MadFriars' Preview: 2012 Tucson Padres

Synopsis: Offensively the T-Padres will be led by James Darnell, Matt Clark and Blake Tekotte while on the mound Casey Kelly and Joe Wieland are as good as anyone in the PCL. With the system's all-time saves leader Brad Brach closing out games this will be a strong team as long as the talent sticks around.

Three Strikes with Randy Smith Padres Director of Player Development and International Scouting.

It seems like from the end of last year to the end of spring training Casey Kelly has made some significant strides. What part of his game has he improved the most?

Randy Smith: The MLB staff, particularly Darren Balsley really worked hard with him when he was up at the end of last year and in the big league camp. The biggest thing was moving him to the other side of the rubber and just refining his mechanics.

You are taking one of the more talented starting pitching staffs the Padres have had in quite awhile to one of the more hitter friendly environments in the minor leagues. Do you think the park's conditions will have any negative affects on the pitchers and how will you evaluate performance?

Randy Smith: It's obviously a tough place to pitch but then again throwing in Colorado or Arizona isn't a whole lot of fun either. Guys are just going to have to go out there and compete. The one advantage is most of the guys we are sending there sink the ball pretty well.

Where do you see James Darnell getting more time this year at third base or in the outfield?

Randy Smith: We will move him around between third base and left field, kind of what we did with him in San Antonio last year. This year in the organization we are attempting to make players more versatile so when there is an opportunity in the big leagues they are able to take advantage of it.

2012 Projected Lineup:

1b Matt ClarkSP Casey Kelly
2b Vince Belnome SP Joe Wieland
SS Everth Cabrera SP Jorge Reyes
3b James Darnell SP Matt Palmer
CYasmani GrandalSP Josh Geer
LF Dan Robertson RP Nick Vincent
CF Blake Tekotte RP Brad Boxberger
RF Sawyer Caroll RP Brad Brach

Catch a Rising Star: Casey Kelly. He was the main component of the Adrian Gonzalez trade and the athletic Kelly has made major strides this off-season. Now in his third full season on the mound he has all the tools and stuff is there its just a question of refining it. There is a good chance Kelly will end up in the Padres' rotation by the second half of the season.

Wieland was 7-1 in the Texas League in 2011.

Starting Pitching: There is a fairly good debate on who will be the first of the Tucson Padres' pitchers called up and many believe it will be Wieland, not Kelly. After coming over from Frisco [The Texas Rangers' AA affiliate] he went 3-1 with a 2.77 ERA allowing only eight earned runs in five starts. He has a good, but not outstanding fastball, but is able to command it very effectively to go along with a solid change-up and developing slider. Jorge Reyes, whose enigmatic career at Oregon State and bonus demands caused him to slide to the 17th round in the 2009 draft, performed quite well with a 10-3 record and 3.12 ERA striking out 98 batters against 30 walks in San Antonio. As of right now veterans Matt Palmer and Josh Geer occupy the last two spots in the rotation. The thirty-three year old Palmer, a veteran of ten minor league season - most recently with the Angels organization - had a strong spring and is used to pitching in the wiffle ball stadiums of the PCL. Josh Geer is a familiar name to most Padres' fans, he was the organization's pitcher of the year in 2007 and spent the majority of 2009 with the big club. Last year he missed the season with a very serious bout of skin cancer but has looked good in the spring. He will begin the year in the rotation but could have more of a future as a swing-man out of the bullpen.

Pen: Brad Brach was one of the very last cuts by the big club this spring and will probably be the first relief pitcher called up if someone goes down (on Thursday, April 5, Brach was recalled to take the place of Tim Stauffer who was placed on the 15-day disabled list). His calling card is his ability to put a four-seam fastball consistently on the outside corner of the zone to go along with a developing splitter he throws on the inside part of the plate. In every league Brach has spent significant time in he has led it in saves; this season shouldn't be any exception. Boxberger, a former USC star who came over in the Mat Latos trade, is the classic reliever in that his success relies mostly upon a four-seam fastball that he can throw in the low 90s with some cutting action. Ramona's Nick Vincent was competing for a job on the major league roster before he inadvertently stepped on a loose baseball rolling his ankle. Vincent was a huge part of the Missions' bullpen success in 2011 with an 8-2 record and 2.27 ERA and a 89/20 K/BB ratio as Texas League. Batters were only able to hit .196 against him. Lefty Josh Spence will start the year in Tucson after starting off strong in San Diego but faltered in August and September with a 17/9 BB/K ratio and 8 earned runs in 13.2 innings pitched.

Darnell will see time at multiple positions.

Infield: James Darnell had a huge season in San Antonio but inexplicably struggled after being promoted to a much better hitting environment in Tucson. The athletic Darnell sometimes has a tendency to expand the zone too much at times but when he is on is the complete package. Look for him to see time at both third and the corner outfield spots. Everyone always initially doubts Matt Clark's ability but his performance keeps pushing him upward. In the past two years the left-handed hitting Clark has blasted 51 home runs and big spring may have made him a candidate for the big club. Look for Clark to also see some time in the outfield. If he hadn't missed five weeks of the season Vince Belnome may have been the player of the year last season after hitting .333 with 19 doubles and 17 home runs in 75 games. In 2009 Everth Cabrera made the remarkable climb from A ball to the everyday starting shortstop in San Diego. The past two years injuries and struggles at the plate and in the field have seen him return to the minors. The Padres see him more now as a utility option and this spring he was beaten out by Andy Parrino for one of the final spots on the big league club.

Catching: Although first baseman Yonder Alonso has been receiving most of the publicity this spring many believe that switch-hitting catcher Yasmani Grandal might end up being the better player. The Padres think Grandal has made great strides in his defense, which is the one area of his game that get some criticism. Brad Davis is an eight year veteran of the minor leagues and will provide a blow for Grandal in the Arizona heat.

Tekotte brings speed and power to the lineup.

Outfield: Blake Tekotte is the best defensive centerfielder in the system and really not that far away from Cameron Maybin in that facet of the game. In San Antonio he had 48 extra-base hits and stole 36 bases. Tekotte also saw some time with the Padres and should be one of the first up if an outfielder goes down. Dan Robertson, a thirty-third round pick in 2008, is one of the better stories in the Padres' minor league system. Robertson can play all three outfield positions and has a career .387 on-base percentage. Sawyer Carroll had a nice bounce back year in San Antonio and he finished with forty-eight extra-base hits.

On the Spot: Everth Cabrera. Cabrera is attempting to re-invent himself as a utility player but Beemer Weems, who is by far the best defensive infielder in the system, could push him to the bench if he doesn't hit.

Under the Radar: Vince Belnome. If Belnome can prove he has the lateral range to play second base he may get a shot in San Diego; especially with many less than enamored with incumbent Orlando Hudson.

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