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03/10/07 5:04 PM ET

Hunter gives Padres a sneak preview

Outfielder shows tons of promise, talent during Spring Training

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Grady Fuson wasn't so much surprised as he was relieved when Cedric Hunter was still available when the third round of last June's First-Year Player Draft came around.

"He was a player that we didn't want to miss," said Fuson, the Padres vice president of scouting and player development.

It's a good thing they didn't.

Hunter, who turned 19 on Saturday, impressed everyone with his skills in center field as well as his bat and natural ability during his first summer in professional ball in 2006.

While many of his peers struggled to make the adjustment from metal to wood bats and the increased level of competition, Hunter simply flourished.

All Hunter did was hit .371 and post a .467 on-base percentage for the Padres in the rookie-level Arizona League, before he earned a late-season promotion to Class A Eugene.

How impressed were the Padres?

"It was a little stupid," said Fuson of Hunter's performance.

Hunter's performance came on the heels of a stellar prep career at Martin Luther King Jr. High in Lithonia, Ga. Last spring, Hunter hit .580 with 12 home runs in 69 at-bats and had 20 stolen bases.

And while there was some concern that Hunter could get picked before the third round -- where San Diego had him slotted -- Hunter's hometown Atlanta Braves made overtures that they would take him sooner. Fuson was hopeful that Hunter would fall to them.

"Some people out there didn't think he was big enough, some people didn't think he was fast enough to be considered a one or two," Fuson said. "But our style is very instinctive when it comes to position players. He runs, throws, can play center and had good hitter's hands. He certainly fit our criteria."

Hunter started hitting almost immediately upon arriving in Arizona. He reached base in his first 49 professional games and had a 23-game hitting streak. He led the Arizona League with 103 total bases, 46 runs, 79 hits and finished second to teammate Luis Durango in on-base percentage and batting average. He also swiped 17 bases.

Not surprisingly, Hunter was named the league's Most Valuable Player.

"I think just his commitment to everything that was going on," Fuson said. "Cedric's very mature. He knows what the game is all about. He had a tremendous commitment from the day he signed to the last day of the championship game. He never let up, he was humble."

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And while it appears that Hunter eased right into professional baseball without much of a glitch, he noted that it wasn't as easy as it appeared.

"My first thought was that this business was serious," Hunter said. "Everyone is so much better here. There are not as many errors, pitchers throw harder. Everyone knows how to play."

It's far too early to tell what kind of power Hunter will have, Fuson said. But he's already displayed other important tools: quickness on the bases, pure hitting ability and the knack to run down fly balls. Hunter's throwing arm is considered good, though he's been nursing a sore elbow since late last season.

"Tool-wise, he's not a big runner, but he's a very good runner," Fuson said. "He possesses a lot of quickness. He's got enough quickness to stay in center field and very instinctive. He's got a great swing and has great strength. It will probably be a year or two before his starts to put up power number."

Hunter reported to camp a week and a half before the rest of the Minor League position players at the Padres' request. He's been hitting a lot and spending as much time around the big-league players as much as possible.

"This is my first Spring Training, so it's exciting to be out here with these pros," Hunter said. "To see Greg Maddux walking around or Mike Cameron ... you want to be in their shoes. You have to do whatever it takes to get there."

The Padres think Hunter -- who will likely begin season with Class A Fort Wayne -- is on his way.

"He just has a very calm, poised approach to everything he does," Fuson said.

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