A few years ago, Cedric Hunter was considered the Padres’ top prospect.
Last year, he was far from that distinction, hitting an awful .261/.294/.331 in Double-A.
Hunter, however, was 21 at the time, so he could afford the one-season misstep.
Sent back to San Antonio again this season, he’s off to a rousing .381/.400/.524 start.
I’m not sure what to make of Hunter. He posted a 40/22 K/BB ratio (and 15.3% walk rate) in his first season. His walk rate has trended down sharply ever since, all the way down to 4.3% last year.
Hunter almost never strikes out; even in his horrible 2009 he K’d only 7.9 percent of the time.
The problem with hitters like this is that they make so much contact that they don’t work deep counts. Furthermore, since they can hit just about anything, they’re less likely to wait for pitches they can really drive. It’s better to not chase a pitcher’s pitch at the knees over the outside corner and take it for strike one than ground it weakly to short. Power hitters won’t swing at that because they know they can’t drive it. Hitters like Hunter swing at it because they think they can be the next Ichiro.
It takes a huge amount of speed to make that approach work, and with 25 steals in the last two years, Hunter doesn’t appear to possess those top-end wheels. He’s at the mercy of the defense, and if his BABIP goes down (.277 last year) his entire game goes with it.
Hunter doesn’t have enough power to keep pitchers or defenses honest, either.
What it comes down to is that Hunter needs to do one of three things to be a major league player:
1.) Take a Luis Castillo-style “I’m not swinging at anything” approach.
2.) Find some power
3.) Find a way to hit for Ichiro-esque .300+ averages consistently.
The first and last suggestions are more realistic than the second. Hunter hit .371 in Rookie ball in 2006 and .318 in 2008, and with his contact skills and decent speed, he likely isn’t going to be posting .277 BABIPs very often. With an average BABIP, he could at least hit .280 or so and be a passable fifth outfielder in the majors.
Revamping his approach a la Castillo would be a tougher task; it takes a special sort of ballplayer to embrace such a wholesale change after experiencing a lifetime of success since Little League. I have no idea how receptive he would be to the idea, and if the San Diego coaching staff has the tools to help him implement such a radically patient approach.
Just 22, Hunter has some time to develop left, but he needs to find some walks, BABIP, or power to have any sort of major league future.