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The Padres were baseball's surprise team last year, winning 90 games and leading the NL West most of the season only to lose their playoff spot on the very last day.
Yet as unlikely as their rise to glory was, coming at a time when many pundits picked them to finish in last place, it's even less likely to happen again.
The decision to deal franchise player Adrian Gonzalez to the Red Sox all but assured that. He was the lone superstar in a lineup of retreads and misfits, not to mention the only left-handed hitter to figure out PETCO Park, and the Padres' willingness to trade him for a trio of prospects shows how little they thought of their chances to repeat.
Now, they're left with just two legitimate Fantasy options: Hard-throwing ace Mat Latos, who finished eighth in Cy Young voting in what was practically his rookie season, and closer Heath Bell, who might be the best at his position, in part because the Padres didn't do much to improve their already lackluster offense.
You can't say they didn't try, though, bringing in Brad Hawpe, another one of those retreads and misfits, to fill Gonzalez's void. They also remade their defense up the middle, acquiring Jason Bartlett and Orlando Hudson and giving former Tigers and Marlins prospect Cameron Maybin first crack at the center field job. Throw in Ryan Ludwick, who was acquired at the trade deadline last year, and half the team's lineup has come together in the last eight months.
That doesn't make it any more exciting for Fantasy purposes, though. If anything good comes out of San Diego this year, it'll come out of the pitching staff, which has benefited from the tutelage of manager Bud Black with overachievers like Clayton Richard, Tim Stauffer and Wade LeBlanc. But they're more peripheral options than anything else. The Padres won't develop any real game-changers until the haul from the Gonzalez deal arrives.
Late-round flier ... Tim Stauffer, SP
After years of injury woes kept Stauffer from living up to his potential as the fourth overall pick in the 2003 draft, the Padres finally got frustrated with the right-hander and moved him to the bullpen last year, hoping to get some kind of return for their investment. Turns out they got more than they bargained for. By the beginning of September, he had a 1.72 ERA and was pitching so well that the Padres decided he deserved another shot in the rotation after all. He allowed fewer than two earned runs in four of five starts to end the season and actually finished with a lower ERA as a starter (1.83) than as a reliever (1.87). Stauffer lacks the strikeout potential to be a frontline starter, but his reliever eligibility makes him especially valuable in Head-to-Head leagues. As long as he's pitching, he'll be worth having on a roster. And hey, it's not like he can't take another step forward at age 28.
Sleeper ... Kyle Blanks, OF
In less than a year, Blanks has gone from being one of the top up-and-coming sluggers in the game to a complete non-entity in Fantasy. Nobody's talking about him, writing about him or thinking about him, which is the perfect recipe for a sleeper. And really, his opportunity is better now than ever. Gonzalez is gone. Blanks' natural position is open. The only thing standing in his way of full-time at-bats is Brad Hawpe ... OK, and that pesky recovery from Tommy John surgery. But the procedure helps explain why Blanks got off to such a slow start last season -- as Mike Aviles in 2009 can attest -- and position players typically recover from it faster than pitchers do. If Blanks gets a chance to claim the first base job at some point this season, don't be surprised if he gets back to performing like he did as a rookie, when he hit 10 homers in 148 at-bats.
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Can't-miss prospect ... Casey Kelly, SP
Kelly was the key piece in the Adrian Gonzalez deal, which seems ridiculous if you're just looking at numbers. A 5.31 ERA and a 1.61 WHIP at the Double-A level doesn't seem like the stuff of legends. But you have to remember Kelly was in the process of converting back to pitcher after beginning his professional career as a shortstop. Considering he was learning on the fly against established prospects at one of the most competitive levels of the minors, his performance wasn't half bad. He showed improved velocity as his body filled out at age 20, making his frontline stuff even more formidable, so it's only a matter of time before it all comes together for him. If he progresses to the point that his numbers match his stuff, he could potentially reach the majors this year. And if that happens, Mat Latos will have to fend him off for the title of staff ace.
|Projected Lineup||Pos.||Projected Rotation|
|1||Jason Bartlett||SS||1||Mat Latos||RH|
|2||Orlando Hudson||2B||2||Clayton Richard||LH|
|3||Brad Hawpe||1B||3||Tim Stauffer||RH|
|4||Ryan Ludwick||RF||4||Aaron Harang||RH|
|5||Chase Headley||3B||5||Cory Luebke||LH|
|6||Will Venable||LF||Alt||Wade LeBlanc||LH|
|7||Nick Hundley||C|| |
|8||Cameron Maybin||CF||CL||Heath Bell||RH|
|Top bench options||SU||Mike Adams||RH|
|R||Jorge Cantu||CI||RP||Luke Gregerson||RH|
|R||Chris Denorfia||OF||RP||Joe Thatcher||LH|
|R||Aaron Cunningham||OF||RP||Ernesto Frieri||RH|
|Numbers didn't impress in conversion from shortstop but has stuff of ace and should become one soon.|
|Acquired in Adrian Gonzalez deal and will eventually replace slugger. Not a bad power hitter himself.|
|Doesn't have ace stuff but proved effective in late-season trial. Could win rotation spot this spring.|
|4||Jaff Decker||21||OF||Class A||Double-A|
|Diminutive slugger has walk rate to develop into OPS machine, but poor defense could delay promotion.|
|Strike-thrower should adapt quickly to big leagues but may lack ceiling to become top-of-rotation guy.|
|Best of the rest: Andrew Cumberland, SS; Reymond Fuentes, OF; Aaron Poreda, RP; Matt Lollis, SP; Donavan Tate, SD; Jason Hagerty, C; James Darnell, 3B; Juan Oramas, SP; Edinson Rincon, 3B; Logan Forsythe, 3B; Jarrett Hoffpauir, 3B; and Blake Tekotte, OF.|
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