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MadFriars Preview of the '08 Missions

April 5, 2008
Synopsis: Portland may have more prospects, but San Antonio is a deeper team top to bottom with several players who could emerge into the Top 20 for 2009. First baseman Kyle Blanks and left fielder Chad Huffman should supply the power but keep an eye on right-handers Matt Buschmann and Will Inman who could put together big seasons in the minor league park that is closer to PETCO than any in the system. Three Strikes with Grady Fuson//Padres Vice-President of Scouting and Development:

We've always thought Sean Kazmar has a lot of talent. How has he looked at short this year, and do you think he will be more consistent at the plate?

Grady Fuson: That is the whole thing with Kaz; he just needs to become more consistent. That is the whole reason we sent him down from San Antonio last year, and he rebounded pretty well. He has a chance to be solid, shorten up his swing and become a little more disciplined at the plate. He's kind of my pick to go from suspect to prospect.

Will Inman struggled some with his adjustment to Double-A last year what make you believe he will have a better season this year?

Grady Fuson: He was under a different program last year [Milwaukee] and had pretty much been throwing non-stop from November. This spring, he was really electric, one of our best pitchers in camp. He went from throwing 86 to 88 to 92 to 93. A lot of what you saw last year, I think was just from fatigue.

The only real negative on Craig Cooper's season last year was that he didn't produce bigger power numbers. Has the team been working with him to get him to drive the ball more?

Grady Fuson: He's always been able to drive the ball but on pitches that were middle to middle-in usually was going out to center field. We brought him in two weeks early to really work on being more consistent when he gets that pitch, to be able to pull it. I expect to see a few more home runs from him this year, and we'll have to see how it plays out.

Projected Lineup:

1B Kyle Blanks (MF#7) SP/RHP Matt Buschmann (MF#17)
2B Brett Dowdy SP/RHP Manny Ayala (DL)
3B Seth Johnston SP/RHP Will Inman
SS Sean Kazmar SP/LHP Steve Garrison
C Colt Morton/Jose Lobaton SP/RHP Mike Ekstrom
LF Chad Huffman (MF#5) RP/RHP Edwin Moreno
CF Drew Macias RP/RHP Jon Ellis
RF Craig Cooper Closer/RHP Wilton Lopez
DH Jose Lobaton--

Key: MF = prospect ranking, DL= Disabled List

Notes: Jose Lobaton should also see considerable time behind the plate and Josh Alley is slated to be the fourth outfielder. Ayala is hurt to begin the year and Stephen Faris should take his place in the rotation.

Catch a Rising Star: Chad Huffman. A late season knee injury prevented Huffman from really putting together the type of year that he was on his way to at Lake Elsinore, but when he's healthy he may have the best combination of power and patience in the organization.

Pitching: One through five - this should be the strongest staff in the organization. Buschmann may have been the Padres' best pitcher in the second half but is going to need to be more consistent with his changeup to replicate his success in Double-A. Only twenty years old last year, Inman was widely considered the best pitcher in the Scott Linebrink trade and pitched well but had trouble giving up the big hit. He throws three pitches well and like most Padres' farmhands pounds the zone but lacks any real plus pitch. Reports from spring indicate that his velocity is back up to his Milwaukee days.

Ayala put together a very good first half at Lake Elsinore but injuries hampered his time in San Antonio. The future success of Garrison engenders a wide variety of opinions. Some describe him as the next Greg Maddox with an ability to mix four pitches at varying speeds. Others see him as a quality pitcher but without a single pitch that can get higher level batters out.

Ekstrom got off to a bad start and never really bounced back until the last month and the playoffs. He's a very similar pitcher to Josh Geer; he has a very small margin for error and must keep the ball down. The bullpen should be solid but not spectacular, but the winds blowing in at Nelson Wolf Stadium help all pitchers.

Position Players: Huffman and Blanks will provide the firepower for a Missions offense that should be strong from top to bottom. Morton, after a shoulder surgery cut out his first half, rebounded with a strong second half. Johnston, Macias and Kazmar all have much more talent than they have shown thus far, and this may be the season where their true abilities emerge. Johnston, in particular, needs to be put in position and left there. He put together his best season offensively in Lake Elsinore and has solid gap power.

Dowdy was the Missions best player down the stretch last year, playing everywhere and was rewarded with an everyday position. Cooper did everything last year except put the ball over the fence on a more consistent basis. If he can do that, he's going to jump up in the prospect rankings.

On the Spot: Sean Kazmar. A world of talent, but he has yet to put it together for a consistent season. The Padres are moving him back to his natural position, and he bounced back in Lake Elsinore from a tough first half in '07. When he's on, he's one of the best defensive infielders in the organization.

Under the Radar: Craig Cooper. He did everything at Lake Elsinore but hit with power, which was similar to the same criticism that Chase Headley had going into last year. Cooper has good size, and if he can learn to yank the ball down the left field line with his near .400 OBP, he'll be a big time prospect next year.