All but forgotten, Hunter helps Friars remember

All but forgotten, Hunter helps Friars remember

All but forgotten, Hunter helps Friars remember
PEORIA, Ariz. -- As a sure sign that he's making progress, the easiest thing that 23-year-old outfielder Cedric Hunter can do is to point to his flashy .455 batting average and an impressive .520 on-base percentage this spring.

Instead, Hunter has found all the encouragement he needs in the kind words Padres manager Bud Black has offered him in camp.

"Bud has told me a few times that I'm doing great and to keep going. That makes me feel great to hear that," Hunter said Tuesday. "I feel I'm showing that I'm ready to go and that all the work that I did in the offseason is paying off.

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"But it's always reassuring to hear the manager tell you that."

That's not all.

Consider what Black has told others about Hunter, an outfielder armed with quick hands and a whole lot of upside who impressed the organization so much that it took him in the third round of the 2006 First-Year Player Draft out of Lithonia, Ga., the same city that produced Phillies prospect Domonic Brown.

In the opinion of some, Hunter's star has faded, mostly due to a subpar season at a pitcher-friendly ballpark in San Antonio in 2009. But thanks to a strong spring, Hunter is back in the Padres' plans for the future.

"He's back on the radar," Black said.

To be clear, Hunter, who turned 23 on March 10, won't make the 25-man Opening Day roster as Chris Denorfia is the fourth outfielder and Eric Patterson -- who can play the outfield and second base -- looks like a lock for the roster.

Instead, Hunter, who was sent to Minor League camp after Tuesday's game, will begin the season at Triple-A Tucson after hitting .263 in 65 games at that level a year ago following a promotion from Double-A San Antonio, where he never hopes to visit again professionally.

After hitting .318 with Class A Lake Elsinore in 2008, Hunter moved to San Antonio's Wolff Stadium, where the winds blow in and cause havoc for hitters. It's not a good place for a position player.

"I don't think people really understand how tough it is to hit at the Wolff. You have to be mentally tough. You hit balls hard all day and your average won't show it because those balls are being caught," said Hunter, who hit .261 as a 21-year-old that season.

Whereas he was ranked as the top prospect in the Padres Minor League system by Baseball America after the 2006 season, Hunter fell to No. 23 following 2009.

Hunter hasn't resurfaced on the list since.

"When I was younger, when I first got drafted, I used to look at that and go off that. But you can only control what you can control," Hunter said.

The Padres never lost faith in Hunter, a left-handed hitter who impressed then-scouting director Bill Gayton on the several occasions he watched him before the 2006 Draft.

"He was a burner down the line but had outstanding instincts and range that far exceeded his speed. We liked Cedric's swing, how he played defense and liked his makeup," said Gayton, now a professional scout with the Cardinals.

"I don't think he ever fell off the radar. I think Cedric is someone who has always been viewed as a Major League prospect. It's good to see him playing so well."

Hunter has worked closely with Padres hitting coach Randy Ready on his swing here in camp, trying to create a shorter path to the ball. Hunter, who said he's been "blessed" to have quick hands, has responded well to the mechanical fix.

"He's got some lightning in there. ... He's got some excitement his hands," Ready said. "I think that from the last couple of camps, he's starting to understand that less is more and that the further you get away from the ball, then the tougher it's going to be to hit consistently.

"We're trying to keep him short with the swing. It's been beneficial to him. He's had a great camp."

Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. Keep track of @FollowThePadres on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.