This is my 17th consecutive spring training. Lucky me. Always feels like the start of recess.
For ballclubs, optimism is the common thread to pitchers and catchers reporting. And why not? Every baseball season is full of surprises. Here today in Peoria, Padres officials were all smiles.
I chatted with strength coach Jim Malone. He's in his sixth year with the club and under contract through 2012, two signs that the Padres believe in him. Or maybe they're just afraid of him because he looks like a cage fighter.
Malone sized up the 19 prospects who came through Petco Park for the winter program. A few of his observations:
* Anthony Rizzo, the first baseman acquired from Boston in the Adrian Gonzalez trade, "is a big, strong, sturdy young man. He can move a little weight around, which, obviously, I get a little fired up about. He's probably as big as he needs to be. He's 230, 235 pounds and he carries it well."
* More on Rizzo: "He kind of reminds me a little bit of Jim Thome, except maybe he's broader in the shoulders. But Jimmy was a country strong boy. Anthony clearly likes to spend some time in the weight room."
* Donavan Tate, the center fielder drafted third overall in 2009, is thicker and stronger than he was last spring. He's recovered from several injuries described by Malone as "fluke things." At 20, Tate is still developing physically. "Donavan is starting to fill out and mature. He's buying into what we're tying to do. His genetic potential is starting to show."
* Jaff Decker. The stocky outfielder shed 10-15 pounds, which Malone said should make him less susceptible to hamstring injuries like the one suffered at the outset of 2010 spring training. "Because he's not very tall, the lost weight is very noticeable on him," Malone said. "He's feeling good about the changes he's made in himself. I told him, 'I don't want you to lose too much more. We have to see how you adapt to 194, 195 pounds.' "
* More on Decker: "There's more physical stress on your legs when you're heavier, and then it's a matter of what stress your frame can take. He lost weight from the nipples to the knees. He started doing a much better job of monitoring his eating."
* Kyle Blanks kept his weight under control, despite being limited by elbow surgery.