Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Guzman, Blanks, Rizzo

On merit, Jesus Guzman and Kyle Blanks should be one-two on the Padres' depth chart at first base going into the winter.

Anthony Rizzo?

I've seen no improvement since his second callup from Triple-A. Scouts say his swing is still too long. They also look at his spotty timing and pitch recognition and wonder if he's too tense. No one is writing him off, but Rizzo, a .126 hitter after 119 at-bats as a Padre, needs to figure out a few things.

Guzman, 27, looks like a big league hitter, which sets him apart from many Padres. His defense, however, is so-so, at best.

Blanks, 25, is the best defender of the three and prefers first base to left field. Bat in hands, he still looks confused at times, but his 20 home runs in 415 major league at-bats should earn him more starts.

Rizzo, 22, has time on his side. He is the same age as many college seniors or rookie-ball players.

The trickiest part for the Padres will be to help Rizzo refine his hitting in a way that works in the big leagues. Right now, the inside fastball is a deal-breaker for the lefty.

Rizzo conquered the Pacific Coast League and Tucson's Kino Stadium, which are to hitting what helium is to balloons.

Winter ball and spring training could be the proving grounds that better prepare Rizzo for major league fastballs and Petco National Park, and if Rizzo passes those tests, maybe he'll earn a starting job to open next season, when he'll still be only 22.

It's a shame the Portland Beavers went out of business in 2010, denying Rizzo and several other Padres  one decent place to develop.

Soon before Rizzo was returned to the minor leagues in late July, I Tweeted that the Padres should think hard about sending him to their Double-A affiliate, public relations fallout be damned, because San Antonio's ballpark plays closer to major league conditions than Kino does.

Jed Hoyer later told Darren Smith, the host of the GM's weekly radio show, that the Padres didn't consider sending Rizzo to Double-A instead of Triple-A.

I doubt they failed to consider it. More and more clubs are using Double-A as a launching pad for their prospects. Paul Goldschmidt, the Diamondbacks' first baseman, didn't play in Triple-A. As a 23-year-old, he hit 30 home runs in 103 games with Double-A Mobile (Ala.) this year, then debuted with Arizona on Aug. 1.

Mark Trumbo's success story should also interest the Padres and Rizzo. Trumbo beat up PCL pitching and played his home games in a hitters paradise, Salt Lake City's ballpark, but that was after getting more than 700 plate appearances in Double-A. Trumbo's swing was thought too long a year ago; this year with the Angels, the 25-year-old Trumbo has 29 home runs.

Development stories track along a variety of plotlines. For all of the fascination with prospects in this era, player development skills of a franchise get short shrift, both within the baseball press and among draft experts. Franchises such as the Angels, Braves, Brewers and Phillies have shown they can develop their minor league hitters into productive big leaguers. The Padres had a lot of proving to do in that department even before the distressing move to Tucson and Kino, which is another planet from San Diego and PNP.

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