Friday, February 26, 2010

Three thoughts

Before I head to Arizona and Florida, a few observations about your favorite baseball team:

* I don't think there was any chance that the Padres would've traded Adrian Gonzalez last summer. Call me gullible, but I believed Padres CEO Jeff Moorad when he told me that there was "no chance" the club would trade Gonzalez by the July 31st trade deadline last year. All the rumored trade scenarios that followed, I believe, were solely about testing Gonzalez's trade value. It behooved the Red Sox, who were targeting Cleveland's Victor Martinez, to play along and create the media-fueled impression that they might trade for Gonzalez. I do believe Boston remains the best trade fit for Gonzalez. Even if the Dodgers were to make a big offer, I doubt that Moorad could stomach putting Gonzalez in a Dodgers uniform.

* I'm curious to see what the trio of Gonzalez, Kyle Blanks and Chase Headley would do in the middle of the lineup over several months, although I know it may not play out that way. More on this later, but both Gonzalez and Blanks have all-fields home run power at Petco Park. I'm not sure the Padres have ever had that in tandem since they moved downtown in 2004. Heck, I doubt that more than a handful of clubs have two hitters with that kind of power -- specifically, the ability to hit the ball out to any part of Petco. Ryan Klesko and Phil Nevin pretty much were incapable of hitting opposite-field homers at Petco, which is why they each wanted to blow the place up (actually, Nevin socked a few out to right but generally was thwarted there, which led to his infamous confrontation with GM Kevin Towers after a game against the Pirates). I don't recall Brian Giles ever hitting an opposite-field homer at Petco. Why should it matter where the home runs go? Because most pitchers don't fear opposite-field homers at Petco. Unless they're facing Gonzalez, who can hit an outside-corner pitch into the left-field seats. Blanks is capable of hitting an outside pitch onto Petco's beach. We'll see. Two of his six homers at Petco went to right-center. Obviously Blanks is far from a sure thing. His all-fields power, for now, is about potential. Some scouts question whether his swing will hold up in the middle of a major league lineup. Headley, too, has a lot of proving to do, but a capable switch-hitter in the No. 5 spot can help offset matchup disadvantages late in the game. Lots of ifs, I know.

* I admit to rooting for outfielder Will Venable. I've written a lot about him over the years. Swayed by two scouts, I ranked him among the club's top five prospects entering 2009. He did some big things last summer. Is he headed toward a good career as a regular? Probably not if you put a lot of stock in his minor league career. But Venable's athletic pedigree argues for a closer look. Among the believers is Grady Fuson. "I told Will Venable: 'You're going to end up being a better big leaguer than you were a minor leaguer,' " said Fuson, who was San Diego's director of scouting and development until last October. "I hardly ever say that (about a player), but I believe it. I do."

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Goodbye LT

I was at The Murph when Tony Gwynn shed tears after his final game with the Padres. The year was 20o1. What I remember most was Jennifer Moores, the daughter of team owner John Moores, being overcome with emotion. Today I wrote about another San Diego sports icon's tearful goodbye. San Diego hasn't had much luck in winning major sports championships, but it's been a pleasure to watch and get to know Gwynn and LaDainian Tomlinson. http://tinyurl.com/ykk7ajx

Friday, February 12, 2010

Front office

Years from now we'll know a lot more about this Padres front office. For example, can the Strategic Thinkers hit on a first-round draft pick? In years past, the club couldn't have done worse by leaving the choice to the San Diego Chicken. Or Franken Friar*.

* I've been to a lot of ballparks. Franken Friar is the strangest mascot I've seen. That's not a criticism, but I wish I could've been there when the Padres batted the idea around. Padres official No. 1: 'I like the monk, but we need to diversify his persona.' Padres official No. 2: 'Hey, I've got an idea. Let's make him into a Gothic monster.' Padres official No. 1: 'Great! Why not Frankenstein?'

Which brings to mind the blog of Padres executive Paul DePodesta, titled "It Might Be Dangerous...You Go First." It's from the movie Young Frankenstein. People assumed it was from Raiders of the Lost Ark and would tell DePodesta he got the line wrong.

Back to the new front office of your favorite baseball team. Evaluating the talent evaluators can be tricky, even for people within the industry. You might be surprised to know how many scouts/evaluators/GMs aren't as good at assessing ballplayer talent as their media-driven reputations would indicate. Obviously I don't see the scouting reports that these people have filed over the years. Heck, within a few franchises -- including, at times, the Padres -- some upper-level scouts and decisionmakers are exempted from writing grades and projections into their player reports. You can imagine how that goes over with the rank-and-file scouts who must give a specific grade and projection on a player. My suggestion would be to make everyone fully accountable.

Nor do I have a strong sense of how well this Padres front office and the staffs below will work together. When the team's fortunes crumbled in 2008 and new ownership loomed, the knives came out.

My early sense, though, is that the Doogster is off to a good start. He's hired and promoted people who have strong reputations for having good instincts and excellent people skills. They're well-connected throughout baseball. Whatever decisions the Padres make shouldn't lack for information. On the empirical side, the Padres were already well-staffed. Most of the newcomers or newly empowered will work in either scouting or player development. We'll find out whether CEO Jeff Moorad gives them ample spending money. At the end of the day, as Moorad likes to say, the results on the field will tell us the most about this front office. Take it for what it's worth, but I regard it a promising group. In 15 years on the baseball beat, one hears a few things. I've heard many good things about the Doogster's new staffers. And the former major leaguers that he hired -- Dave Roberts and Mark Loretta -- were among the smarter, more observant ballplayers to come through San Diego.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Prospecting

Now that King Football has loosened its grip on Sports America, I'll throw a log onto baseball's fire pit.*

*I don't call it a hot stove. If you live back East, it's a hot stove. And please pull up a seat on the driveway and warm yourself. Here in San Diego, we burn our wood outdoors. On the rare occasion it dips into the low 40s -- brrrr -- the Better Half asks me to use the fireplace, but not since I smoked up the entire house. What are those flu things for?

Today we'll talk about a Padres prospect. Most everyone who would bother to read this blog knows who the top Padres prospects are. How about someone who isn't ranked highly yet might rise up and help the big club within two or three years? (Or before the Strategic Thinkers raise the player payroll to Milwaukee's level.)

Pitcher Chris Fetter is your guy. You can't miss the right-hander, he's 6-foot-8 and 230 pounds.

"You've got a guy that can come real quick in Chris Fetter, a ninth-rounder we took out of the University of Michigan," said Grady Fuson, who until October was the farm system's overseer.

At 24, Fetter is old for a Single-A pitcher. Acting the part, he bullied hitters last year in two tours below advanced Single-A. He worked 65 innings, struck out 75 and walked 14 without a home run allowed. His ERA was 1.66, his win-loss record 4-1.

The Michigan man's subplot is interesting, too.

"Mysteriously," Fuson said, "the velocity jumped (last) year in college. This guy was pitching at 90 to 94 (for the Wolverines). This guy has got what it takes to be a starter in the big leagues. He's got life.

"This guy shouldn't be in A-ball long."

The Padres say Fetter likely will begin this season with Lake Elsinore.