Fate of a Second Baseman

Jake Gautreau, days away from finding out his fate in the Rule V Draft at the winter meetings, talked about the camaraderie with his Padres counterparts, Josh Barfield and the pressure to perform as a first round pick. <br><br> On December 15th, Gautreau may end up as an ex- San Diego Padres prospect.

He may soon find himself leaving his Arizona Fall League roommate JJ Furmaniak if another team picks him up as many predict.

There are likely several reasons for leaving Jake Gautreau off the 40-man roster, none that fans or the media will likely believe is for the best.

"Jake's situation is a little unclear because he has Barfield behind him and Barfield will be the second baseman at Mobile in 2004," said one Padres scout. "Jake did not really have the kind of season in 2003 that justifies a move to Triple-A."

When we asked our resident Mobile BayBears expert Tom Nichols, he said, "My guess is that Jake will move back to third base in 2004 and play at Mobile."

This is assuming he stays with the team. We all know about Josh Barfield. The man voted the top second basemen in the minors would make any other prospect at second base playing in the Padres organization cringe.

One thing to consider is how the success of Josh Barfield has affected Jake Gautreau. Gautreau takes it in stride and is genuinely happy for Josh, even at the expense of his future with the franchise.

"It doesn't really affect me much at all," Gautreau said. "He is one of my buddies. He had a great year but I can't worry about what other people are doing. If you start doing that than it will really mess you up.

"I am happy for him and it is a business, it is a game, whatever happens, happens. If he continues to do well then good for him and hopefully I continue to do well too. And things work out for the both of us."

Now the pressure of Barfield has compounded an already pressure-cooked situation as a top draft pick of the Padres in 2001. He was selected with the 14th overall selection out of Tulane University.

"I think sometimes you put added pressure on yourself. It is definitely a factor," Gautreau said of his first round status. "I totally think that if you allow yourself to think that way it can cause you to press and cause you to stress too much. That was in 2001 so that is basically all said and done. You are just a normal guy out there now trying to do well and make it to the next level. I don't really think about that kind of stuff anymore."

Now over the pressure of being a first round pick, a new challenge has surfaced. By leaving Gautreau off the 40-man roster, the Padres have taken a shot at Gautreau. If he somehow stays with the team – his ulcerative colitis may be the only concern other teams have – he will certainly be pushed to perform.

Gautreau is a converted third baseman and now with Barfield pushing from behind, there is talk of moving Gautreau to third again. He thinks his defense has made strides at second base, admitting it is still a work in progress, but maintains he will do whatever the organization asks of him.

"I feel a lot more comfortable (at second) than I did in the past. I still have room for improvement, especially on turning the double play. I think my angles have improved since last year. I am getting to ball and stuff like that.

"From what I have been told I will stay (at second). But if they want me to go somewhere else I would be glad to do so."

That may not matter soon. He could either breathe a sigh of relief because if he is picked up he will be on a Major League roster, or he could be myriad in doubt if the he goes unchosen.

Gautreau spoke recently about his camaraderie with his fellow Padres prospects.

"We hang out the most compared to – I hang out with the Padres guys more than I would other teams. That is just the way it is, kind of stick together."

Those friendships will never end, but they will never be the same if he exits stage left.

No one can say for sure what will happen when the Rule V Draft comes around, but there are a few teams that will likely take a look at the young prospect. Pittsburgh and Montreal are two teams that could make a bid for Gautreau.

Anyway you look at it, his future has been changed forever.

Tying up loose ends:

We asked Jake two questions that were not fitted into stories. Here they are:

How do you rate your awareness on the base paths?

"I am not a base stealer. I say I have average speed, but I think I am a good baserunner. I just try to be a smart runner and not make stupid mistakes."

How do you choose a good bat, is there a feel to it, do you talk to it and wait for a response, what?

"I probably have three or four different models right now. I like something that is really well balanced. You pick up a bat and you know immediately if it feels good or not. I am kind of messing around with a few different models, but it is something about the feel when you pick it up you know if you like it or not."

Denis Savage can be reached at safage@cox.net

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