A glimpse into the future

Howard could be a factor for the Padres in 2004

The September call-ups give a team the chance to look at their future prospects, and possibly their future team. The Padres are looking to compete next year in Petco Park, and many players are fighting for their jobs. An impressive performance in September could land someone an opening day roster spot in 2004, while one bad month could have a player packing their bags.

Perhaps the largest, and most significant player to be called up this year is SS Khalil Greene. Greene has been the most prevalent prospect in the Padres organization for some time now, and has been labeled as, "the shortstop of the future". With a proficient September, Greene could be the Padres opening day shortstop in 2004.

The man who Greene is trying to take the position from is Ramon Vazquez, who is hitting .258 with 3 HR, 10 SB, and an OBP of .338 this year. Vazquez has been struggling as of late, after a strong performance early in the season. Ramon was fitting in as a leadoff hitter by getting timely hits, and getting on base early in the season, but he was slowed down with an abdominal strain and eventually put on the DL. Since the injury, Vazquez has hit .231 with an unfavorable .310 OBP. Greene has been expected to take the shortstop position from Vazquez next year, with Sean Burroughs looking to the leadoff spot.

Another interesting position battle is the fourth outfield position. The three candidates to take on this role are Gary Matthews Jr., Brian Buchanan, and Xavier Nady. There is a good possibility that two of these three will be back for next year, but one will not be on the 25-man roster come opening day. With Ryan Klesko out for the rest of the season, these players will be seeing a lot of playing time.

Nady is the wild card of the bunch and has received a September call-up after being demoted to AAA Portland. After winning the starting right-field position, Nady made a splash in the first few months of 2003, and garnered rookie of the month honors for the month of May. Since then, pitchers adjusted and kept Nady to a .202 average with 0 HR.

Gary Matthews Jr., and Brian Buchanan have both played consistent, with Matthews making a good defensive replacement, and Buchanan providing some power off the bench. The outcome of this race could largely come down to the play of Xavier Nady.

The biggest change coming into next year could be the Padres bullpen. A shaky group has been pulled together with the acquisition of Rod Beck, and the return of Trevor Hoffman has made the back end rock solid.

Both Beck and Padres GM Kevin Towers have expressed interest in making Rod a part of next year's bullpen. With Witasick throwing well, the bullpen has its building blocks and is just a few steps away from becoming stable. Many players are looking for a bullpen spot next year, and they are all getting a chance.

Ben Howard has been called-up in September and has taken over Oliver Perez's spot in the rotation. After a rough first start, Ben has settled down and thrown two good games with a 1-1 record and a 3.63 ERA. By making a good impression in his upcoming starts, Howard could land a bullpen job in 2004 and could make emergency starts.

Brandon Villafuerte has also been called up, and is hoping to redeem himself after a failed closer conversion. The bullpen is full of players fighting for jobs and could be very solid next year.

Every player on the Padres knows how important September is, and many players are fighting for a job. Hopefully this time next year, they will be fighting to get in the playoffs.

Matt Johnson- stone1cold_98@cox.net

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