SAN DIEGO -- There was a perfectly acceptable reason why the Padres used nine players in the leadoff role in 2010. "We could never find the right leadoff guy," general manager Jed Hoyer said. And while manager Bud Black won't likely stick with just one player at the top in 2011, he certainly doesn't plan on using nine players again.
The offseason additions of shortstop Jason Bartlett, center fielder Cameron Maybin and second baseman Orlando Hudson and the return of right fielder Will Venable figure to give the Padres a better chance to succeed at the top than they did last season. After all, it would be hard to be much worse. In 2010, the Padres finished tied with the Nationals for the lowest batting average out of the leadoff spot (.237). Only the Nationals and Indians had a lower on-base percentage from the top of the order than the Padres (.306). It certainly wasn't a lack of effort on the Padres part to try and improve themselves -- as they used Everth Cabrera, Venable, Jerry Hairston, Scott Hairston, Tony Gwynn, Chris Denorfia, David Eckstein, Aaron Cunningham and Luis Durango in the leadoff spot. "We could never find the right leadoff guy," Hoyer said. "We could move a player into the leadoff hole and he wouldn't get on base. We would move him to seventh or eighth and he'd get on base. That was a constant frustration all year. "We never found the guy to do that job." Black said he'll likely "mix and match" leadoff hitters depending on pitching matchups, something he's mostly done since becoming manager in 2007. If Black had what he considered to be a true leadoff hitter, that might be different. But he's quick to point out that those types of players are difficult to find across baseball. "There are few and far between," Black said. "The true ones, guys who can combine the average with the on-base [percentage], guys who takes pitches ... those guys are hard to find. If there were 30 or them out there, everyone would be really happy." What does Black like about his leadoff candidates for 2011? "Venable has some experience there, Bartlett has experience, Hudson has experience," Black said. "And we'll look at Maybin." Hudson has mostly hit second during his Major League career but can handle the bat well and can work a count. Bartlett has a .263 batting average and a .356 on-base percentage in 495 at-bats hitting leadoff. He might be the best fit for the top. Venable has a career batting average of .266 -- higher than his overall average of .252 -- at the top of the order. He also offers a speed element (29 steals) that might make him a nice fit, especially against right-handed pitchers. Maybin figures to get most of his at-bats lower in the order, though he has 181 career at-bats at leadoff, hitting .238.