San Diego Padres Spring into Action: Cactus League Play Approaches

Darren FeeneyCorrespondent IFebruary 25, 2010

SAN DIEGO, CA - SEPTEMBER 30:  Everth Cabrera #1 of the San Diego Chargers is congratulated on scoring after being called to home by the umpire after third-baseman Mark Loretta #5 of the Los Angeles Dodgers impeded his movement with his legs during the MLB game between the Los Angeles Dodger and the San Diego Padres at Petco Park on September 30, 2009 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)
Donald Miralle/Getty Images

2009 was a tough year for San Diego Padres fans, starting with getting used to not watching the all-time save leader Trevor Hoffman close out games and then their ace, Jake Peavy, was sent to the Chicago White Sox midseason. 

The release of the longest tenured general manager in MLB would follow, as Kevin Towers made way for 36-year-old Jed Hoyer, former assistant GM of the Boston Red Sox.  The question becomes will the Padres blend together quickly enough to compete in the National League West this year? 

Peoira, Arizona is the onset of where all Padres team chemistry will begin to develop, a Spring Training destination they have called home for the past six years.  The Peoria Sports Complex is home to San Diego Padres and Seattle Mariners during Cactus League play.  With Cactus play approaching on March 4 against Seattle, there are notable elements to keep an eye on this Spring.

The Youth Movement          

San Diego looks for 23-year-old shortstop Everth Cabrera to excel in his first full season as a starter.  Cabrera, took a unique route to the majors, never playing an inning beyond Class-A ball and drafted in the Rule-V draft.  Thank you, Colorado.

Nicaragua’s 2009 Professional Athlete of the Year will be catalyst to ultimate success of the Padres in 2010.  Once on base Everth can be a true game changer.  He stole 25 bases in his rookie season, led the minors in steals in 2008, with 73.  He ended his rookie campaign with a .255/.342/.703 line and an OPS+ of 98. 

For comparison's sake: in his first three seasons in the MLB, Jose Reyes had an average OPS+ of 83.  By no means does this indicate Cabrera will be the player Reyes is, yet his first season has definitely shown future promise for his bat.

Had Mat Latos stayed in the minors for all of 2009, he would likely be one of the top 10 prospects in baseball.  Before a bumpy 10 starts with the Padres, Latos displayed his electric stuff in nine starts for Double-A San Antonio (1.91 ERA, 46 Ks and a .192 BAA in 47 innings). The 6-foot-6 power righty comes into spring with inside track to win last rotation spot.

Latos, 22, will look to silence any lingering questions with a strong spring campaign and remove any lingering questions on whether he’s ready to start 2010 in the majors. Sean Gallagher, acquired from A’s last July, should fill more of a swing man role during season.

Headley and the Hot Corner

When last season ended, not many members of the Friar Faithful or the Friars themselves thought both Chase Headley and Kevin Kouzmanoff would be teammates in 2010.  The trade of Kouzmanoff to Oakland—for outfielders Scott Hairston and Aaron Cunningham—officially moves Headley back to third base.

Headley returns from last season’s outfield experiment, a position where the Padres have far better candidates, and returns to his natural position Headley has only played third base in 40 of 225 career games, despite having played the position throughout high school, college and the minor leagues.  

The Padres moved Headley to left field in an attempt to get him into the everyday lineup. He adapted well but says he always felt like he was playing out of position.  San Diego will need Headley to tune up his offensive potency in Peoira, in addition to his hot corner skill set, if the Padres can tread water in the NL West.

San Diego ends Cactus league play March 31 against the Kansas City Royals.