During the Padres' 2009 season, San Diegoans had a difficult time deciphering the difference between games played at the downtown PETCO Park and riding the Mission Beach “Giant Dipper” roller coaster, one of two original oceanfront roller coasters still operating on the West Coast.
After the first three series last season, the Pads found themselves tied with the Dodgers for first place at 7-3. However, as roller coaster enthusiasts well know, what goes up, must come down, and the Padres plummeted to a 25-25 record.
The plunge continued as the team went 17-37 in June and July, triggering the promotion of several younger players and the jettisoning of Jake Peavy’s contract.
From Aug. 1 onward, however, the Pads were one of the best teams in baseball, finishing with a 33-25 record over the last two months, and of equal importance, leaving the Friar Faithful with renewed optimism.
Although they are moving in an upward direction, the youthful Friars have plenty of obstacles en route back to their first playoff appearance since 2006. The good news is that there is plenty to build upon.
Many Friar aficionados did not expect to see Adrian Gonzalez in a Padres uniform before the trading deadline last season, let alone still lurking on first base and penciled in the three-hole for Opening Day 2010.
The discount days from Gonzalez’s contract in the Texas Rangers robbery are quickly becoming a thing of the past. Many now believe the question to be not a matter of if, but when the San Diego native will be traded.
Gonzalez has two years remaining on a contract that will pay him $4.75 million this season and somewhere close to $6 million in 2011.
No disrespect to food services, but the concession attendant could tell you Adrian has outplayed his contract.
While the departure of the Gold Glove, hometown hero appears imminent, San Diego should take a second look at what the mid-market Minnesota Twins just awarded Joe Mauer, their own home-grown, power-hitting, Gold Glove talent.
The fifth and final spot in the Friar rotation is up for grabs.
Right-handers Sean Gallagher, Mat Latos, and Tim Stauffer, and left-handers Wade LeBlanc and Cesar Ramos are all in the mix.
Mat Latos, the 6'6" 20-year-old, appears to have the inside track.
Had 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).
With fewer than 250 professional innings under his belt though, growing pains are inevitable.
At least he has the spacious PETCO Park to grow up in.
Oh, how people in San Diego want to see Tony Gwynn Jr. succeed.
After all, there is a bordering street called Tony Gwynn Drive and a statue of his old man in center field.
But the truth is: How many 27-year-olds with a career minor league line of .275, .349, and .345 go on to have meaningful careers?
Center field is Gwynn’s for now. With Kyle Blanks and Will Venable figured to be everyday fixtures in right and left field, respectively, Scott Hairston waits for his second term of service.
Gwynn has good speed and a good batting eye, but he has not shown his ability to prove his speed on the bases or in the field.
We may have already seen his peak.
The Fathers had the lowest batting average in the National League (.242) and averaged less than four runs per game on offense.
They need to find other ways to manufacture runs.
Former speedster Dave Roberts, who was brought in as a special assistant to work with baserunners, is doing his best to change just that.
Going into Sunday's game against the Rangers, the Padres had more stolen bases (28) than any other team this spring. The Minnesota Twins were second with 24.
With speedsters such as Everth Cabrera and Tony Gwynn, the Padres will look for Chase Headley, Will Venable, and even the 270-pound Kyle Blanks to change gears for 2010.
Blanks has two stolen bases and legged out two triples so far this spring.
The team lacks power. That, combined with the expansive PETCO Park, means the Friars will need to kick it out of neutral in order to put some tallies on the scoreboard.
When the 2009 campaign came to an end, Chase Headley knew a change was coming.
The path back to his natural position, third base, is now officially clear. Expectations and a refining of the hot-corner skill set were the main obstacles in his way.
Headley’s move back to third base is the result of the offseason trade of Kevin Kouzmanoff, who was dealt to the Oakland Athletics in large part to bring back the aforementioned Scott Hairston.
Hairston’s outfield presence allows the Padres—and first-year general manager Jed Hoyer—to see what the 25-year-old Headley is capable of in his first full season at his natural position.
The two-year outfield experiment is over. There was plenty of time to watch the grass grow in the outfield, but there is no time for daydreaming 90 feet away from major league hitters.
Despite having played third base all through high school, college, and the minor leagues, Headley has only played the position in 40 of 225 career games.
Headley has a spring training session to reacquaint himself in a familiar setting.
In other words, his time is now.