It’s great to see the Padres sign all their top draft picks this year. First-round pick Donavan Tate (whom I was fortunate enough to meet last week, but we’ll get to that in a moment) took batting practice with the big club Tuesday night and impressed the veterans with his “respect and humility.”
Tom Krasovic provides terrific coverage of the signings. Much of it focuses on Jeff Moorad’s willingness to deal with Scott Boras, which is an aspect of the new ownership group that pleases me.
Mouth, Meet Money
I’d wondered whether Moorad’s previous experience as a player agent might give him an advantage in that regard. As I noted in my Padres season preview at Hardball Times, “The fact that Moorad has been involved in the business as an advocate of players presumably gives him additional insight into how they operate.”
So far, so good. If this year’s draft is any indication, Moorad’s perspective is helping.
Meanwhile, Ben at Friar Forecast thinks the draft process is broken and wonders whether it can be fixed. I don’t have enough space or time to formulate coherent thoughts on the subject, but my general feeling is that the whole system borders on socialism, if not outright communism. But then, many things about the business side of baseball baffle me, e.g., the antitrust exemption.
I sometimes hear people complain about what top amateurs get paid to sign despite their lack of experience. I assume these same people gladly accepted less than market value when they came out of high school or college and entered the work force.
Investment in a known quantity is always a smarter option, right? When the Seattle Mariners signed Adrian Beltre to a 5-year, $64 million deal before the 2005 season, that money was better spent than the $3 million the Washington Nationals blew on Ryan Zimmerman in June of that year, right?
So, yeah, from a certain angle, the draft is necessarily flawed. But it’s what we have, and I like how the Padres operated within its confines this year. Their draft builds on the foundation laid by the previous regime but is even more aggressive (I feared they would take Mike Minor at #3).
The U-T’s Bill Center, on the other hand, expresses doubts about the Padres’ haul:
Even if the Padres sign outfielders Donavan Tate and Everett Williams and right-handed pitcher Keyvius Sampson, it doesn’t mean they have turned the corner on a suspect draft history.
This is true. You know what else is true? We could replace “have” in the previous sentence with “haven’t” and still be right. We have no way of knowing which condition (“have turned the corner” or “haven’t turned the corner”) is true until well after the fact. Center’s statement introduces doubt into the reader’s mind without telling us anything useful.
Okay, I’ll get into Center’s discussion of the 2008 draft a little. He is critical of the Padres’ choice of Allan Dykstra in the first round. I wasn’t crazy about the pick either, but I’m curious to know who Center wanted. In the interest of full disclosure, I had my eye on Anthony Hewitt, who has been a disaster (340 PA, .210/.256/.356, 16/125 BB/K, .830 FPct at 3B) for the Phillies.
I won’t get into his discussion of the 2007 and 2008 drafts (“some early signs are not good”; again, the opposite is also true), but here’s a fun snippet:
The bigger question than signing the three is: Can they play?
No. If you don’t sign your picks, the question of whether they can play becomes irrelevant. The Padres selected Todd Helton in the second round of the 1992 draft but did not sign him. Turns out Helton can play, but that meant nothing to the Padres once he turned down their offer and attended college instead.
Drafting and developing players is a multi-tiered process that follows a tested and predictable hierarchical pattern. It goes something like this:
- Identify — Scout to find the best talent
- Select — Draft the best available players
- Procure — Sign the picks
- Develop — Turn them into big leaguers
Each step builds on the one that precedes it. Although the Padres have a spotty track record in all of these areas, the consensus among experts is that Tate, Williams, and Sampson can play. This doesn’t mean they’ll turn into big leaguers — the path from prospect to contributor is fraught with risk and there are no guarantees — but at least they have a chance. And now that they’ve signed, we’ll see what happens.
At some point you have to place a certain amount of faith in the scouts and player development folks (or replace the lot of them and hope you don’t end up with something worse). You also have to acknowledge that sometimes the best laid plans of mice and men go awry.
I guess that’s the pisser. You can do everything right and still have it not work. (Hi, Sean Burroughs.)
Learning Isn’t Always Fun
Reader Steve C raised a great point regarding Mat Latos’ recent rough outing at St. Louis:
Latos was due for a good shelling. I actually think that it’s good for him and it will be interesting to see how he responds in his next start.
This is one of the reasons I don’t mind seeing him and some of the other kids promoted so aggressively. These guys will struggle at some point at the big-league level. That’s what young players not named Albert Pujols do. They fail.
No problem, we all fail. But not everyone responds to failure in the same way, and you never know how an individual will before it happens. It’s sort of like that Mighty Mighty Bosstones song:
I’m not a coward, I’ve just never been tested
I like to think that if I was I would pass
Look at the tested and think there but for the grace go I
Might be a coward I’m afraid of what I might find out
Awkward syntax aside, the speaker has a point. If you’ve never experienced failure, how do you know how you’ll respond? Billy Beane famously had trouble dealing with failure during his playing career, but that didn’t become evident until he turned pro because he’d always succeeded as an amateur.
So now someone like Latos, who flew through the minors, gets pounded at the big-league level. What next?
Well, in this case, he gets pounded again. But after the second loss, Latos offers the following:
I didn’t control myself and didn’t control my actions. That’s not something I should have done, and in letting it happen, I let down my team.
These are only words, which according to a certain homily don’t speak as loudly as actions, but they’re good ones to hear from a 21-year-old kid. It would be easy for him to blame the world for whatever problems he experienced that night. Heck, that’s what I did at his age.
I don’t want too read to much into this stuff, but inasmuch as Latos had to say something, I like the words he chose. They show a level of self-awareness and personal responsibility. He knows what the problem is and he wants (this part isn’t stated, but is strongly implied) to correct it.
Of course, now he has to back those words up by taking care of business — or at least the part of it he can control. We’ll see how that goes. The proof, as they say, is in the pudding.
If there’s one good thing to come out of the fact that fans have stopped attending games and there are no expectations of this team, it’s that when the kids struggle, they’ll have a chance to work through it under less scrutiny than there otherwise might be. I have no idea whether this makes a difference in terms of long-term development, but intuitively, it seems like it might.
That would be an interesting study. What, if any, impact does a player’s initial struggles in the big leagues have on his long-term value?
Hangin’ with the Boss
On Monday night, I had the pleasure of being an invited guest of Padres COO Tom Garfinkel at Petco Park. It was like what the guys at Gaslamp Ball experienced but without their zany antics.
Among other things, I met several members of the front office, as well as closer Heath Bell, first-round pick Donavan Tate (minutes before the signing was announced), and owner Jeff Moorad. I could tell you what we discussed, but then I’d have to subject you to an infinite loop of Ruben Rivera baserunning gaffes, and neither of us wants that.
In seriousness, I didn’t go there to conduct an interview. We just hung out in much better seats than I’m used to and chatted.
I will share one anecdote. Tate and his family sat down the row from us during the game. When the signing deadline hit, everyone wanted to know whether Stephen Strasburg had signed with the Nationals. One of Tate’s party was a Scott Boras representative, so Moorad asked him, but the guy hadn’t heard anything yet. A couple minutes later the Boras rep gets a phone call, then walks over to us and tells Moorad that Strasburg signed. So, I learned of Strasburg’s signing from Boras, which was kind of a trip.
Anyway, I had a blast and am grateful that I got to meet so many folks in the organization. I recognize that many bloggers (or fans) would kill for the kind of access I had on this evening.
How will hobnobbing with the bigwigs affect my coverage of the Padres? Well, I don’t know. I imagine like anything else in the world, this experience will color my perception in some way. I don’t live in a friggin’ bubble.
That being said, my work doesn’t depend on behind-the-scenes access, so while I appreciate that the Padres have been supportive and gracious, their approval isn’t the driving force behind what I do. I don’t break news stories, I don’t provide inside information. I typically look at stuff, think about it, study it if needed, and then present findings.
If my mother had a basement, I could totally do my job there. Until she kicked me out, of course…
* * *
The game? Yes, it was a dandy. Typical Petco Park experience. No score until the Cubs tally a single run in the eighth.
In the ninth, after Everth Cabrera makes the first out attempting to bunt for a base hit (diving into first base probably cost him), David Eckstein draws a walk, bringing up Adrian Gonzalez, who hits a weak fly to left on closer Kevin Gregg’s first pitch. (Reader Didi notes that Adrian isn’t faring well this year in RBI percentage — he’s at 12.42% as of this writing.) Chase Headley then works the count full and slams a double to left-center, plating Eckstein.
With first base open, Cubs skipper Lou Piniella wanders toward the mound for no apparent reason and then elects to walk Kevin Kouzmanoff to have Gregg face Kyle Blanks. A gentleman in our section, who has been following the Padres for a very long time, expresses surprise and gratitude — as do I.
Blanks promptly whacks a 1-1 pitch from Gregg into the left-center field seats for a walk-off homer. The collective groan of the many Cubs fans in our house is beautiful.
I was quiet and dignified for most of the night, but I let loose after that blast. A couple of Cubs fans sat right in front of me, and they stood during the entire ninth inning. It was very annoying, although not as annoying as my yelling after Blanks’ home run.
The Value of an Olive Branch
I have come to believe that I’ve underestimated what Tony Gwynn Jr. means to the Padres. I still don’t think he’s much of a player, but as I noted in a recent interview, “bringing [him] to San Diego is a nice gesture for fans who needed a nice gesture.”
By virtue of his last name, Gwynn adds unique value to this organization. He wouldn’t be worth as much anywhere else, but in San Diego, he provides long-time fans with a connection to brighter days.
I feel bad that Drew Macias may see his career McAnultyed, but as long as Gwynn doesn’t obstruct talents greater than Macias, we’ll be okay. As for Macias, he isn’t great but he’s good enough for a big-league bench. I hope that if the Padres decide they have no use for him, they’ll try to find another team that does.
To the original point, sometimes you acquire talent, sometimes you acquire goodwill. I get it, and I can live with it. We’re all aware of Gwynn’s capabilities and limitations; I’ll leave the kid alone now and let him be the olive branch he was meant to be.
Odds and Ends
- Padres games are no longer being televised in Mexico, which is awesome because this is one of the few areas in which they can expand their fan base. Seriously, how did that happen and how soon can it be fixed?
- The Padres signed second baseman David Eckstein to an extension for 2010 worth $1 million. He is an offensive zero at this stage of his career who plays solid defense and sets a positive example for the kids. In terms of on-field production, he doesn’t offer much more than his predecessors, Marcus Giles and Tadahito Iguchi, but the leadership… I can’t prove that it adds value, but you can’t prove that it doesn’t.
I’m sure the Padres hoped Matt Antonelli would be ready by now, but Antonelli hasn’t hit (759 PA, .209/.325/.327) in two seasons at Triple-A Portland. Maybe something will click and he’ll have a career — I’m pulling for him. Meanwhile, the Padres needed someone to play second base for them next year, and now they have Eckstein. If Antonelli re-establishes himself (or Eric Sogard continues to progress) and the Padres find themselves out of contention again come July, I imagine Eckstein might fetch a little something on the trade market; even if you don’t believe in intangibles, many contending teams do.
- There should be a third thing. Isn’t there usually a third thing? Eh, I’m drawing a blank.
* * *
Modified Box Scores
Your weekly dose (explanation)…
Positives: Blanks goes off; Hundley shows signs of life.
Negatives: Second worst overall week since the All-Star break.
Venable and Hundley are in the starting lineup, but neither logs four plate appearances.
As I quipped on Twitter, “Not an earthquake, just a Kyle Blanks inside-the-park home run.” What a crazy play. Melvin Nieves wants to know why Milton Bradley wasn’t backing up Kosuke Fukudome, although Lou Piniella doesn’t seem to have a problem with Bradley’s effort.
Having watched Bradley up close for a few months in 2007, I find it hard to believe that he is capable of “dogging it.” If anything, most of his problems stem from trying too hard.
After the game, Steve Quis asked Blanks several questions, all variations on, “What were you thinking when you hit that ball?” Blanks’ refrain was, “Gotta go. Gotta keep running.” Those weren’t the exact words, but that was the gist of it; he reduced the game to its simplest form. There was no thought of what Fukudome was doing, it was just, “Gotta go.”
Blanks is striking out too often, but that will change as he gains experience. Already you can see him making adjustments, which is encouraging.
Also, Cesar Carrillo earned his first big-league win.
Tough outing for Latos; Venable and Blanks start but fall shy of the requisite PAs.
Blanks, Hundley, and Cabrera all fail to log four PAs; that happens when your team doesn’t put runners on base. Blanks hits his third homer of the homestand; six of his nine home runs this year have come at Petco Park.
Hundley and Venable finally make an appearance; Blanks and Cabrera also start but miss the PA requirement.
In the second inning, Hundley — who hasn’t done anything since returning from the disabled list — slams a 3-2 hanging slider from Kyle Lohse off the Western Metal building to give the Padres a 3-0 lead. Clayton Richard and three relievers take care of the rest.
Richard works six strong innings, although as has been his custom since coming to San Diego, he starts to falter toward the end. With two out in the sixth, he walks Matt Holliday and then serves up a blast to Ryan Ludwick that takes Gwynn to the wall in dead center.
For some reason, Black sends Richard out to start the seventh. Richard issues a leadoff walk. He keeps missing high. “He’s done,” I say. “He’ll throw over to first.” Luke Gregerson is warming up in the bullpen and sure enough, Richard throws to first… twice.
Black comes out with the hook. It’s the right move, but how did Ludwick’s drive to end the previous inning not provide Black with all the necessary evidence?
Earlier in the contest, Hundley makes the play of the night. With Brendan Ryan at second and Pujols at first, Holliday strikes out looking at a 3-2 pitch for the first out of the fourth inning. The runners are moving and Hundley cocks his arm to fire. Then Ryan stops and retreats to second, which he now shares with Pujols.
I always enjoy seeing youngsters play smart, which Hundley does here. Instead of throwing the ball, he runs directly toward second base. Nobody moves, so he keeps going until he gets there and tags both runners. (Eckstein points at Pujols, but at one point Ryan takes his foot off the bag, so Hundley swipes at him as well.) Pujols is called out.
Ah yes, the good ol’ K-2 double play. When is the last time you saw a catcher tag out a runner at second base?
My favorite part, though, is the way Pujols throws Ryan under the bus after the game:
[Ryan] should have gone. There’s nothing else to talk about. I did my part, and he didn’t do his part.
Pujols is right, but damn.
The Cardinals launch three mammoth home runs, demonstrating yet again that Petco Park does not suppress offense if you have the right pitching staff, which unfortunately the Padres do. Blanks makes a terrific diving catch in left field. Luis Perdomo inexplicably strikes out Pujols twice — both swinging.
Chris Carpenter tosses seven shutout innings for St. Louis, lowering his MLB-best ERA to 2.16. Carpenter is living proof that it’s possible for a pitcher to overcome serious arm injuries and thrive. Here’s hoping Chris Young, who recently underwent shoulder surgery, can follow a similar course.
Hundley homers again, first pitch fastball to straightaway center.