STOCKTON, Calif. -- Cedric Hunter doesn't question his own ability and never doubts the Padres are thrilled to have him in their system. Yet like most 20-year-olds, he thoroughly enjoys the occasional pat on the back.
So when Grady Fuson, San Diego's vice president of scouting and player development, acknowledged what Hunter has accomplished this season in the California League, the youngster's chest puffed out just a bit. Despite being one of the younger players on the circuit, he's having a big season at Class A Advanced Lake Elsinore and the words of encouragement were welcome.
"It was one of the best feelings in the world," said Hunter, who had a hit in two at-bats during last week's California/Carolina All-Star Game. "Grady came up to me personally right before the [All-Star] break and told me how happy he was with my defense. I was happy that he did that. It's nice to be able to show them that you're working hard. My main purpose in being here is to play every day, get known out there and be the best player I can be."
When the Padres selected Hunter in the third round of the 2006 Draft, they knew they had something special, particularly in terms of his ability at the plate. There were some questions about whether he could really play center field or whether he was better suited for a corner outfield spot, especially considering the dimensions of Petco Park's expansive outfield.
But Hunter has proven he's more than capable, committing only five errors in 185 chances through 67 games. He had five miscues in 273 opportunities last season with Fort Wayne of the Class A Midwest League.
"We took him as a center fielder but we didn't know how long that would last," Fuson said. "But he's shown that he's a legitimate center fielder."
One scout who has seen Hunter extensively admits he isn't "your prototypical center fielder." But he's quick to add that Hunter continues to "get the job done and will stay there until he shows them he can't play there."
Hunter enjoys talking about his defensive abilities as well. He's thrilled he's building up his arm strength and has a few assists (three), but ultimately he knows his meal ticket will be what he can do at the plate. He was hitting .306 and riding a four-game hitting streak heading into Saturday's game at Stockton with four homers and 40 RBIs.
He's also been working with former Major Leaguer Shane Spencer, Lake Elsinore's first-year hitting coach, on standing up straighter in the batter's box. He has a tendency to lean forward a tad and tilt his head when he's batting, but those are minor problems that are easily corrected.
"Any player that's as talented as he is, it's hard to tinker with him," Spencer said. "He's got such good hands and such good hand-eye coordination. He doesn't get fooled. For a guy that young to be on everything is impressive.
"He was pretty quiet at the beginning of the year. But now he's asking more questions. You can only get away with raw talent for so long. It's only going to get tougher and tougher as he moves up."
There also had been some questions about Hunter's maturity level toward the end of last season and during Instructional League. But after spending a little extra time with San Diego's staff in the fall, Hunter seems to have quieted those concerns.
"For the most part, he's grown up a lot," Fuson said. "He's gotten into a daily routine and he's a lot more serious about things."
Fuson said there currently aren't any plans to rush Hunter to Double-A San Antonio. He's on the correct path that most players drafted out of high school take and is only in his second full year of professional ball. So it appears as though he'll be in the Cal League for the time being and he's OK with that.
"I'm not going to think about what's going on [with that]," Hunter said. "If I stay here the whole year, I'm happy with that. I'm still young. I'm just thinking about playing every day and having a good year."
It's just a bit easier to do that when you get the occasional pat on the back. And if Hunter continues to perform the way he has through the first three months of the season, there should be plenty more accolades over the next eight weeks.
Kevin Czerwinski is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.