SAN DIEGO -- The World Baseball Classic figures to pull two of the Padres' top players, pitcher Jake Peavy and first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, away from Spring Training, which will create a notable void. But it also figures to create opportunities for some of the Padres' top prospects to impress the team in Cactus League play, providing not only playing time but valuable experience which might not have been available in other years. One of those players who figures to get plenty of at-bats during Cactus League play will be first baseman Kyle Blanks, who will see the majority of time as Gonzalez plays with Team Mexico in the World Baseball Classic.
"He's going to get a lot of playing time. I think the exposure to the Arizona Fall League was good for him. He's going to get some at-bats against big league competition," said Padres general manager Kevin Towers. Blanks hit .254 with one home run and 13 RBIs playing in the Arizona Fall League and had a .430 on-base percentage. The 22-year-old Blanks is widely considered one of the Padres top prospects, especially after following up a strong 2007 at Class A Lake Elsinore (24 home runs, 100 RBIs, .380 on-base percentage) with a monster season in 2008 with Double-A San Antonio. Not only did Blanks hit .325, but he launched 20 home runs and recorded 107 RBIs and a .404 on-base percentage while playing the majority of his games in a pitching-friendly ballpark. Blanks is expected to open the season with Triple-A Portland, though he could push the Padres' hand if he continues to have success offensively. "Lake Elsinore [where Blanks played in 2007] is a hitters' park, but San Antonio is not," Towers said. "For me, I think that Double-A is a level where the prospects emerge from the suspects." Towers said he's not against finding a place in San Diego for Blanks, even if that means moving him to the outfield while Gonzalez, an All-Star and a Gold Glove winner for the first time in 2008, plays first base. "We've talked about it," Towers said. "We've got to find somewhere for him to play. He reminds me a little of Carlos Lee. He runs well for a big man. He's not a clogger. I think he is a solid baserunner. "We might hit him some fly balls. But if we decide to make a position change with Kyle, it would be something we would do in a controlled environment." As for replacing Peavy, who will again compete for Team USA, Towers doesn't figure that will be much of a problem with 34 healthy pitchers in Spring Training competing for roles in the starting rotation and bullpen. Peavy and Gonzalez's World Baseball Classic participation could take them away from Spring Training for as long as three weeks, depending on the success of their respective teams. Those two players, and the other members of the organization who will play in the World Baseball Classic, will leave Spring Training on March 1. Should Team USA or Team Mexico advance to the World Baseball Classic finals, the soonest Peavy or Gonzalez could return to Spring Training would be March 24, in time for the final 12 exhibition games.
Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.