Monday, March 12, 2012

Ahead of the game

Two teenagers signed last summer for a combined $5.75 million and a fourth-year pro who turned 20 last month drew special mention today when farm director Randy Smith reviewed the 36-prospect mini-camp soon to end.

"Joe Ross and Austin Hedges have been as advertised," said Smith of the pitcher and catcher, each drafted last June and persuaded to forgo scholarships to UCLA. "Those kids are mature beyond their years. They both have a ton of talent."

Sixteen years old when he signed for $1.2 million out of Venezuela, the corner outfielder Luis Domoromo "has a chance to have a breakout year,"said Smith after watching the lefty the past two weeks. "He's lost some of his baby fat. He's very strong. He's a guy who should hit for a high average."

Games against other franchises's minor leaguers begin Thursday.

The camp afforded extra coaching for select minor leaguers who are entering their first full season or jumping to a new level.

Expected to open the season with Single-A Fort Wayne, Ross, Hedges and Domoromo are part of a farm system judged to be baseball's best by's Keith Law, Baseball Prospectus's Kevin Goldstein and Baseball America places the system third, its loftiest address since it was second entering 1987.

Matt Andriese, a righty pitcher drafted in the third round last year, is questionable for Lake Elsinore's season opener after straining an oblique muscle. "He's had a terrific camp," Smith said. Another righty who played college ball in Riverside, Matt Lollis, listed at 6-foot-9 and 250 pounds in last year's media guide, aims to lose a few pounds before the season arrives.

Hedges, 19,  is putting to use muscle gained last summer while the Padres and his adviser, Scott Boras, worked toward a $3 million signing bonus. The catcher's righty bat may trail his heralded mitt and arm by less than thought last spring.

"The time he had off between the end of his high school season and when he signed -- he put it to good use," Smith said. "He's a much bigger man than we anticipated. His bat is further along than we anticipated. He can drive the ball to right field."

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