Padres June Roundtable Part II

When the circus is in town, a ringleader is needed to keep the you know what from hitting the fan. Geoff Young of Ducksnorts.com wears the top hat for us each and every month as the clowns come together to talk San Diego Padres baseball.

The original appears on Geoff Young's Ducksnorts.com and is seen in its entirety below: Last month we introduced a monthly roundtable in which several reputable sources that cover the Padres in different aspects offered their thoughts on the team. The response was so positive that we’re doing it a second time.

Participants this month include Anthony Trifiletti (Friar Watch), Peter Friberg (various; currently covering prospects at Ducksnorts under the title “Padres Prospect Report”), Jim Higgins (FriarBall), John Conniff and Denis Savage (MadFriars.com), Corey Brock (Padres.com), Ed Barnes (On the Road with Matt & Mud), Dex and jbox (Gaslamp Ball), Rich Campbell (San Diego Spotlight), and yours truly.

Geoff: Turning to one of May’s pleasant surprises, the Phillies aren’t exactly in a position to be throwing away pitching and yet they seemingly had no use for Justin Germano, who has done a tremendous job stepping in for the injured Clay Hensley. Is Germano legitimate big-league rotation material, or did the Padres just catch him at the right time? Also, what does the club do when Hensley is ready to come off the disabled list?

[Ed note: The Padres since have optioned Hensley to Triple-A Portland.]

Rich: Pitching is more than throwing, and sometimes it takes certain events for that to click with a guy. For Justin, getting released by a team that really needs pitching help may have been that event. The difference between the kid we traded and the one with the 3-0 record is all about maturity. His approach is better, his pitch selection is better and he is confident and in control. And guys love playing behind a guy who keeps the pace that he has been keeping. Get the ball, throw the ball. It will buy you an extra 2-3 outs a week from your fielders being more ready. They should teach every pitcher to pretend his shortstop and center fielder have Attention Deficit Disorder and that they need to keep them interested in the game.

John: Germano has always been a good pitcher in the minors, I had him at #8 going into 2005 and Denis had him #9. He’s a pitcher who is considered a “backwards pitcher,” which means his best pitches are a curve and change, but the key to his success is spotting his fastball. He seems to have gotten a little more movement on it and is more confident or precise in throwing than in the past. He’s also working with Darren Balsley, who was his pitching coach in Mobile, so he’s maybe a little more aware of what Justin needs to do to be successful.

As for if someone made a mistake? Who knows. With so many players it’s as much about being in the right situation as it is talent.

Anthony: Germano has been terrific but his numbers show it’s not sustainable. He’s walking fewer batters than Greg Maddux and his K/BB is nearly as good as Jake Peavy’s, despite striking out about 3 batters per 9 IP. Granted, if Germano really does have Maddux-level command then maybe we have something but that’s extremely unlikely. Also unlikely is maintaining a .193 BABIP; some of those batted balls will start falling eventually. That said, I do think Germano can remain an effective big league pitcher if he can maintain his control, something he has shown in the minor leagues.

As for pitching-starved teams releasing guys like Germano, it’s really not surprising. If they were good at identifying good pitching they wouldn’t be starved for it.

Geoff: Interesting point. I hadn’t thought of it in those terms.

Peter: I’ve always thought he had legitimate stuff; it was a question of opportunity and proper support (coaching, positive reinforcement, etc. — not run support — we offer the former but not the latter). Hensley has to realize that this rotation is strong and deep, but Peavy is a 32-start pitcher (he always misses 1 or 2), ditto for Chris Young, and we can certainly count on David Wells to make a DL visit this year. Hensley will have starting opportunities; he just needs to work hard, stay positive, and be patient.

Ed: When Germano came up in 2004, he was attacking hitters quite different than he is now. He walked 14 batters in 21.1 IP in 2004 as opposed to 2 BB in 25 IP this year. He’s being much more aggressive in the strike zone, which you would hope for after maturing for a few seasons. He’s got good off-speed stuff in a curve and change to supplement his fastball, which has enough movement to be effective.

When Hensley comes off the DL, the Padres add to their already deep pitching staff. Hensley has shown the ability to have success out of the bullpen before so that is an option. Another option would be to trade Hensley or Germano depending on what teams might give up for either one. Still, getting rid of a starter when you know that Wells will make at least one trip to the DL is a little risky.

Geoff: There’s a lot to be said for depth, especially with Maddux and Wells in the rotation. Jeff Sackmann discussed risk management in an article at The Hardball Times and notes, among other things, that it’s possible to “lessen risk by putting your eggs in a lot of different baskets.” Bearing that in mind, I think having both Germano and Hensley available makes a lot of sense, and I’m not sure I’d be so quick to move either of them.

Denis: Germano reminds me of Brian Lawrence — and not in a good way. There is no doubting his incredible performance since joining the team but sustainability has been the main reason he has not been in the big leagues for long. Anyone can hit a zone where they deal with near perfection, but having watched Germano for several years, I do not see him staying close to this level. Sure, he will tease with these kinds of performances, but we will also see a seven-run outburst that leaves you wondering which pitcher will show up on a given day.

I prefer the consistency of Hensley over a full season than the unpredictability of Germano. Sign me up for sinkers that play to the strength of the team, and if someone wants Germano he can be had for a small bounty. Hensley may be seeing some bumps in the road, but he is still the guy I want.

Corey: I think in a perfect world the Padres would like to see Hensley, who they certainly have much more invested in, get back to the major leagues and get back to being the pitcher he was in the second half of last season. I wouldn’t read too much into his struggles at Portland. The guy is getting his arm strength back and I think he deserves a shot at his old job at some point, even if it means having to start out in long relief. Germano is an interesting case because, yes, he’s been great thus far and everything the team has needed and more. He has a place on this team, in the rotation until Hensley gets back or the bullpen. And you have to think Germano might be very nice trade bait as well for Kevin Towers as he continues to look for that right-handed bat.

Dex: The proof is in the pudding. Geronimo has stepped in and if he wasn’t a legitimate big league pitcher before, he certainly is now. Sell high. Hensley’s lost a spot for now, but we’re not halfway through the season and having that kind of insurance policy is nothing to shake a stick at.

jbox: Germano is the real deal; he’s come through big so far and is a big reason for the Pads’ success in May. You can’t take him out of the rotation; it’s his spot to lose. Hensley is going to have to earn his spot back. I think you put him in the bullpen and see how he does in long relief. I’ve been unimpressed with him this season; he needs to get healthy and prove himself before he can be even considered in the starting role again.

Geoff: If nothing else, Germano’s performance has bought the Padres a little time. Hensley finished 10th in the NL in ERA last year, but let’s not forget how dominant he was out of the bullpen down the stretch in 2005. I agree that there’s no need to rush Hensley back into the rotation.

Jim: It seems, though, that before we start saying Germano is a future star, we should see more than three solid starts in a row. As for Hensley, he has the backing of Kevin Towers so no matter where he ends up when he comes off the DL, you can be sure he will get another shot at the rotation before Towers and company give up on him. Like I’ve said before, too much pitching can never be a problem and many teams will have bats to offer in the next month or two, desperate for anyone who can get an out.

Rich: I think we should trade Hensley and Terrmel Sledge or Paul McAnulty for Hideki Matsui. Now, while George is panicking and putting pressure on Cashman. The trade would help both teams. The Yankees have bats and what they need is pitching. Matsui would bring some intimidation to our lineup and help Adrian Gonzalez the way Mike Cameron should be but isn’t. Granted, Kouz will do that if he can keep this up.

Plus, Matsui is the kind of solid citizen that John Moores loves to employ and that this town loves to embrace. I believe Godzilla would thrive in San Diego.

The Yanks won’t want to trade him. They’ll want to trade Bobby Abreu. I don’t think that’s enough for a guy that was in last year’s top ten in ERA, although Abreu might benefit from the change in scenery.

Geoff: Now that is some serious thinking outside the box, Rich… Another hot item of late has been talk of altering the dimensions at Petco Park. Amid such speculation, the Padres are outhomering opponents at home, 25-9, and outscoring them, 101-67. Aside from the possibility of attracting free-agent power hitters, what other reasons might there be for moving the fences?

Rich: Leave the fences alone! This team is built on pitching and defense. If you move in the fences, you’ll only hurt us. Besides, what about free-agent pitchers? And not just the big names… a bullpen guy mulling over a contract choice between us and Philadelphia looks at this ballpark and nods his head, signing for $100K less because he knows he’ll make an extra $250K on his next contract after his numbers get “Petco-ized.”

I guess I’m in the minority, but I’d rather the fences were still where they were in 2004. I can live with the change they already made (what choice do I have?) but I would like things to stop there.

John: I think that is just a lot of talk. The dimensions will be the same next year.

Peter: Other than maybe slight adjustments at The Beach and the left-center corner, the Padres should leave the dimensions alone.

Anthony: The Padres aren’t going to sign a big-time power hitter regardless of where the fences are; they won’t spend the $15 million a year that would require. You don’t see Carlos Lee or Alfonso Soriano or even Todd Helton signing with the Rockies for a huge discount.

Geoff: I think sometimes people forget that fact when they start dreaming about how to spend the Padres’ money over the winter.

Anthony: Leave the fences where they are. The problem isn’t the distance, it’s the prevailing winds, temperature, humidity and barometric pressure. The Padres should embrace the Petco effect. Run a PR campaign touting Petco as a graveyard for opposing home runs, get inside their heads the way Coors psyches out pitchers. Emphasize team defense in order to deprive the opposition of even more runs.

Line drives seem to have a better chance than fly balls of getting over the fence. Start signing hitters with high LD%, preferably guys with speed and bunting ability. Identify pitchers who have good stuff but give up too many home runs. In Petco many of those will be easy outs.

Ed: The team has won two straight division titles in this ballpark. As much as people love offense, I’m a bigger fan of winning.

Geoff: You’re being way too reasonable.

Denis: Fans. Chicks dig the long ball — and so do men. The fact is the home run is the epitome of SportsCenter, and balls leaving the yard attract more fans to the game — just to hear the crack of the bat and see the ball clearing the wall. Isn’t all about the money?

Forget the fences and start drafting players with speed that can take advantage of the small-ball atmosphere. Sprinkle in some power and this can be the most complete team in the league that can play in any park.

Corey: I say leave the fences where they are and tailor your team around that. I think the whole enticing players to a ballpark that is hitter-friendly is overrated anyway. After all, to get that bopper here in the first place, you’re going to have to pay. That guy gets his loot no matter what, right? I don’t know if you go so far as to build your team around the park but you certainly look for players who have the skill set to succeed there — gap hitters, guys who can run.

Dex: Let’s go with spectacle. If Wrigley Field can have ivy growing on their walls, then let’s just go ahead and have robot fences. Bring them in 3 or 4 feet at night when the marine layer’s in. Push them back for day games. I’m pretty sure even Phil Nevin has gotten over the fences. The only real reason to even touch them now would be to add more seats.

Geoff: Adding more seats is the one argument I’ve heard for changing the dimensions that makes any sense. Interestingly, nobody is making that argument.

jbox: If you bring in the fences then you stop players and fans from complaining once and for all. Who knows, though, there may be a backlash and fans and pitchers might start complaining if it becomes a hitters’ park. I’d prefer a park that doesn’t favor offense or defense too heavily and plays like other parks, but I’m not sure they can even predict what Petco will do next. Maybe they need to put some Petco models into a wind tunnel. I keep changing my mind on this subject. I’m a flip flopper. I was against it before I voted for it before I voted against it again.

Jim: I think the biggest thing that attracts power hitters will be money, and San Diego has never been a team that will outbid another team for a power hitter; they are much more content growing their own power hitters (or developing unproven talent) and then trading them away when they get too expensive. We did manage to help Gary Sheffield become valuable enough to get an unproven closer who would go on to become the best in the business. But I digress. As far as the fences are concerned, again it’s been said by others but we should build a team to suit the park, not adjust the park to suit the team. And the best part about building a team to fit Petco is that speed and line-drive guys are cheaper to keep around longer than the big power hitter.

Geoff: I have to say, the consensus is much stronger than I’d anticipated. Here’s hoping that cooler heads will prevail and this talk will die down sooner rather than later. Winning is good, and that’s what the Padres have been doing since they moved downtown.

Turning to the minor-league portion of our discussion, last month we touched on Chase Headley’s improvement early in 2007. Who else has been a surprise, pleasant or otherwise? Two names that jump out at me (for different reasons) are Kyler Burke and Craig Stansberry. Comments on these guys or anyone else we should be watching?

Peter: Cedric Hunter has been a disappointment, but he’s still a 19-year-old batting .279 with a .352 on-base percentage in a tough league for hitters. On a more positive note, Wade LeBlanc looks amazing, and Cesar Ramos looks a lot better than I thought he would…

John: In our pre-season previews I picked four guys that I thought would do well in the “Under the Radar” section. Two (OF Vince Sinisi [Portland] and OF/1B/DH Craig Cooper [Lake Elsinore]) have done very well, one (1B/DH Jeremy Hunt [Fort Wayne]) fair, and one (2B Sean Kazmar [San Antonio]) poor.

I would keep an eye out on both Chad Huffman and Cooper in Lake Elsinore, who tend to be overshadowed by Kyle Blanks and Matt Antonelli. Both are big right-handed hitting corner outfielders whose patience and power is what the Padres are trying to develop. Also Josh Geer, a pitcher that is a lot like Germano, is quietly putting together a nice year in San Antonio.

I’ll defer to Denis on Burke and Stansberry.

Denis: Stansberry has been playing above his talent level, much like Justin Leone did last year. The difference is Stansberry has always collected doubles and is doing it more often now. He is also very solid defensively and could be a bat used off the bench.

I admit to being a Burke fan. But he may be a little over his head in the Midwest League. There is no denying his talent. But he has more strikeouts than games played and has scuffled playing at this competition level. His at-bats have improved since the start of the year and I think he ends up in Eugene and blossoms.

The biggest disappointment has been Luis Cruz. Added to the 40-man roster this off-season, he was terrible in Triple-A and was demoted. He was swinging at bad pitches and suddenly felt he had to hit for more power to be a major league call-up. His game is built on line drives, and defense and he was doing neither well.

Will Venable has been a slight disappointment from an extra-base perspective. His power was blossoming in Fort Wayne but he had just seven doubles and no homers over his first 50 games. Of course, the day I write this he hits for the cycle. Incidentally, Venable had just one homer until late June last year and ended up with 11.

On the positive side, Manny Ayala’s lone loss came versus Bartolo Colon and he surrendered just one run in that start. Geer has painted the corners and mixed his pitches well, dominating the Texas League, and LeBlanc has done the same in the California League. They both came in with questions and have answered every doubter along the way.

Antonelli has made the biggest strides offensively. The kid had the eye and the tools to be successful and has begun to put every facet of his game together. His first-step quickness has improved to result in more stolen bases and he is wearing the extra weight he put on well. He could be up in San Diego before you realize it.

Chad Huffman is a major leaguer. He has all the intangibles and if the power continues to stay through when he jumps to Double-A there is nothing keeping him from a career in the bigs.

Keep an eye on Rayner Contreras. His defense has been awful but his offense may just blossom — and soon.

Geoff: I’ve seen Antonelli and Ayala a couple times this year, and both have impressed me quite a bit. How about the draft — who do the Padres take with their first pick next week and why?

John: Baseball, unlike the NFL and NBA, is almost impossible to predict the order of the draft because there are just so many variables and lack of information on the teams, players and agents. As Bryan Smith wrote in an article on Baseball Prospectus a few weeks back, Chief Gayton is the scouting director, but Grady Fuson plays a significant — some would claim superior — role in determining whom the team will pick. The Padres have 6 of the first 64 picks and I would expect them to lean toward pitching, but they will take the best available player available. Also look for them to take a few flyers on high school players since the draft is much stronger for high school than college talent this year.

Peter: Michael Main is getting a lot of press for his arm, but I wonder if he’s been overused as a prep pitcher. I love him as a five-tool outfielder. The idea of a 70 running switch-hitting fielder with pop gets me excited. That said, I doubt the Padres go that route. I almost expect the Padres to take LF/DH masher Kellen Kulbacki with one of their sandwich picks (Kulbacki posted a 1.400+ OPS as a sophomore and is posting a 1.300+ mark as a junior).

Denis: This is the toughest question to answer because of where they pick at 23. The board will ultimately dictate their decision and they will choose from a cluster (that was for you San Diego Chargers’ fans) of players. I want a high school player to be picked in the first round, and then they can back him up with a college player. With nine picks coming quickly, a 5-4 split of high school-to-college would be preferable for me.

Geoff: Good stuff, as always. One thing remains certain through the first two months of the season: Now is a real good time to be a Padres fan.

Thanks, gentlemen, for being a part of this little shindig. We’ll do it again next month; with any luck, we’ll have even more reason to be positive by then.

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