Monday, August 2, 2010

Ludwick's debut

Tweeted a few tweets regarding Ludwick's debut yesterday. Doubt the Padres win that game without him. No way of proving it, but that's what I saw. In my eyes, the Padres are one victory better than they would've been without Ludwick. And a pretty big victory at that.

I guess that may seem an over-reaction on my part, because a few others players contributed. So, I'll balance it out and say the challenges posed by Petco Park, NL West pitching, a checkered health profile and not having Albert Pujols behind him are real, but there's a lot to like about Ryan Ludwick. What I didn't realize until he was traded was how beloved he was in St. Louis by teammates and fans. Heard from a lot of Cardinals fans who were broken-hearted and dismayed. For what it's worth, my fellow ball scribes in St. Louis speak very highly of Ludwick. Beyond his baseball talent, he's a stand-up person, they said.

One of the things I'd been hearing and reporting for the last month or so was that the Padres considered their anemic results against right-handed pitching to be a significant weakness. Ludwick represents a pretty big upgrade. He is a right-handed hitter but beats up right-handed pitching. How many right-handed pitchers are better than Marlins ace Josh Johnson?

Ludwick is not accustomed to being a pinch-hitter. The task immediately grew tougher when the first pitch he saw from Johnson was a borderline strike. Then it was 0-2. Yet Ludwick found a way to succeed. To come back and drill a single off Josh Johnson -- very impressive. Ludwick's slide at home plate also was well done.

One other thing about the trade market. The Padres were searching for starting pitching as well. As it turned out, they found a starter who was quite useful to them -- Jake Westbrook of the Indians. The Cardinals didn't have either the goods or the inclination to trade for Westbrook straight up, so Padres GM Jed Hoyer got him for them.

As for the pitching prospect, Corey Kluber, who went to the Indians and pretty much allowed the Padres to get Ludwick, I've heard overly harsh comments from pundits who imply that he's just a warm body. Sorry, that's unfair to Kluber, a hard worker who has made a lot of improvement and, more to the point, is not just a warm body. Padres people seemed to genuinely like Kluber and say he is, in fact, a legitimate prospect. (Not that this is a knock on Kluber, per se, but the Padres also said he's quiet to the point of being a statue. He shows absolutely no emotion on the mound.) Farm director Randy Smith said Kluber should reach the major leagues and could become a nice starter in the back of a rotation. Former Padres farm director Grady Fuson also spoke well of Kluber, both before and after the trade. While Kluber isn't viewed as a pitcher who will become a No. 1, 2 or 3 starter and wasn't among San Diego's top two pitching prospects, the Padres and Fuson said he could end up being a No. 4 or No. 5 starter and if that fails, a pretty good middle reliever. He has an excellent delivery and a clean health record. In today's market, advanced pitching prospects of that caliber have more value than you might think. I know the Padres are rooting for him and for Nick Greenwood, the finesse lefty who went to the Cardinals in the three-team deal. Both were drafted by the Padres. The Padres selected Kluber in the fourth round out of Stetson in 2007. Later that summer, I heard that it was a very tough negotiation that tested Bill Gayton, who was the Padres' scouting director, and scout Joe Bochy. In the end, the Padres signed Kluber for $200,000, which was above the commissioner's office recommendation for that slot. How does that investment look now? Looks like a good scouting job by the Padres.

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