Portland Beavers Position Review

Greene headlined Portland

The Portland Beavers are the highest of San Diego's six farm teams, playing in the AAA level Pacific Coast League. The Beavers had a disappointing finish, ending up 12th out of 16 teams, with an overall record of 69-75. But, both Tagg Bozied and Bernie Castro made the PCL all star team and Khalil Greene demonstrated that he was ready for the major leagues both defensively and offensively.

Overall, the only player on the team that will probably have an impact on the Padres in 2004 is shortstop Khalil Greene.

Too many players on the 2003 Beavers acquired the dreaded "4A" label (Alex Pelaez, Ben Risinger, Rich Gomez, Kory DeHaan and Donaldo Mendez), or were ex-major league players tying to play their way back to the big leagues (Brady Anderson, Jaret Wright and Mark Quinn to name a few). In fact, out of the top thirty Padres' prospects ranked by Baseball America only four Beavers were in the top thirty (Greene #2, Bozied #10, Howard #6 and Castro #25). This gives you an idea of some of the talent that Rick Sweet had to work with this past year.

If anyone read the last reviews, I will repeat the section on what determines a "prospect". If you are already familiar with the process, skip down to the section that begins to analyze the position players.

When doing these types of analysis, as rudimentary as they are, if you are only looking at statistics as opposed to actually scouting the players in person, one is looking for a separation, something that indicates the player will have the capacity to develop into a major league player. The three main criteria that form the basis of this analysis usually look for the following indicators:

(1) Tools - This can loosely be defined for position players as the ability to run, field, throw, hit and hit with power. Typically for position players, someone needs to be a plus player in at least one category to make it in the major leagues. For pitchers it can be a variety of components, velocity, control, ERA, strikeouts; something that indicates the pitcher is able to dominate the competition. Control is important but velocity tends to get greater weight. If a pitcher can harness outstanding velocity, he may have a chance at a major league career. Very few pitchers can advance without a decent fastball.
(2) Performance - The easiest one to evaluate. How well the player actually performed in their league. Someone can have all the "tools" in the world, but as the player advances higher in the minor league system his actual performance becomes more important than his actual potential. Performance is the main criteria at AA or AAA level, as compared to the lower minors.
3) Age - Age is an indicator of how well the player does against the competition that he is facing. A 19 year old hitting .310 in the rookie leagues carries far more weight than a 23 year old, with four full seasons of college ball experience, doing the same thing. The younger and more successful a player is, the bigger upside they could possess.

Position Players

Khalil Greene is the first player that anyone should discus when talking about the Beavers in 2003. Greene was called up from Mobile to replace Donaldo Mendez when Ramon Vasquez got hurt in July. Greene then proceeded to tear up the PCL; his average was around .350 with power. Greene ended up hitting .288/.442/.346 (Batting Average/On-base percentage), with 19 doubles, 10 home runs and 47 RBIs in 319 ABs.

"You wouldn't think he has tremendous power, but he does," General Manager Kevin Towers said. "By putting him at the end of the order and knowing the kind of player he is, he will put more pressure on himself than we will. That is what makes him such a great kid."

What impressed observers the most about Greene was ability to play defense, which was frequently compared to Cleveland Indian's shortstop Omar Vizquel last year in Portland. Greene, 24, 5'11", 210 lbs, will be the Padres starting shortstop in 2004 and so far has been very impressive in spring. Khalil should have a good overall year, but Padres fans will need to be patient with him. He is very consistent defensively, but he will not draw many walks, which can lead to some slumps. He started off the year in Mobile in dreadful 8-64 slump, before bouncing back with a .320 average in his last twenty games. If his minor league statistics are any indicator of his major league performances, Greene will get very hot and cool off and then get hot again. However, Greene will give the Padres a middle infielder that could hit fifteen to twenty home runs in his rookie year, he is worth the risk.

"Khalil Greene made adjustments throughout his time that he has been with us," Director of Player Development Tye Waller said. "He started out slowly in Mobile last year, but made adjustments in his game and kept his confidence. The next step is for him to do it at a MLB level."

After Greene, the remaining infield prospects tail off. Tagg Bozied, 24, 6'3" 210 lbs, is a nice power prospect for the Padres. Going into 2003 big numbers were expected of the former Arizona Fall League home run champion. However, while Bozied improved his plate discipline in 2003, his power numbers dropped off finishing up at .273/.431/.331, with 14 home runs and 59 RBI's in 450 Abs. Khalil Greene nearly matched is home run and RBI numbers in more than a hundred less at bats. In order for Bozied to move up, or more likely be included in a trade his is going to have to post better offensive numbers for 2004.

The biggest problem Tagg has in his future with the Padres is that he is limited to 1b. A right handed power hitter in an organization with hitters such as Phil Nevin and Ryan Klesko already ahead of him on the major league roster, his chances aren‘t great of making the big team. Fellow prospects Xavier Nady and Jon Knott also have seemingly more upside than Tagg and an ability to play positions other than first base further complicate matters for him. I would look for Bozied to be traded before he gets promoted to the Padres. Tagg is not a bad player by any means; I just can't see where he can fit in with the Padres in the future.

Bernie Castro, 24 5'10" and 165 lbs., a switch hitting second baseman from the Dominican Republic. In 2003 Castro hit .309/.347/.387 with 2 HRs, 23 RBI's and 55 runs scored. There are a few concerns with Castro, (1) for a leadoff hitter he draws very few walks, which results in a fairly low OBP; (2) he possesses very little power which is also reflected in his OPS numbers, .734, and finally; (3) his defense, especially his arm leaves something to be desired. Because of this, Bernie is limited to 2b and would have a hard time making a MLB roster as a utility infielder.

On the positive side, he does posses incredible speed and the OPS numbers do not fully take into account the value of his stolen bases, which enabled him to lead the Beavers in runs scored. Although Castro could be a major league player, he will have a difficult time envisioning him supplanting Loretta or Vasquez and Gautreau Barfield and Stonard have much higher upsides. Another potential trade prospect, but like Bozied rather limited in where he can play.

The Padres top rated corner outfield prospect is Xavier Nady, 24, 6'2" 205 lbs., right handed hitter from Cal-Berkeley. Nady was ranked as the Padres top prospect going into the 2003 season by Baseball America and started off the season as the Padres starting right fielder. Nady hit above .280 into mid-June before going into big slump which culminated in him being sent down on July 22.

Nady's problem is, or was, his inability to lay off the high fastball along, a rather long swing with a high leg lift, which resulted in a significant drop in batting average and power. After Nady was sent down to Portland, he seemed to get his swing and power back and proceeded to hit .265/.329/.471 with 7 HRs and 23 RBI's in 39 games, a small slump in his final series prevented his numbers from appearing a little better. Nady has been a much better defensive player than advertised, and is still among the 2003 NL leaders in outfield assists. How will Nady figure into the Padres future plans? Well, that is the $64,000 question.

The Padres are currently trying to solve this question by increasing the number of positions Xavier can play, and he is penciled in as the starting CF in Portland. A big factor in the Padres future plans for Nady will be how well he can hit in the first half and if he has the defensive ability to play CF. If Xavier can answer these questions, we could see him by the All Star break in San Diego.

One of the more intriguing prospects in the Padres system, who received very little publicity, is Alex Fernandez. Fernandez, 22, 6'1" 205 lbs., bats and throws left and has put together a very solid season in Portland, .303/.327/.454 with 10 HRs, 52 RBIs and 16 stolen bases, sort of a mini Jason Bay.

The one area of concern with Fernandez is the relatively low number of walks (13 in 379 ABs), which decreases what should be a higher on base percentage, which shows that he needs to control the strike zone better. Additionally, most scouts don't believe he is 22, but a few years older. On the positive side, Fernandez is not a free swinger, as indicated by a relatively small strike out total of 53. If Fernandez can become a little more selective next year, he could become a major prospect. He's still a very young player, and he has shown that he can hit with power at a high level in the minor leagues.

"I don't think anyone believes that he is listed at 22," Jim Callis of Baseball America said. "Most people in baseball think he is at least 25. Sometimes that is not necessarily fair to the player, but I am just telling you what people have told us. Nobody has ever really believed that age. It would explain his career. It would make his success easier to understand. Having success at such a young age in these leagues and yet the Mariners didn't seem to be real high on him and the White Sox were willing to trade him."

Surrounded by the line-up that I believe Portland will have next year, Fernandez could develop. I haven't heard much on his defensive abilities, but based on his offensive numbers and being a left handed hitter we should all be hearing more from him in the future.

Portland Position Player Summary - Greene seems like the real thing, but both Nady and Fernandez could turn out to be good players in the future for the Padres. If Nady can convince the Padres he can play CF, he could be brought up in mid-season, but the Padres would have to move Terrence Long first. Fernandez, because of his left handed bat and ability to play all three outfield positions, could also have an opportunity. As for Bozied and Castro I can't see them fitting in on the big club, and seem likely candidates to be traded.

Potential MLB players this past year at Portland - Greene will be the starting everyday shortstop for the Padres. Nady figures to see time, but will he be traded?

For all of you who read all five summaries, I hope this helped to enhance your knowledge of just how many players are striving for a shot at the big leagues, and how brutal it is to make it.

Next week we will start our season previews for 2004 for Fort Wayne, Lake Elsinore, Mobile and Portland.

John can be reached at Conniff@sandiegosports.net

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