Here’s the good news…no, the GREAT news for the 2010 Padres lineup – NONE of their “IFs” include an aging veteran! This team was finally able to make a commitment to youth and athleticism by the second half of last season, and the results spoke for themselves with the second best record in the N.L. West after the all-star break. Other than David Eckstein (who can play on my team ANY day), the average age of the Padres projected starting lineup is 25. Not only are they young, but they are familiar with each other on the field. I can’t remember the last time the Pads had their starting lineup pretty much set before a single spring training game was played. It makes a huge difference for the players, who have some breathing room to work on weaknesses instead of fighting to make the team. It also allows Buddy and his staff to teach new nuances to players whose strengths and weaknesses they already know, and evaluate the depth of their youngsters, instead of scrambling to learn what a bunch of new bodies are capable or not capable of doing.
There are two things that the Padres can assume are NOT “IFs” (and all teams have to make some assumptions about the anticipated productivity of certain players’ on their roster). First, that Adrian Gonzalez will as usual be a stud with the glove and the bat, and second, that David Eckstein will scrap, claw, and gut his way to inspirational over achievement at every aspect of the game. So the right side of the infield is set. Nice!
So, with all these positive trends, how does the Padre “IF “ list stack up for these youngsters to compete in the West? My list starts at the hot corner.
- 1.Chase Headley can man 3rd, and hit the way the Padres brass has projected: Chase has never publicly complained about playing out of position in left field, or used it as any kind of excuse for his very average offensive development, but plenty of his backers have. Kevin Kouzmanoff and his N.L. record single season fielding percentage were sent packing for several reasons, but one was to allow Chase the chance to get back to his “natural” position, thus freeing him to blossom at the plate as well. Few expect him to duplicate Kooz’s glove work, but hopefully he can hold his own. The real question is whether he can provide any protection behind Gonzalez. He showed some improvement towards the end of last season at being able to foul off some pitches to his weakness instead of swinging and missing, which bought him the chance to see a few more pitches to potentially hit. Hopefully that trend can continue, otherwise his ability to be a threat behind Gonzo will be limited especially at PETCO where he is a lifetime .218 hitter.
- 2. Everth Cabrera, and Kyle Blanks can continue their growth: If there are two players who currently stand to be able to make the most impact on this organization, in my opinion, it’s these two. Cabrera showed flashes last season of being an electrifyingly athletic shortstop. Even more impressive was that he didn’t embarrass himself at the plate, managing to hit .255 in making the jump from facing A ball pitching. With his range, glove, and arm at a key defensive position, along with his ability to make things happen on the base paths (25 stolen bags last year) Everth is a guy who can be a difference maker in multiple ways during the close contests that PETCO produces.Blanks, meanwhile, has a chance to be the first right handed power threat the stadium has seen wearing a home uniform. He has the kind of power that could make the Western Metal Supply Building a hard-hat area for fans. Like many young power hitters he chased pitches out of the zone at times, but the more pitches he saw the better he got. He’s athletic, he’s shown that he cares by showing up to camp 15-20 pounds lighter this spring, and he’s primed to be the right-handed power this team has been lacking since christening PETCO in 2004.Second time around the league can be tough on players, so solid sophomore campaigns from either or both of these guys could be huge for both this season and the franchise’s future.
Of course, there are plenty of other “IFs” with Nick Hundley, Tony Gwynn, Jr., and Will Venable, and their progression is needed and expected as with the players mentioned above. For me Venable especially continued to show promise. But with Yorvit Torrealba along with the Hairston brothers being ready and capable, a set back should be able to be absorbed.
Youth, athleticism, and continuity are all welcomed changes to the Padres organization. While it is unrealistic to think that all of these young players will have a consistent upward rise this season, hopefully a couple of the key ones can continue on their path to being impact major leaguers that Padre fans can cheer about for years to come.