-- Steve N., San Diego
The Padres have two players, Rob Johnson and Guillermo Quiroz, who will figure to compete in Spring Training to be Hundley's backup. The Padres have benefited greatly -- Hundley as well -- from having veteran catchers around in 2009 (Henry Blanco) and 2010 (Yorvit Torrealba). Hundley learned a lot from these two players. I think the team would have loved to have landed another veteran, but the catching market essentially got out of control -- financially, that is -- early, starting when John Buck signed a three-year deal in November for $18 million. That changed the market. The Padres felt they had a good chance to sign Rod Barajas, and not just because he makes his home in nearby Del Mar, Calif. But Barajas re-signed with the Dodgers for $3.25 million. The Padres decided to allocate their resources toward their bigger needs, first base (Brad Hawpe) and second base (Orlando Hudson).
I think the outfielders from left to right field in 2011 should be Ryan Ludwick, Aaron Cunningham and Will Venable. What do you think?
-- Rafael C., Chula Vista, Calif.
I think you're right in terms of Ludwick in left field and Venable in right field, but you'll see Cameron Maybin as the everyday center fielder in 2011. The Padres thought enough of Maybin to trade for him and are hopeful that as a 23-year-old he's still growing as a player and his production at the Major League level will eventually mirror the success he has had at the Minor League level (.306/.393/.361). The Padres want Cunningham to play every day and that won't happen in San Diego right away. Look for Chris Denorfia to get time as a fourth outfielder.
With Hawpe on board now, what is the Padres' next step to fill out the bench for 2011? The bench was a key reason why the team won 90 games last season. Is there any chance David Eckstein comes back as a reserve infielder?
-- Jim M., San Diego
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Jim, you're right about the importance of the bench in 2010. How would the Padres have fared if they hadn't signed Jerry Hairston last winter? The bench is a very important piece -- especially in the National League because of pinch-hitting for the pitcher and double-switches and such. I think the recent signing of utility man Kevin Frandsen to a Minor League deal will pay off. He's not guaranteed a job, but the Padres signed him with the hope that Frandsen -- who can play anywhere in the infield and the outfield in a pinch -- will earn a spot on the 25-man roster. General manager Jed Hoyer would still like to add a left-handed bat to the bench.
What does the future hold for shortstop Everth Cabrera in San Diego?
-- Ewing R., Miami
Pretty interesting question here, as I don't think even the Padres know what to expect from Cabrera. He was good in 2009 and struggled to hit and stay healthy last season. Now, with the additions of shortstop Jason Bartlett and new second baseman Hudson, I think Cabrera could be headed to Triple-A Tucson to start the season. I think Cabrera is a lot like Cunningham -- the Padres want to see these guys playing every day. Remember, Cabrera is only 24 and made the jump from Class A to the big leagues when the Padres selected him in the Rule 5 Draft before the 2009 season. The Padres haven't given up on Cabrera. But I think that he could benefit from playing every day at the Triple-A level.
What do you think the Padres' plans for Kyle Blanks are? He looked good his rookie year but had a sophomore slump. Do you see him in San Diego in 2011?
-- Thomas G., Niles, Ohio
Blanks, who had reconstructive surgery on his right elbow in July, is progressing well in his rehabilitation and will be cleared for activity in Spring Training. I don't know if it's been determined if he'll be able to play in games right away or sometime in March or if he'll be ready for the start of the regular season. My sense is that when he's healthy, you will see Blanks playing for Triple-A Tucson to begin. He missed most of last season and struggled in his 102 at-bats (.157) with the Padres before being hurt. I think he'll need time at the Minor League level to get his timing back before we see him again in San Diego. The Padres have Hawpe to play first base but having a right-handed hitter to platoon with the left-handed Hawpe might not be bad. So could that player be Blanks? Watch his progress in Spring Training. From there, only time will tell.
What can you tell us about the player to be named later in the Adrian Gonzalez deal from the Red Sox?
-- Sal L., San Diego
The Padres acquired three Minor League players in the deal that sent Gonzalez to the Red Sox in December and a player to be named later. That player was Eric Patterson, who can play the infield and outfield. Hoyer thinks Patterson is a good fit for the NL because he can help a team in a variety of ways -- pinch-hitting, pinch-running and the ability to play all over the field. "He can play all over the place and he's a good, versatile guy," Hoyer said. In 2009, Patterson hit .307 with 12 home runs, 56 RBIs and 43 steals for the A's Triple-A affiliate in Sacramento. He's a career .303 hitter in parts of six Minor League seasons and has an on-base percentage of .367.