Padres Have Many Question Marks, but Ability to Turn Some Heads

Michael CullenCorrespondent IApril 5, 2009

TUCSON, AZ - MARCH 09:   Kevin Kouzmanoff #5 of the San Diego Padres runs the bases to score against the Arizona Diamondbacks during a Spring Training game at Tucson Electric Park on March 9, 2009 in Tucson, Arizona.  (Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)

The Padres are projected by most accounts to finish fifth in the NL West this season and be one of the worst teams in the majors. However, there are still reasons for hope.

If not, former Cy Young winner Jake Peavy and veteran Brian Giles will almost certainly be dealt before the trade deadline.

For the first time since the Padres moved into Petco Park in downtown San Diego, their offense may actually be an asset. 

Look for Adrian Gonzalez to continue his All-Star ways and hit between 35-40 homers. However, unlike seasons past, he has a better supporting role around him.

The progression of sophomores Chase Headley (LF) and Nick Hundley (C), as well as Kevin Kouzmanoff (3B) in his third full season, is essential to the Padres staying competitive.  Both Kouzmanmoff and Headley have power, but need to get on base more consistently.

New hitting coach Jim Lefebvre is emphasizing hitting line drives and hard grounders to a team that plays half its games at a park where potential home runs usually go for fly outs.

This would greatly help players such as Kouzmanoff, who hit 23 home runs last year, but batted only .260 and had a sub-.300 OBP. In order for the Padres to have success this year, “Kouz” should heed Lefebvre’s advice.

On the pitching side, Jake Peavy needs to prove his time in the World Baseball Classic will not adversely affect his season, which it did three years ago when his season ERA ended above 4 after pitching for Team USA.

After Peavy, Princeton alum Chris Young needs to get his pitching speed back up to the high 80s for his fastball to have the same deception it has the past two seasons. It’s been 3-4 mph slower so far in spring training.

The Padres also picked up two injury-plagued starters in Kevin Correia and Shawn Hill, as well as Walter Silva from the Mexican League. Hill, when healthy, could be a very good No. 3 pitcher.

If Correia can also get over his injury-ridden season last year, he could prove very reliable. He had an ERA of 3.45 in 2006. If both these pitchers can start the season with ERA’s around 3.5, and Walter Silva can keep his ERA around 4, there is no reason the Padres should be as bad as most are predicting.

Cha Seung Baek, who was projected as the No. 3 starter, will start the season on the DL. However, if Hill and Correia pitch to their potential, and Walter Silva continues his success here in the states, Baek could return to the bullpen.

The bullpen is the aspect of this club that has the most question marks. In the bullpen, Heath Bell will shift from eighth-inning specialist to closer, where he replaces all-time saves leader Trevor Hoffman.

Outside of Bell and Cla Meredith, there are no holdovers from the bullpen last year. Duaner Sanchez, who was released by the Mets, seems to be the only other reliever guaranteed a spot.

Outside of them, the bullpen will most likely be made up of Edward Mujica, Eulogio De La Cruz, Edwin Moreno, Arturo Lopez, and possibly Luke Gregorson.

De La Cruz has the strongest arm out of the bunch but also humongous control problems. If pitching coach Darren Balsley can cut back on his walks, De La Cruz could become the seventh inning specialist quickly if Meredith falters.

It will also be vital that Duaner Sanchez return to the form he was between 2004-06 when he had a 3.31 ERA with the Dodgers and Mets.

Like starters Correia and Shawn Hill, injuries have plagued him recently. If Sanchez can overcome his injuries, he will be the eighth inning specialist.

All in all, the Padres have many question marks, but still the potential to turn some heads. Not to mention, Greg Maddux stated they have one of the best training staffs in the bigs, which will hopefully benefit the acquisitions with injury histories.