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MLB Team Previews: 2011 Padres Preview

Randy Ball

Randy Ball

Randy Ball writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.

Padres general manager Jed Hoyer entered the offseason a bit later than usual, as the team was surprisingly in contention up until the final weekend of the season. After finishing 2010 with 90 wins, San Diego turned the roster over to the extent they will be hard-pressed to meet or exceed that total in 2011. With an injection of youth, reclamation projects and some veterans, Hoyer has done a good job of finding enough fantasy resources that should help owners project playing time moving forward.

Offseason Moves:

Traded Adrian Gonzalez to Boston for Casey Kelly, Anthony Rizzo, Reymond Fuentes and Eric Patterson.

This long-rumored deal could be a long-term windfall for San Diego, but the short-term solution (see more below) at first base could become a bit dicey. Kelly immediately steps to the front of the Pads' future rotation and could be with the big club after the All-Star break. The 21-year-old has thrown 190 minor league innings thus far, compiling a 3.69 ERA and 1.232 WHIP between Low-A in 2009, ending up in Double-A Portland to end 2010. Rizzo was drafted by Boston in 2007 as a 17-year-old and has climbed the ladder to Portland to complete last season. Overall, the former sixth rounder has hit 38 home runs in 1,216 minor-league at-bats, with a career .822 OPS over that span. Like Kelly, Rizzo could find himself in San Diego before year’s end and will be very much on the keeper radar. Fuentes was taken with the 28th pick in the 2009 draft and has yet to move above Low-A. He will only be 20 to begin the season, but has stolen 51 bases in 144 minor league games and projects as a very good fielding outfielder. Look for Fuentes to begin the year at High-A or Double-A to begin 2011. Patterson comes to San Deigo as the player-to-be-named-later in this deal and should assume the same super utility role he had while in Boston, Chicago and Oakland.

Traded Adam Russell, Cesar Ramos, Brandon Gomes and Cole Figueroa to Tampa Bay for Jason Bartlett.

Manager Bud Black struggled filling his shortstop spot all season long and losing Miguel Tejada and Jerry Hairston, Jr. (both of whom went for a combined .691 OPS) to free agency, Bartlett (and his career .731 OPS) seems to be an upgrade. Given Bartlett’s defensive metrics, which measure out as at least league average, there should be improvement behind most pitchers in 2011. Coupled with the addition of Orlando Hudson and Cameron Maybin, the Padres will be a lot better up the middle this season.

Traded Edward Mujica and Ryan Webb to Florida for Cameron Maybin.

On the surface, this really looks like a throw away deal for Florida, and it may very well be worth the gamble that Hoyer is taking. Mujica (26) and Webb (24) are quality young arms that combined for 128.2 innings out of the San Diego bullpen, but Maybin’s talent is undeniable. Hoyer subscribes to the “fungible” bullpen theory, that allows for a year-by-year approach and Maybin still could blossom into a great long-term franchise player.

Signed Aaron Harang to a one-year, $4 million contract (with a mutual option for 2012).

Harang replaces Jon Garland (who left for the Los Angeles Dodgers) in the Padres’ rotation and looks to improve on a disastrous 2010, which saw the 32-year-old allow 139 hits in 111.2 innings for the Reds. While he may not be the same pitcher he was in 2005-07, the Padres would certainly take a season resembling his career averages at this point (12 wins, 4.33 ERA with a 1.345 WHIP). Harang does have a few positives with him going into 2011, however. He is moving away from the bandbox in Cincinnati (where he allowed a career .769 OPS) to Petco Park, where he has a career 3.49 ERA. In addition, he also has a former pitching coach (Black) as his manager.

Signed Orlando Hudson to a two-year, $11.5 million deal (with a club option for 2013).

Hudson is a low-risk signing for Hoyer, as he becomes an instant upgrade over David Eckstein (and Hairston) at second base, with the type of veteran leadership the departed Gonzalez provided. Assuming he can approach 2009 levels, the now 33-year-old will be a decent source of runs and a few stolen bases, with excellent defense for San Diego this season.

Signed Brad Hawpe to a one-year, $3 million deal (with a mutual option for 2012).

Hawpe will potentially fill the void left behind by Gonzalez at first base, although Jorge Cantu is expected to spell him against lefties. He still has some pop in his bat and his home-road splits from his days with Colorado suggest that he wasn't merely a product of Coors Field. Unfortunately, he was signed by the Padres and Petco Park is the worst in baseball for left-handed power. Given that he'll get his share of days off against southpaws and that poor home park, Hawpe is a low-end option even as the Padres' primary first baseman.

Signed Jorge Cantu to a one-year deal.

Cantu flopped as a late-season addition to the Texas roster, hitting just .235/.279/.327 on a team desperate at times for a first baseman. His struggles landed him on the bench as the postseason went along in favor of Mitch Moreland, putting an end to Cantu's brief time in Texas. Now in San Diego, Cantu will be used as a part-time option at first base, spelling Brad Hawpe against lefties (three-year .283/.344/.459 line against them).

Projected Linuep: (vs. RH/LH)

1. Cameron Maybin CF
2. Jason Bartlett SS
3. Ryan Ludwick RF
4. Chase Headley 3B
5. Brad Hawpe/Jorge Cantu 1B
6. Will Venable LF
7. Nick Hundley C
8. Orlando Hudson 2B

Clearly, Hudson, Bartlett and Maybin could be shifted around to accommodate the trends and matchups, but the loss of Gonzalez is very apparent here. With Ludwick, Headley and Hawpe manning the 3-4-5 spots on a daily basis, you will be hard-pressed to find a hitter with 30+ home run power in this lineup. The key may be Maybin, however. If he can progress and move further down the order, this lineup actually looks decent. Don’t rule out Chris Denorfia, Aaron Cunningham or Blanks making an appearance, as well.

Projected Rotation:

1. Mat Latos
2. Clayton Richard
3. Aaron Harang
4. Tim Stauffer
5. Cory Luebke/Wade LeBlanc

Latos is the clear ace of this rotation, but does come with the overuse risk, heading into his second full season in the major leagues. Still only 22 and projecting to 200-plus innings, manager Bud Black pulled the reins a bit, resting Latos through the middle of the summer; skipping him on three separate occasions. That may be the same plan at 23, but either way Latos is a frontline starter under San Diego’s control for a long time to come. Richard is the first of two left handed starters and was an innings eater in 2010, while keeping his ERA under 4.00. Harang is more of a staff filler at this point and if Black can get five or six innings a night from him, you would assume he’d be happy with that. Stauffer, the No. 4 overall pick in 2003, is interesting after posting good numbers both as a reliever and during a late-season run as a starter last season. As for Luebke, he is a hard throwing lefty that was dominant at two minor-league levels in 2010, posting an ERA under 2.80 with a WHIP under 1.000. Entering spring training, it appears as though LeBlanc is the odd-man out looking for a rotation spot, but injuries or ineffectiveness could open a spot for him again.

CL: Heath Bell

Bell is the anchor of what was a very good bullpen in 2010. The veteran closer was constantly hearing rumors about his eventual destination and still saved 47 games, posted a 1.93 ERA and placed eighth in the NL Cy Young voting. With Luke Gregerson waiting in the wings, Bell's status as a Padre will remain a question mark, but while in San Diego he will be the team's closer.

Notes of Import, Fantasy and Otherwise:

Will this team have any consistent power hitters?

With the ballpark the Padres play in and the way Hoyer has constructed this team, there may be no need to do so. San Diego will hope to run a lot, get their starters deep into games and hand it over to Mike Adams, Joe Thatcher, Gregerson and Bell at the end. As for who may lead the team in power categories, it would appear that Ludwick and Hawpe will have the best chance. Ludwick struggled upon arriving at Petco Park (.631 OPS) last season, but has been productive for the Cards in recent seasons, when healthy.

Will Cameron Maybin finally live up to the billing we’ve been giving him?

Clearly the Padres feel a change of scenery makes sense for Maybin, who fell out of favor, rather quickly, in Florida. Still just 23 and on his third organization in four seasons, Maybin does have a career .871 OPS in the minors and if he can approach that in 2011, the Padres have a steal. His plate discipline has not translated thus far, so patience from him (and his owners) will be the key. You may be rewarded for taking a flyer on Maybin come draft day.

Is Brad Hawpe really a viable alternative to Adrian Gonzalez?

In short, the answer to this question is, undoubtedly, no. But, the Padres understand that and just want a progression back to Hawpe’s mean. During his time in Colorado, Hawpe struck out a lot, but took his walks as well. That disappeared in 2010, where he walked only 42 times in 346 at-bats, far below his career per at-bat metric. Hawpe does not have to be a 40-homer threat, he just needs to hit .280 and drive in 80-85 runs to be productive this season. Think Aubrey Huff in 2010.

Will Mat Latos stay healthy in 2011?

There has been little indication that he will not, but Latos saw a 61-inning increase to his workload in 2010, which puts him at risk as a young pitcher. The team has constantly tried to limit his number of “high stress” pitch counts, allowing him to throw more than 112 pitches only once last year and letting him toss more than 100 only 12 times in 31 starts. The hook may be a bit longer this year, but how will he handle it?

Will Heath Bell be the closer of this team in August?

Bell is in the same position Gonzalez was to begin this offseason, but the haul for a bullpen arm is expected to a lot less than what Boston ponied up to get a superstar first baseman. That said, Bell will be a free agent in 2012, will look to command a much bigger paycheck than the $4 million San Diego is paying him now and the Padres appear to be a team that will be worse in 2011 than they were in 2010. Not to mention, Hoyer and Black are high on what they have in Luke Gregerson, so it may only be a matter of time before Bell is pitching, in a pennant race, for someone else this season.

Strengths

A very good defensive team with ample pitching in a cavernous home park. The Padres may not enjoy the same level of success that they did in 2010, but young more talent is on the way thanks to Hoyer's haul in the Gonzalez deal. If the starters are consistently providing six innings, the bullpen should be one of the best in the league with Gregerson, Adams and Bell shutting the door on the back end.

Weaknesses

Ultimately, the Padres are going to run into spells where they put few runs on the board due to the lack of upper echelon power bats in tow. The offense is also a major question mark with the reliance on bounce back candidates in Ludwick, Hawpe, Cantu, Hudson and Bartlett. Any gains made in their individual performance will only help to offset the loss of Gonzalez. If the youngsters -- including Maybin and Blanks -- show signs of growth, it could go a long way toward helping the overall productivity of this group.

Sleepers

Rising: Mat Latos - In his first full season in the majors, Latos took the National League by storm racking up 14 wins, 189 strikeouts, a 2.92 ERA, and an outstanding 1.083 WHIP. He kept his walk rate down (2.4 BB/9IP) and used a fastball/slider combination that kept hitters off balance. Of course, pitching in PETCO Park also helped. Going into 2011, the biggest concern will be how his body handles the 60-plus innings increase he made from 2009 to 2010. Assuming he can stay healthy, expect an adjustment period as he won't be sneaking up on anyone this time around. Still, his skill set and home park are a great foundation for any young pitcher.

Falling: Chase Headley - Headley stole more bases and reduced his strikeout rate for the second season in a row, but the rest of his skills remained the same in 2010, which wasn't a good thing. He again didn't hit for average, had trouble getting on base, didn't hit for power and continued to struggle against lefties. For someone who plays third base (or any position), these aren't the best skills to have. If he can continue to reduce his strikeout rate and turn around his sliding slugging percentage, there's hope that he can become a useful fantasy asset entering his age 27 season. However, it appears that a platoon role would likely be in his and fantasy owners' best interest.

Sleeper: Luke Gregerson - Only two seasons into his major league career, Gregerson has established himself as one of the best setup men in the game. In 2010, he had an amazing 4.9 K/BB ratio with a 3.22 ERA, and 0.830 WHIP. A large reason for his success is a slider that batters simply can not hit. Should Heath Bell be traded, Gregerson is someone that would excel in the closer role. Toss in his fantastic skill set and he's one of a handful of middle relievers that fantasy owners should target on draft day.

Supersleeper: Casey Kelly - Try not to pass judgment on Kelly's numbers in 2010. It was the first full season of pitching for the 20-year-old and he's still developing his secondary offerings at an advanced level, given his age. Even as a talented work in progress, the Padres were adamant that Kelly was included as the centerpiece of the trade that sent Adrian Gonzalez to Boston. Kelly showed improvement with his curveball and changeup, while gaining velocity on his fastball. He must learn to harness that velocity while bringing some level of consistency to every outing. Further development is the goal for Kelly in 2011, and he's likely a year or two away from earn his place in the Padres' rotation.


Here's the rundown of players not mentioned above:

Mike Adams - Adams quietly had another fantastic season as a member of the Padres bullpen, aka the "PENitentiary." His walk rate jumped up to 3.11 BB/9IP, but he still struck out more than a batter an inning thanks to one of the best cutters in baseball. A top notch setup man, Adams would excel in a closer role, if ever given the opportunity. Unless Heath Bell suffers an injury or gets traded, he'll be a part of the bridge to the ninth inning.

Jason Bartlett - After posting a career year in 2009 by hitting .320 with 14 home runs and 30 steals, Bartlett came back to reality in 2010. He showed what he really is: a solid defender with above average speed and below average power. Bartlett hit only four home runs and swiped 11 bags, a considerable dropoff from the previous season. The Padres acquired him from the Rays in December to become their everyday shortstop. The move to Petco Park will sap the aforementioned limited power, but he should continue to receive the green light on the basepaths with his new club.

Kyle Blanks - The 6-foot-6, 270-pound Blanks played only in April and into part of May before an elbow injury sidelined him last season. The injury was serious enough that he needed Tommy John surgery to correct it. Prior to 2010, he had shown an ability to hit for power and average in the minors. Surprisingly athletic, he played left field in the past, but the surgery will likely sap his arm strength and limit him to first-base duties. His health status going into spring training will be tenuous, and it's likely that he won't be ready for action on Opening Day. Once healthy, he's going to have to cut down on his strikeout rate, if he hopes to stick at the major league level.

Everth Cabrera - The phrase "sophomore slump" pretty much defined Cabrera's 2010 season. Known for his speed and defense, hamstring issues robbed him of ability to steal bases, the main reason fantasy owners invested in him. His batting average tanked as a byproduct of striking out in nearly a quarter of his at-bats, while his walk rate tumbling to 7.9 percent also limited his opportunities to steal bases. In 2011, his glove will get him in the lineup, but he has to improve his plate discipline to be of any fantasy value. Assuming Cabrera can regain the form he showed in 2009, he could still be a cheap source of speed.

Aaron Cunningham - Cunningham split time between Triple-A Portland and San Diego in 2010. With limited power and speed, he did about as well as one could hope in his time at the majors. He hit .288/.331/.417, although a .349 BABIP was probably more to thank than his skills were. He's likely a fourth or fifth outfielder who won't kill your fantasy team, should he find regular at-bats in San Diego's crowded outfield.

Chris Denorfia - Denorfia started 2010 at Triple-A Portland, where he put up good numbers (.306/.368/.504), before a series of injuries to the Padres' outfield corps landed him a starting job. From the start of July through the end of August, he was great, hitting nine homers with 25 RBI, four steals and a .291 batting average. After that, his production fell off as he dealt with hamstring and back issues. Overall, he can hit for decent average, but doesn't have much power or speed to speak of. With everyone back and healthy, it's uncertain what role Denorfia will have going into 2011.

Nick Hundley - Hundley again shared catching duties for the Padres in 2010. Like most catchers, he doesn't hit for average and has only moderate power. With Yorvit Torrealba's departure in the offseason, the team hopes to expand his playing time in 2011. He's entering his age 27 season, but owners shouldn't expect some great breakthrough, especially since he still calls PETCO Park home.

Wade LeBlanc - In his first full season as a starter, LeBlanc was useful to fantasy owners, until a disastrous August knocked him from the Padres' rotation. He was able to reduce his walk rate, while maintaining his strikeout rate, but a home run rate of 1.48 HR/9IP had a way of making it all for not. Moving forward, if he can approach the 8.1 K/9IP strikeout rate he had in Triple-A, he'll be able to make some real headway. As is, he's fortunate that he pitches in PETCO as his long-ball woes would play much worse in another ballpark. LeBlanc might not begin the year in the rotation, following the Padres' acquisitions of Aaron Harang and Dustin Moseley in the offseason.

Dustin Moseley - Moseley made nine starts for the Yankees last season, mostly due to a lack of other options rather than an actual desire to have Moseley in the rotation. Take your pick of which ugly number you want to focus on: his 13 home runs allowed in 65.1 innings, his 1.423 WHIP or his 1.22 K/BB ratio. No matter how you slice it, he wasn't very good, and he'll need to show significant improvement to earn a rotation spot with the Padres after signing a one-year deal with them during the offseason.

Tim Stauffer - Stauffer got off to a great start last season (18 scoreless innings), before an appendectomy sidelined him for a month. Once back, he pitched mainly out of the bullpen with a handful of starts coming in September. He showed great command with a 2.92 K/BB ratio as a reliever. He also raised his groundball rate to 54.5 percent. Should he remain a long reliever in 2011, his value will be limited, but if he moves into the rotation, he could bring a nice reward to those who take a chance on him.

Will Venable - Venable had a very useful 2010 season for fantasy owners. The speed that he showed in Single-A and Double-A resurfaced as he stole 29 bases. That speed came at a price as he hit for a .245 batting average and struck out in nearly one-third of his at-bats. He also managed to hit 13 homers, which was in line with the power he had shown before. If he learned some plate discipline, Venable could become someone that owners could count on to do a little bit of everything. As is, he probably belongs in a platoon against tough righties (.259/.331/.451 career).

Top Prospects (in no particular order)

Cameron Maybin, Casey Kelly, Cory Luebke: See above

Anthony Rizzo - Rizzo has emerged over the past two seasons as Boston's top power prospect, a view that was cemented with 25-homer season between High-A Salem and Double-A Portland in 2010. He became the first 20-year-old to hit 20 homers in the Double-A Eastern League since 1998. His development since overcoming Hodgkin's Lymphoma in 2008 is remarkable and made him a valuable prospect, eventually landing him in Boston's deal with San Diego for Adrian Gonzalez. He has a good approach at the plate, though he could work deeper counts, and is ready as a defender at first base. He's viewed as a high-character guy and good teammate, and appears headed to become the Padres' everyday first baseman in 2012.

Donavan Tate - Tate, the 2009 third overall pick, finally made his professional debut in 2010, and, as expected, it was full of injuries. Since being drafted he's suffered a sports hernia, a broken jaw in an ATV accident, a sprained shoulder, a shot to the head from a baseball and a serious stomach virus. When he was on the field, he struggled with a .222/.336/.344 batting line and strikeouts in nearly half of his at-bats in the Arizona Rookie League. Still, Tate is a very physically gifted prospect with an extremely high ceiling. Those in keeper leagues should wait until he proves he can stay healthy before thinking about buying into the hype.

Simon Castro - When you talk about the top pitching prospects in the Padres' system, you talk about Castro. At 6-foot-5 and 211 pounds, he possesses a mid-90s fastball, slider, and changeup. At Double-A San Antonio he had a 2.92 ERA with a 2.97 K/BB ratio and .226 batting average against in 129.2 innings. He got a taste of Triple-A action late in the season and got hit around. He should start the 2011 season back at Triple-A Portland, where he'll work on his off-speed pitches and wait for a midseason callup. Those in keeper leagues should take notice of Castro's potential, as a 2011 debut is possible.

Reymond Fuentes - Fuentes did nothing to dampen the promise he shows as a base stealer or defender in 2010, but he did little to improve his on-base rate (25 walks in 400 plate appearances). He's young and has time to develop a better approach at the plate, but that will be happening in the San Diego organization following his inclusion in the Red Sox's deal to land Adrian Gonzalez. All things consider, Fuentes is likely three years away from contributing at the major league level.

Jaff Decker - Decker, a 2008 supplemental first-round pick, spent 2010 at High-A Lake Elsinore, where he continued to show good power and plate discipline, especially for someone his age (20). He still strikes out too much and without an inflated BABIP, his batting average tumbled to .262. He'll likely spend 2011 at Double-A San Antonio working on his swing and trying to making more contact. Those in keeper leagues should monitor his progress as he's likely to be part of the team's plans sooner rather later.

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