Catching Shortage





SAN DIEGO—Nick Hundley is the Padres' catcher of the future, but management still thinks the 26-year-old is a work in progress.

Last season, the Padres brought in veteran Henry Blanco to mentor Hundley and stashed Eliezer Alfonso at Triple-A Portland as injury insurance. And while Hundley made strides, he was limited to 78 games because of a broken wrist, so Blanco and Alfonso saw considerable major league action.

Still, both walked away after the season, leaving the Padres searching for help. Attempts to sign a veteran backup failed, so they acquired Dusty Ryan from the Tigers for a player to be named and signed free agent Chris Stewart to a minor league deal.

"Catching was a top priority," manager Bud Black said. "You saw what happened to Nick last year with the injury. Blanco did a great job, and we would have liked to keep him, but it didn't work out. And Alfonso elected free agency.

"So we had to get Nick some help."

Ryan, a 48th-round pick of the Tigers in 2003, has played in 27 major league games—15 in 2008 and 12 last season. At 6-foot-4, he's a big man, and he has some pop, having hit .257/.359/.455 with 10 homers in 63 games last year at Triple-A Toledo.

Stewart, who is also 6-foot-4, was a 12th-round pick by the White Sox in 2001. He has played in the big leagues with the White Sox, Rangers and Yankees, but has just 24 games of big league experience.

There is little immediate catching help in the Padres system. Jose Lobaton, who appeared in seven games for the Padres last season, is a player Black likes. Mitch Canham caught 111 games for Double-A San Antonio, hitting .263/.339/.371, but has serious defensive deficiencies to address.

FATHER FIGURES

• The Padres hired Jason McLeod, who grew up in San Diego and played his high school ball at Rancho Buena Vista High, as vice president/assistant general manager. McLeod worked for the Padres from 1994-2003 before joining the Red Sox. Most recently, he was Boston's scouting director.

• A few days after McLeod rejoined the Padres, Chris Gwynn was promoted from professional scout to director of player personnel. Roberts was named special assistant to baseball operations and Josh Stein was promoted to director of baseball operations. Jaron Matthews became scouting director.