He's starting to gain knowledge of pitching and I think that's where he's coming from. I think he's changed his direction from pull to center, to right center and engaging the fastball to that part of the field. Now with the changeup and the breaking ball, he's still on it. It's not swing and miss or pull foul.

Matt Antonelli is perhaps the most frustrating for you as the hitting coordinator. We know he has the talent. We just aren't sure how to make it come out again.

Tony Muser: I agree. We had a good 13-day session down here and I guess you'd say in the business to rebuild a swing. It's not rebuilding a swing, it's rebuilding the approach. Matt had such great success and a very quick success rate and jumped to Double-A. A lot of baseball people say success in Double-A, the jump to the big leagues is pretty quick. There's more kids jumping from Double-A to the Big Leagues now more than ever. That success was real quick.

He didn't know how he did it. He just went up there and did it, and all of a sudden a bad year jumped on him and his confidence level dropped. For me, a lot of it is approach, a lot of it is mechanics. But, to me, the damage that was done of not being successful really hurt him.

The two weeks that we were together were great. He'll be back down and we're going to pick up where we left off. But the mental side of the success, he has got to start getting into a real good competitive mode. He hasn't handled the lack of success. It's been tough on him. It's hard to go up there.

When we talk about short history, his short history is two years of failure now, and he's got to get tougher in his approach. His approach to where he strikes a baseball has got to get to the middle of the field and to right center field with aggressiveness.

We've tried to approach this mechanical built-in pull, hook, all the things he's tried to do himself. We've left him alone, and we've engaged him with lots of people going to him to try to help him. He's had a lot on his mind. So this new approach with the baseball engaging to center and right center field, staying out of the air to right center, line drive approach, every single at-bat.

I'm hoping that there's some success in there, in getting away from homers. Home runs have to get out of his mind right now. They have to happen naturally. Because if there was panic in him, that he cheated to the fastball, he developed a spin, rotational approach to the baseball and basically lost what he had.

It was naiveness to the failure to it. He really had no place to go to get back on track. So there was a ton of work, a ton of talking and I'm hoping that there's some success that happens where he can get some crappy hits to the right side of the field to keep him going, to keep the numbers up, to get his confidence back up, and then just let it take it's course and go from there.

Great kid, tremendous kid, but it's hard to work and go out there every day when you haven't had any success and you have no place to go. No place to regroup, you've got no plan to regroup, and that's what we're doing. We're trying to regroup.

There's a ton of pressure on him. When you're a number one pick and you fail, the whole world starts to sit right on your shoulders. When he lowers the expectations of home runs and RBI, shrinks that expectation, gets back to a line drive thinking hitter; hard ground balls, line drives up the middle and lives in right center field, and can cover the ball away from him, because he got into it too. You get to Triple-A, it's just like Huffman. Fastball counts, trip, and it got him. So his approach and history of understanding what guys are trying to do to him and take what they give you and create some success from that, good things can happen. Confidence starts to build. That's where we're trying to get him.

You mentioned Eric Sogard. He is a guy that also had a good year in Lake Elsinore. He came to play and made the adjustments on a day-to-day basis to have success in Double-A.

Tony Muser: Yes. Stronger kid, very good approach, maintenance free swing, doesn't have a lot going on. He probably has a simplest swing as anybody in our system. He's quiet, gets the bat head to the ball very quickly. He has the same approach all the time. Probably mentally collected better than anybody we have, just a very good approach.

For me, he has the ability to use the other side of the field better, but it's not consistent with him. He can turn on a baseball, but the power factor with Sogie is he wants to do it a little bit too much, even though his pace and approach is very good. Getting stronger to left center field to me is where he would have to improve.

But when you talk about just offense, very simple approach, very simple swing; and the maintenance, not a lot of adjustment. He's very similar to Paul Molitor from the right-handed side with Paulie, and very same approach with Sogie. Good approach, very good approach. He doesn't try to do more than he's capable of doing. He stays on pace. I'd like to see him get a little bit more aggressive and a little bit better effort early in the count to really get after a baseball. But with two strikes, he's got the perfect approach to a baseball.

But you've got to remember, in San Antonio the ballpark is not conducive for an offensive game. A lot of our kids come in there, wind holds balls up, winds always blowing in from right center, and when success doesn't happen they try to do more. I know that's what's happened to Cedric. Sogie understood it more. He didn't change his swing as much. Cedric changed.

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