Padres Opening Day outlook

Padres Opening Day outlook

The big challenge for the Padres in Spring Training was integrating a wide variety of new players into a returning nucleus and creating a cohesive unit. The club feels it succeeded, with newcomers such as Vinny Castilla, Mike Cameron, Mike Piazza and Doug Mirabelli taking strong clubhouse roles in addition to vital roles on the field.

Castilla, Cameron, Piazza and Mirabelli all add right-handed muscle to an attack that has been deficient in that category -- an essential component in PETCO Park with its daunting targets for left-handed hitters such as Brian Giles, Dave Roberts and Ryan Klesko. With Khalil Greene, rookie Josh Barfield and switch-hitters Mark Bellhorn and Geoff Blum also capable of driving the ball from the right side, the club should take better advantage of the more accessible left-field wall.

The defense figures to be upgraded, notably with Cameron in center and Castilla at third, behind a pitching staff led by ace Jake Peavy and a bullpen as solid as any at the back end with Scott Linebrink and Trevor Hoffman. The success of the balance of the rotation and middle relief will go a long way in determining if the club can repeat as National League West champions.

1. Dave Roberts, LF:
The leadoff catalyst, Roberts has surprising pop to go with his strike zone judgment, speed and excellent baserunning instincts. He has made the shift to left field from center with characteristic selfless grace.

2. Mike Cameron, CF:
A complete player with power and speed, Cameron should be a significant force offensively and defensively. Few are in his class in center, and he can hit anywhere in the lineup -- a Swiss Army knife, as he calls himself.

3. Brian Giles, RF:
A total player who easily was the club's MVP in 2005, Giles plays every inning with intensity and meaning and hates to sit and watch. He gets on base, drives in runs and makes all the plays in right.

4. Mike Piazza, C:
Still a force with his booming bat, Piazza gives the club a middle-of-the-order presence and a solid receiver whose only flaw is his throwing arm.

5. Vinny Castilla, 3B:
A feared clutch hitter who has tormented the Padres over the years, Castilla provides more thump in the heart of the order. He's still an asset defensively with a sure glove and strong, accurate arm.

6. Ryan Klesko, 1B:
If his troublesome left shoulder doesn't deprive him of his power, Klesko can drive in a lot of runs in this lineup. He's a serviceable first baseman. Waiting in the wings is defensive artist Adrian Gonzalez, a solid hitter with power potential.

7. Khalil Greene, SS:
On the threshold of greatness, Greene has extraordinary power for a shortstop. He has the ability to rack up Gold Gloves if he avoids injuries.

8. Josh Barfield, 2B:
Barfield has done everything this spring to show he's ready to play regularly. He can drive the ball with surprising power, has a history of hitting in the clutch and is solid defensively. In support are Mark Bellhorn, Geoff Blum and Eric Young.

1. Jake Peavy, RHP:
Baseball's 2004 ERA king and the NL's '05 strikeout leader, Peavy has the right stuff and right temperament to win a Cy Young Award. It's all a matter of avoiding injuries for the 24-year-old marvel.

2. Shawn Estes, LHP:
Smart and resourceful, getting outs with fewer pitches than in his younger days, Estes should benefit from PETCO Park and a solid defense, especially the left side of the infield. He knows the division, having pitched for everyone in the NL West except the Dodgers.

3. Chris Young, RHP:
The club is eager to see how PETCO Park plays for the 6-foot-10 former basketball star who pitched capably as a rookie in 2005 in Texas' cozy park. He's smart, poised and equipped with enough quality stuff to win 15 games.

4. Chan Ho Park, RHP:
He's excited to show he's the same pitcher who averaged 15 wins across five seasons with the Dodgers before injuries and adjustment issues were his undoing in Texas. He showed in the World Baseball Classic with Team Korea that he has the stuff to be one of the surprises of 2006.

5. Woody Williams, RHP:
Smart, tough, experienced, with a big-game history, Williams is determined to be the co-ace the Padres signed him to be before the '04 season. He feels much better than he did last year at this time. One of the starters could be bumped by right-hander Dewon Brazelton, who pitched superbly in the spring.

Trevor Hoffman, 43 saves away from 479 and eclipsing Lee Smith as baseball's all-time save artist, still has his incomparable changeup and remains a commanding ninth-inning presence. Signing the face of the franchise represented a great Christmas gift to Padres fans, along with the re-signing of Giles. Scott Linebrink came off the scrap heap two years ago to emerge as a setup man with few equals. The hope is that Clay Hensley, who excelled in the second half with a team-best 1.70 ERA, will take over for departed Akinori Otsuka as the other main setup man. Middle relief figures to feature veteran lefty Alan Embree and several right-handers from a group including Brian Sikorski, Scott Cassidy, Brian Sweeney and veteran Andy Ashby.

Klesko has had continuing issues with his left shoulder, and he could be headed for the disabled list to start the season.

The big issue is durability, more than ability. The talent is more than sufficient for another NL West title run, on the field and on the pitching staff. Experience is a plus, the trick being keeping all those veterans healthy.

This could be one of the most formidable offenses and solid defenses the Padres have assembled -- if veterans Piazza, Cameron, Castilla, Giles, Roberts, Klesko and Co. hold up over the long haul. There is enough depth in the outfield to overcome a loss, and Mirabelli is solid support for Piazza.

The two players who can't be lost for an extended period are Greene and Peavy. Even Giles, the team's best everyday player, and Hoffman can be replaced for a spell, but Greene and Peavy are indispensable.

Depth also is an issue on the bench, which was such a vital component last season. Gone are pinch-hitters extraordinaire Mark Sweeney and Robert Fick, leaving that important job in the hands of less proven commodities.

Pitching should be adequate and could be exceptional if the starters behind Peavy hold up physically and get the ball in the hands of Hensley, Linebrink and Hoffman with leads.

"We've got a chance to be a team to win a championship. We have a great combination of young players and veteran players. You can feel the atmosphere here. We have great people and players here. They know how to win. I think we have the best team in the West -- great rotation, good defense and offense." -- Castilla

Lyle Spencer is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.