Optimism abounds as Friars open camp

Optimism abounds as Friars open camp

PEORIA, Ariz. -- A little after 10 a.m. MT on Friday, San Diego pitchers and catchers emerged from the clubhouse for their first official activity of Spring Training -- playing catch.

It was pretty simple stuff for the Padres on the first day of official workouts for pitchers and catchers at the Peoria Sports Complex, though that annual rite of spring eventually gave way to another time-honored favorite.

Pitchers' fielding practice -- or, as it's called in baseball circles, "PFP" -- a series of drills involving pitchers covering first base and making throws from the mound to bases. It's something manager Bud Black did plenty of during his days as a pitcher.

And it's something Black still highly values.

"I'm very big on practice," Black said Friday morning.

Black got what he wanted Friday -- perfect attendance on a slightly-overcast day.

He's also got -- and provided -- plenty of optimism, or something resembling it, and not just since these Padres finished fast in 2009, going 37-25 down the stretch with a roster that was mostly filled with younger players.

"Every first day is great no matter what stage in your baseball career you're in," Black said. "A veteran player, a coach, manager, executive ... coming into Spring Training, coming into that clubhouse, there's excitement."

Black indicated that all of the players who were expected in Peoria had indeed arrived. He met with some of them individually Thursday, and first-year general manager Jed Hoyer met several players as well, many for the first time.

All-Star closer Heath Bell, who led the National League with 42 saves, showed up early. He's been looking forward to this date for a while.

"Every year at this time, it feels like you're on that family trip, going to Disney World," Bell said. "The excitement that comes with it is great. You get to see your teammates, and it's great to strap that uniform on and play catch for the first time."

The first full-squad workout, including position players as well as pitchers and catchers, is set for Feb. 25. The Padres face the Seattle Mariners in the annual charity game on March 4 at the Peoria Sports Complex.

There will be plenty of innings to be had in Cactus League play, although not too many opportunities for long shots and surprises to win jobs.

Hoyer filled some needs in the offseason, first with a deal that sent popular third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff to the A's for outfielders Scott Hairston and Aaron Cunningham.

By adding Scott's older brother, Jerry, the Padres have the best utility-man option Black has had in his first three seasons as manager. Catcher Yorvit Torrealba could become more than a mere backup to Nick Hundley, and starting pitcher Jon Garland adds durability and dependability, something the rotation needed.

Torrealba and Hundley spent time on Thursday talking, something they'll do a lot of in the coming weeks and months. Torrealba is embracing his role as mentor, something that longtime catcher Benito Santiago did for him in 2002 in San Francisco.

Veteran Matt Stairs signed a Minor League deal. He'll try to make the team to give Black a left-handed bat off the bench late in games.

These are below-the-radar moves that could certainly pay big dividends in '10. Only time will tell.

The Padres feel internally that their 20-something players, a group that includes third baseman Chase Headley, Hundley, outfielders Will Venable and Kyle Blanks, pitcher Mat Latos and shortstop Everth Cabrera, aren't close to reaching their collective ceilings.

"It was a good group," Black said. "The pitching staff pitched very well. It was fun to watch. I've had more comments this winter from our fans about the last two months and how enjoyable it was to watch them play.

"I know the players left the season with a great taste in their mouths. They're excited about getting to camp."

And that all started during the first official workout of spring.

"We ended the year very good and everyone has picked us to be last," Bell said. "It' nice to go to Spring Training with a chip on your shoulder."

Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.