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Since Bill Gayton took over as scouting director in September 2000, the Padres have spent just three of their 30 choices in the first 10 rounds on high school players. Only the Athletics have made a stronger effort to avoid prep picks. Yet San Diego's three high school selections happen to be three of its top prospects: Barfield (fourth round, 2001), righthander David Pauley (eighth, 2001) and lefty Sean Thompson (fifth, 2002). The son of former American League home run champ Jesse Barfield, Josh turned down a Baylor scholarship to sign for $300,000. He didn't receive much hype coming out of high school, and little more when he hit better than .300 in his first two pro seasons. After a breakout 2003, Milwaukee's Rickie Weeks and Arizona's Scott Hairston are his only rivals as the top second-base prospects in the game. Barfield won MVP honors in the high Class A California League and led the minors in hits, doubles, RBIs and extra-base hits. The organization's minor league player of the year in 2003, Barfield did it all despite being bothered by a sore right wrist for much of the year. He had offseason surgery to repair ligament damage, which prevented him from playing in the Arizona Fall League. Barfield is a rare second baseman who's capable of batting third in the order. He uses his quick stroke to smoke line drives all over the field. Not only is he the best hitter in the system, but he's also the best at making adjustments. Some of his doubles will carry over the fence once he gains more strength and experience, giving him 25-homer power. Barfield isn't a speedster or a future Gold Glover, but he's a better runner and defender than most people realize. He complements average speed with fine instincts, and he has succeeded on 77 percent of his basestealing attempts in the minors. The Padres say Barfield will be able to stay at second base, where his sure hands are his best asset. Nevertheless, Barfield isn't a surefire second baseman. He shows a solid-average arm when he only has time to react, but he often makes tentative throws on routine ground balls. He's still smoothing out his footwork and his double-play pivot. If he fills out like his father, who played at 6-foot-1 and 205 pounds, Barfield may have to move to the outfield. At the plate, he tends to dive into pitches and will have to learn to turn on balls when pitchers work him inside. He could stand to draw a few more walks, though he nearly doubled his total from 27 in 2002 to 50 last year. In August, the Padres signed incumbent second baseman Mark Loretta to a two-year, $5.25 million contract extension with a vesting option for 2006. Unless Barfield's development slows considerably, however, he should be ready by mid-2005 at the latest. His wrist will be 100 percent for spring training, and he'll open 2004 at Double-A Mobile.
Undrafted out of high school and a 14th-round pick as a college junior, Greene became a first-round pick as well as BA's College Player of the Year and the Golden Spikes Award winner in 2002. He breezed through the minors and became the first position player from his draft class to reach the majors. Greene has more ability to hit for average with gap power than most middle infielders. He doesn't have the speed or arm strength of a classic shortstop, but he has enough to handle the position. Add in his tremendous hands, quick first step and uncanny instincts, and he's the system's best defensive infielder. During his September callup, Greene showed that he still faces several offensive adjustments. He must make more contact and draw more walks to realize his potential as a No. 2 hitter. The Padres are comfortable making Greene their starting shortstop in 2004. He will have growing pains, and the Padres will protect him by batting him low in the order.
Guzman, previously known as Pedro de los Santos and thought to be 21⁄2 years younger, was the most significant player uncovered in an organizational crackdown on falsified identities in the 2002-03 offseason. But his prospect status soared after he moved from high Class A Lake Elsinore to Triple-A and led the minors with 90 steals while getting caught just 17 times. Not the fastest of the organization's crop of speedsters, Guzman is the best player among them. He has a nice stroke from both sides of the plate and the patience required of a leadoff man. No one on the big league club can chase balls down in center field like him. Guzman chases pitches in the dirt and at times tries to drive the ball, which isn't his game. His arm is well below-average. He's not lazy but must learn the importance of playing hard every day. The Padres didn't have a viable center fielder until they signed Jay Payton to a two-year contract in January. His acquisition allows Guzman to spend the 2004 season in Triple-A and break into the majors as a reserve in 2005.
A two-time All-American at Richmond, Stauffer was considered the player closest to the big leagues in the 2003 draft crop. After the Padres took him fourth overall, an MRI revealed weakness in his shoulder. He admitted his condition to his team, which reduced its initial $2.6 million offer to $750,000. Stauffer's fastball usually sits no higher than 91-92 mph, but it's an out pitch because of its outstanding life. His curveball and changeup are plus pitches, and his cutter gives him another solid option. He commands all four offerings for strikes. His honesty reinforced the Padres' belief that he has special makeup. Stauffer's shoulder obviously is worrisome. The good news is that he hasn't required surgery and San Diego hoped to have him ready for spring training. But until he gets on a mound, shows his former stuff and proves he can stay healthy, he's a question mark. Before his shoulder problems, Stauffer might have gone from the draft to San Diego as quickly as Khalil Greene. Now it's impossible to set any kind of timetable. The Padres will monitor him closely this spring before determining a game plan for 2004.
All-star Trevor Hoffman should be healthy after missing most of 2003 recovering from two shoulder surgeries, and Rod Beck filled in well in Hoffman's absence. Nevertheless, the Padres fortified their bullpen by adding another accomplished closer during the offseason. Otsuka became the fourth Japanese major leaguer to come to the United States via the posting process. San Diego bid $300,000 to win the rights to negotiate with Otsuka, then signed him for two years and $1.5 million, plus either a $1.75 million option or $200,000 buyout in 2006. The Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes actually posted Otsuka following the 2002 season, but no U.S. teams bid for his rights and he suspected the Buffaloes front office sabotaged the process. He held out last spring until he was traded to the Chunichi Dragons, for whom he split closing duties with former Tiger and Devil Ray Eddie Gaillard. Otsuka's out pitch is a diving slider that Padres general manager Kevin Towers compared to Robb Nen's. His control is impeccable, as shown by his gaudy 56-5 strikeout-walk ratio in 2003. Otsuka throws a solid-average fastball that he locates with precision, though it lacks much movement. His changeup is an effective pitch and he also has a splitter. It will be a surprise if Otsuka doesn't succeed as a set-up man. With Hoffman and Beck getting up in years and battling injuries, Otsuka is the Padres' closer of the future.
Howard was the lone survivor of a February 2002 car crash that killed Padres outfielder Mike Darr and another passenger. He missed a month in 2003 after arthroscopic surgery on his left knee before pitching creditably after a late-August callup. Before he hurt his elbow in June 2002, Howard could touch 99 mph with his fastball. He now sits in the low 90s and tops out around 95. His slider has improved, and his changeup looked better than ever in the majors. He trusted it more under the guidance of pitching coach Darren Balsley, who turned his career around when they were in the minors together. Howard has trouble repeating his delivery, so his command fluctuates. He has dialed down his velocity to throw more strikes, but gives up too many walks and homers when he's off. In the minors, he threw his changeup too hard and didn't use it enough. Howard could make the Padres out of spring training as either a starter or middle reliever. If he regains his power fastball and never masters the changeup, he eventually could become a closer.
Undrafted after he strained a tendon in his right leg late in his senior season at Mississippi State, Knott won the Cal League batting title (.341) in his 2002 pro debut. Shifting his focus to hitting for more power in 2003, he increased his homer output from 11 to 28 (tops in the organization) and led the Double-A Southern League with 59 extra-base hits. Knott has the most usable game power in the system. He also has the potential to hit for average and draws lots of walks. He runs well and plays decent defense for a man his size, and he has enough arm to handle right field. He's an overachiever whose makeup can take him far. Knott ran hot and cold in 2003, sometimes falling into extended slumps when pitchers wouldn't challenge him. There's still a question about whether he's a long-term outfielder or merely a first baseman. Knott needs a full year in Triple-A before trying to break through a logjam of similar players in San Diego. Brian Giles, Ryan Klesko, Xavier Nady and Phil Nevin are entrenched ahead of him.
The Padres have been patient with Pauley, keeping him in short-season leagues for his first two years of pro ball. He held his own at low Class A Fort Wayne in 2003, with the only setback a month's stay on the disabled list with tendinitis. He went 4-2, 2.48 after he returned in July. Pauley's best offering is a curveball that can become a plus pitch. His fastball has solid-average velocity, sitting at 88-91 mph and reaching 94, and has good life. Though he's not big, he has a quick arm and throws hard without effort. His changeup is progressing nicely. Pauley has a good feel for pitching but is still learning to use all of his pitches in tandem. He tends to fall in love with his curveball, and he'll have to mix his stuff to keep more advanced hitters off balance. He showed signs of doing that in instructional league. San Diego will keep moving Pauley one step at a time, sending him to high Class A Lake Elsinore this year. He could reach the majors in the second half of 2006.
Ignored in the draft for three straight years in high school and junior college, Jones went in the third round after one season at Indiana. An all-star in the low Class A Midwest League in his first full year, he was promoted to high Class A but missed August after breaking his left hand in an off-field incident. Jones' trademark is his speed, just as it was for his cousin, basketball Hall of Famer Sam Jones. He should become an above-average center fielder and basestealer. He has a good offensive approach, with a short stroke designed for contact and an eye for walks. He has some strength and could develop power down the road. Jones plays out of control too often. He was caught stealing 21 times in 44 tries last year because he doesn't know how to read pitchers. He must improve his breaks and routes in center field. Jones is destined for a full season in high Class A. If he can develop better instincts, he'll challenge Freddy Guzman as the center fielder of the future.
Bozied led the system with 24 homers and 92 RBIs in his 2002 pro debut, then set an Arizona Fall League record with 12 homers. He had trouble unleashing that power in Triple-A, where he received more attention for going after a Las Vegas fan who taunted him and threw a soft souvenir ball at him. Nineteen of his teammates followed him into the stands and all were suspended, including Bozied for eight games. Bozied is stronger and has more pure power than Jon Knott. He raised his average 13 points from 2002 by making adjustments to fight breaking balls and pitches on the outer half of the plate. He projects as a .260 hitter with 25-plus homers, along the lines of Eric Karros. His new approach cost him pop, and Bozied needs to regain aggressiveness at the plate. He won't ever hit for a high average or draw many walks. Though he has decent arm strength, his lack of speed relegates him to first base, where he's adequate. He'll return to Triple-A in 2004 and try to recapture his power. As with Knott, there are several players in Bozied's path to the major leagues.
The Padres have a knack for uncovering talent in independent leagues, and Oxspring has been one of their better finds since signing out of a rain-soaked tryout for Frontier Leaguers in 2000. An Australian who pitched in the 2001 World Cup, he took off after moving into Mobile's rotation in late May. He went 10-4, 2.47 and didn't give up more than three runs in an outing until his final start of 2003. Oxspring has the best slider in the system and a 91-93 mph fastball. He also throws a curveball and changeup, though those pitches aren't as advanced. After lacking confidence in the past--he preferred pitching in middle relief-- he took to starting and began to believe in himself. Oxspring has to trust his stuff. He still needs to go after hitters more aggressively. His curveball, changeup and command all can improve. He made three trips to the disabled list with shoulder problems in 2002, but held up throughout last season. Added to the 40-man roster for the first time, Oxspring is headed for Triple-A. If he can maintain his confidence, he could be pitching for the Padres by the end of the season.
After a breakthrough in velocity in 2002, Tucker continued to pitch well after a promotion to Double-A last season. He continued to throw in the mid-90s, an astounding fastball for a short lefthander, and blew away Southern League hitters. But he lost some velocity and started to get hit in July, then felt a pop in his elbow when he threw a pitch in early August. He had Tommy John surgery shortly thereafter and probably won't pitch during the 2004 regular season. The track record with that operation is very good, so Tucker should be able to regain his fastball after diligent rehabilitation. When he comes back, he'll need to continue to tighten a hard, slurvy breaking ball into a true slider. Tucker was starting to learn that there's more than pitching to sheer power, as he mixed in more two-seam fastballs and changeups than in the past. His four-seamer lacks much movement and he'll need to find something he can use to shutdown righthanders. They hit .256 and slugged .372 against him in 2003, compared to .188 and .250 by lefties. He'll also have to improve his control. The Padres won't rush Tucker back and would be happy to get him back on the mound after the season in instructional league or the Arizona Fall League.
The Padres invested more heavily in draft-and-follows than any team did before the 2003 draft, signing eight 2002 picks. Wells was the best of a group that also included four junior college players (catcher George Kottaras, lefthander Danny de la O and outfielders Drew Macias and Chad Etheridge) and two fifth-year seniors (first baseman Michael Johnson and outfielder Brian Wahlbrink). San Diego drafted Wells in the 31st round out of Tyler (Texas) Junior College in 2002 and he spent his sophomore season at San Jacinto, which finished second at the Junior College World Series. Wells has a projectable body and a quick arm that allowed him to reach 97 mph during the spring. He was worn out by the time he turned pro and his fastball sat at 87-92 mph during the summer, but his velocity should rebound after an offseason of rest. His control should be better as well, though he sometimes catches too much of the plate. Wells' slider and changeup both should become average pitches with more consistency. Headed for low Class A in 2004, he could blossom into a No. 2 or 3 starter.
The Padres have selected just two high school pitchers in the first 10 rounds of the last three drafts, and area scout Darryl Milne (now with the Red Sox) signed both David Pauley and Thompson, both Colorado products. His size and his fastball certainly aren't big, but Thompson was one of the toughest pitchers to hit in the short-season Northwest League last year. He works everything off the best curveball in the system, a knee-buckler that rates at least a 65 on the 20-80 scouting scale. His changeup is at least solid average and will be a plus pitch once he gains more experience. As for his fastball, Thompson usually works in the high 80s and gets some arm-side run. He can touch 92 mph but that's by overthrowing, which leaves his fastball vulnerable and up in the zone. He needs to throw more strikes, particularly with his fastball. He's a possible No. 4 starter who may wind up in the bullpen because he's short and lacks stamina. He'll get his first taste of full-season ball this year in low Class A.
Germano's pitching approach is so advanced that the Padres consistently have challenged him, sending him to low Class A at 18 and to Double-A at 20 last year. His best attribute is his ability to throw strikes, though at times he does that too much and becomes too hittable. His overhand curveball is occasionally a plus pitch, but Germano's arsenal is average across the board. San Diego hoped that his lanky build and quick arm were harbingers that he'd add velocity, but his fastball has stayed at 86-88 mph and tops out in the low 90s. He has a good feel for a changeup. The consensus is that Germano's stuff was more impressive in 2002, when he was the organization's minor league pitcher of the year. If he continues to locate his pitches, he could be a back-of-the-rotation starter in the majors. After being added to the 40-man roster in November, he'll open 2004 by returning to Double-A.
Few pitchers in the system have a higher ceiling than Martinez, but he was disappointing enough in 2003 that the Padres didn't protect him on the 40-man roster. A sore elbow shut him down for seven weeks starting in May and again for three weeks at the end of the season. He sometimes throws his splitter too much, and that may have been the culprit. After pitching at 90-95 in 2002, Martinez was down to 86-91 mph last year. He needs to add strength to his lanky frame, which could take his velocity up. His curveball and changeup both are solid pitches, so he doesn't need to mess with the splitter. He has good command and reminds scouts of fellow Mexican Ismael Valdes, who signed with the Padres during the offseason. Martinez' work habits have been questioned and he must show he can bounce back from adversity. He'll try to recapture his promise when he returns to high Class A.
Akinori Otsuka isn't the only offseason international acquisition who could make the San Diego bullpen out of spring training. The Padres paid the Mexico Tigers $850,000 for the rights to Huerta. Though Huerta is just 5-foot-11, he generates 92-97 mph fastballs and backs them up with a plus slider. San Diego has a working agreement with the Mexico City Red Devils, whose president, Roberto Mansur, recommended Huerta. He signed with the Braves in 1997 and spent two years on loan to the Mexico City Tigers before Atlanta released him after the 1998 season. He spent the 1997 and '98 seasons in the Mexican minors. Huerta went to big league camp with the Devil Rays last spring, but looked timid and gave up eight runs in 21⁄3 innings before being returned to Angelopolis. San Diego officials believe Huerta will be more comfortable in his second exposure to the United States. He'll need to improve his command. He doesn't have an offspeed pitch to fall back on, though that's less crucial because he's a reliever. The Padres say Huerta has closer potential, and they'll break him in by using him in a set-up role this year in either the majors or Triple-A.
Negotiations with Johnson deteriorated after the Padres drafted him in 2002, one round after they took Clemson teammate Khalil Greene. The two sides were roughly $300,000 apart when Johnson returned to college, where he dislocated his right ankle during fall practice. But San Diego retained his rights up until the 2003 draft because he was a fifth-year senior, and he signed for $500,000. Sent straight to high Class A, Johnson was a bit overmatched and struggled with a bruised left knee. Johnson is similar to former Padre Dave Magadan, a line-drive hitter who uses the whole field and controls the strike zone. The key is how much power Johnson will develop. Though he finished with 58 homers at Clemson, one shy of the school record, he doesn't turn on pitches and hasn't shown much home run pop with wood bats. He has to improve at first base, where he looked awkward in his pro debut, and San Diego has ruled out trying him as a left fielder, though he has below-average arm strength. Johnson would be best off returning to high Class A, at least to begin 2004. Now that he's acclimated and healthy, the Padres expect to see the player they thought they were getting.
Quintero was the organization's most improved player in 2003. He entered the year with little indication that he'd ever hit much. But after they acquired him in a July 2002 trade with the White Sox, the Padres got Quintero to abandon a dead-pull approach and try to use the whole field. He hit .309 in the final month of 2002, a prelude to the best year of his career. He focused on making contact and succeeded, showing gap power if not drawing many walks. Quintero doesn't have a pretty swing and never will be an offensive force, but now looks like he'll hit enough to at least be a big league backup. He long has had a reputation of having one of the best arms in the game, drawing comparisons to Pudge Rodriguez. Quintero is the best defensive catcher in the system, and he threw out 39 percent of basestealers last year in the Southern League. He sometimes loses his concentration as a receiver, but he has improved in that area as well as leadership. More troubling are rumors the last two years that Quintero has tipped pitches to Venezuelan hitters on other teams in exchange for getting the same information from them. The Padres investigated the situation and say they've found nothing. With San Diego trading for Ramon Hernandez, Quintero will get a full year in Triple-A. If he continues to hit, he'll back Hernandez up in 2005.
Few scouts have more worldwide contacts than former Padres international supervisor Bill Clark, who was fired in September and replaced by former GM Randy Smith. Clark found righthanders Villatoro and William Ponce in El Salvador and made them the first two players ever signed from that nation. Ponce, who's similar to Justin Germano, made more strides than anyone in San Diego's instructional league camp after the 2003 season. Villatoro, who signed for $5,000, has better pure stuff. He was nearly unhittable as a set-up man in low Class A, where his stuff got better over the course of the season. Villatoro threw a 92 mph fastball and a loose slider early in the year, but was pitching with a 94 mph heater and a tighter slider by August. He'll have to throw more strikes at higher levels. Nevertheless, his first full season couldn't have been more encouraging. He'll step up to high Class A in 2004.
Hogan starred as a high schooler in Texas and on the 1999 U.S. youth national team, but his commitment to Alabama caused teams to pass him by in the 2002 draft. After attending Alabama that fall, he had second thoughts and transferred to junior college to become eligible for the 2003 draft. He emerged as the top hitting prospect among Arizona juco players and signed for a $215,000 bonus. With his strong 6-foot-4 frame and quick bat, Hogan has a chance to hit for both average and power. He needs to shorten his swing, tighten his strike zone and learn to recognize breaking balls. A shortstop in high school, he was a DH in junior college and needs to work to stay at third base. He has the arm strength and footwork for the position but lacks the instincs and fundamentals. Some Padres officials were disappointed by Hogan's immaturity, saying he was too high on himself and full of excuses. If he can't handle the hot corner, he'll have to move to left field or first base. For now, San Diego will keep him at third base and challenge him with a promotion to low Class A.
The Padres have their share of intriguing arms in the lower levels of their system. Coonrod is the most advanced, surfacing in low Class A at the end of 2003 for Fort Wayne's playoff run. Scouts backed off him coming out of high school in 1999 because of an ankle injury. Ohio State recruited him as a quarterback, but he failed to qualify academically and attended junior college instead. He pitched sparingly as a freshman and became academically ineligible, so he spent 2001 working in a factory. Coonrod rejoined Logan in 2002, finishing among the national leaders in strikeouts while leading the Volunteers to the Junior College World Series. For most of his first two pro seasons, San Diego used Coonrod as a starter to get him innings, but he took off when he moved to his long-term role in the bullpen. His fastball, the best in the system, moved up to the mid-90s and topped out at 97 mph. His breaking ball, which came and went when he was in the rotation, was a more consistent power slider. He also has an effective changeup, though he won't use it as much in relief. Coonrod has a maximum-effort delivery that makes it difficult for him to sustain his stuff, another reason he fits best in the bullpen. His focus, command and secondary pitches still need work. A potential closer, he'll pitch in Class A this season.
In the fall of 2002, Stonard and Billy Hogan were teammates at Alabama. Neither played for the Crimson Tide last spring, however. Stonard twice tested positive for marijuana and was dismissed from the team in November 2002. He transferred to San Diego State and wrote a letter to major league teams, admitting he had made poor decisions and promising it wouldn't happen again. But it did, and the Aztecs kicked him off their team last April. That knocked Stonard, the 2002 Cape Cod League batting champ with a .348 average, to the fourth round, where the Padres signed him for $280,000. Stonard went straight to low Class A and did what he always does: make good, consistent line-drive contact. Stonard has decent tools across the board but still has a lot of questions. He's so good at putting the bat on the ball, even on pitches out of the strike zone, that he makes outs on balls others would miss. It also cuts down on his walk totals. He's an average runner with good hands at second base, but scouts aren't sure he can stick there. The outfield might become his home, and he'd have to hit for more power than he currently projects. Most of all, Stonard has to work harder and prove his dedication to the game after his college travails. He'll try to polish his all-around game in high Class A this year.
The Padres drafted Sain as a catcher and are waiting to see if he can handle the position. He led both the West Coast Conference and Northwest League in homers in 2001, but needed surgery to repair tears in the labrum and rotator cuff in his right shoulder after the season. He has caught just 22 games as a pro. What is certain is that he's not a third baseman. Sain, whose father Tommy reached Triple-A in the 1970s, showed poor agility at the hot corner last year and led California League third baseman with 35 errors in just 94 games. He showed average arm strength before the surgery and his receiving skills are fine. While Sain has some of the best raw power in the system and drove in 100 runs last year, some say he has a slider-speed bat that won't catch up to quality fastballs at the upper levels. He'll also have to improve his plate discipline. San Diego should have a better idea of what Sain can offer after he spends a full year in Double-A. He may have to share the catching duties there with Nick Trzesniak, who has his share of backers within the organization.
Castro won a minor league stolen base title in each of his five pro seasons, topping the Pacific Coast League last year with 49 in 62 attempts. He extended his streak despite spraining the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee sliding into home plate in mid-August, ending his season five weeks early. The injury cost him the opportunity to chase his third straight Dominican League batting title, and Castro may not be ready for the start of spring training. Managers rated Castro the PCL's fastest baserunner, and he can get down the line from the plate to first base in 3.9-4.0 seconds. He does a good job of playing to his speed, making contact, keeping the ball on the ground, bunting skillfully and using the entire field. But while his average spiked in the hitter-friendly PCL, his walk rate declined. He'll need to get on base more to offset his lack of power. Defensively, Castro's arm presents a huge question mark. It's barely playable at second base, which is one of the deepest positions in the system. He does have the range, hands and double-play pivot for the position. The Padres eventually could give him a look in center field, though that's unlikely in 2004, when he'll again be Freddy Guzman's teammate in Triple-A.
Stanley endeared himself to the Astros, but they removed him from their 40-man roster in November, allowing the Padres to grab him with a waiver claim. He has hit line drives and shown on-base skills since turning pro. He has gap power and above-average speed. Stanley can be too passive early in the count and could drive the ball more often if he were more aggressive. He runs the bases well but doesn't get good reads and jumps to be a big basestealing threat. Defensively, he has the range but not the instincts for center field, and his well-below-average arm relegates him to left field. He's a classic tweener outfielder who can't handle the defense in center or provide enough offense to play on the corner. But Stanley would make a good fourth outfielder and could have a career like Troy O'Leary's. San Diego may not have an outfield opening on its roster, so Stanley may have to repeat Triple-A.
San Diego gave Gautreau $1.875 million as the 14th overall pick in 2001, but his career has been sidetracked by ulcerative colitis. After moving him from third to second base, the Padres envisioned Gautreau as another Jeff Kent, but his bat has been a disappointment. The colitis, diagnosed in July 2002, has sapped him of strength and bat speed. He's also pull-conscious and has holes in his swing, which prevent him from making consistent contact. Gautreau also puts too much pressure on himself, making it even harder to snap out of his doldrums. While he has stayed at second base for two years and has improved, he still is just adequate and doesn't make all of the routine plays. His double-play pivot needs work. Second base has become a position of strength in the organization, and Gautreau likely will return to the hot corner in 2004. That will require more offense, and his agility will be an issue at third. The Padres left Gautreau off their 40-man roster, something inconceivable when they drafted him, but he went unchosen in the major league Rule 5 draft.
Szuminski has had to overcome long odds just to have a professional baseball career. The second player ever drafted out of MIT, he attended college on an Air Force ROTC scholarship that mandated military service after he graduated with an aerospace engineering degree. He became the first baseball player to enter the Air Force's World Class Athlete Program, which allowed him to train with the goal of reaching the 2004 Olympics. Though that dream ended when Team USA failed to qualify for the Athens Games, his baseball career likely will be spared because he was taken in the major league Rule 5 draft. The Royals drafted him from the Cubs, who had too much pitching to protect Szuminski, and traded him to San Diego for fellow Rule 5 pick Rich Thompson. The Padres can't send Szuminski to the minors in 2004 without having him clear waivers and then offering him back to Chicago, and if he sticks it would be a public-relations boon for the Air Force. He made great progress in 2003, moving from high Class A to Triple-A after dropping his arm angle. He sacrificed velocity for better command and life on his fastball. Szuminski's fastball now sits at 88 mph and tops out at 91, but its improved sink gets lots of groundballs. He also scrapped his curveball and now throws a slider, which has been more effective. He also has a splitter that drops straight down, and all three of his pitches feature different types of movement. If Szuminski throws strikes, he should be able to make the Padres in spring training.
The Padres bolstered their catching depth by drafting Colt Morton (third round) and Matt Lauderdale (ninth) in June, but their most significant acquisition was Kottaras in May. They signed him as a draft-and-follow from 2002, giving him a $375,000 bonus. A Canadian who played more fast-pitch softball than baseball while he was growing up, Kottaras spent most of July with the Greek national team. He was the starting catcher as Greece finished second at the European Championship, and he's a candidate to rejoin them for the Olympics. Though Kottaras is relatively inexperienced, his potential is obvious and draws him comparisons to Mike Lieberthal. He has a compact, fluid swing and the ball jumps off his bat. He exudes discipline at the plate, though he's sometimes too patient and falls behind in the count after letting hittable pitches go by. He's a below-average runner but above average for a catcher. Kottaras has solid arm strength and threw out 36 percent of basestealers in the Rookie-level Pioneer League. He needs work defensively but has potential as a receiver. The addition of former all-star Joe Ferguson as a roving catching instructor should help him. Kottaras could go to low Class A in 2004, but also could wind up in Eugene.
The Padres named Gabe Ribas their minor league pitcher of the year in 2003 after he tied for the minor league lead with 17 victories, but with the exception of his changeup his stuff is very fringy. Whitaker, who like Ribas excelled in low Class A while being old for the level at 23, has a better chance to succeed. A 27th-round find by area scout Mike Rikard in 2002, Whitaker topped the system with a 2.09 ERA last year. He also paced the Midwest League in walks per nine innings (1.1), and the managers there rated his command as the best in the league. He never walked more than two batters in any of his 26 starts. With his 6-foot-4 frame, Whitaker is able to pitch to the bottom of the strike zone with a lively 86-89 mph sinker that touches the low 90s. That makes him a groundball machine, and his 2.2 ground/fly ratio in 2003 was one of the highest in the minors. He has traded in his curveball for a more effective slider and also uses a changeup. Whitaker has a great body, loose arm and easy delivery. He still needs to prove himself against lefthanders and against hitters his own age. San Diego will accelerate his development, meaning Whitaker should reach Double-A at some point in 2004.