Padres manager Bud Black looks to improve on his team's 90-72 finish in 2010, which won him the NL Manager of the Year award.
The only constant in life is change. The San Diego Padres and their fans are certainly finding this to be true after the heartbreaking end to their 2010 season.
Two months after the season-ending defeat to eventual-champion San Francisco on the season's final day, the Padres made the move most Friar fans saw as inevitable. Homegrown superstar Adrian Gonzalez was shipped away to Boston, and the future seemed uncertain.
However, it has become clear that the Padres front-office, led by general manager Jed Hoyer and owner Jeff Moorad, were spending no time wallowing in small-market self pity.
San Diego quickly got to work in re-shaping their lineup, which clearly needed attention after the latest in a line of seasons with poor offensive output.
So what should Padres fans expect this season? Well, for one thing, they can expect a litany of change. Of course, change doesn't have to be a bad thing.
2010 vs. 2011 = Slight edge to 2010
Catcher Nick Hundley only played in 85 games after the signing of Yorvit Torrealba to be the "backup" prior to the 2010 campaign. The move clearly signified the Padres' feeling that Hundley may not have been ready to shoulder the load of a clear-cut starter for a whole season.
Another year older and another year more developed is Hundley, who ended last season hitting .249 with eight homers and a .418 SLG percentage.
However on a team like the Padres, who lead with pitching and defense, he will be expected to take on a leadership role and to do the small things that winning teams expect from their defensive backstop.
Hundley ended the season with a .994 fielding percentage, allowing only six passed balls, both of which are respectable but the Padres will be hoping he can continue to improve throwing out base runners.
Few teams know the importance of the stolen base like the Padres, and Hundley does have some trouble in stopping potential base stealers.
Bad news: in 2010, Hundley only threw out 29 percent of runners. Good news: That was almost a full 10 percent increase from 2009. If he can continue to improve even a little bit, it would be a long-awaited addition to his game.
In 2011, Hundley should be a capable full-time catcher and should not be a worry for Padre fans.
2010 vs 2011 = 2010
Hawpe struggled while ending his season in Tampa Bay, but Padres fans don't focus on that portion of his career.
Long known as a Padre killer, Hawpe actually has excelled in arguably the most pitcher-friendly park in MLB over the years. In 42 career games in San Diego, he has hit .282 with five homers. Not exactly the worst numbers PETCO Park veterans have ever seen.
Now that Hawpe has the unenviable task of replacing Adrian Gonzalez, one can guarantee he won't be worrying about matching the slugger's numbers that Padre fans grew accustomed to seeing.
Of course, Padre fans should be fair in their expectations from Hawpe this season, and will probably be satisfied with any kind of output over .270 and more than 20 homers.
Also lingering behind Hawpe is prospect Kyle Blanks, a big, powerful prospect whose 6'6", 270 pound stature certainly gives him the potential to be the power bat of the future in San Diego, but injuries have hampered his progress, including Tommy John surgery he underwent last summer.
2010 vs 2011 = 2011
Before Hudson signed with Minnesota last winter, Padres fans had a hunch that the team should go out and sign him, believing he would fit in with the new style of play the Friars have generated with timely hitting, defense, stolen bases, etc.
Now a year later, it's clear the front office agrees.
Although some feel Hudson may be losing a little bit of his speed and explosiveness on the field, the now 34-year-old has still stolen 33 bases is 40 attempts over the last four seasons. Expect those numbers to jump in the steal-happy Padre offense.
David Eckstein was loved by Padre fans, but the bottom line was that an upgrade was necessary and Hudson instantly provides one. Expect the "O-Dog" to naturally fit in with the Padres and provide a boost at second base as part of San Diego's revamped infield.
2010 vs 2011 = slight edge for 2011
If Miguel Tejada was a Padre for the entire season, I would feel compelled to say last year's shortstop scenario was better than this year's will be, but, as a whole Bartlett will provide an upgrade over the Tejada/Everth Cabrera/Jerry Hairston trio from 2010.
Cabrera still returns as a speedy utility infielder, but his role will be as a backup to Bartlett and Hudson until needed in a greater capacity.
Bartlett struggled in St. Pete last season in comparison to the recent years prior, including his breakout 2009 campaign, but the addition should, much like Hudson at second base, provide a steady presence up the middle infield that the Padres have been missing over the last several years.
Although Bartlett is aging a little at 31, the Padres believe he can provide a veteran attitude and carry some of his winning experience with the Rays to San Diego, for a team that is built very similar to his previous club.
2010 vs 2011 = Even
Headley is entering his second season as a full-time third baseman, moving to his natural position after an experimental couple of seasons in left field while Kevin Kouzmanoff was manning the hot corner.
Few players. if any, stir up more debate among the Friar Faithful than Headley does, and it came as a surprise to many when he was brought back on a one-year deal. It's most likely a 'put up' or 'shut up' year for Headley as he has now been given solid players to join him in the lineup.
Most of the concern regarding Headley has been his offensive inconsistency since breaking into the big leagues in 2008 as the Padres' most highly touted prospect. As a switch-hitter, he has been much more productive from the left side of the plate while maintaining an overall average in the .260s in each of his three seasons.
After showing occasional flashes of power over the last couple of seasons, the Padres and their fans hope that he will be more consistent and more of a slugging and/or RBI threat with more opportunities for runners to get on base in front of him.
Jorge Cantu was signed as a backup at third base, so expect plenty of pressure to perform on Headley this season. Again.
2010 vs 2011 = 2011
Ludwick struggled as a Padre after being traded in a deadline deal from St. Louis, but for anyone believing he might make excuses, that won't be happening.
After coming back to San Diego via one-year deal in free agency, Ludwick has been quick to place accountability on himself for his struggles with the Padres, hitting .211 with an OBP of .301 with six home runs.
At the end of 2010, Ludwick was in right field and has been shifted to left field for the spring heading into 2011. The outfield for San Diego will look different this season and, like the infield, was revamped to provide more consistency and to put a stop to the "playing by committee" strategy the Padres were stuck with, not only last season, but in seasons prior.
Utility outfielders Chris Denorfia and Aaron Cunningham are returning this spring to provide backup help in the spacious Petco outfield, but don't expect either to see as much playing time as they saw last season.
2010 vs 2011 = 2011
Although Cameron Maybin had a little bit of "Chase Headley Syndrome" in Florida, he is still an upgrade and likely consistent presence in center field.
Maybin came over to San Diego in an off-season trade which saw relievers Ryan Webb and Edward Mujica shipped to the Marlins in exchange for the athletic center fielder who the Padres hope will be able to tap into more of the 23 year-old's potential. He will actually begin the season as a 23-year-old but turns 24 on April 4.
Although Maybin only hit .238 and .250 in the last two seasons while playing sporadically, many in the Padres organization feel he will excel in the team's system of small ball and athleticism, especially among its outfielders.
He is replacing Tony Gwynn Jr, who was a fan favorite for obvious reasons, but despite has defensive prowess, was simply unable to find any offensive consistency and the team needed to make a move.
Expect Maybin to improve and be more consistent as he grows in San Diego.
2010 vs 2011 = Even
Venable isn't a new face in the outfield, but he is going into the spring as the surefire bet to start in right field when the season begins.
Arguably the most athletic player on the team, Venable is a rare blend of speed, defense, smarts, and power when he is firing on all cylinders. In 2010, he established himself as a legitimate force in the Padre outfield and is now just looking to be more consistent at the plate.
Perhaps his most valuable asset is his speed. Able to cover ground in PETCO Park is a must, and the ex-basketball player at Princeton has definitely shown that he has the speed to do so. He has also proven to be a force to be reckoned with on the base paths, stealing 36 bases in 45 tries over his short career.
Ironically, although Venable only hit .245 last season as a whole, he hit .299 in 29 games as a leadoff hitter. It will be interesting to see where he hits in the lineup to begin the season with all the additions the team has made.
2010 vs 2011 = Even
Predicting the starting rotation from last year against the potential in 2011 is not an easy task.
San Diego's starting pitching came from nowhere to rank fifth in MLB in ERA at 3.73, but gone are Jon Garland and oft-injured Chris Young.
While the numbers last year look great, the bottom line is that the Padres were heavily-reliant on young arms like Mat Latos (pictured) and Clayton Richard. Latos is becoming more known around the league, and with good reason.
From May 1 to September 1, Latos racked up a cumulative ERA under 2 and was only the second pitcher in MLB history to allow two runs or less in 15 consecutive starts. Among those starts was a near perfect game in San Francisco in May, in which the Giants only hit was a bang-bang play at first base.
Latos is not the Padres' only young arm who has been impressive, and looks to be even more so this season. Lefty Clayton Richard, who was acquired in 2009 in the Jake Peavy deal with the White Sox, has been largely effective in the San Diego rotation. Richard went 14-9 with 20 quality starts and a 3.75 ERA in 2010 and looks to improve upon those numbers this season.
Tim Stauffer is a wild card in the rotation this season, coming off a productive season in which he made 25 relief appearances along with seven starts. As a whole in 2010, Stauffer's final numbers were 6-5 and 1.85 ERA in 82.2 innings. A small sample size, but enough to believe that he could be a consistent starter in the middle of the Padre rotation.
San Diego local Aaron Harang was signed in the off season from Cincinnati and, although his ERA in 2010 ballooned over five, he is expected to gain a spot in the rotation, probably in the fourth spot.
Youngsters Wade LeBlanc and Cory Leubke seem to be the leading candidates to battle for the fifth and final spot in the rotation.
For what the Padres lost in Garland and Young, they might have made up for in the continued development of three very solid young starters.
2010 vs 2011 = Even
The Padres got a big victory in re-signing closer Heath Bell, and keeping arguably the best back end relief pitching in the league together.
As a whole, San Diego led MLB in relief ERA last year at a tremendously small 2.88, and the key pieces return. Seventh inning specialist Luke Gregerson, Eighth inning set-up man Mike Adams, and eccentric closer Heath Bell expect to match their numbers from last season and it would not be surprising to see.
If there were any noticeable weak links in the Padre bullpen, one may argue that they were Ryan Webb and Edward Mujica. Not only did the Padres get rid of them, they packaged them in the trade that sent Cameron Maybin to San Diego.
A potentially key signing for the bullpen was Chad Qualls, the veteran reliever who, although his stats were less than stellar last season, is still a career under-4 ERA pitcher.
Another reliever to keep an eye on is flame-throwing right hander Ernesto Frieri, who came onto the scene in San Diego late in the season and allowed only six earned runs and 41 strikeouts in 31.1 innings.
2011 Prediction: 85-77
Although the Padres won 90 games last season, their success was largely predicated on pitching and hitting at timely moments.
This season, the new-look Padres have the potential to be a much better overall team, but whether or not the club can remain healthy and play well in the division remains to be seen.
Little known fact: Since July 28, 2009, the Padres overall record is 127-97.