Padres Prospect Report: Jake Gautreau

"The big key for (Jake Gautreau)," Mobile BayBears announcer Tom Nichols began "is to go out to the Arizona Fall League, because his numbers were not what he would have wanted at this level, nor what the organization would have wanted. And if he can go to the fall league and have a real good year – that will offset maybe some of what happened in 2003. Maybe give him a chance to make the Triple A club."

San Diego Padres officials were a bit disappointed in the performance of Jake Gautreau this season in Mobile. He has had lofty expectations placed on him and was sent to the Arizona Fall League for more seasoning and some aid from hitting coach Rob Deer, who coincidently appears in line for the roving hitting coach position. The idea behind sending him to Peoria was to build momentum for him and put the past season behind him.

The Padres had envisioned an infield of Jake Gautreau at second and Khalil Greene at shortstop when they selected Gautreau out of Tulane with the 14th pick in the 2001 draft and followed it up with Greene the next year. Now Greene is in the majors and Gautreau is finding his way, having been passed on the prospect list by Josh Barfield.

"With Josh Barfield moving up from Double A as a second baseman, he is going to play second base at Mobile," said Nichols. "Who is going to stop him? I mean Jeff Kent would not stop him if he was in his way right now.

"Jake would hope to make the Triple A team next year and if not he may have to move to third base, which was his original position, to make room for Barfield."

His numbers up until the 2003 season have been solid, if not spectacular. In 2002, Gautreau did get off to the start the Padres expected, hitting .306 with nine homers and 55 RBI in his first 66 games. Ulcerative colitis caused him to miss a portion of the season, in an ongoing battle with the disease, and he struggled the rest of the season. In his last 27 games, he added just one home run to his total and finishing up hitting .286 with 62 RBI's.

Make no mistake, ulcerative colitis is a serious disease and his woes at the plate are likely linked to the disease. Medication has aided in his battle, but it will continue unless he has surgery.

"Jake was usually in either the six hole or two hole," said Nichols. "He had his ups and downs. He had stretches where he was productive."

Gautreau is a line drive type hitter but has a tendency to strike out when he tries to swing for the fences.

He finished up the 2003 season with a .242 batting average, with an on base percentage of .324. His power numbers did go up, hitting 14 homers and 24 doubles, but his plate discipline went down, striking out 131 times in 438 at bats, or every 3.43 at bats.

"It is going to be up to Jake to go out to the Arizona Fall League and have a real strong season out there," said Nichols, "which for him would maybe offset his disappointment of this season where he was generally in the .230's for the most part with us and obviously they had hoped for a lot more than that – the All Star second baseman in the California league the year before."

Gautreau is a converted third baseman who never will be a defensive star at second. He does possess a strong arm, but lacks range. He committed 14 errors in 2003.

"He is still adjusting to second base," added Nichols. "I thought he made a lot of improvement over the course of the season. He still doesn't have the kind of range that you would look for but he had a lot better range in August than April. He still needs to improve his first and second step. It did improve a lot during the course of the 140 games.

"He is a guy you look at and hope can become a Todd Walker type player. He may never be a gold glover defensively. He may be a guy who you would hope would hit .270-.280 with 15-20 home runs and drive in some runs. That's the recipe there for Jake to maybe become a productive big leaguer."

Important Note:

The scouting report on Jake is a bit hard considering the ulcerative colitis is known to sap the strength out of the body and is an ongoing battle to keep it under control through medication. Surgery is the only cure for ulcerative colitis. The reason for this reports edge is the emergence of Josh Barfield and the need for Jake to step up or be swept away. Gautreau projects to be a major leaguer. The question is:

Will it be with the Padres? And will he have to switch positions again?

We plan on asking him as soon as we get a moment to talk while he is on assignment in Peoria.

Denis Savage can be reached at safage@cox.net

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