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John Conniff: Who was the best player that you saw this year at Portland and why?
Jonathan: Got to go with Ben Johnson on that one. He started slowly but really picked things up in May and was tremendous the rest of his time in Portland. He’s a real strong kid, very good power. Athletic, runs well, a solid package of skills. I was really impressed with him, he does everything well. I love the story of how the Pads were interested in either Albert Pujols or Johnson when they traded Carlos Hernandez to St. Louis. You look at Johnson up close and see how good of an athlete he is and you’re not surprised that the two of them would have been in that same conversation in 2000.
John Conniff: The Padres have stated that Josh Barfield needs more time to develop in Portland. As someone who saw him play for the whole year do you think he is ready both defensively and offensively for the major leagues?
Jonathan: Josh also started slowly with the bat but got better and better as the season went on. If the Padres didn’t have a viable option at 2B next year – if Mark Loretta blows out his knee in the spring or something like that – I think Josh could step in and do fairly well as the starting 2B. That being said, I think he’s going to continue to develop a bit with the bat and some more time at AAA won’t hurt him. Defensively, you hear picayune complaints about his defense from time to time, but he’s solid with the glove. Everyone who I talked to who watched him daily was impressed with his defense. That seemed to be the bigger knock on him, but I think he certainly projects as a solid defensive 2B in the majors.
John Conniff: Can Ben Johnson play center field?
Jonathan: In a pinch, yes, but I don’t think you want him to be your everyday CF. In the few times I saw him play CF in Portland, he seemed to struggle a bit. Didn’t get a good read on the ball, struggled going back on balls. Could he improve with some more seasoning at the position, sure. I think he’s a solid corner OF, but in a park like San Diego’s, you seem to need a guy with more traditional CF range, someone like Freddy Guzman.
John Conniff: Tim Stauffer had a lot of success and failure at Portland this year. What are his strengths and why did he struggle so much at the end of the year?
Jonathan: Tim’s strength has seemed to me to be his ability to throw any of four pitches at any time in the count. He’s constantly described as a guy who "just knows how to pitch." He started the year in Portland as was dominant for a month before getting promoted. After he got back here, he really struggled. I don’t know that there was anything physically wrong with him, it seemed like the issues were more mental. In his short and very successful career, he hasn’t really ever faced any adversity, so I’m sure it was tough for him mentally to come down to Portland and then get lit up a bunch of times. His last start of the year was excellent though, so you know he kept working at whatever the problems were and didn’t just mail it in. That’s a good sign. I would guess that he’ll be in the San Diego rotation on Opening Day 2006.
John Conniff: The Padres sent Tagg Bozied to the Instructional Leagues to learn how to play the corner outfield positions? Do you think he is athletic enough to play the corner outfield positions and is he ready offensively for the major leagues after so many injuries?
Jonathan: He looked ready for the majors offensively in 2004, before tearing up his knee. He was having a tremendous season, the kind of year that I’m sure the team felt he was capable of. He’s got exceptional raw power and he’s got a good approach at the plate, he’s not a one-dimensional slugger. After missing all of last year, I’d be shocked if he didn’t spend the season in Portland, at least until the rosters expand. As far as his athleticism, he was a solid 1B. I’m surprised about the idea of moving him to a corner OF spot. I’m sure the club must feel like his knee is back to 100% if they’re going to try that, but I also know there was real concern in Portland last year that his career might be over due to the knee issues. Hopefully, if they’re trying him in the OF, that’s an indication that his knee is responding well to treatment.
John Conniff: Jon Knott seemed to struggle more this season than in the past, what happened to him this year?
Jonathan: My sense is that Jon was pressing a bit this year. He got that taste of the majors in 2004 and I’m sure he was anxious to get back. There were stretches during the year, very early on and later when Johnson was in San Diego, where Jon didn’t have a lot of protection in the lineup. He still posted strong numbers though. The one noticeable dip came in his batting average. His power numbers were still very solid. He’s another guy who’s got legitimate power. He’s a good ballplayer and if the 2006 lineup features guys like McAnulty, Barfield and a healthy Bozied in the middle of the order, I think Jon’s numbers will be back where they were in 2004.
John Conniff: Who is the best position player that the Padres fans haven’t heard about?
Jonathan: Bobby Scales had an excellent year. He posted career highs in a bunch of categories and he can play 4 positions. Just a good ballplayer, but as a 6-year free agent, he probably won’t be back. As far as expected returnees, a lot of folks were very impressed with Dustin Delucchi. That guy plays a legit CF and he has plus speed. Kind of reminds me of an outfield version of David Eckstein, one of those gritty guys who knows what he can and can’t do and gets the most out of his abilities.
John Conniff: Who is the best Portland pitcher that Padres fan probably haven’t heard of?
Jonathan: There are a few guys that come to mind. Lefty Jason Kershner was the most effective reliever on the staff. He had a cup of coffee with the Pads back in 2002 after posting dominant numbers in Portland. He came back to the organization after pitching in the Toronto and Boston systems and was excellent. I was surprised he didn’t get the call to San Diego – my sense was that he had thrown so many innings this year the SD folks didn’t think he had enough left for the stretch run. He’s a free agent, but if the Pads get him back, he’ll compete for a bullpen job in 2006. Scott Cassidy is another guy. He also came over from the Boston system and was excellent as the closer the last 6 weeks of the season.
In the rotation, Mike Thompson might have been the Beavers best starter the last two months of the season. He made nine starts in Portland and eight of them were "quality starts." Brian Sweeney has posted great numbers in Portland the last two years and will be back to compete for a job in SD in 2006. He’s a guy who, like Stauffer, doesn’t necessarily wow you with his stuff, but he knows what he’s doing on the mound, he throws strikes and he doesn’t beat himself. I ’d like to see what he could do with an opportunity in the majors.