MadFriars’ Preview: 2014 Lake Elsinore Storm

Synopsis: Three, and possibly four, very good pitchers will lead the Storm with an outfield that will be one of the more athletic in the league. As with most of the Padres’ farm clubs they also will have a very strong pen.

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

How is Max Fried’s health?

Randy Smith: He’s doing fine. Max is throwing pain free with no problems. We are slowly building him up and he just started throwing bullpens. He came into camp with a little soreness so we shut him down immediately until it went away. He should be out in Lake Elsinore in early May, but we are going to also be cautious.

What adjustments does Hunter Renfroe need to make this season?

Randy Smith: With him I think it will just be about getting used to the daily grind of pro ball. Taking what he gets instead of trying to do too much. Hunter has tremendous raw power, but a lot of his development this season will be on the mental side.

Joe Ross has always looked better than his numbers indicate. What was the main point of emphasis with him this spring?

Randy Smith: Big league camp really helped Joe with the maturation process. His fastball command is much better with the ball going down in the zone. He was getting in trouble when the ball was up. His breaking ball is coming along much better and he did some work with his stride. The stuff is there and I think we are going to see a really good year from him.

MadFriars’€™ Top 20 Prospects in Lake Elsinore:  Max Fried (#3), Hunter Renfroe #7), Joe Ross (#8) and  Zach Eflin (#12)

Catch a Rising Star: Max Fried has all of the pitches; a quality four-seam fastball that sits in the low to mid-90s, a plus curve that can drop straight down to go along with a very good change-up; particularly for someone that hasn’t turned 21. Right now it’s just a question of him gaining the consistency of a major league pitcher.

Starting Pitching: Ross has as much talent as anyone in the organization, but can get in trouble when he tries to just blow everyone away with his fastball. Eflin, despite coming into last year without the hype surrounding Fried and Ross, was the TinCaps’ and one of the Midwest League’s best pitchers with a 2.73 ERA and went five or more innings in 19 starts. Rea struggled in the first half in Lake Elsinore before getting back on track in Fort Wayne last year. When he challenges hitters he is effective, when he nibbles he is not.

Pen: It’s a little surprising that Cody Hebner is returning to the Storm after striking out 78 in 74.2 innings but maybe the walk totals were a little high. Nunn is one of the more underrated pitchers in the system and finished last year in Fort Wayne with an 8-2 record and 2.77 ERA showing he was more than a situational lefty.  Madrid was the TinCaps’ closer and looked very good at times and very human at others.

Infield: Quintana is the most interesting of all the infielders hitting .305/.334/.447 at 20 in the Midwest League. McElroy and Carmon are both left-handed hitters and relatively sure handed in the field but a little challenged with their ranges. Jones played third last year, but will primarily be at first this season. He has tools galore, but they just didn’t show up that often in 2013 when he hit  .225/.281/.327 for the Storm.

Catching: The Padres signed Clemson’s John Nester, 25, from the Independent Frontier League last year and played well enough to beat out Dane Phillips, a second round draft pick in 2012. Switch-hitter Jeremy Rodriguez returns to the Storm after seeing time in Lake Elsinore and San Antonio last season.

Outfield: Top draft pick Renfroe started off like a house afire in Eugene with 13 extra-base hits in his first 20 games along with some sparkling defensive plays before wearing down in with the TinCaps.  He is very similar to Rymer Liriano in that he has a world of talent, but needs refinement. Aussie Corey Adamson had his best season hitting .274/.365/.376 between Fort Wayne and Lake Elsinore last year. He put on more good weight and had a solid campaign for the Perth Heat in the Australian Baseball League this winter, but he’s going to need a little more power if he’s going to stay in the corners. Martinez quietly had one of the better seasons of anyone in the organization hitting 303/.396/.523 in the second half for Fort Wayne last summer.

On the Spot:  For the past two springs everyone raves about Joe Ross’ stuff and he has performed adequately, but not anywhere near what his potential could be. He got off to a good start in the first half last year before fading in Low-A. If Ross can trust his quality secondary offerings this could be a breakout year for him.

Under the Radar: Alberth Martinez is a lighter version of Liriano and Renfroe, which is still very good. His tools aren’t as loud, but he is very close to a five-tool player. Martiniez is capable of stealing a few more bases and if his power continues to progress he could put up some very good numbers at the Diamond.