SD Union Tribune wrote:INFIELD
Major league level: How good were Mark Loretta and Khalil Greene last season? Perhaps no middle-infield tandem was better. Loretta's combined on-base and slugging percentage (OPS) led all NL second basemen. Only Philadelphia's Jimmy Rollins, among NL shortstops, had a better OPS than the rookie Greene, whose August and September slugging percentages (.524 and .613) befit a leadoff man. In the field, both are playmakers. Phil Nevin returns for his second season at first base. He hit a team-high 26 home runs despite shoulder and knee injuries. The Padres say Sean Burroughs, 24, will beef up his slugging percentage, which fell 37 points to .365, lowest among NL third basemen.
Down on the farm: First baseman Tagg Bozied, coming off surgery to repair a ruptured knee tendon, is on track to start Triple-A Portland's opener. He hit 16 home runs in 213 at-bats last season. Second baseman Josh Barfield, who hit 18 home runs for Double-A Mobile, could be the franchise's top prospect. The system is thin at shortstop and third base. OUTFIELD
Major league level: Center fielder Dave Roberts is the only new face in the regular lineup. With Loretta batting behind him, Roberts should enjoy his return to regular leadoff duty, provided his balky hamstrings hold up. Left fielder Ryan Klesko has been doing baseball activities this month and reports no problems with his right shoulder, repaired in September 2003. After a dismal first half last year, Klesko came alive, compiling a 1.077 OPS in September. Brian Giles, eligible for free agency in November, returns for his second season with the Padres. His baserunning and energy help the club even when his bat is cold. Defensively, this group appears ill-fitted to Petco Park, and its overall throwing skill is weak.
Down on the farm: Center fielder Freddy Guzman could return to the Padres with a strong first half. Major leaguers will again attack him with breaking balls. Left fielder Jon Knott, a marginal defender who has good power, will join Guzman in Portland. Paul McAnulty's left-handed bat could earn him a September call-up. CATCHERS
Major league level: Newcomer Ramon Hernandez gave the Padres the most home runs by a catcher since Benito Santiago in 1987 and the most RBI since Santiago in 1991. Hernandez played some first base in the Venezuelan winter league to keep his legs fresh and stroke intact. Backup Miguel Ojeda averaged a homer every 19.1 at-bats, the most by a Padre with fewer than 100 at-bats.
Down on the farm: Humberto Quintero is better than some big leaguers but likely will open in Triple-A. Though his throwing and receiving need work, George Kottaras is one of the best reasons to watch the Single-A Lake Elsinore Storm; his left-handed bat makes him one of the franchise's top prospects. BENCH
Major league level: Veteran Eric Young brings speed, a patient hitting approach and the ability to play second base and center field. If the Giants can find 500 at-bats for Pedro Feliz, who helped his cause with 22 home runs, can the Padres find 300-400 for Xavier Nady? That's Bruce Bochy's stated goal for Nady, who is the fourth outfielder and an option at both infield corners. Pinch-hitting specialist Mark Sweeney returns for his second tour with the Padres. Newcomer Geoff Blum faces a tough task in replacing Ramon Vazquez. STARTING ROTATION
Major league level: Right-handers Woody Williams, Adam Eaton, Jake Peavy and Brian Lawrence could appear in that order to start the season, later to be joined by a No. 5 starter, most likely left-hander Darrell May. After leading the NL in ERA last season, Peavy received trade secrets from Roger Clemens during a tour of Japan. Peavy then vowed to take his conditioning to a higher level by improving his diet. Peavy, who held batters to a .225 average at Petco Park last season, probably will start the home opener against Pittsburgh. Williams said he's eager to counsel Eaton, a streaky but potentially dominant talent whom he regards as the key to the staff. Lawrence's toughness shouldn't be overlooked; the Texan made three short-rest starts last year. May's $3.25 million salary exceeds his market value – as evidenced when he cleared waivers this winter. But GM Kevin Towers predicts that Petco Park and NL lineups will allow the American League alum to slice a run or more off last year's 5.61 ERA. Knuckleballer Steve Sparks and left-hander Dennys Reyes are potential swingmen.
Down on the farm: Graduating potential aces Peavy and Oliver Perez, plus Lawrence, left the ranks virtually bereft of front-line prospects. Tim Stauffer, drafted fourth overall in 2003, has rare command and instincts, allowing him to deal with a decline in fastball speed caused by shoulder weakness. Stauffer and Triple-A teammates Justin Germano and Australian power right-hander Chris Oxspring are on the short list of call-up candidates. A potential fast riser is lefty Sean Thompson, who averaged more than a strikeout an inning in low-Single A. BULLPEN
Major league level: Trevor Hoffman, 37, returns after chasing the vultures who thought two shoulder operations would end his career in '04. His save rate (91.1 percent) was slightly better than his career norm, and he threw fewer pitches than any other NL closer who saw full duty. After a dazzling rookie season, Japanese right-hander Akinori Otsuka stayed in San Diego to work out. He could give Hoffman a breather or two. Pitching coach Darren Balsley regarded Scott Linebrink as the staff's most valuable performer last year for his work in several crises. If he has recovered from arm ailments, veteran lefty Chris Hammond throws a change-up that is nearly as good as Hoffman's. Middle reliever Blaine Neal needs to regain his confidence after a poor finish last season. Rudy Seanez, a power right-hander, replaces Antonio Osuna in setup and middle relief. Another change-up artist, Triple-A closer Brad Baker, could force the club's hand with a strong camp.
Down on the farm: Right-handers Natanael Mateo and Wilmer Villatoro are prospects for 2006 and beyond, though both were passed over by 29 other clubs in the Rule V draft. Rusty Tucker, a power lefty who could pitch in Triple-A, will try to re-establish himself in his comeback from Tommy John surgery