When your favorite team is projected to finish below the .500 mark, it’s the nature of fandom to look beyond the current year and into the future to see greener pastures.
As an A’s fan, I’ve been looking to the 2011 season since 2008. The optimism for the Padres organization is directed similarly.
Of course, nobody wants to sit on their hands for half a decade (or more, if you like the Royals or Pirates) waiting for “the next big thing” to finally arrive.
I thought I’d briefly take a look at some of the players who might satisfy this need. Essentially, what players who have not worn a Padres uniform yet (so that excludes guys like Matt Antonelli and Ernesto Frieri) have a solid chance of being contributors to the team in 2010?
I’ve discussed the immediate future of Logan Forsythe quite a bit already; he’ll open 2010 at Triple-A. He’s an OBP-oriented infielder with average power and good defensive skills. He could take over for an ineffective David Eckstein at second or serve as a utility player for the 2010 Padres, coming up as early as June if needed.
Simon Castro spent last year at Low-A Fort Wayne, but rates as the organization’s top pitching prospect. Club officials have been raving about him all spring, and there have been plenty of Mat Latos comparisons thrown around. The Padres pushed Latos from Fort Wayne to San Diego in just a couple of months last year; Castro should start at Double-A and be on a similarly aggressive timetable if all goes well. A power pitcher with a fall-off-the-table slider, he could get eased in in a relief role in the second half, much like Joba Chamberlain and Neftali Feliz have been in recent years.
Outfielder Chad Huffman bopped 20 Triple-A homers last season. Huffman has the ability to play first base and both outfield corners. With a career .385 OBP in the minors, as well as a .524 slugging percentage against lefties, he could have some use in a similar role to Oscar Salazar–righty pinch-hitter and corner utility player.
I’ve mentioned the prowess of reliever Brandon Gomes, who was the only reliever in all of minor league baseball to record 100 strikeouts in 2009. He’ll start the year as a key man in the Triple-A bullpen.
I may be skeptical of Cory Luebke, but he’ll enter the year in the Portland rotation, and if he throws well, he could find himself up at midseason.
Switch-hitting shortstop Lance Zawadzki will be Portland’s everyday shortstop in 2010, and could become the Padres’ primary infield reserve if injuries hit any of the current middle infielders. Zawadzki has strong contact, plate discipline, baserunning, and defensive skills, and could be a solid everyday player very soon.
Evan Scribner is another reliever coming off a strong year at Double-A; his curveball is inconsistent, but it’s a big league out pitch when it’s on. He could be the Triple-A closer this year, waiting for a big league opportunity.
No doubt, some other prospects may step forward as well, but those are the ones I’ll be watching early in the year with regards to major league readiness.