-- Noe C., San Diego
Regardless of Hawpe's early struggles -- and we have to remember, we're talking about five games here -- I think you're going to see plenty of Cantu this season, either at first base or third base. I think manager Bud Black will find ways to get his bat in the lineup more often than not. I like his approach, I like that he doesn't get cheated, and he's been good (again, small, small sample size) at putting the ball in play. But don't give up on Hawpe, as this is a guy who has been a big-time run producer in the past. Sure, getting one hit in his first 14 at-bats doesn't look good. But if that happens in, say, May or June, few people would notice.
If Will Venable is expected to have a breakout season, will he have the opportunity to play every day or will he continue be a platoon player? I'd like to see him in the lineup daily, especially if we expect some growth.
-- Joe E., Ladera Ranch, Calif.
I don't think the Padres view Venable as a platoon player. I think what you've seen in the first week of the season is Black using his entire roster, getting some at-bats for bench guys like Cantu and Chris Denorfia. I think you'll see a right-handed bat like Denorfia in the lineup against tough left-handed pitchers, but you're also going to see Venable against left-handers, as well. The Padres are very high on Venable, as they have been impressed by the growth that has taken place with his game. You're going to see Venable in there more often than not moving forward. He's their best leadoff option and has plus speed and power. Black told me this week that this isn't a platoon situation.
With Hawpe struggling, do you know why Black keeps putting him in the cleanup spot in the lineup, instead of a guy like Nick Hundley?
-- Phillip Z., San Diego
Hundley's early success -- he's hitting .500 over his first five games, killing just about everything he sees -- is notable, but I think you have to look at the lineup as a unit -- Nos. 1-8 -- to understand how it functions. Hawpe has struggled early, but this is a guy who has been a run producer in his past, hitting mostly in the No. 4 or 5 hole. He knows what to expect there to some extent, and has had success there. I don't think you can just move your top hitter (in the first week) into the No. 4 spot. You have to remember that Hundley is probably seeing a different set of pitches than Hawpe is, and he is being approached differently. I'm not saying Hundley will stay in the eight-hole if he remains on a tear. But it's still five games, and I think that veterans get the benefit of the doubt -- especially ones with track records like Hawpe. Ask me again in a month.
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I am wondering what the plan is for outfielder Aaron Cunningham this season? I believe that he is a legitimate big league outfielder, but I don't see him winning the job over Cameron Maybin.
-- Jaden K., Ukiah, Calif.
You're right, Jaden. Cunningham isn't going to unseat Maybin anytime soon. For now, Cunningham will play every day for Triple-A Tucson and try to continue the strong spring he was having -- he hit .326 in 46 at-bats, with two home runs -- before he suffered a calf strain. Even if he had been healthy, I still think the Padres would have chosen Cedric Hunter as a fifth outfielder, because he's left-handed and Cunningham is not. Either way, the Padres still like Cunningham. They just want to see him have the kind of consistent success in Triple-A that they believe he should. Really, he profiles as the kind of player the Padres want -- athletic, good defender, gap power. Now, he just has to show he can be that guy every day in Tucson.
What kind of role does pitcher Aaron Poreda play in the Padres' future? Will we see him back in the big leagues this year?
-- Arman K., Chicago
Poreda will start the season with Triple-A Tucson as a member of their bullpen, where he will continue to work on his command -- a problem that's dogged him since he was traded from the White Sox to the Padres in the 2009 deal for Jake Peavy. Poreda, a left-hander with good velocity, walked five and allowed two runs in 2 2/3 innings this spring before he was sent to Minor League camp. He needs to show that his command is better before he's given another shot at the Major League level.