Padres' Oramas Finding His Way In Mexico





HERMOSILLO, MEXICO—On first glance, Juan Oramas looks the part of a typical soft-tossing southpaw pitcher.

The 21-year-old hurler for the Hermosillo Naranjeros of the Mexican League stands only 5-foot-10 and tips the scales about 20 pounds less than his listed weight of 215.

Looks can be deceiving.

The Padres farmhand's fastball was up to 94-95 during his regular season with Double-A San Antonio. His repertoire also includes a low-80s changeup, rated a tick above average, and a curveball that he throws in the mid-70s.

His heater has nice movement to it, which makes it for hitters to pick up. Oramas likes to call it his "invisible ball."

The results for Oramas this winter have been mixed. Despite a 47-12 K-BB mark in 41 innings, he had a 5.05 ERA through nine starts.

Hermosillo pitching coach Blaise Ilsley, who has worked with Oramas for the last three winters, is impressed with the progress made by the native of the Mexican state of Tabasco.

"What I see in Juan from when I first met him is that he's matured a lot," said Ilsley, the Cardinals Triple-A pitching coach in Memphis during the regular season. "I can tell that he's been through the program in the States now for a couple of years. He's a more focused guy."

Most noticeable is the steady improvement in Oramas' control over the course of his five-year pro career. He walked 29 batters in 108 1/3 innings during the regular season and has yielded just 12 walks in his first 41 innings this winter.

"I try to work hard on my throwing," Oramas said. "I try to throw the first pitch for a strike. It's important."

Ilsley has also taken note of the steady improvement in Oramas' command.

"I think it does come natural to guys," Ilsley said. "Sometimes he tends to overthrow a little bit . . . that affects his command, but for the most part he's in the zone most of the time. When he gets his three pitches working, he's very effective."

Oramas was added to the Padres' 40-man roster after a strong year at Double-A in which he posted a 10-5, 3.10 record with 102 strikeouts and 28 walks. It was just his second year in the United States after he pitched two years for the Padres' Dominican Summer League team and one season on loan to the Mexico City Reds. Oramas expects that the experience he's gained from facing more veteran hitters in winter ball will help him prepare for an expected promotion to Triple-A in 2012.

He certainly has the work ethic needed to succeed at the higher levels of professional baseball.

"Now my priority is much better," Oramas said. "I work hard … I lost 25 pounds in the States. You need to help yourself and your body."

"It's your life, it's your career—you need to prepare."

Door Opens For Hamilton

Mark Hamilton wasn't going to wait around to find out whether Albert Pujols would return to the Cardinals in 2012.

Blocked at first base since making his big league debut at the end of the 2010 season, Hamilton decided that he needed to brush up on his outfield skills this winter.

After a brief seven-game stint with the Gigantes of the Dominican League, Hamilton headed south of the border to Hermosillo to play outfield for the Naranjeros of the Mexican League.

It's not really a new position for the former Tulane All-American, who was taken by the Cardinals in the 2nd round of the 2006 draft.

"I played outfield in college and high school," Hamilton said, "and I kind of got pigeon-holed a little bit over there (first base) … the way the organization shook out they needed a first baseman at every level that I went to.

"We've been very, very strong in the outfield, so it's been very hard to get any playing time out there."

Hamilton has been holding down the left field job in Hermosillo since arriving there in November. He's also proven to be one the team's top batters, hitting .329/.446/.575 with four home runs in his first 20 games.

He came down to Mexico to work on more than just his defense. He's also using the winter season to fine tune his swing.

"There were some adjustments I wanted to make, and it's hard to make them during the season," Hamilton said.

"Bringing it down here, it's kind of nice canvas to work out things. I want to work on my swing without having to be concerned necessarily with production . . . Here, I feel a lot more comfortable that I can work the kinks out and make me a better overall hitter."

With Pujols now having departed from St. Louis via free agency, first base is open. Hamilton, 27, profiles better as an extra lefty bat off the bench than as a big league regular, so the experience he's gaining from playing the outfield will prove invaluable in helping him secure a roster spot next spring.

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS

• The Athletics signed Sanber Pimentel, a 17-year-old Dominican outfielder/first baseman. Pimentel, who is 6-foot-2, 195 pounds, is a lefty from Santo Domingo who trained at La Academia and is the younger brother of Rangers 22-year-old outfielder Guillermo Pimentel, who played for short-season Spokane in 2011.

Sanber's best tool is his best.  He has a good swing and feel for hitting, with the ability to turn on good fastballs. He has strength and can hit for occasional pull power, but he projects to have just moderate pop. Pimentel's arm is an above-average tool, but whether he can make use of it in the field remains to be seen. In an ideal world he would play right field, but he's a limited runner with an unorthodox stride, so he might have to be a first baseman.

• Once Buster Posey returns to the field, the opportunities for Hector Sanchez to catch for the Giants figure to be limited. In the meantime, Sanchez has boosted his prospect status with one of the best seasons of any plaer in the Venezuelan League.

Sanchez, a 22-year-old switch-hitter, was leading the league in average and slugging while ranking third in on-base percentage. Through 146 at-bats, Sanchez was batting .363/.414/.589 for La Guaira, building off a productive season in which he accelerated though the system. Sanchez spent the entire 2010 with low Class A Augusta, started 2011 in high Class A San Jose but jumped to Triple-A Fresno in June before making his big league debut the following month.