Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Top 10 Things to Look For This Season

The Padres head to China today for the first MLB game to ever be played in China. It's an exciting trip and once I hear how it goes, you will know!

But for now, the season is near, the Spring is in full swing (pun intended!) and it's time to take a cursory view of the Padres as they get ready for the 2008 campaign. So, without further adieu, here are the Top 10 Things to Look For This Season:

10) Chris Young - For half the year, Chris Young was a Cy Young candidate. He had a record of 9-3 with an ERA below 2.00 heading into the All-Star Break. Then he hurt his oblique and lost 5 in a row. The biggest concern for Young is pitch count. Last season he only got through the 7th inning twice, typically leaving in the 6th. His walks were a career high last year which lead to very high pitch counts. Did this lead to his injury and his subsequent swoon? Young is a legit number 2 starter, but this year the pitch count has to come down.

9) Iguchi vs Antonelli - Matt Antonelli is the heir apparent to the Padres second base position and at this point the question isn't if but when. Iguchi was signed to a 1 year deal to play second but if Antonelli continues to impress in the Spring, how long will the Padres wait. It's safe to say that if Antonelli isn't the starter by September of this season, he will be by this time next season.

8) Catchers, Catcher Everywhere - The Padres appear to be going with the catcher-by-committee strategy this year with Josh Bard and Michael Barrett. Three years ago Barrett was one of the most prolific offensive catchers in the NL. That offense has wanned considerably recently. What both catchers lack is an ability to throw out base-stealers. The Padres were dead last in the NL last year in throwing out would-be base stealers.

7) Koooooooz! - Kouzmanoff's rookie season started off pretty much as bad as any player can expect. He hit well below .200 in the first month of the season and but for the lack of a third base option, Kouz would have likely been sent back down to Portland. Then something clicked and Kouz went off, batting well over .340 for the rest of the season and becoming a staple in the middle of the Padres lineup. Now we are on the cusp of his sophomore season, can he keep the momentum from last year going?

6) Peavy, Young, Maddox and then...who? - The bottom of the rotation is up for grabs with some intriguing options all around. Justin Germano appears to be the presumed 4th/5th starter leaving the final spot open between Randy Wolf, Shawn Estes and Mark Prior. Estes has been shaky during the Spring so far, giving up at least 4 runs in just over 3 innings pitched so far. Randy Wolf is returning from elbow surgery and it is unclear whether he will be ready to go by Opening Day. Then there is Mark Prior. The Padres have spent little on him ($1 million plus incentives) and the potential is high. In 2003, Prior was the elite NL starter. Then Bartman happened, then a rash of injuries, some of the freaky variety, destroyed the next two seasons. Now he is in San Diego, rehabbing again, and is set to be ready to play by June. If he can play, Prior may turn out to be the steal of the Winter. If he can't...the Padres will play their third straight season without a definitive 5th starter.

5) Khalil Greene's Contract - The Padres were able to resign Greene this off-season but it wasn't without some controversy. The contract is not for the length desired by San Diego and has left some wondering if Greene wants to be in San Diego long term. His dislike for Petco is well-documented, however, that did not keep him from leading San Diego in RBI's, Doubles, and HR's last year and earning Team MVP honors. Will the contract issues be a distraction this year?

4) Jim Edmonds Knee - Kevin Towers has made a reputation for himself in getting prime players past their prime in an attempt to bring them back to their glory days. Jim Edmonds is the latest adventure, brought here to replace Mike Cameron. It wasn't to long ago Edmonds was an All-Star and, when healthy, he is considered one of the best defensive CF's in the league. When healthy...Edmonds is already plagued by a sore knee and is expected to miss 2-3 weeks. CF back-up plans are few and far between for San Diego, essentially beginning with Scott Hairston. The Padres are working some prospects out at center so far but the question remains, how much will we get out of Edmonds?

3) Hangover from Denver - The Padres went to Milwaukee last year having to win 2 of 4 to win the Wild Card. Tony Gwynn Jr. hit his infamous triple and ultimately the Padres found themselves in a 1-game playoff with the suddenly streaking Rockies. Hairston's HR in the 13th inning appeared to have propelled the Padres to the playoffs, only to have it taken away with MLB's All-Time Saves Leader on the mound and a dubious safe call at home (never touched home!). The question now is, as a team, how will the Padres rebound from such a disappointing ending to a season. At 41, how much does Hoffman have left and can he shake the two blown saves to end the season?

2) Revamped NL West - The Diamondbacks got Dan Haren, the Dodgers got Joe Torre and Andruw Jones and the Rockies hung on to their nucleus. The NL West is far more competitive this year and some may argue that the Padres have done little to help their situation. Still, Kevin Tower's predicts only 90 wins will carry the Division. Can San Diego hit that magic number?

1) Left Field - A month ago I wrote about this and not much has changed except now the Padres may need a CF as well. Hairston once again leads in the LF competition but the Padres are attempting to figure out a way to get Chase Headley into their lineup. A third baseman by trade, Headley has been playing LF in the Spring and will likely continue to play LF for Portland to start the year. Over/under on Headley being a Padre: mid-May. So who will play left? Your guess is as good as mine right now.

No comments: