"He's our little Juan Pierre," said Grady Fuson, the Padres' vice president of scouting and player development. "He can absolutely fly. And he's really mastered, in the last couple of years, the ability to get the bat on the ball and keep it out of the air."
The 22-year-old Durango, just placed on the Padres' 40-man roster this past offseason, has posted a .335 career average in five pro seasons and already has two Minor League batting crowns under his belt. Yet he's not showing up on anyone's "top prospect" lists.
There are a few reasons for that. One is his small stature -- 5-foot-10 and 145 pounds. Another is the fact he's still something of a work in progress when it comes to baseball instincts.
"For a guy who is so fast, you'd think he'd be a center field candidate, but his instincts have left him a step behind," explained Fuson. "The same thing about his basestealing, the jumps he gets still need work."
Durango, who spent his first two pro seasons in 2004-'05 in the Venezuelan Summer League, came stateside in '06 and hit .378 in the Arizona League. He took the batting title and All-Star honors, stealing 17 bases while being caught six times.
The switch-hitter moved up to short-season Eugene in '07 and hit .367, winning the Northwest League batting crown and co-MVP honors, again stealing 17 bases but this time getting nabbed 10 times.
In '08, Durango spent most of the season at Class A Fort Wayne, where he hit .305 and ranked third in the Midwest League with a .395 on-base percentage. At season's end, he moved up to Advanced Class A Lake Elsinore, where he batted .431 in 17 games and combined between the two stops for 15 steals (and was caught eight times).
"He's a work in progress, but he has magic hands, uses the whole field and hits the ball up the middle very well," said Fuson, who also was pleased with the adjustments he saw Durango make over the course of the season at Fort Wayne. "He had a tough time early as they pounded him inside and he didn't know what to do with it, but he caught on and figured it out."
With plus hand-eye coordination and bat speed, if Durango can continue that learning curve, he could emerge above the radar in '09.
"It will be interesting now that he's on his way because he's clicked in pretty well everywhere he's gone," Fuson noted. "And he's an exciting guy to watch."
LHP Philip Barzilla is on the Italian provisional roster. A fourth-round pick in 2001 by Houston out of Rice, Barzilla also pitched for Italy in the inaugural 2006 World Baseball Classic. He began the '08 season with the Seattle organization, but after posting a 6.28 ERA in seven games at Triple-A Tacoma he was released and signed with San Diego. He wound up with a 3.78 ERA in 34 games out of the 'pen at Double-A San Antonio.
OF Peter Ciofrone also is on the Italian provisional roster. A non-roster invitee to Padres camp this year, Ciofrone originally was drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the 16th round in '02 and traded to San Diego in '04. The 25-year-old enjoyed his best season to date in '08 when, after a brief start at San Antonio, he hit .314 with 18 homers and 53 RBIs in 97 games at Triple-A Portland.
Lisa Winston is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.