Interview with Padres Prospect Greg Sain

Despite the new stadium which will generate much more revenue for the Padres, San Diego is still a relatively small media market ranking twenty fourth in the county. Because of this, the Padres will never have the same type of revenue streams of New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. The Yankees, for example, can essentially pay their $100 million dollar plus payroll from their television revenues alone. In order to field a competitive team year in and year out...

…the Padres must be able to develop a significant portion of their everyday line-up, positions players and pitchers, from within organization.

In 2004, the Padres will begin the season with a near $60 million dollar payroll, one of the highest in history and possible contend for the NL West title. However, if the team had not already developed homegrown players such as Jake Peavy, Brain Lawrence, Adam Eaton, Sean Burroughs and Khalil Greene, who combined will make less this year than Brian Giles, it would not be possible within the teams fiscal boundaries.

Unlike New York or Los Angeles, the team simply cannot afford to have a $10 million dollar player at all the positions on the field. A quality farm system will allow the team to not only develop and maintain relatively inexpensive talent, but also provide players that the team could use to acquire proven veterans without having to give up major league players.

This year San Diego was able to acquire one of the better players in baseball, Brian Giles, by trading away two highly regarded minor league prospects, Jason Bay and Cory Stewart, in addition to former Padre Oliver Perez.

Out of around 150 players in the Padres system, all of whom who were stars in high school, college or in other countries, two, maybe three, rookies will make the major league team – and that is in a good year.

This season shortstop Khalil Greene will probably be the only rookie to break camp with San Diego. The rest of the players in the system will continue to hope through some convergence of skill, improvement, opportunity and luck, that they will get their chance to show that they too can play in the major leagues.

One of the more promising prospects in 2003 was Greg Sain of the Lake Elsinore Storm, a perennial top forty prospect in Baseball America's rankings of the Padres.

Greg Sain is a twenty four year old, 6'2", 215 lbs third baseman, who played last year at Lake Elsinore, the Padres high-A farm team in the California League.

After second baseman Josh Barfield, Greg had the best year offensively of all the Storm batting .274 with 35 doubles, 19 home runs and 100 runs batted in. Sain plays three positions, third, catcher and first base. Last year, primarily playing third base, Sain struggled, committing 38 errors in 128 games. Despite his defensive shortcomings, Sain emerged, after Jon Knott of Mobile, as one of the few legitimate Padres power prospects in the organization. His ability and willingness to play three positions could lead him to San Diego.

We caught up with Greg while he was preparing for the upcoming season at his southern California home. Greg usually takes a month off after the season ends. He then begins to prepare for the next year in the gym and on the track, doing "about 30 minutes of cardio, followed by hour and a half of weight training."

As the season closes in, he tries to combine endurance with strength.

"I lift for just as much strength as I do for endurance, especially in my hands and forearms for baseball. You can't really improve bat speed, either you have it or you don't."

Sain's goal is to build a good strength base because the grueling schedule of the minor leagues usually allows for only a few lifting sessions a week. In the minor leagues, baseball workouts usually begin on the field at 12:30 PM, followed by a game and then a late night session in the gym, if you don't have to get on the bus to go to the next game.

Greg believes his versatility could be the key to his progression to the major leagues.

"Trying to become more versatile is one the reasons why I am coming into spring training at 215, instead 225, like I did last year. It will help me more in the field, and shouldn‘t take away any of my strength. Playing third base, catcher and first base can only work in my favor in trying to make the major leagues."

Greg couldn't explain the high rate of errors. His previous season's statistics show that he is a better fielder than he demonstrated this past year. Again, when reviewing minor league statistics it is important to understand the differences not only in leagues but in respective playing conditions.

The Midwest League, where the Padres mid-A level minor league affiliate Fort Wayne is located, the grass is cut higher and there is less sun, the ball doesn't come at you as fast. The California League tends to have shorter grass that is baked in the sun, which turns grass fields into near astro turf. If you compare the error totals of the other infielders, such as Josh Barfield, JJ Furmaniak and Michael Johnson, you will also see similar error totals for the Storm.

"Defensively, I just had a tough time last year, but I'm going to spring training to work at it by repetition, repetition, repetition. That is the only way I know to improve your fielding."

The Padres have told Greg he will catch at least one or two times a week, but are not sure if he will end up at either third or first base. His permanent position will depend on what the Padres decide to do with 2001's number one pick Jake Gautreau, who could be moving to third base for 2004.

When asked which position he prefers playing between third, first and catcher, Greg stated, "I've played third base most of my life, it's probably my most natural position. It's a real mental grind playing multiple positions, difficult to get into a groove, especially with catching."

However, Greg is also able to see the advantages of being able to play three positions in breaking into the big leagues stating that one of his goals this year is "…to become a major league player at all three positions, which is only going to help me in the future."

Greg is well aware of the odds of making the major leagues. The competition that exists, not only within the organization for making one of the twenty five positions on the Padres but throughout major league baseball, is tough.

Xavier Nady, last year's starting right fielder, saw this demonstrated first hand as his spot evaporated with the signing of Jay Payton. Because of Payton's signing, Nady will start the season in Portland unless someone is traded. Sain stated that as a player it's not productive to think about who you are or are not ahead off:

"You have to go about your business every day, and try and get the best out of your ability. I can't worry about things that I don't have any control over."

The biggest jump in the minors is from High-A to Double-A. The pitchers get much better. For many of the better pitchers, this is their final stop before debuting in the major leagues.

. Greg knows the odds of making the majors, but finished the interview saying, "I love playing baseball and don't want to go through life thinking about what could've or should've been. I just have to see how it all plays out."

Prospect Assessment: Greg's offensive numbers were just too good to ignore this year, and his ability to play third base in an organization with few third base prospects deserves attention. He needs to prove to the Padres that he can be a capable major league defensive player at third and first base, but catcher seems especially important. A player that can play multiple positions, especially catcher, has a better chance at sticking on major league rosters where most teams are only carrying five reserve players. Being able to convince the Padres that he is a serviceable backup catcher with power, as well as a third baseman, could be key to his making the Padres in 2006. Kevin Towers, the Padres' General Manager, has been trying to develop this type of player for years. Between Greg Sain, Rico Washington and Ben Risinger, Sain appears to have the inside track.

Offensively, Sain's ability to hit for power in an organization bereft of many power hitters also projects him upward. Greg will start the season at Mobile, my guess is at 3b. I really believe the Padres will move Gautreau to Portland, at either second or third base for 2004. There are just too many reasons not to promote Gautreau, one of them being the desire to have three top forty prospects Greg Sain, Michael Johnson and Nick Trzesniak playing every day at Mobile.

Sain's further progress through the organization will be determined, as it is with all minor league players, by continuing to maximize the skills that got him drafted. In Greg's case hitting for power, driving in runs, while improving upon his defensive versatility, especially at third base and catcher, will give him a better opportunity to make the big leagues.

Jon Conniff can be reached at dcpadsfan@yahoo.com

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