MadFriars' Mid-Season Report with Randy Smith

Kral has been one of the surprises in 2013

We caught up with Randy Smith, the Padres' Director of Minor League Development, for some questions on the system at the midpoint. Three of the four Padres' affiliates have winning records and after some slow starts some of their bats are finally starting to heat up.

The strength of the organization is in some of the bigger name pitchers, Robbie Erlin, Burch Smith and Max Fried, that many are familiar with but there have also been some surprises with Dean Anna of Tucson and Robert Kral in Lake Elsinore.

Tucson

For those who follow the organization we get a lot of questions about Dean Anna, who is just having a fantastic season. Dean has seen the majority of his time at short but has played all over the infield and can also play at least two positions in the outfield.

Can he play shortstop on a major league level and where has his power come from this year?

Randy Smith: Dean has just gotten better every year. Last year he hit ten home runs in the Texas League, which is not the easiest thing to do in that league, so he has some power. He is a bit of a late bloomer.

Yeah, I think he can play shortstop at a major league level and he can also play all over the infield and some outfield as well. He really has some versatility and is somewhat similar to Andy Parrino last year; maybe a little less speed but a better hitter.

Jaff Decker got his first taste of the major leagues this year and has put up the numbers in June that we used to see in Fort Wayne.

We know he's finally healthy after two tough seasons with injury but he also seems to be more aggressive at the plate this year, especially in putting the ball into left field.

Do you find that true as well?

Randy Smith: That is what we have been preaching to him; stop hitting with two strikes and become more aggressive early in the count. He's becoming the player that we thought we had all along, using all the fields and has improved defensively as well.

It's good to see him kicking it into gear.

Burch Smith has had some rough outings at the major league level - granted its been very limited action - but has pitched very well in San Antonio and Tucson. What have you been seeing in the minors this year with Burch?

Randy Smith: I love this guy. He has a chance to become a very good starting pitcher. This year he's been maintaining his velocity better and moving his fastball around in the zone. His breaking ball and changeup have improved - and remember he is only in his second full year of pro ball - but he has some finishing up to do.

Most guys its going to take them awhile because it is such a big jump. I think we are starting to see his feet get more settled as he gets some clean up opportunities in the big leagues.

Cody Decker is always very popular on our site and has again played well this year. Do you see him getting more opportunities behind the plate and maybe in the outfield again?

Randy Smith: Cody is a very hard worker. He was slumping at the beginning of the year and we needed a bat in San Antonio so we sent him down. I told him that he was going to be right back up but I'm not sure he believed me at the time.

Ever since he has come back to Tucson he has been on a tear. He's not the smoothest player but he always can figure out a way to get it done. I think his best chance to be in the big leagues is to continue what he is doing; hit, play first and some outfield and emergency catcher. His defense at first has also picked up.

San Antonio

Reymond Fuentes has been out of the lineup recently but is having a great year. What is the biggest reason behind his turnaround?

Randy Smith: The biggest thing with Rey is maturity. He has always been a gifted athlete but this year we are seeing him take it up a notch in his work ethic and concentration during games. Jacque Jones [the hitting coach in San Antonio] has really done a good job with him.

We are looking to get him back on the field soon, probably tomorrow or Thursday.

You were fairly aggressive with Matt Wisler, who is pitching much better in June than in May. What have you seen that you liked so far and what does he need to work on?

Randy Smith: Wisler is so young right now he is still figuring it out what it is to pitch at different levels. We moved him up from Lake Elsinore fairly quickly because it was evident to us that he wasn't being challenged.

He struggled a little early in the year in San Antonio and had to learn that you get away with a lot less as you move up to higher levels. I really like Matt, he has four good pitches and has a fantastic future.

Keyvius Sampson was demoted from Tucson after struggling in AAA and looks like he found his way again with the Missions. What was he struggling with the most and what turned it around?

Randy Smith: When Keyvius cam back down we talked about going with the slider. It has helped but he's also been more aggressive with his fastball - which has also gone up a few ticks. His slider is another weapon and right now he is throwing three good pitches with an occasional curve. I know it seems like he has been around for awhile but he's only 22.

The bullpen in San Antonio has been very good with Kevin Quackenbush, Matt Stites, Jeremy McBryde and Chris Rearick. All of them have had good years, with Quack moving onto Tucson, but what has stood out to you the most?

Randy Smith: [laughs] They all stand out. We keep pushing Quack and Stites up and they keep posting some ridiculous numbers. Everyone keeps saying they are going to figure out Quack's invisible fastball as he moves up and it still hasn't happened. He's throwing a split and his curve has gotten better.

With Stites you start with fastball command and his velocity. The first game we had him close he was clocked in at 97 and 99. So he likes to get the last three outs. His velocity has been really consistent for the whole month with the highs being 97 to 99 and he is sitting at between 95 and 96.

Lake Elsinore

Who is Robert Kral and where did you find him?

Randy Smith: We drafted Robert in 2011 out of the University of Charleston and he came to us with a bad shoulder. He was in extended spring for awhile and last year bounced between San Antonio and Lake Elsinore as a back-up.

John Gibbons [the manager of San Antonio last year and the current manager of the Toronto Blue Jays] liked him and said that we might have something here. He's been having a very good year with the bat, he has one of the better approaches in the organization.

With Austin coming back he has been seeing more time at first base and that is something we want to continue to work with him on, becoming better defensively.

Also with Hedges at catcher how do you plan to get more reps for Kral behind the plate?

Randy Smith: In situations like this, it is always a good problem to have. Robert's calling card is his bat and we want to get that in the lineup. Right now he hasn't had that much experience playing first base, so its good him to get some work there. In the end we want to develop him at both positions.

Hedges has also come back very strong in June. How much did his injuries play into his early season struggles at the plate?

Randy Smith: Part of it is just adjusting to the league. A lot of players come into the Cal League and they hear how great a place it is for hitters and it kind of takes them out of what they do best. I'm not sure that was the case with Austin but again its a pretty quick rise for him and once he adjusted to the league he has bounced back.

What is the biggest improvement that you have seen from Jace Peterson this year and what do you still need to see from him?

Randy Smith: With Jace it is all about reps and at-bats. He just missed so much time when he was younger because of football. I always thought with Jace the sum would be greater than the parts with his athleticsm, intelligence and leadership ability.

He's playing very well as of late. He just had a ridiculous June.

James Needy seems to have really come around after having injury problems in his first few years. Again, what have you seen that you liked and what does he still need to work on?

Randy Smith: He's a guy that once he has gotten healthy has done a good job. He has good sink on his fastball and good velocity. He secondary stuff is good the biggest thing with James is the same with a lot of young pitchers, his consistency.

Last how about Justin Hancock?

Randy Smith: Just can't say enough good things about Justin. After he got sent down from Fort Wayne last year he has just been doing a great job. He was our best pitcher in Eugene, has a great body, good sinker and although he doesn't look like it, he has a mean streak on the mound.

Again, he's done a really good job with us and his work ethic has been off the charts.

Fort Wayne

You sent a very impressive pitching staff to Fort Wayne this year with Max Fried, the number one pick as one of the leaders.

What have you seen from Max this year?

Randy Smith: Max has a very bright future. Right now he has three average to plus pitches that are only going to get better.

With him its just learning the process on how to become a professional and take the ball every fifth day and not being so hard on himself. He has very high standards for himself and expects perfection every time out and that just isn't the way baseball works.

Joe Ross returned to Fort Wayne and looks much better than he did last year. What has his biggest improvement been?

Randy Smith: Joe's fastball is down in the zone much better this year. He runs into some trouble when the fastball gets thigh high or around the waist. He's young, has a great arm and is starting to learn how to win. Remember he won his first game as a professional this year.

Right now his biggest thing is to continue to learn to throw downhill and dominate with his plus stuff.

A little lost in the shuffle has been how well Zach Eflin has pitched. Can you give us a brief scouting report on him?

Randy Smith: He's a very big kid that is really competitive and just turned nineteen. Fastball, slider and change-up. He has a good change and can dial up his fastball to 95 and usually sits in the 90 to 91 mph range. I love the way he competes and he has really improved from mini-camp to where he is now.

Short-Season

Ryan Miller, a fourteenth round draft pick from San Bernardino Valley College, looks like he may be quite a find. What can you tell us about him?

Randy Smith: I haven't seen that much of Ryan yet and saw him only briefly in camp. He is a very good athlete and is off to a good start in Eugene.

Any update on Walker Lockett and Corey Kimber?

Randy Smith: Corey had Tommy John surgery and will be back next spring. Walker had a wart on the end of one of his pitching fingers that just took a long time to heal. He is playing catch now and hopefully we should have him out in Eugene soon.

Last question. Donavan Tate was in the news this week. What are your plans for him?

Randy Smith: He showed up in good physical shape but it wasn't baseball shape. I don't think he had really been running around that much outside. So right now we have him working with Damion Easley, one of our hitting coaches here in Peoria, on just some very basic baseball drills. It should take him about three weeks to get back into baseball shape so I wouldn't really expect him to play in games for about three weeks and his first action will be in the AZL if everything goes really well.

After that we will see where he is.

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