The Padres are a team who had plenty to be excited about not too long ago. They had one of the best pitchers in the league as well as one of the premier first basemen in the game. Hell, the Padres were even playoff contenders in the NL West. How cruel this game can be in just a few short years. Now, there is still hope in San Diego with almost a completely different team this time around. Jake Peavy turned into Mat Latos who turned into Edinson Volquez. Adrian Gonzalez turned into Anthony Rizzo who turned into Yonder Alonso. These are not your father’s Padres (see what I did there?). But, hope is certainly not lost in So.Cal.
Projected Position Players
Catcher – Nick Hundley (John Baker)
First Base – Jesus Guzman
Second Base – Orlando Hudson
Third Base – Chase Headley
Shortstop – Jason Bartlett (Everth Cabrera)
Left Field – Yonder Alonso (Kyle Blanks)
Centerfield – Cameron Maybin (Chris Denorfia)
Right Field – Will Venable (Mark Kotsay)
For years now, Yonder Alonso has been viewed as a prisoner of misfortune. In the Reds’ organization, he was forever trapped behind Joey Votto who isn’t going anywhere any time soon. While he was brought up as a first baseman, it seems as though the Padres believe they can utilize him as a corner outfielder in order to produce a more potent lineup. This was done as an initial reaction to Carlos Quentin’s season ending knee injury which took place just before Spring Training began. Alonso has plenty of pop and potential to be a bat Padres’ fans can get excited about even in that massive park.
Rounding out the outfield, Cameron Maybin had his best season as a pro last year. During his time in Florida he was always viewed as a top prospect center fielder just waiting for his big year to come to fruition. It never came and he was shipped off to San Diego. While it wasn’t a banner year for the history of center fielders, he did swipe a career best 40 bags and hit a career high .264. Maybin’s 82 runs, 40 RBI, 24 doubles, eight triples, and nine jacks were all career highs as well. While it wasn’t a record breaking year, it gives Maybin something solid to build on heading into 2012.
As for the Padres right fielder, I like to consider Will Venable a two and a half tool player. I say this because he has all five tools but only seems to utilize them half of the time. It is an imperfect comparison for sure, but it gets the point across. Venable is a highly sought after player that the Padres have no intention of trading. Over the past two seasons, Venable averages a .246 BA with 55 runs, 48 RBI, 28 stolen bases, 13 doubles, 11 homeruns, and seven triples. Just a little bit of everything from Venable. If he could ever put it all together he may be one of the most well rounded players in the league. Until then, he’s just Mr. 2.5 Tools.
Chase Headley has been viewed as a top third base prospect in the Padres’ organization for some time now. He will be 28 in May. While Headley has strung together three semi-consistent seasons in a row, not a one has been any sort of impressive. Headley’s a career .269 hitter with a .965 fielding percentage. If the Padres want to make a climb out of the basement of the NL West, they are going to need help from the man holding down their hot corner. Headley only saw 381 at bats last season after a career high 610 in 2010. He needs to stay healthy in order to attempt to contribute.
Jason Bartlett was given high praise for his leadership skills in Tampa. He was credited with a large portion of the success that the Rays had seen during their World Series run of 2008. 2011 was not one of Bartlett’s better seasons. In fact, I’m sure no player has been looking forward to 2012 more than Bartlett in the Padres’ lineup. His .245 average was his lowest since he played only 74 games back in 2005 for the Twins. His 98 strikeouts were the worst of his career. As were the ten times he was caught stealing. Being traded from a contender to just an ordinary team is always tough and it seemed to take quite the toll on Bartlett. If he wants another team to give him a look at 33 (his age after this season) he will need to bounce back in a big way.
Projected Rotation & Bullpen
SP – Tim Stauffer, Cory Luebke, Edinson Volquez, Andrew Cashner, Clayton Richard
RP – Luke Gregerson, Joe Thatcher, Micah Owings, Anthony Bass, Dustin Moseley
CL – Huston Street
The Padres have loaded up on plenty of “could be” guys in a park that is tailor made for pitchers just trying to figure it all out. Need proof, just look at what Aaron Harang was able to accomplish last season in San Diego. This offseason, the Padres shipped off their young ace (Mat Latos) in order to add a bat as well as a project. That project is Edinson Volquez. Volquez was traded from the Texas Rangers in order to acquire Josh Hamilton from the Reds. After year one, it seemed like quite the fair deal as many were considering Volquez to be an ace for years to come. That hasn’t exactly been the case over the past three seasons as Volquez has struggled with both health, velocity and control. Last season was the first time he had regained his healthy but was only able to make 20 starts because of his absurdly high 5.71 ERA. But, that came in Cincinnati which is a hitters ballpark. San Diego is a pitcher’s dream and Volquez should be able to revitalize his career as a member of the Padres. He has already taken the first step by being named San Diego’s Opening Day starter.
Andrew Cashner, Corey Luebke, and Tim Stauffer are all also projects the Padres hope they have hit on. Cashner is the flame thrower who came over from the Cubs in exchange for Anthony Rizzo. He has impressed this spring, consistently registering 100 MPH on the radar gun. Stauffer, the former fourth overall pick, is coming off of the longest season of his career after going 9-12 over 185.2 innings pitched. Not exactly ace material, but a start for a guy who threw 103 more innings than his previous career best. After appearing in 46 games last season, Luebke will make the transition to full time starter in his second year of major league service. Last year, Luebke make 17 starts out of his 46 appearance and threw 139.2 innings while holding a respectable 3.29 ERA. If he can give the Padres a lefty arm capable of throwing 180+ innings of 3.40 ERA ball, they will be more than happy in San Diego. The Padres are so happy with how Luebke is progressing they just gave the 27 year old an extension which could keep him in camo until 2017.
The bullpen which has been so good going all the way back to the Trevor Hoffman days is no more. There is no more Heath Bell sprinting out of the bullpen and no more guaranteed door slammed at the end of the ninth. Instead, the Padres have to live with Houston Street. Between his service in Oakland and Colorado, it never seemed like Street had a secure job. His teams were always looking to make an upgrade no matter how he was pitching. Out of his seven seasons, Street has only two where his ERA was below three. While he has never appeared in more than 69 games, he has only appeared in less than 62 twice. So while Street has never been the best, he has also never been the worst in the league. He’s just always sort of been a relief pitcher in the majors. That’s about it. It just so happens he is following a lineage of damn good closers. In four of his seven seasons, Street has blown five or more saves. He has saved 23 or less games four times as well. On a team that will be in many games decided by two runs or less, Street is going to have to be dominant. Anything less and his job will be taken from him.
There are too many question marks which could go either way for this team to be completely sure. On one hand, Volquez could win 15+ games and Alonso could be a legitimate rookie of the year candidate. On the other hand, both of those players could be without their spot come September. There are just too many uncertainties with this club. With that said, the Padres do have themselves a solid core to build around and are not too far away from NL West contention as they were a few years ago. 2012 is just another year of building for San Diego.