Portland, OR: A few notes and observations from our recent trip to the San Diego Padres Triple-A affiliate, the Portland Beavers.
Despite having the worst record in the league, there are a few guys that are worth following with the Beavers this year.
The first is right-handed closer Ernesto Frieri who, after being a starter for the past two years, has really shinned when being moved back to the bullpen.
The Columbian native's velocity has increased and without having to worry about going through a line-up multiple times, his walks are significantly down from last year. He is on the 40-man roster and seems to be an ideal candidate if an open spot comes up in the San Diego's bullpen.
The night I was there right-hander Josh Geer pitched a complete game and has won three straight decisions. As much as I like watching Geer pound the opposition with a steady stream of sinkers, his margin for error against major league hitters is still pretty narrow, and with the new regime more focussed on power arms than strike throwers, you wonder how much longer he will be in the organization. Still its hard to not admire the resiliency of Geer.
Granted it was a Monday night, the team hasn't been playing that well and the Beavers are in their last season in Portland; it was as dead a stadium as any minor league park that I have ever been too. You could literally hear every heckler and its really a shame that baseball just doesn't seem to work in a great city like Portland.
Quietly, Mike Baxter keeps plugging away and has put up some good numbers with the Beavers, particularly with his on-base percentage and gap power. The left-handed hitting Baxter can play all three outfield positions, first, third and even caught in the Arizona Fall League a few years ago.
He has never been ranked as a top prospect, but every year finds his way into the line-up and produces. One of the first guys to the park, he seems to take more swings before the game than many players combined. If he can keep it up, you have to hope the big club will open a spot on the 40-man for him, not only to reward him for his hard work, but he seems like an ideal player to come off of the bench late in the game. A disciplined left-handed hitter that can play multiple positions is valuable.
Cebter fielder Luis Durango looked better at the plate than last year, chiefly in that he had a much better base and wasn't moving his back foot as much. He is no longer a liability in the outfield, his next biggest goals are to become more efficient in stealing bases and if he can drive the ball into the gaps he has a chance.
If you can get back the won-loss record, right-hander Will Inman is having a decent year. Inman was the primary piece in the Scott Linebrink trade in 2007. Inman struggled with his command and mechanics, but seems to have that under control. Batters are hitting .232 against him in the hitter friendly PCL, he has a solid K/BB ratio of 52/27 and has allowed less hits than innings pitched.
Inman spoke with us about going to Instructs and finally ironing out his mechanics, and, like Wade LeBlanc, raved about how much throwing the cutter has helped him force batters to respect both sides of the plate. Right now, he may be the best starter in Portland.
Infielder Lance Zawadzki looked good, and if you give him a mulligan for April, he has actually hit pretty well. Hopefully, he will get to play everyday in July and August and continue his development. Remember, he's only had a half season above A ball, and although he is talented, he could use some more experience at higher levels.
With the promotion of Drew Cumberland to San Antonio to join Logan Forsythe, the Padres could have a quite a few middle infield prospects going into next spring.
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