Saturday, July 31, 2010

Ludwick is a Padre

Interesting trade by the Padres. Looks like a winner, but there's more to it than folks may think. http://tinyurl.com/26uuxdp

Baserunning

Will keep this brief. Padres can't run the bases like they did on Friday and expect to go to the playoffs.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Luebke and trade pricing

Which Padres prospect is drawing the most trade interest from other clubs?

Left-handed pitcher Cory Luebke, a Double-A (CORRECTION Triple-A) starter who is 5-1 with a 2.40 ERA (in Triple-A he is 2-0 with a 3.81 ERA).

The Padres are shopping for a starting pitcher, and both the Cubs (Ted Lilly) and Pirates (Paul Maholm) are among the clubs fielding offers. Today's deadline will be the litmus test on several fronts. Luebke likely would be the asking price for Maholm and perhaps for Lilly (as of early Friday afternoon, the Padres hadn't shown interest in either lefty).

"That would be a fair ask," an evaluator from another club said of Luebke for Maholm.

Luebke has 44 strikeouts and 12 walks in 56.1 innings. The majority of the evaluators I talked to from other clubs say Luebke has moved past Simon Castro, a Double-A teammate, as the Padres' best advanced pitching prospect, although opinions vary, and Castro, 22, is three years younger than the lefty. If the Padres hold onto Luebke, he conceivably could start or work long relief for them in September. He's thrown 44 fewer innings than last year. An oblique injury sidelined him for several weeks, longer than is typical. It appears the Padres used that injury to keep his innings down.

At 25, Luebke is old for the Texas League (even with his promotion this season). He was in the advanced Single-A Cal League for parts of three seasons. After some bad times that led to a demotion, he adjusted his delivery and found a groove with low Single-A Fort Wayne in 2008.

I watched Luebke at the Cal League All-Star Game last year, and he drew favorable reviews from two scouts. They liked how the 6-foot-4, 215-pounder threw "downhill."

The best pitcher on that night, though, was Wynn Pelzer. Then a reliever, Pelzer threw 95-mph fastballs to both corners and hard sliders low and away. On that night, Pelzer was as good as many major league set-up men. But it was only one night. "You wonder if he can repeat his delivery," a scout told me. As it turned out, he couldn't, at least this year, although Pelzer continued to show a good arm.

Thursday, the Padres dealt Pelzer to the Orioles for Miguel Tejada. An evaluator from a third club called it a fair trade, noting that the Orioles also shed $1.1 million in salary. Pelzer's accuracy is a major question mark, and his pitches aren't quite as lively this year. But power arms are in demand. Pelzer also is a Scott Boras client. For what it's worth, recent Padres front offices made a habit of jettisoning players represented by Boras. That wasn't a major factor in the trade, though.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

97 wins

Still a lot of baseball left, but the Padres have been fooling a lot of folks for a full baseball year now. Here's what I wrote about them and the Miguel Tejada trade. http://tinyurl.com/2cup58o. Earlier I wrote that if the right trade presents itself, Jeff Moorad and John Moores need to be willing to spend. http://tinyurl.com/34aw4n6

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Ben Davis

Anthony Gargano wrote an interesting story about Ben Davis. The former Padres catcher is attempting a comeback as a pitcher. http://tinyurl.com/34rfyxw

Kevin Towers drafted Davis second overall in 1995. By the time Davis rose through the farm system, Towers was the GM of the Padres. The Gunslinger said a lot of glowing things about Davis, as GMs tend to do regarding top draftees. Unfortunately for Davis and the Padres, Davis pretty much was a wasted draft pick. The question is, why?

Here is some of what I gleaned over the years:

* The track record for high school catchers drafted in the first round is, as I recall, dreadful. The late Wayne Lockwood chronicled this many years ago, and I recall that Wayne wrote a cautionary story about Davis on the day the Padres drafted him. Wayne was right on the money, as often was the case.

* My sense was that Padres CEO Larry Lucchino wasn't wild about the decision to draft Davis. Shortly after the draft, Lucchino, whom Padres owner John Moores referred to as the Smartest Man in Baseball, told me on the record that he preferred Rice outfielder Jose Cruz Jr. to Davis but wanted his young executives, Randy Smith and Towers, to make the call. I don't think those comments went over so well with the execs. Lucchino didn't hire Smith, and I never sensed those two meshed although Smith had traded for a lot of good players who would help Lucchino's regime get off to a great start. By year's end, Smith was on his way to the Tigers.

* Davis' first batting practice with the Padres was poor in a way that made me cringe. Admittedly, he was only a teenager, freshly drafted and surrounded by the likes of Tony Gwynn and Ken Caminiti. No one expected home runs from him. Yet....here's this big, strapping Jack Armstrong figure swinging with gusto, and the ball just dribbled off his bat. I don't recall him clearing the infield.

* Davis got a lot of attention for his good looks, and some of his teammates thought the club should have downplayed him rather than trying to turn him into a star. Back then, the Padres marketed their players relentlessly, overly so with Davis. For instance, when the Padres played at Philadelphia, one of the newspapers there ran a photo of Davis jogging at the beach. The photo was lifted from a Padres promotional video or commercial. It was too much, too soon, according to Padres veteran players, who wondered why a below-average player was getting so much attention.

* Hitting experts told me early in Davis' career that his swing would be a problem as he moved up the ranks and encountered better pitching. They described it as a "grooved" swing. Sort of like a robot would go about it, sweeping the bat at the same angle, over and over. Years and years of hitting the same way in a batting cage, they said, had created the grooved swing. Therefore, years of dubious muscle memory needed to be broken. Impossible, virtually. On the opposite end of the spectrum technically is Buster Posey, the young Giants catcher. A scout told me recently said Posey covers as much hitting area with his bat as some of the best hitters in the game. For what it's worth, Posey was not a catcher in high school or early in his college career. He was a shortstop and a pitcher until Florida State moved him behind the plate.

* Bruce Bochy was a former catcher, but I never sensed that he and Davis had a strong relationship.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Latos and Schilling

Ted Leitner made an excellent point about Mat Latos today when he likened the Tattooed One to Curt Schilling in this regard: He allows a goodly number of home runs, which actually reflects well on both his approach and his talent. Latos, like Schilling, trusts his fastball. If he misses over the white of the plate, so be it. Sometimes the hitter will knock it over the wall, but the overall gains in aggressiveness make it well worth it.

Today Latos threw strikes with about 75 percent of his pitches. To my eyes, he is pitching slightly better than Stephen Strasburg. The San Diego Kid is sensational, but Latos seems to hit his target a bit more consistently. He seems to exert himself slightly less as well. Of course, it's sort of like comparing grades of diamonds.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Thursday blog

Padres are searching for a hitter adept at reaching base against right-handers. Am told the team views its .316 OBP vs. righties as a significant issue. Wrote about it in FanHouse today. Not the only species on the wish list.

We hear a lot about how great the Padres' pitching is and how bad the offense is. I think both get overstated pretty much every year. Obviously Petco Park and the NL favor pitchers. While the Padres don't have an intimidating offense, it may not be as bad as commonly thought. According to baseball-reference.com, the Padres have a ballpark-adjusted on-base and slugging percentage of 100, tied with the Braves. Only four other NL clubs have a better OPS+: Brewers, Cardinals, Reds and Dodgers. It's not a tell-all statistic. Nor is it a statistic without flaw. But it's colorful paint for the picture.

To my eyes, the caliber of hitting throughout the NL is down. Some of that likely has to do with the pitching, which is my final blinding insight of this post.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Eck effect

David Eckstein means a lot to the Padres. He's the glue to their middle infield. Against even the best pitchers, he will put the ball into play. He is a smart baserunner. He got off to a terrific start this year. However, it's not like his departure should cause the team to crumble. The Padres are 13-8 when Eckstein doesn't start and 41-30 when he does. As a pinch-hitter, he is 1-for-6. He had a .278 on-base percentage in his last 39 games. The greater concern is whether Eckstein will come all the way back from the calf strain that put him on the disabled list today. It can be a pesky injury, and the 35-year-old Eckstein can ill afford to lose any footspeed.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

DL

I wonder if the Padres stifled a grin when they told the baseball world that Mat Latos hurt himself by attempting to stifle a sneeze.

I watched Latos throw a bullpen over the weekend. If his side is bothering him in the least, it was not evident. The Tattooed One was popping the mitt.

Baseball should create a Deception List within the Disabled List. Go on and you get a long, plastic nose. The Padres would be among the many candidates. For an entire season -- I think it was 1999 -- they used the DL to float an extra guy on their 25-man roster. Archi Cianfrocco, who was a terrible liar, went on it a few times that year. My favorite use of the DL this year came several weeks ago when the Mets put Oliver Perez there after several days of trying to persuade him to go to the minors. Perez had told me point blank that his surgical knee wasn't bothering him at all, wasn't a factor in his poor pitching. A few days later, Ollie went onto the DL because, we were told, his surgical knee was sore. I couldn't stife a grin.

Funny, a ballplayer at Petco Park actually did hurt himself in a sneeze-related incident. Sammy Sosa injured a torso muscle there several years ago while sneezing in the clubhouse. He then went onto the DL.

Tuesday blog

Am still waiting for the motivational fee the Padres owe me. Loveable Kook, also known as closer Heath Bell, says the team was really ticked off when it read my prediction in May that the Padres would fall into third come summer.

Before the season I picked the Padres to finish fourth with 79 wins. Looks like I'll be getting a motivational fee for that one, too. Here's what I wrote about the club going into tonight's showdown in Atlanta -- http://tinyurl.com/2c6rk3s.

A few thoughts:

* The Padres are 91-62 since the end of last July. Still nine more games to go to make it a full 162 games. Let's say the Padres win five of those games. That's a 96-66 mark.

* A lot has been written and said about the team's improved footspeed and running game. I've given Bud Black and Rick Renteria credit for changing the team's culture from station-to-station to take-the-extra-base, while noting that the 2006 team was speedy and daring, too, and, to my eyes, better defensively (although Todd Walker degraded the defense when he was shoehorned into third base for Vinny Castilla). I've praised the front office -- take a bow, Jed Hoyer -- for getting faster players.

At some point, however, you'd think the Padres need to be smarter on the basepaths. Take Sunday's game. They ran into three outs. Adrian Gonzalez, for instance, has no business getting trapped off first base after the left-fielder triple-clutches (!) on his throw to home, which was cut off. Yeah, the Padres still won the game. For a team that's talking about winning it all, however, the baserunning is remarkably erratic.

* Am curious to see how the Braves play. One of the scouts told me the Braves are probably the best team in the NL right now, but he said it's real close. Like the Padres, the Braves have a strong bullpen.

* Hoyer tells me he's eyeing a few right-handed relievers in the trade market, which may reflect concerns about the durability of his bullpen. All the same, the Padres' depth there is still the envy of many clubs. Same scout told me Ryan Webb would pitch with small leads in the seventh or eight inning for a lot of teams. Ernesto Frieri impressed the scouts who watched his season debut. If the Padres want to get creative, Kevin Correia is a better bullpen option than several clubs have (if that move happens, pitching coach Darren Balsley is a tremendous resource, because I think he'd be able to get Correia in the right frame of mind to accept it).

The Rockies, in contrast, are losing games because they don't have as good of a bullpen. Same with the Dodgers.

* The Cardinals are having a weird year. They have the most frontline talent in the NL Central, but they've made more boneheaded plays than a LaRussa team usually does. When the Cardinals are on their game, however, they've looked better than anybody I've seen in the NL. As it stands now, I think their "A" game is better than the Padres' "A" game.

* Wrote in FanHouse about the Marlins gathering information on Padres bench coach Ted Simmons for their managerial job. Jake Peavy said a year ago that Simmons made a real difference behind the scenes, and Nick Hundley, whom I quoted in the story, seemed sincere in giving Simmons a lot of credit. I have no idea what the Marlins will decide after the season , but the Padres wouldn't easily replace Simmons. He has been fire to Black's ice and represents one of the better low-level moves made by the Gunslinger.

* Petco Park had a different feel recently. Because of the big crowds and increased attentiveness, it felt like San Diego was somewhat buying into this team. Hadn't felt that in a long time. Once the Chargers get going, I guess that could change.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Rough one

Was at the Futures Game on Sunday. Probably the most disappointing performance was by Padres prospect Simon Castro. Nothing added up. Castro is a big and strong right-hander who used to throw in the low 90s. Sunday, he was hunched over and slinging fastballs at 86-90 mph. No life, no accuracy. Flat plane, said the scouts. Padres tell me he's healthy. Yeah, it's only one game, but it wasn't the first impression the Padres and Castro wanted to make with such a big audience.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Steady leader

Adrian Gonzalez cut a confident figure during All-Star festivities.

"We went into the season believing in ourselves," Gonzalez said. "We knew we could do it. We know we have the talent to do it. We can outplay anybody and we know it."

Gonzalez hit all of the right notes, telling reporters he's not all that excited that the Padres will come out of the All-Star break atop the NL West. "I'm not thrilled, because I expected us to be here," he said. "And I expect us to be at the same place at the end of the year. It's not something that I get excited about because it's not something that I did not expect."

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

All-Star comeback

The Padres are happy for Evan Meek, a former Padres minor leaguer who will represent the Pirates at the All-Star game tonight. It's a miracle that Meek made it to the major leagues, let alone the All-Star game. http://tinyurl.com/2fcdwyn

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Dollars, D'backs, Gunslinger

When the Padres signed Chris Young to a four-year, $14.5-million contract in April 2007, they also purchased disability insurance on the contract. So, conceivably, depending on how much of the contract was insured, the Padres could recoup a portion of Young's $6.5 million salary for this year because Young has missed most of the season and isn't due back anytime soon. Generally speaking, a player must miss at least half a season for a club to get any disability money. However, it's also fairly typical for clubs to insure long-term contracts in three-year chunks, so the Padres may have allowed Young's coverage to lapse entering this, the final guaranteed year of pact that includes an $8.5 million club option for 2011. Young had surgery on his shoulder last summer -- within the third year of the deal -- so even if the Padres were looking to extend their coverage, they may have been unable to do so.