MadFriars’ Preview: 2014 Fort Wayne

Synopsis: Probably the youngest and most talented team the Padres have sent to Fort Wayne in a long time. Five of the projected eight regulars will be under 20 and the pitching, while not having all of last year’€™s high draft picks, will be better and more talented than may believe. 

Three Strikes with the Padres Director of Player Development and International Scouting Randy Smith:

What was the biggest improvement you saw in Franchy Cordero from the end of last year?

Randy Smith: He has really maintained his work ethic even with all of the attention he has been receiving in the off-season. He still has some things to work on from a defensive standpoint and use the entire field at the plate, but yeah we are really happy with him. If he can keep his head above water until it warms up, he is going to be fine.

You are sending a very young infield to Fort Wayne.  Were there any concerns that these guys might not be ready yet?

Randy Smith: It’s a talented group and we are going to push them.  I just didn’t think they were going to gain a lot by staying in Extended Spring and since I have been here we have always tried to send out age appropriate players to each level.  This maybe even the youngest team in the league. 

My philosophy has always been lets get them out there and see if they sink or swim. The worst case scenario is that they come back to Extended Spring and then onto Eugene later in the summer.

You don’t have all the first round draft picks in the rotation as you did last year, but some very good arms. Which of the starters do you think has the highest upside?

Randy Smith: They all have a lot of talent. We are kind of expecting Weickel and Lockett to be the most consistent coming out of the gate. Brasoban has really good stuff as does De Horta and by the end of the year they should really be putting it together. Kelich pitched really well for us in the AZL last season as did Schoenrock in Eugene. We will start off with a six-man rotation to get them all work and will go down to five later in the season. We also should have a pretty good bullpen too.                                                                  

MadFriars’ Top 20 Prospects in Fort Wayne: Franchy Cordero (#10)

Catch a Rising Star: No one is really sure if Franchy Cordero will be able to stick at shortstop, but it is fun to believe he may be able too after hitting .333/.381/.511 in the AZL last season. The left-handed hitting shortstop is still a little rough in the field, but he has the ability to make all the plays. He will turn 20 at the end of the year.

Starting Pitching:  While this staff doesn’€™t quite have the same cachet as last year’s staff that featured four first round draft picks, there is some talent. Weickel returns after an up and down year with the TinCaps in 2013. He has good size and stuff, but just caught too much of the plate. Lockett was effective in 2012 out of high school in the AZ, but a blister that never really healed sidelined him for nearly all of last year. A converted first baseman, at 6 feet 5 inches and 225 pounds, he is many pundits sleeper pick for the system. De Horta was an over slot signing from the 2013 draft and showed some talent in July when he posted 0.98 ERA and struck out 26 in 18.1 innings. Kelich, 23, a late round pick out of Bryant University in Rhode Island, just had a phenomenal year striking out 69 batters in 69 innings against only a single walk. Brasoban and Schoenrock were the best pitchers on a struggling Eugene team last season.

Pen:  Rizzotti was drafted out of out of Tulane and the Padres signed him for an over-the-slot bonus where he saw limited action with Eugene. He has a big fastball, a pretty good slider and at times a good change. The Padres were very successful in converting Matt Stites from a college starter to the relief role and this could be a bigger version of him. Baskette had a 1.37 ERA in the AZL and was comfortable either as a starter or coming out of the pen.

Infield: Cordero could be a star, but local product Josh VanMeter and second round pick Dustin Peterson are not far behind. The left-handed hitting VanMeter does everything well and put on nearly 20 pounds of muscle in the offseason. Peterson also played well in the AZL last year and was hitting for much more power in the spring. Tejada is a holdover from last year where he posted a disappointing .571 OPS. However, he is only 21-years-old and did hit well in the AZL in 2012 at .293/.352/.370.

Catching: Phillips returns after hitting well with the TinCaps, but struggling at Lake Elsinore.  He also could use a little more work defensively only throwing out 15 of 91 runners attempting to steal. Miller is a better athlete than catcher, but has shown some aptitude behind the plate along with flashes of power.

Outfield: The Padres are sending two of their monster outfielders from the AZL to the TinCaps in Reyes, 18, who comes in at 6 feet 5 inches and 240 pounds. His slightly smaller and thinner counterpart Urena, 19, led the AZL with nine home runs and was third in slugging percentage, while Reyes finished with OPS of .854. Smith is a victim of a crowded outfield in Lake Elsinore and returns after leading the Midwest League with 64 stolen bases and posting a .362 on-base percentage. He should be the first one called up. 

On the Spot: Walker Weickel is a former first round draft pick that is the only one back of last year’s talented quartet and is expected to be the ace of the staff. At 6 foot 6 inches he has the ability to throw downhill and another year of working with respected TinCaps’ pitching coach Burt Hooten will help.

Under the Radar: Josh VanMeter, who won’€™t be under the radar in his home state of Indiana, may be in the rest of the 49 states. VanMeter looked very good in camp and could have Padres’€™ fans raving at the end of the year of their new potential double play combination of Cordero and VanMeter coming up through the system.