Since his Padres debut halfway through last season, it feels like we’ve all been waiting for Jesus Guzman to float back down to mediocrity. After all, the odds are stacked against him. He’s a flakey fielder, he’s a 27-year old rookie, and he’s listlessly bounced the minors for 5 years before being acquired by the Padres after the Giants unceremoniously cut him back in 2009.
Forgive us for not expecting much.
Since then he became the de facto bat in the ’11 Padres’ infamously anemic offense, and was speculatively one of the justifying reasons to deal slugging 1st base prospect Anthony Rizzo out to the Cubs in the off-season. The expected tepidness has been invisible, and his spot in the starting lineup is more than deserved.
Still, it’s difficult thinking of Guzman as the future, but maybe that’s our own prejudices. It’s really hard to get excited about someone in their late 20s emerging as a key lineup component, especially when you’ve already been passed up by plenty of teams. Baseball is a game long-term development; Guzman’s current renaissance seems like a textbook case of a brief, happenstance hot streak.
Here’s what we do know. Until Carlos Quentin arrives, Jesus Guzman remains the primary slugging threat in a bad Padres offense. So far he’s racked up 4 hits, one in each of the opening games against the Dodgers, two of which were doubles. He’s a line drive hitter, ideal for Petco’s infamous ability to knock down fly balls, and he’s kept a solid 15 percent strikeout rate throughout his 2011 campaign. He’s the closest the Padres have come to a power-oriented, slow-but-solid batting presence since Adrian Gonzalez left, and remains the organization’s biggest RBI threat. If anything else, the 2012 Padres will certainly win more games with him than without him, but that doesn’t really mean Guzman is here to stay.
The Padres are entering that peculiar place in franchise development where there’s significant hope for the future in a top-5 farm system, but little reason to invest for the next two years or so. Bartlett, Hudson, Street, Moseley – most of the starters are placeholders and trading-block fodder. Guzman provides a unique hangup because he was never meant to be a potential everyday player. It’s an interesting conundrum, the Padres could continue to develop him into a middle-of-the-lineup anchor, or deal him for more touted tools for the future. There’s no easy answer. The front office certainly hasn’t been shy about dealing prospects recently, Rizzo is a Cub and Latos is a Red, but Guzman actually played the way we’d hope Rizzo would play.
Personally I’m hedging that he stays, simply because the Padres want to win in a very specific way. Petco Park is built for great pitching, and smart, manufactured runs. If Guzman tapers off into a .260, 15 HR guy with a decent glove, he’ll fill his role beautifully. Maybe it’s because we haven’t seen the Padres with a solid bat for a long time, but he seems like the kind of hitter the club should be looking for. His repertoire and age might have us anticipating a breakdown, but he keeps us waiting longer with every swing.
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