Most of the 54 players who came to spring training will not be breaking with the major league 25-man roster on opening day, but that doesn’t mean that their time in big league camp is wasted. For many it’s their first chance, and for all it’s a prime chance, to make a good impression on the coaching staff and front office decision makers. Leaving a strong, positive impression on their minds during their time in camp can lead to an early call up to the big leagues when the need arises. Several young players seem to be making the most out of this opportunity. Here are a few that have stood out for me as I’ve been watching the action these first few weeks.
Logan Forsythe: He split time between A-AA last season at 3rd base, and was recently ranked the 11th best prospect in the Padres minor league system. Defensively he appears to have pretty quick and soft hands, especially when close to his body, and seems to have pretty good agility. In talking with coaches who worked with him they say he is tough, and willing to do whatever is asked of him. At the plate I didn’t get to see many game at bats so far. Although he hasn’t put up many power numbers in the minors, and he has several moving parts that need to synchronize properly as he addresses the ball, all reports are that he is becoming a polished hitter who can handle the bat. While watching practice yesterday, they had him take some ground balls at 2nd base as well as his normal 3rd, and he looked fairly comfortable and agile turning two. If he continues his forward progress he could find himself the heir to David Eckstein on the right side of the infield.
James Darnell: Another 3rd baseman, who played in low and high A ball last year, James was named the Padres minor league player of the year last year slugging 21 HR’s and 81 RBI. I had no idea what to expect, but have been very impressed with his natural and quick reactions during drills this spring, as well as his crisp and accurate arm. His swing seems to be geared to take advantage of mistakes up in the zone, so it remains to be seen how he adjusts as pitching gets better and can locate more consistently at the knees, but it’s clear this has a lot of ability, and the athleticism to possible play other positions if necessary, but I’d prefer to see him stay at 3rd..
Aaron Cunningham: Recently acquired along with Scott Hairston from Oakland in the Kouzmanoff trade, it looks like the Pads have another candidate for a corner outfield position in the not too distant future. He has shown good reaction, speed, path to the ball, and toughness in making three difficult diving plays already this spring. He had 11 HR’s and 24 doubles in AAA-Sacramento last season, and I think based on the base running I’ve witnessed this spring that he is capable of stealing more than the 11 bags he posted last year. He would be a viable candidate to battle Matt Stairs for the 5th bench spot, if Stairs were to falter, but the Pads understandably do not want him sitting on the bench, so he will start in AAA-Portland and be ready to fill if there is an injury, performance flameout, or trade of a certain first baseman that requires the starting left fielder, Kyle Blanks, to vacate the outfield to man first.
Luis Durango: Speed shows up every day, and that is exactly what Durango could bring to the Padres and PETCO Park. He can flat out fly. We all had a taste test last September, and it left most of us wanting more. He hit .281 in AA-San Antonio last year and swiped 44 bags. The question is this – can he show enough punch in his bat to keep defenses honest, and from putting on shifts that eliminate his strength of bunting and slapping to the left side? Reports are that there were times when teams were able to put on a severe shift that significantly hampered his effectiveness. He will need to swing with enough potency to at least keep the defense from charging down his throat, at which point he could be as pesky to opposing teams as Brett Butler, or Otis Nixon were during the early ‘90’s (when lead off men were actually valued). With the game changing back to a more traditional style of play, due to less steroid use, players of his skill set will once again be coveted.
These are the just some of the players that I’ve enjoyed watching during the first few weeks of spring, and there are others making their mark, as well. Just because these guys may not break with the big club out of spring doesn’t mean that they haven’t had a good spring, or made an important impression on those who matter. With the new commitment to youth, we may be seeing some of these players in a Padres’ uniform sooner rather than later.