Zaun As In Gone

Veteran's retirement opens spots for prospects





PEORIA, Ariz.—Finally, the Padres' No. 1 catching job belongs to Nick Hundley. No more splitting or sharing with a seasoned veteran. Gregg Zaun had been brought in as a veteran backup but decided to retire, and Rob Johnson is an insurance policy, likely to end up at Triple-A Tucson. But with Zaun retired and Johnson nursing minor injuries early in camp, some of the organization's top catching prospects—Luis Martinez and Jason Hagerty as well as free-agent signee Jason Phillips—were getting long looks.

And Zaun, a 15-year veteran, took it upon himself to mentor the youngsters.

"I didn't even have to ask him," said Martinez, who hit .282/.368/.349 at Double-A San Antonio. "He came up to me and saw I was coming this way with the ball. He told me to get more on the left side and to bring the ball into my body and into the zone instead of outside of the zone. It was priceless."

Hagerty, San Diego's No. 10 prospect, was drafted in the fifth round out of Miami in 2009 and hit .302/.423/.494 with 14 homers and 74 RBIs at low Class A Fort Wayne last season. A baby in the catching department, Hagerty was the star of the organization's winter camp at Petco Park. He, too, spoke highly of Zaun.

"You can see the personality he takes toward every different guy," Hagerty said. "Pitchers all have different personalities, and as catchers we have to learn them. Greg's about fun, but in a business way. That makes it easier on the pitchers so they don't have to stress so much."

Zaun said there is a fine line between a veteran offering advice and coming off as a know-it-all old-timer.

"I make sure they know I'm an engaging person and I'll talk to them and impart any kind of wisdom or experience I have to them, and hopefully it helps," Zaun said. "I really do get a big kick out of seeing a guy take something I said and it makes him a better ballplayer faster. That really gives me a big thrill."

FATHER FIGURES

• The club invited 30 prospects to a 15-day mini-camp  before minor league reporting day. The camp was designed to educate players who will be in their first full year of pro ball, players who are candidates to jump a level or players making a position change.

• Young pitchers Juan Oramas and Craig Italiano were sidelined early in camp with shoulder problems.