Over the last week, things were beginning to look up this Spring Training for the Padres. San Diego was beginning to string some wins together, the team was playing some quality baseball, and all seemed well. Unfortunately, newcomer Carlos Quentin’s knee injury has put a damper on the good vibes, and the Padres will be without their Left Fielder’s services for four to six weeks.
Now it will be up to Manager Bud Black and the rest of the Padres’ Coaching Staff to find a replacement/combination of replacements to play some serviceable baseball in Quentin’s absence. Thus, today I figured would be a perfect opportunity to discuss the players which can be stop-gap solutions in Left Field for the Padres until Quentin’s return.
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote an article concerning Kyle Blanks and discussed his future with the Padres. In addition, I also described the importance of the 2012 season for Blanks, and how he would need a good showing in each and every opportunity he would eventually be given to make his mark on this roster loaded with talent at First Base and the Corner Outfield spots (Great article also by Justin and Nathaniel Stoltz from yesterday on the state of those two positions as well).
Well, now that Quentin will be missing an extended period of time, Blanks has a blessing in disguise opportunity to prove his worth to the team in Left Field (a spot where he has played in 85 games throughout his career). Blocked at First Base by Yonder Alonso, Blanks will now have a small window to impress Black and the Coaching Staff in Left Field while Quentin is sidelined.
As a player, Blanks has quite a bit going for him. He is probably San Diego’s most potent power threat on the 40-man roster, and he is athletic enough to play some solid Defense in Left Field. Unfortunately, the issues with Blanks are what they have always been since he arrived in the big leagues: his high Strikeout/low Walk Totals, his Batting Average/OBP issues, and his overall health (elbow injury in 2010).
Pros and Cons aside, let’s cross our fingers and hope that the power hitting Blanks finds some consistency as well as a clean bill of health in 2012. Because if Blanks ends up putting all of his skills together, he could be a formidable slugger in the #4 or #5 hole for the Padres. Furthermore, a stellar performance by Blanks might even warrant him some time in Left after Quentin comes back, or even some playing time at First Base to give Alonso a rest as well.
Jesus Guzman, the Padres’ own “Swiss Army Knife,” now has an opportunity to get into the Padres’ lineup on a regular basis due to Quentin’s injury. And it is my sincere hope that the Coaching Staff will give him a chance a to play there on a consistent basis over the next couple of months.
While Guzman will likely not wow anybody with his glove work or athleticism in Left Field, he would only be playing there for one reason and one reason only: his consistent hitting. And if the Padres need anything in 2012, it’s a consistent bat to get some hits and drive in some runs in the middle of their lineup.
San Diego had one of the League’s most anemic Offense’s last season, and giving their best hitter from 2011 the most At-Bats they possibly can is a must if they wish to maintain a steady offensive output from the Left Field position in Quentin’s absence. Guzman hit .322 with 5 HR’s and 22 2B’s last season in 247 AB’s with the Padres, and finished the year with a .369 OBP. If those numbers were stretched over the entire season, Guzman would have likely led the team in every major offensive category in 2011.
Even if his numbers dip a little bit below his 2011 output, Guzman should still warrant at least a look in Left Field while Quentin is out for what he brings to the table offensively. Losing a guy which could have likely led the team in RBI’s during that span for four to six weeks is a tough pill to swallow. But Guzman could provide some stability in the #4 or #5 slot, and at least help San Diego while Quentin is on the mend.
Had he also been healthy, Quentin’s injury could have provided “Super-Sub” Chris Denorfia with a chance for some extra playing time. Unfortunately, Denorfia must work out a back issue which he is beginning to slowly return from at this very moment. Injury aside, Denorfia is still a valuable part of San Diego’s roster, and if he comes back healthy could indeed see some extended playing time with Quentin on the bench.
Denorfia has plenty of experience playing Left Field for the Padres, and has played in 77 games at that position over the last two seasons. Added to his experience in the field, Denorfia is not a liability at the plate either. While he does not possess the power or run producing offensive output of a Carlos Quentin, he can bat at either the top or the bottom of the batting order, and most importantly can get on base (.335 and .337 OBP in 2010 and 2011).
Deno’s health is the most important thing which the Padres must keep in mind though. Even if he is unable to contribute a great deal over the next couple of months, we should not fret. Denorfia’s presence and versatility will be needed come June, July, and hopefully August, and he will likely be filling in all over the Outfield when he is needed. Nevertheless, it would be nice to have him at 100%, because he would have been a really viable option right now.
Even though Kotsay has had more big league experience at First Base, and in Right and Center Fields, he could be asked to go above and beyond over the next month and spend more time in Left Field. Kotsay had himself a decent season in 2011 for Milwaukee, and made the most of his playing time as a backup. In 233 At-Bats, Kotsay hit .270 with 3 HR’s, 31 RBI’s, and logged a .329 OBP.
Kotsay’s experience and leadership should not be discounted, and he could be a nice spot-starter if the Padres need to give Blanks or whoever is playing in Left an off-day. I still believe that Kotsay will see most of his work at First Base and in Right Field, but he should not be an afterthought just yet when considering options for Quentin’s replacement. All I know is that I am hoping that the 36 year old crafty veteran still has something left in the tank, because he could really help this team in their time of need right now.
It’s a shame that the Padres will lose their staring Left Fielder for such an extended period of time. The pop which he could have provided in the middle of the lineup would have been terrific, and he could have likely protected young Yonder Alonso in the batting order as well. And hey, Quentin’s stats from 2011 sure could have helped San Diego’s lineup this season.
Disappointment aside, its time for those behind Quentin to make up for his loss in the coming weeks. Whether it’s Blanks, Guzman, Denorfia, Kotsay or any combination of the four, there is no time for panicking and no time to complain. There’s an open spot in Left Field for the time being, and somebody needs to fill it, pronto.
My hope is that Blanks seizes this opportunity and realizes his terrific potential. He has all the tools and the athleticism to be a solid Left Fielder, and now it’s time for him to put them to good use. In the event Blanks does not win the job outright, I have faith that Guzman, Denorfia, and even Kotsay can play some solid ball until mid-May.
So keep a close eye on what develops Padres fans. Sure, Quentin may be out for a bit, but the proverbial show must go on and the games must keep on being played. Let us look at this situation at least positively and hope that someone steps up until Quentin returns. But most of all, let us hope that San Diego will play some fantastic baseball this season.
(Stats Provided By: www.baseball-reference.com)