Breakouts, Newcomers, and Off-Season Moves

We had an open thread here on Friday, and I learned a lot. First, I learned that open threads are fun, so we’ll be doing more in the future; they may become a semi-regular feature.

Second, I got some insightful answers to the questions I posed…

Breakout Candidates

Question: Who are your one or two breakout candidates for the 2011 Padres, and why?

Several folks don’t see one, and it’s hard to disagree with them. With the possible exception of Cameron Maybin, there aren’t any healthy youngsters who figure to see material playing time and who have untapped upside.

Of those who did suggest a candidate, Chase Headley was mentioned most often, followed by Will Venable. Those were my picks last year and neither took the step forward I’d hoped they would.

I remain cautiously optimistic about Headley, although Petco Park destroys his offensive game. For his career, he’s Johnny Damon on the road and Alex Cora at home. Unless Headley makes a dramatic adjustment soon, the big numbers aren’t likely to come as long as he dons a Padres uniform.

As for Venable, I’ll repeat what I said last September:

The more I watch Venable, the more I see Al Martin. Venable is going to have a successful career because he’s a great athlete who can play baseball, but he will frustrate because in the back of your mind, you’ll wonder how much better he could be if he had any kind of approach.

Other breakout possibilities mentioned include Maybin, Ryan Ludwick, Tim Stauffer, Nick Hundley, and Kyle Blanks.

We’ll skip Maybin for now and jump to Ludwick, who is a polarizing force. He made such a bad impression during his brief time with the Padres last year that it’s hard to believe he was good not long ago. What I saw was a guy who could crush a fastball out over the plate but who had trouble making consistent contact and who didn’t move real well out in the field. Ludwick reminded me of Kevin Kouzmanoff with better on-base skills and less defensive utility.

Ludwick will shift to left field this season, where maybe he won’t be as taxed as he appeared to be in Petco Park’s spacious right field. Will this help his offensive game? He’s 32 years old and that monster 2008 campaign screams fluke. If he can approach his 2009 levels (.265/.329/.447, 105 OPS+), I’ll be reasonably happy.

I love Stauffer and the fact that he’s overcome so much to get this far. My concerns with him are twofold. First, how much better can a guy who posted a 1.85 ERA last year get? Second, injuries have kept him from making even 20 starts in a season since 2007. Given Stauffer’s history, I’m not sure he’s capable of working more than, say, 150 innings.

Reader Steve C asked whether anyone is worried about this year’s rotation. Damn right I am. Aside from Dustin Moseley, who does nothing for me, I like the projected starters. At the same time, when Clayton Richard is your most reliable guy, that’s a little disconcerting. How many starts can we expect out of Mat Latos, Aaron Harang, and Stauffer? Maybe 70? I dunno, in my mind, that’s three guys to fill two spots. I hope Cory Luebke is ready.

Anyway, back to the other breakout candidates: Hundley got some love here and on Twitter. I like him and think he’s a possibility, although if he breaks out, folks may not notice. He could hit .250 with 15 homers and it would be great.

Blanks? Well, first he needs to get healthy.

Newcomers to Watch

Question: Which of the newcomers are you most excited to see?

This was easy. We want to see Maybin. We want to see the kid that Baseball America Prospect Handbook 2007 described as follows:

His overall ability has drawn comparisons to that of Mike Cameron and Torii Hunter. Maybin can be an elite player, with the potential to hit somewhere at the top or in the middle of the order.

Yes, please… Hey, he’s stunk in the big leagues so far (.246/.313/.380) but his minor-league track record is solid (.306/.393/.478). He strikes out a lot but he’s young (24) and plays a premium defensive position.

BA ranked Maybin in their top 10 prospects for all of baseball in 2007, 2008, and 2009. Sure, he could be the next Ruben Rivera; then again, he could be the next Shane Mack. Either way, as I’ve said before, the Padres gave up almost nothing to get Maybin. I can’t wait to see him get out there and do his thing.

Others mentioned were Orlando Hudson (most likely to give a fantastic postgame interview), local product Harang, Jason Bartlett, and Brad Hawpe. As reader The_Slasher14 noted of Hudson: “Major coup by the front office to land him.”

Rating the Off-Season Moves

Question: On a scale of 1 to 10, how did the front office do this off-season?

We think Jed Hoyer and company did real well. The range fell between 8 and 11, with the consensus being 9+. I’ll quote a couple of readers on this one.

From AJM:

Jed Hoyer has $42 million+/- to work with and he acquired Hawpe/Cantu/Bartlett/Hudson/Harang/Maybin… which I find crazy. Jed knows how to use what’s available to him and that bodes well for the future.

Yeah, any concerns we may have had about a guy coming from a franchise with deep pockets have been crushed. Hoyer gets it.

From Pat:

Three of Boston’s Top 10 prospects for one player with one year of below market value left. A potential star for a couple of relievers. A complete overhaul of the middle infield for a few more low level prospects and a very reasonable FA deal. A couple of bargain basement pickups to shore up the corner infield. I think it was truly extraordinary what the FO accomplished given its contstraints!

I have one thing to add about Hoyer. I’m not big on “messages” but he sent one. When the inevitable Adrian Gonzalez trade happened, a lot of people (myself included) assumed he would punt the season and start looking toward 2012.

Instead, Hoyer made several low-risk moves to help shore up the club and position itself for another run this year. I’m not sure he got enough to make that happen, but he did get enough to make fans believe it might happen. He captured their imagination, which is something previous regimes had a hard time doing.

When I look at this year’s Padres, I see, like reader LynchMob, an 80- to 85-win team. But if things go right, a team like that can do some damage. Let me put it another way: I’m a lot more excited about this season than I expected to be knowing that Gonzalez wouldn’t be a part of it.

I figure that the Padres and Dodgers will battle for third place, but if the injury bug hits one of the two favorites (as it did Colorado last year), some team has to step forward; it might as well be the Padres. Do I expect that? No. But then, I didn’t expect them to win 90 games last year.

Baseball is funny that way.

* * *

And then there were links…

  • The PCL Padres: Taking Stock of your History (RJ’s Fro). From the article: “From 1936 to 1957, the Padres and their fellow PCL members were baseball in the west. The Padres fielded fine teams with great up and coming players like Bobby Doerr, Ted Williams and many others who would also leave their mark in San Diego.” Oh, man, am I looking forward to the rest of this series.
  • US-Born Baseball Players’ Birthplaces over Time (Baseball Analysts). Where do baseball players come from? Well, there’s a stork… seriously, this is gorgeous stuff.
  • The All Minor League Contract Team (FanGraphs). New Padres Gregg Zaun and Kevin Frandsen make Dave Cameron’s list.
  • How I May Improve It (Joe Blogs). Not that anyone asked me, but in terms of writing craft, I have found the books of Natalie Goldberg and Anne Lamott helpful.
  • Position Players by WAR: Modern Era (FanGraphs). Joshua Maciel’s latest installment includes several familiar names.
  • Dirk Hayhurst: An Exclusive Interview with the Garfoose (DRaysBay). Hayhurst never ceases to entertain. Highlights include the bit where he discusses the correlation between his K/9 and his then-upcoming marriage, as well as his take on hip hop: “There’s like nine songs about how I wanna screw chicks, and drink, and drive flashy cars — and then there’s like that one obligatory song about how I want to thank Jesus for all he’s given me. Seriously?” Brilliant.
  • A few other quick words on PECOTA (Baseball Prospectus). Speaking of which, PECOTA has mean, nasty things to say about Hayhurst. Oops, I forget, we’re not supposed to anthropomorphize a computer-generated projection system.
  • San Diego Padres announce 2011 FanFest schedule ( This is happening on Saturday, February 12, at Petco Park and is always fun.
  • How do the 2011 Padres and Dodgers stack up (Gaslamp Ball). Xeifrank runs cool simulations. This one shows the Dodgers being slightly better than the Padres, although he acknowledges that “it is so close that randomness and injuries could determine which team finishes higher in the standings.” Sounds about right to me.

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12 Responses »

  1. I don’t understand the front office’s vision this offseason. I liked most of the additions, but, like you, I see an 80 to 85 win team. So what does an 80-85 win team need? A superstar to push them up to more realistic playoff contention at 85-90 wins, which Adrian would have done.

    I’ve come to terms with the realities of baseball that the Padres right now can’t/won’t/shouldn’t sign a star to a star’s contract. It is still frustrating to see them trade their best player for prospects before a season in which they could conceivably contend.

    Then again I’m the guy who thought 75 wins last year; what do I know. I guess I just disagree with the front office on the relative value of improving a team into a contender this year versus the future contributions of the three prospects.

  2. But I am still excited for the season, despite my disappointment with the trade. With the new guys, I’m looking forward to seeing if Harang can bounce back and if Maybin can translate his minor league stats and tools into a good year. With the returning guys, I can’t wait to see Latos pitching again and to see Venable yanking pitches into the right field seats.

  3. That Al Martin comp is great. Thankfully Will is way too smart to marry a woman before divorcing his wife. I also get kind of an Ankiel vibe from Venable, somebody whose full hitting potential may have been permanently compromised by a lack of reps in his “formative years.” They can all punish mistakes and launch the ball forever if they guess right, but sometimes they look like they’re blindfolded.

    Venable’s current #1 comp on Baseball-Reference? Terrmel Sledge. Yikes. It’s not an inspiring list. It does have Andres Torres on it, at least. ‘

    Headley’s my breakout candidate, because the top of my head is harder than that brick wall. Still, he’s the right age. If he doesn’t progress he’ll be a useful antidote to Hot Prospect Fever.

  4. @ Tom: I was reconsidering Headley as a breakout earlier today after reading the rest of the comments in the “Open Thread.” He is the right age, going on 27, and he will be in his 3rd full season, which gives him an opportunity to apply what he’s learned at this level so far (another important factor in “breaking out”), and he will be back at 3B for the second year, which hopefully gives him some comfort level. There are some encouraging signs there, and if we don’t take “break out” to mean turn into an All Star, he just may fit the bill. Will be interesting to watch at any rate.

    @ GY: Geoff, thanks for quoting my reply from the Open Thread. Love the pithy way you wind up the post above, “Baseball is funny that way.” Seems like a line which could be used at the end of an awful lot of baseball blog posts, articles and discussions! :-)

  5. Thinking about offseason grades for the front office, I think the decision to acquire and then guarantee two years for a SS whose defense has fallen off dramatically over the last three years, and whose offense save one flukish outlier is below league average is the big whiff of the winter. I think they’ll really regret paying $11M for Bartlett, and that it is going to look particularly bad in comparison to the Twins who, between the posting fee and his contract, paid $14.5 for three years of Nishioka (plus three more years of control). I’d really put it at 50/50 that Bartlett loses his job to Cabrera before opening day 2012.
    Given that they also acquired only one starting pitcher in the offseason, I really don’t think I could give anything higher than a 7 on the scale, even with the many positive moves they did make.

  6. I’m a lot more excited about this season than I expected to be knowing that Gonzalez wouldn’t be a part of it.

    I love the fact that the friars are improved up the middle, ten fold. And for the next two seasons, at least. That would seem mandatory for a team that replies on pitching, no?. Shame Kevin never got that message.

    I know this. I’m not worried about the Giants. Im just not. The way i see it, they got career years from some old scrubby outfielders, and the chances of that happening two years in a row are slim.

    Arizona has Blum and Burroughs in the fold, and you know what, thats all you need to know about them. Hi KT. They’re not in it this year.

    The Dodgers are the Dodgers and you never know who is going to show up. Im thinking with all the divorce controversy, and the new manager, they are a focused ball club this season as they try and but all the BS behind them.

    Colorado has all the offensive talent in the division. If they can stay healthy, it’s their division to win.If not, San Diego will be right there with a fat friar foot in the door, trying to kick the damn thing open. I’ll take a game 163.

    Its the NL West. Anything can happen.

    Oh yeah, Im looking forward to 2011!

    go padres.

  7. Interesting takes by David here and Didi in the Open Thread. A bit contrarian to the more optimistic takes in these threads, but good points made by both. Can’t wait to see how it all plays out!

  8. @David

    Bartlett has some risk, but even with declining D and O, he’s typically been worth more per year than he’ll be paid by us. That’s using Fangraphs’ value calculations, the accuracy of which can certainly be debated.

    It was surprising that we had to give up Figueroa for a player who was rumored to be a non-tender candidate.

    The success rate of Japanese players makes Nishioka at least as risky as Bartlett. It’s doubtful we could have scraped together the posting fee and still signed Hudson, Hawpe, or Harang. It might end up being the better investment, but we can’t say it’s a slam-dunk better move than Bartlett.

    Agree that another SP would have seemed like a good investment. It would have meant sacrificing somebody, with Ludwick the obvious candidate.

  9. @wrveres

    We probably won’t get a lot more production from this year’s middle infield than last year’s version. Our MI actually contributed quite a bit except for Cabrera, but their contributions had “fluke” written all over them. That makes Bartlett & Hudson were good moves for 2011 even if they’re not a big improvement over the 2010 group.

  10. I’m probably one of maybe three people happy to see Adrian go (I don’t know who the other two are). It’s not because he wasn’t a nice guy or productive, but for two reasons: one, it was cruel to see him play in absolutely the worst park for his hitting talents, so I’m happy to see him go to the park that best fits his profile. Second, because I don’t believe in building around a superstar, I’ve thought his presence was holding the team back from developing a balanced lineup of contact hitters with speed that can succeed in Petco. You get distracted from that, looking for tablesetters and protection for your big guy.

    As far as Jed’s performance is concerned, the best thing Moorad can do going forward is tell Jed how much he’s got to work with, and walk away without a word until the next year. Jed has done a masterful job, and I think that, like a chess master, he’s got future moves already planned out. He may have left the big money mentality behind in Boston, but I think he brought the be-competitive-every-year philosophy with him.

    I estimated 87 wins last year and third place, and was still pleasantly surprised. I’m going to wait to see if the Padres are as consistent in Spring Training games as they were last year before I adjust my expectations, but the team looks better than last year. The opening day consensus will likely place the Padres fourth, but my gut feeling is that the Giants and Padres will battle it out for the division again.