|Yonder Alonso will help change the dynamic in San Diego in a positive way. (Getty Images)|
PEORIA, Ariz. -- What I like, and don't like, about the Padres:
• New mix. GM Josh Byrnes made seven trades during his first three months on the job after replacing Jed Hoyer, and most of his work should benefit the Padres. As good as the mix was in winning 90 games in 2010, it was just as bad in losing 91 games in 2011. A team that did all the so-called little things properly -- throwing to the right bad, hitting cutoff men, making plays consistently in the field, heads-up baserunning -- did precious few of them properly last year. Outfielder Carlos Quentin, first baseman Yonder Alonso and veteran extra outfielder Mark Kotsay in particular will help change the dynamic, surely for the positive.
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• Old hands. Center fielder Cameron Maybin flourished in his first real opportunity in the majors last season, so much so that the Padres awarded him with a five-year, $25 million extension this spring. Chase Headley isn't flashy, but he's steady and his .374 on-base percentage led NL third basemen in 2011. Catcher Nick Hundley is solid, though with Yasmani Grandal's arrival, his long-term future behind the plate in San Diego is in doubt.
• Manager Bud Black. The NL Manager of the Year in 2010, Black retains a calm demeanor, a whip-quick baseball mind and a steady hand in running a club saddled with one of baseball's bargain-basement budgets. One testament to his ability is that he's currently now working for his third GM in Byrnes, following Jed Hoyer and Kevin Towers, and all have been ardent advocates of Black. Regarding the significant changes in the clubhouse this spring, Byrnes says, "Buddy does a great job of building camaraderie."
• Farm system. It's coming back. After years of neglecting to pull the weeds and prune the dead stuff, the Padres have done enough over the past couple of seasons to ascend to No. 8 in Baseball America's annual ranking of the 30 major league clubs' systems. "We don't have that one guy who stands out, but we have a few who have a chance to be All-Star-type players," Byrnes says. "The depth is real. ... That's essential for us."
• The Heath Bell-Mike Adams-Luke Gregerson troika that was so dominant for so long is a distant memory. The Padres aren't starting from scratch, but it's close. Only Gregerson returns now that Adams was traded to Texas last year and Bell signed with the Marlins as a free agent. They acquired closer Huston Street from Colorado and Andrew Cashner from the Cubs, who should become the eighth-inning set-up man. Cashner already has excited everyone by hitting 100 mph on the radar gun this spring. There are humongous bullpen shoes to fill here.
• The Padres don't need a hitting coach, they need a psychiatrist. Petco Park is tough, and it's been most brutal on the hitting coaches. Phil Plantier replaces Randy Ready and is the club's sixth hitting coach since 2004. Last year's splits: the Padres batted .221 with a .630 OPS at home; .252 and .675 on the road.
• Middle infielders Orlando Hudson and Jason Bartlett were disappointments last year in the first year of two-year deals. Both need to step up, especially Hudson. At one point last summer in a season of sloppy defense and little things left undone, Hudson forgot how many outs there were and flipped the ball into the stands after catching a pop fly. Things like that can't happen, especially to a nine-year veteran. Even worse, after the game, he said things like that happen in baseball and he thought it was funny. Absolutely brutal, and moments like that help explain why he's bounced around so much. The Padres were so down on him they tried hard to trade him last fall, but their inquiries fell on deaf ears. Maybe playing for a job next summer will spur Hudson -- and aid the Padres -- this summer.
• Too many strikeouts last year. Only Washington (1,323) whiffed more than the Padres (1,320) in the majors last season. No individual Padres ranked among the NL's top 10, the entire group was adept at swinging and missing. It's one direct reason why the Padres scored the third-fewest runs in the majors. Too many whiffs, and not enough homers (the Padres' 91 were dead last in the majors). That's a tough trick to pull off, striking out that much while homering so infrequently. The Padres' situational hitting was awful, especially early. "We really had some bad numbers with runners in scoring position, especially early, the first seven weeks," Black says. "Historically bad." You bet the Padres are on a mission to make sure that doesn't happen again.