San Diego Padres Preview

Wednesday, February 25 2004 @ 07:40 AM EST

Contributed by: Jonny German

With 98 losses in 2003, the Padres have bottomed out and are ready to start rising to the top of the NL West.

The 2003 San Diego Padres In 3 Lines

64 wins, 98 lossesRuns scored: 678, 14th in the NL
Finished 5th, dead last, in the NL WestRuns allowed: 831, 13th in the NL
Said farewell to Qualcomm StadiumPythagorean W-L: 66 - 96

Offseason Maneuvers at the Park
The park being Petco Park, the new home of the Padres.

New DogsOld Tricks
C Ramon HernandezC Gary Bennett
C Tom WilsonC Wiki Gonzalez
SS Rey Ordonez1B Dave Hansen
3B Jeff Cirillo2B Keith Lockhart
OF Brian HunterOF Vince Fiason
OF Terrence LongOF Mark Kotsay
OF Jay PaytonOF Gary Matthews Jr.
P Sterling HitchcockP Luther Hackman
P Eddie OropesaP Kevin Jarvis
P Antonio OsunaP Doug Nickle
P Akinori OtsukaP Kevin Pickford
P Jason Szuminski (Rule 5)P Joe Roa
P Ismael ValdesP Brian Tollberg
P David WellsP Jaret Wright

Also notable looking forward to 2004 are the return of fireman Trevor Hoffman (who spent most of 2003 recovering from shoulder surgery, pitching just 9 innings), and a full season of outfield masher Brian Giles, acquired in an August 26th trade with Pittsburgh.

Bird's Eye View
From up here, the Padres look a bit like the Jays

Geographically speaking, it’s a long way from Toronto to San Diego. 3,483 kilometres, to be precise, the largest distance between Toronto and any other Major League city. It’s also a long way from 64 wins, the Padres 2003 total, to the 86 credited to the Blue Jay squad. But there are some interesting similarities between the two sabermetrically-inclined organizations, and the relative strengths of the divisions they play in make San Diego’s chances of reaching the playoffs this year more or less equal to Toronto’s.

In general terms, they are teams on the rise, with exciting young players expected to come to the forefront in the next few years. Toronto has established stars Carlos Delgado and Roy Halladay, wily old vets Pat Hentgen and Miguel Batista, rising stars Vernon Wells and Eric Hinske, and an aging backup catcher coming off the best season of his 12-year career in Greg Myers. San Diego has established stars Brian Giles, Ryan Klesko, and Phil Nevin, wily old vets David Wells and Trevor Hoffman, rising stars Sean Burroughs and Jake Peavy, and a backup catcher finally getting his due after years in the minors. You know him well – Tom Wilson.

Previously under-appreciated Frank Catalanotto has found a home in Toronto, and he’ll be the everyday left fielder if his back allows. The Jays plan on playing a rookie at a key defensive position in catcher Kevin Cash, who hit not at all in his first 120 Major League at-bats. Previously under-appreciated Mark Loretta has made good in San Diego, and he’ll be the everyday second baseman. The Padres plan on playing a raw rookie at a key defensive position in shortstop Khalil Greene.

The middle of the Blue Jay rotation, Batista-Lilly-Hentgen, could be anything from a nasty disappointment to the ‘big surprise’ that sneaks the Jays into the AL Wild Card. The bullpen is greatly improved over the 2003 version, with four new faces and accompanying arms. The middle of the Padre rotation, Lawrence-Eaton-Peavy, could be anything from a flop to an express train to the playoffs. The bullpen is greatly improved over the 2003 version, with Akinori Otsuka and Antonio Osuna coming aboard and Trevor Hoffman returning to action.

What does it all tell us? Absolutely nothing!

The Dog & Pony Show
Coming soon to Petco Park, playing on a five-day cycle

While the new big man on campus is nobody’s idea of a true staff ace, David Wells does represent a huge upgrade over Kevin Jarvis, who would otherwise still be in San Diego and slated to pitch every fifth day. I’d like this rotation better if Oliver Perez was still part of it, but growth from Adam Eaton and Jake Peavy should pick up the slack. For the fifth spot in the rotation, two low-risk ($800K each), potentially high-reward options in Sterling Hitchcock and Ismael Valdes will vie with a youngster looking to re-establish himself in Dennis Tankersley.

Each pitcher is discussed below with a single-line header which covers a few key points. The Age given is 2004 baseball age, which is age as of June 30, 2004, and this is followed by the team he played for in 2003. Earned run average and innings pitched from last season are accompanied by the appropriate home park factor in brackets.

LHP David WellsAge: 41 2003: New York Yankees4.14 ERA, 213 IP (PF 97)
Some of us have been expecting David Wells to come crashing down with a mighty thud for several years now. We were sure the end had come three years ago, when his season was cut short by half in favour of back surgery. But the Boomer is a stubborn beast, and he came back with 206 innings pitched in 2002 (117 ERA+) and 213 more in 2003 (106 ERA+), to make it 8 of 9 years running with over 200 innings. Call him a boor, call him tedious, call him entertaining, the fact is the man can pitch. Turning 41 this May, the Padres hope he can continue to eat innings like jelly doughnuts for one more year, and maybe even be a positive veteran influence on a young starting staff.

RHP Brian LawrenceAge: 28 2003: San Diego4.19 ERA, 211 IP (PF 92)
Last year’s nominal ace, Brian Lawrence, looks to re-gain some of his earlier form. It’s not that his 2003 was terrible, it was actually quite respectable. But it has to be considered a step backwards as he saw his ERA jump by half a run, to league average territory. In isolation that may not be of much concern, but it appears to be explained by regression in some important rate stats:

      K/9   K/BB  HR/9  G/F
2001 6.59 2.47 0.78 2.42
2002 6.39 2.87 0.69 2.51
2003 4.96 2.04 1.15 1.61
Looking at those numbers, one may wonder how Brian’s ERA didn’t slip further than it did. The answer is that he gave up 24 fewer hits than he did in 2002, in the same number of innings. With the new park unlikely to be the pitcher’s paradise Qualcomm was, 2004 will not be kind to Lawrence if he doesn’t get back to his pre-2003 self. His minor league record makes me optimistic that he can do so.

RHP Adam EatonAge: 26 2003: San Diego4.08 ERA, 183 IP (PF 92)
Consider the following seasons put up by 26-year-old Adam Eaton, the man pegged to be the Padres fourth starter in 2004:
IP   ERA   K/9   BB/9  K/BB  H/9   HR/9
135 4.13 6.00 4.07 1.48 8.93 0.93
117 4.32 8.41 3.08 2.73 8.33 1.54
183 4.08 7.18 3.34 2.15 8.51 0.98
What’s missing? The years in which he posted each of those lines. They are in fact 2000, 2001, and… 2003. The progress seen in these numbers make Eaton a walking and pitching advertisement for the effectiveness of Tommy John surgery. Having the ligament replaced in his right elbow is the reason he missed most of 2002, but he picked it up again in 2003 right where he left off halfway through 2001. Whether he takes a step forward or not in the upcoming season will go a long way in determining if he’s going to be a top-of-the-rotation star for the next championship team in San Diego, or chiefly a solid innings eater.

RHP Jake PeavyAge: 23 2003: San Diego4.11 ERA, 195 IP (PF 92)
Coming into his third season, Jake Peavy finds himself the fourth man in the rotation. He has more than enough talent for the role, but as with many young pitchers the question is one of consistency. His final 2003 line belies the fact that he was fooling hitters less than in his rookie 2002, when he posted a 4.52 ERA in 98 innings. The adjustment of opposing hitters shows up in his homer, walk, and strikeout rates, which all headed in the wrong direction. An encouraging counter-sign to this is that Jake was significantly more effective away from the friendly confines in 2003, with a 4.59 road ERA compared to 2002’s conspicuous 6.23. He’s still very young, and his future is very bright.

LHP Sterling HitchcockAge: 33 2003: New York (AL) / St. Louis5.44 ERA, 50 IP (PF 97)
Hitchcock, having completed two tours of duty with the Yankees (in addition to stopovers in Seattle and St. Louis) returns for his second go-round with the Padres. He’s not a guy that inspires a lot of confidence in me: He’s only ever really had one full season in which he was an asset to his team. Good; it was in San Diego. Bad; it was five years ago. His left-handed-ness means he’ll continue to get opportunities, and the Padres have not made a rash commitment here.

RHP Ismael ValdesAge: 30 2003: Texas6.10 ERA, 115 IP (PF 109)
By reputation, you’d think Valdes was both old and lousy. In fact, he’s mostly been quite decent, and he’ll only be 30 this season. I suppose his rep is a function of breaking into the league at 20, and having been much better in his first five years than the subsequent five. Even so, his ERA+ over those most recent five years of his career is approximately 101, just above league average. If fully healthy, he could prove very useful in 2004.

RHP Dennis TankersleyAge: 25 2003: Portland4.65 ERA, 151 IP (AAA)
To say Tankersley had a rough 2003 would be an understatement. The peripherals were better than his 4.65 ERA in 151 AAA innings would imply, but at 25 his top prospect status is in jeopardy of slipping away, to be replaced with a “Reliever” or “4A” tag.

Bull Pen
Can you buy a bull at a Petco store?

While the 2004 Padre bullpen could feature as many as six effective right-handers, it doesn’t figure to include any decent lefties. Non-tendering incumbent southpaw Mike Matthews last December is perfectly understandable for a mid-market club, but not re-signing him when the best he could find elsewhere was a minor league deal with the Reds is a head-scratcher. If Sterling Hitchcock loses out on the fifth starter’s job he could provide some sinister relief, but multiple meanings of sinister may apply.

RHP Trevor HoffmanAge: 36 2003: San Diego2.00 ERA, 9 IP (PF 92)
The ‘pen starts, or rather, finishes, with Trevor Hoffman. How consistent has Hoffman been since being installed as San Diego’s closer in the 1994 season? He leads the majors in saves over these past 10 years, with 347 to Robb Nen’s second-best 314. The kicker, of course, is that he holds this lead despite pitching only 9 Major League innings in 2003, and that’s also what makes him the key to the question of how good the Padre pen will be in 2004. If his recovery from elbow surgery is as complete as it appeared in those 9 innings (and minor league re-hab stint), relief should be an area of strength for this team. If not, the chances are not as good but there is still hope, largely dependent on last years’ out-of-nowhere closer…

RHP Rod BeckAge: 35 2003: San Diego1.78 ERA, 35.3 IP (PF 92)
Rod Beck, no slouch himself at #9 on the aforementioned “Saves in the past ten seasons” list, with 220. The out-of-nowhere part, of course, is that he didn’t even have a Major League contract coming into last season after missing all of 2002 recovering from Tommy John surgery. His minor league deal with the Cubs did include an out clause allowing him to jump to another club if they were interested in giving him a big league shot. He responded to the opportunity in San Diego with an impressive Trevor Hoffman impersonation, compiling 20 saves in 36 games. This earned him the Player’s Choice NL Comeback Player Of The Year award. Assuming Mr. Hoffman is able to fill his normal spot this year, Mr. Beck will serve as the top setup man, and he should be very solid in that role as well.

RHP Akinori OtsukaAge: 32 2003: Chunichi2.09 ERA, 43 IP (Japan)
The Padre’s first foray into Japanese imports comes in the person of 32 year-old Akinori Otsuka. If he can make the transition to the Major Leagues as well as previous Japanese pitchers, he’ll be a solid option for manager Bruce Bochy. His 7-year career with the Kintetsu Buffaloes and Chunichi Dragons is briefly summarised as 351 innings, a 2.39 ERA, an impressive 12.17 K/9 and an equally impressive 4.05 K/BB. If I was fluent in Japanese maybe I could tell you why he hasn’t topped 50 innings in any of the last 5 years; I’ll have to settle for pointing to it as a little red flag that a light workload may be a necessity.

RHP Jay WitasickAge: 31 2003: San Diego4.53 ERA, 46 IP (PF 92)
In his first two full seasons in the Majors, Jay Witasick was a very forgettable starting pitcher for the A’s, Royals, and Padres. In 2001, the Padres decided to use him as a reliever, and they were rewarded with an excellent half-season, leading up to his being dealt to the Yankees for D’Angelo Jimenez at the trading deadline that year. In San Francisco for 2002, Witasick had another very good season, and then returned to the Padres as a free agent for 2003. Unfortunately the pixie dust apparently passed its Best Before date, and Witasick turned in a season superior to his starting days only in that it was limited to fewer innings pitched. In the much deeper 2004 pen, Jay will have to re-establish himself and earn his innings.

RHP Scott LinebrinkAge: 27 2003: San Diego2.82 ERA, 61 IP (PF 92)
When the Astros placed Scott Linebrink on waivers at the end of May, Kevin Towers scooped him up with a ‘Thank you very much’. All Linebrink went on to do was to turn in the best season of any San Diego reliever not named Beck (and that is debatable, given that he pitched 61 innings for the Padres to Beck’s 35). Looking at his minor league numbers, it strikes me that Scott’s ratios were much better than his ERAs, and I’d wager that he’s found his niche and will turn in another strong performance in 2004.

RHP Antonio OsunaAge: 31 2003: New York Yankees3.73 ERA, 51 IP (PF 97)
What’s the market for a right-handed reliever who has 6 seasons under his belt of 50 innings or more with ERA+ never dipping below 115? Pretty barren, it seems, if those 6 seasons were twice interrupted by completely lost years. The man is Antonio Osuna, who pitched just 4-1/3 innings in 2001 (torn labrum) and 4-2/3 innings in 1999 (your guess is as good as mine). When healthy, he’s been highly effective. A free agent this off-season, he hardly got a sniff, eventually landing in San Diego on a one year, $750,000 deal. The Padres will trot him out with the many other right-handed options, and he should prove to be a real bargain.

LHP Kevin WalkerAge: 27 2003: Portland4.08 ERA, 46 IP (AAA)
After a solid rookie season in 2000, Kevin Walker has spent the last four years bouncing between the minors and majors, and dealing with various ailments. Unless Hitchcock does get bumped to the pen, Kevin figures to be the top lefty by default. Throughout his minor league career he’s boasted impressive strikeout rates, but he’s also walked batters in bunches. Now 27, his likely career path reads “LOOGY” and he should be renting, not buying. Other lefty candidates are journeyman Eddie Oropesa, signed to a minor-league deal, and Edgar Huerta, signed away from the Mexico Tigers.

RHP Jason SzuminskiAge: 25 2003: West Tennessee2.26 ERA, 60 IP (AA)
Jason Szuminski, taken from the Cubs in the Rule 5 draft, is very much a long shot to secure a spot on the end of the bullpen bench. 25 years old and having pitched only 12 innings above AA, he doesn’t figure to have a large impact. In his first taste of AA last year, he was good for a 2.26 ERA in 60 mostly-relief innings, with 45 strikeouts and 19 walks.

Let Sleeping Dogs Lie
The third-worst offence in the 2003 NL could take a huge leap forward.

The Padre lineup is my biggest reason for thinking the Padres could be this years’ sleeper team and sneak past the Giants into the playoffs. Whereas San Francisco is essentially built on a single incredibly good hitter, the 2004 San Diego attack revolves around three legitimate mashers and four other players who could very well be in the top five in the league at their respective positions. Ramon Hernandez and Jay Payton replace Gary Bennett and Mark Kotsay at catcher and center field, Phil Nevin and Ryan Klesko hope to make a vast improvement on the 623 at-bats they managed between them last year, and Brian Giles will be the point man for six months instead of one. It’s by no means guaranteed that this will be an explosive group; Nevin and Klesko need to stay healthy, and Hernandez and Mark Loretta need to avoid regressing too far from career years in 2003. It’s safe to assume the new park will boost the offence simply because the old one restrained it so much.

Probable starters are discussed below in order of probable lineup. As with the pitchers, each player is presented with a single-line header containing some relevant information. The stats for hitters are batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and at-bats, and the appropriate home park factor is again included in brackets.

3B Sean BurroughsAge: 23 2003: San Diego.286 / .352 / .402, 517 AB (PF 91)
After missing a large chunk of his rookie season due to a shoulder injury, Sean Burroughs made exactly the type of progress you’d hope for in a second-year player in 2003. Power is the biggest thing lacking in his offensive game at this point, but he’s young enough that further development in that department is still expected. If that does indeed come to fruition, the baseline projection is that he’ll be a stalwart in the San Diego lineup for years, and the upside is that he’ll be one of top third-sackers in the National League. His defence at the hot corner is solid, and the only small warning sign looking ahead is his apparent propensity for nicks and scrapes. Last year, his finger, hip, groin, hamstring, ankle, and shoulder all caused him grief, though none caused him to miss significant playing time.

2B Mark LorettaAge: 32 2003: San Diego.314 / .372 / .441, 589 AB (PF 91)
For the first eight years of his Major League career, mostly in the baseball backwater of southern Wisconsin, Mark Loretta was some of everything on the infield: 160 games at first, 190 at second, 227 at third, and 343 as the shortstop. For good measure, he got into one game as a left fielder, and threw a shutout inning as a relief pitcher in 2001. All the while he put up very solid batting averages and on-base percentages, lacking only for power. Traded to Houston late in 2002, he then escaped to San Diego as a free agent. The Padres gave him an opportunity to play a single position, every day, and he rewarded them with his finest season with the stick. Signed to a two-year extension last August, he’ll be the second baseman again this year and should continue to thrive in the 2-hole of the batting order.

OF Brian GilesAge: 33 2003: Pittsburgh / San Diego.299 / .427 / .514, 492 AB (PF 97)
It’s a funny thing about Brian Giles; despite his excellence on the field, his fame is resolutely intertwined with the historically lopsided trade back in 1998 that sent him from Cleveland to Pittsburgh. Indeed, not mentioning that fateful deal in exchange for innocent bystander Ricardo Rincon would be as difficult as not mentioning jelly doughnuts in discussing David Wells. Meanwhile, in his five years in the National League, only four hitters (Bonds, Helton, Sosa, and Chipper Jones) have more Runs Created to their names than Brian’s 685. You knew he was good; did you know he was that good? Acquired by the Padres for three promising youngsters last August, Giles figures to be the biggest cog in the Padre’s offensive machinery for the remaining three years of his contract.

1B Phil NevinAge: 33 2003: San Diego.279 / .339 / .487, 226 AB (PF 91)
Phil Nevin has come a long way since being dealt out of Detroit in November 1997 for career minor-leaguer Nick Skuse. Unfortunately, he’s also come a fair way from his peak 1999 to 2001, three seasons that amounted to a .295 / .373 / .556 line in almost 1500 at-bats. Lost time has been as much a problem as lost production since then. After missing the first half of 2003 recovering from shoulder surgery, the Padres are hoping Phil’s 121 OPS+ in the 59 games he did play is an indication he’s more or less back to his young self. He’ll play first base and bat cleanup in 2004.

OF / 1B Ryan KleskoAge: 33 2003: San Diego.252 / .354 / .456, 397 AB (PF 91)
The left to Nevin’s right in the San Diego one-two the past four years has been Ryan Klesko. Nagging injuries apparently impeded him from reaching his normal lofty standards as a hitter in 2003, but at 32 and with Petco expected to treat lefty power hitters kindly, Ryan is a good bet to bounce back to his customary .280 / .380 / .530 neighbourhood. With an emerging Sean Burroughs at third base pushing a healthy Phil Nevin to first, Klesko will move to left field. He last played there regularly in 1999, but did play some right field as recently as 2002.

CF Jay PaytonAge: 31 2003: Colorado.302 / .354 / .512, 600 AB (PF 112)
Coming from Colorado, where he played left field in deference to Preston Wilson in center, some question Jay Payton as a hitter, others question him as a defender, some say he’s not much of either. Give him a brand new ballpark with unknown effects for 2004, and projecting Jay is a difficult thing. In context of who he’s replacing in San Diego, however, he strikes me as a good buy at $5.5 million for two years. On defence, he’ll play center, where Brian Giles had been penciled in purely by default after Mark Kotsay was shipped to Oakland. On offence, he’ll take at-bats away from sophomore Xavier Nady and scrub Terrence Long.

Consider the following defensive metrics for 2003 (The first four measures have been equalized and the Cedeno Number is the average of them - full explanation here):
            Rate2  WS  UZR  Pinto  Cedeno Number
Giles (LF) 3 -1 -7 -7 -3
Kotsay (CF) 16 3 41 19 20
Payton (LF) 13 -2 10 13 8
Wilson (CF) –16 -1 -5 0 -5
Absent a more rigorous study, I’d say Rockie manager Clint Hurdle was remiss in how he arranged his outfielders last year. Payton won’t make anyone in San Diego forget Kotsay, but he does represent a big improvement over Giles.

Meanwhile, the wisdom of pushing Xavier Nady to the bench or the minors may be debatable on grounds of future potential, but even after adjusting for parks, Payton (112 OPS+) was a far superior hitter to Nady (92 OPS+) last year. That’s Mr. Long back there with the ugly 83 OPS+ for the 2003 Athletics.

C Ramon HernandezAge: 28 2003: Oakland.273 / .331 / .458, 483 AB (PF 93)
At a cost of center fielder Mark Kotsay and having to pay $5.8 million to Terrence Long to take up a spot on the bench for the next 2 years, Ramon Hernandez arrived in November to be the new everyday catcher. The Padres hope 2003 was a breakout year for Ramon, and not just a one-time career year. At 27, he discovered a power stroke not seen before, besting his career slugging percentage by 75 points while also bumping his on-base percentage by 13 points. Hernandez is generally considered a good defensive backstop, and working with the parade of aces in Oakland doesn’t hurt his resume either.

SS Khalil GreeneAge: 24 2003: Portland.288 / .346 / .442, AB (AAA)
Heading into Spring Training, top prospect Khalil Greene has the inside track to being the everyday shortstop. He played at three levels last year, hitting .275 / .327 / .406 in 229 AA at-bats to “earn” his promotion to AAA, where he put up the improved numbers seen above. In 65 Major League at-bats as a September call-up, Greene flashed his impressive power, with seven of fourteen hits going for extra bases, but also exhibited less than impressive discipline, with 19 strikeouts. His defence is of the sure-handed strong-armed variety, with the question being whether he can overcome a lack of pure range with his good instincts.

Look What The Cat Dragged In
Or, "It runs like a duck, it hits like a duck..."

The Padre bench is a curious thing, featuring names you know for the wrong reasons in Jeff Cirillo, Terrence Long, and Rey Ordonez. What are these three good for, in the present tense? This year, that’s a ten million-dollar question. The good news is that the expensive Long and Cirillo come off the books following the 2005 season, when the Padres should be ready to add a key free agent or two.

SS Rey OrdonezAge: 32 2003: Tampa Bay.316 / .328 / .487, 117 AB (PF 100)
Four years ago, coming off a season in which he hit .258 / .319 / .317, all career highs, Rey Ordonez signed a 4-year, 19 million dollar contract with the Mets. Unfortunately for Rey, the baseball establishment has wizened-up somewhat since those heady days, and he wasn’t able to wangle another multi-year multi-million deal this off-season, despite the fact that 2003 was the first year of his Major League career in which he was not a colossal drag on offence. In fact, he wasn’t even able to get a big league deal, and settled for the minor-league variety and an invite to spring training with San Diego. With Ramon Vazquez perfectly capable of backing up Khalil Greene, Padre fans have to hope that the idea is for Rey to be an extra defense coach at Spring Training, and third-string insurance policy in AAA if he wants to stick around after that.

3B Jeff CirilloAge: 34 2003: Seattle.205 / .284 / .271, 258 AB (PF 97)
For the privilege of offloading Kevin Jarvis and Wiki Gonzalez, Towers agreed in December to take Jeff Cirillo off the Mariner’s hands. Cirillo is a funny case, going from under-rated to over-rated to not rated at all. He was very good from 1996 to 1999 in Milwaukee; in 2000 he began playing for the Rockies, started his precipitous decline… and signed a 4-year, 29 million dollar contract extension in July. It’s hard to imagine him not besting his 2003 line, but it’s also likely the Padres have already gotten most of the value they’re going to get from dealing for Cirillo: an extra roster spot.

OF Terrence LongAge: 28 2003: Oakland.245 / .293 / .385, 486 AB (PF 93)
An enduring image of the 2003 playoffs is Terrence Long looking on hopelessly as Derek Lowe struck him out with the very same nasty two-seamer that he’d used to dispatch Adam Melhuse two batters earlier, ending the A’s season. It came as no surprise when Billy Beane did a little dispatching of Long himself in November by trading him to San Diego. It is possible that Long will be a passable fourth outfielder for the Padres, but they’ll quickly go from ‘sleepers’ to ‘out cold’ if Giles or Klesko goes down for a significant period of time and Terrence is the stopgap. It’s scary enough as it is that he’ll be the top left-handed bat on the bench.

SS Ramon VazquezAge: 27 2003: San Diego.261 / .342 / .341, 422 AB (PF 91)
The good news is that unlike Long and Cirillo, Vazquez doesn’t figure to represent a major offensive downgrade from the man he’ll be backing up. The bad news is that it’s because he’s backing up a Greene rookie.

That was uncalled for, I apologise. In seriousness, Vazquez could be a starting shortstop for many teams, and does figure to get a fair number at-bats, being a left-handed hitter while Greene and Loretta are righties. If Khalil adjusts to the Majors quickly, it will be interesting to see what happens to Ramon. Will Kevin Towers be able to trade him for a useful stick off the bench? Stay tuned.

C Tom WilsonAge: 33 2003: Toronto.258 / .331 / .391, 256 AB (PF 105)
With starting catcher and fellow right-handed hitter Ramon Hernandez having a reverse platoon split, Tom Wilson should see a good chunk of at-bats this year against lefties. While the idea of platoon splits for right-handed hitters may be going the way of Saves and RBIs in some circles, Bruce Bochy will have a hard time ignoring Wilson’s .847 career OPS versus lefties, even if it is only 193 at-bats worth of data.

OF Brian BuchananAge: 30 2003: San Diego.263 / .346 / .455, 198 AB (PF 91)
Brian Buchanan is a standard issue fourth outfielder, won’t embarrass himself at the plate, can fill in at first as well if need be. He should get another 200 at-bats in 2004.

OF Xavier NadyAge: 25 2003: San Diego.267 / .321 / .391, 371 AB (PF 91)
Like Dennis Tankersley, Xavier Nady is another Padres prospect whose star lost some shine in 2003. Granted the starting right field job out of Spring Training, he struggled mightily and was finally sent down to AAA Portland in July. There he hit reasonably well, and he returned to the majors in September with something to prove, going .385 / .455 / .564 in 39 at-bats. With Payton joining Giles and Klesko in the outfield this off-season, and Long on board for two years of riding the San Diego pines, the future for Nady is unclear. The best scenario may be for him to tear apart AAA for half a season to build up his trade value.

2B Josh BarfieldAge: 21 2003: Lake Elsinore.337 / .389 / .530, 549 AB (High A)
It’s highly unlikely that Josh Barfield will be playing for the Padres this year, but he demands a mention as the cream of the San Diego crop, and one of the top twenty prospects in all baseball. Granted, he hasn’t played above High-A yet, but Jesse’s son is coming off a monster season as a 20-year-old, smacking 46 doubles, 6 triples, and 16 homers, while doubling his walk total compared to his first full season (at Low-A). He’s a second baseman with some question marks about his defence for now, but his bat projects him as a star wherever he ends up.

Statistics Are A Fan’s Best Friend
Turns out I didn’t know everything about the Padres off the top of my head.

I learned an awful lot about the Padres in writing this preview. For statistics, I referred to various fine web sites, including Baseball-Reference, TSN, ESPN, The Baseball Cube, Dugout Dollars (for salary info), and even a little Retrosheet. Lee Sinin’s Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia came in handy, and I referred to my copy of Baseball Prospectus 2003 more than a few times. As linked in the Jay Payton synopsis, Akvash’s article on defensive metrics (at the raindrops Blog) was helpful.

Finally, a man and his Blog that sparked my interest in the Padres last summer. Geoff Young’s Ducksnorts is always an entertaining read, and his compilation Ducksnorts: Best of 2003 is a very handy reference.