We’ve covered starting pitching, gone around the horn with the infield, and now we’re ready to take a peak at the Padres’ outfield situation. Cameron Maybin is locked in, but we’ll cover him later. For this piece, we are going to focus on left field.
Left field was Ryan Ludwick‘s while he was with the team. When he was traded to the Pirates, it went up for grabs. There was no definitive left fielder for the second half of the 2011 season. Kyle Blanks spent some time there. Will Venable was there too. Even Chris Denorfia made his appearances in left as necessary. So where do they go from here?
Matt Clark of the Padres Triple-A affiliate Tucson Padres may get a shot, but I wouldn’t expect him on the Opening Day roster. Clark turns 25 this month and has spent his entire career in the minors. While he hasn’t got his shot yet, Clark does have power and may be able to contribute at the Major League level.
In 129 games in Tucson, Clark had a triple-slash of .292/.363/.498. He hit 23 home runs and drove in 83 RBI. Unfortunately, the Pacific Coast League, as I’ve pointed out many times, is a hitters league. Clark, if he made it to the Major League team, would be playing in the exact opposite conditions 81 times per year. However, his Texas League numbers while at Double-A San Antonio show that Clark may be able to carry this power all the way to the Padres. In 2010, Clark had a .269/.363/.483 slash-line with 28 home runs and 97 RBI. Throughout his minor league career, Clark has a grand total of 104 home runs and 414 RBI in 558 games.
Clark is a left-handed batter which should give him some added attention. He would have the short porch in right when he pulls the ball, and the Western Metal Supply Company building in left for those opposite field shots. While Clark hasn’t made the top-ten yet for Padres’ prospects, his numbers to date give him a chance at making the club.
Another option that’s been thrown around is moving Jedd Gyorko, who is on Baseball America’s top ten list for the Padres, to left field. If the Padres did this, they would be able to keep Chase Headley at third and have a highly touted prospect patrolling left for them. Gyorko seems to be on the fast track to the big league club. Since 2010, he has played for Eugene, Fort Worth, Lake Elsinore, and San Antonio. All indications point to Gyorko’s promotion to Triple-A Tucson, but don’t be surprised to see him with the Padres during the 2012 season.
Last season, with his time split between Lake Elsinore and San Antonio, a total of 140 games, Gyorko hit .333/.400/.552 with 25 home runs and 114 RBI. These numbers are very impressive, and for those who don’t think a player can make the leap from Double-A to the Major Leagues, I’d point you to the Diamondbacks Paul Goldschmidt. In two season, Gyorko has hit .323/.432/.518 with 32 home runs in 208 games. The Padres are high on Gyorko and for good reason. He would make a nice addition to the club as long as he can hold his own in left field.
If the Padres choose to go outside the organization for their left fielder, they could do so just to bide time for their minor league talent to develop. This may be a very good strategy if they pick up a player like Johnny Damon. Damon made $5.25 million in 2011 and should make something similar for the 2012 season. The Padres could afford this contract on a one-year basis. Damon could bring clubhouse leadership, veteran grit, and a little bit of offense to an offense-deficient Padres team.
If the Padres insist on looking for a longer-term solution from outside the organization, Laynce Nix may be a nice option. At 30 years old, he still has some youth. His contract should be very affordable as he made just $700,000 with the Nationals last season. Nix doesn’t light the stat sheet on fire, but he could hold his own in left for the Padres.
To me, the best option is immediately trying Gyorko or Clark in left. They should part ways with Kyle Blanks. As a second best option, I love the idea of signing Damon to a one-year deal. Whatever choice the team makes, there is little doubt that one of the club’s prospects will be playing left field soon.