"We're not as far away as people think we are."
Get used to hearing those words from the Padres.
I heard them last week from both General Manager Kevin Towers and second-baseman David Eckstein.
Eckstein admitted that only two months ago, he was skeptical, even troubled, about where the Padres were headed.
Why the surge of optimism?
Eckstein, speaking last week from the team's clubhouse, pointed to the lockers of two rookie pitchers, Mat Latos and Clayton Richard.
"When K.T. brought in those kind of young arms, it gets you excited," he said.
Eckstein then mentioned his infield partner, rookie shortstop Everth Cabrera.
"Great athlete," Eckstein said, confirming what's pretty easy to see. "The thing is, you only have to tell him something once. We're still working on his 'clock.' Sometimes he doesn't account for things with his timing. Like in Cincinnati, he was playing too far back on Willy Taveras. I talked to him, and he made the adjustment. Next time, he was right where he was supposed to be.
"The other thing about him is, he's going to get bigger and stronger."
Eckstein likes the athleticism and upside of Will Venable and Kyle Blanks.
He praised center-fielder Tony Gwynn Jr.'s approach to hitting. "He's consistent."
If Gwynn hits enough, his intangibles will become another asset. "He can be a leader," Eckstein said. "He's smart."
Eckstein also considers Petco Park an advantage for the Padres. "It seems like it neutralizes visiting clubs," he said.