Padres Insider: The Infield

The biggest debate of spring centers on the shortstop position. Heading into the offseason it was Khalil Greene's spot to lose. That still holds true, but the competition is more stringent as Rey Ordonez joined the club. Ordonez, a defensive whiz, may have an upper hand if he hits as he did with Tampa Bay before an injury derailed his season. It is conceivable that a strong spring by Ordonez would send Greene back to Portland.

SS Khalil Greene and Rey Ordonez figure to have the best position battle of the spring. Greene, 24, spent most of the winter as the odds-on favorite over the versatile Ramon Vazquez to win the job. Then the Padres signed master gloveman Ordonez to a single-season contract. Ordonez is coming off knee surgery, always a question for a shortstop. But if he can still pick, Padres might prefer to have his known defensive skills at short and return Greene to Triple-A Portland for a final year of seasoning.

Greene is the future at short, there is no question about that, but Ordonez might provide a bridge until Greene is ready. Kevin Towers proclaimed that any offense by Greene would be a bonus, but if that is true Ordonez would be the better option because his glove is superior.

Greene flew through the padres minor league system and may struggle early on in the Majors. In a brief stint last season he hit .215 in 65 big league at bats.

Look for Greene to be victorious.

3B Sean Burroughs isn't your classic leadoff hitter in that he had just seven stolen bases in 2003. But he has an excellent eye and hit a solid .286 with a .352 on-base percentage in his first full major league season. This is a guy who reached base 41 percent of the time in the minor leagues.

The expected power has yet to materialize for Burroughs with only seven homers in 2003, but he is still only 23. Burroughs is shaping up to be a classic #2 hitter in the future with his high OBP and solid speed.

2B Mark Loretta, 32, is coming off a career-best season and was the Padres' runaway MVP in 2003. he was rewarded with a two year deal with an option for 2006.

For the first time in his career, injuries were never a factor in 2003. The Padres pray that continues. Loretta is highly respected in clubhouse, although leadership is mostly from on-the-field deeds.

1B Phil Nevin should have plenty of RBI chances hitting behind Sean Burroughs, Mark Loretta and Brian Giles. But he has to stay healthy to drive in runs.

Nevin, 33, has played only 166 games over the past two seasons and two-season homer total of 25 was 16 less than 2001 total when he was last healthy. An injury to his shoulder on Sunday did not thwart any concerns.

Nevin drives the ball to right and right-center when he is on top of his game, which happens to be deepest point of Petco Park.

The shakiest part of his game is his defense. He has been working hard this offseason with Padres coaches to get better feet positioning. It cant get any worse than his outfield defense.

C Ramon Hernandez was perhaps the key addition of the winter for San Diego. The Padres weren't going to improve if Wiki Gonzalez was their catcher.

Players voted Hernandez, 26, onto the American League All-Star team last July. Hit .273 with 21 homers for the A's.

Hernandez has been praised for his ability to call a game. He commands the respect of his pitching staff and that was one of the key ingredients to his acquisition, considering the Padres young staff.

C Tom Wilson, 33, hit .258 with five homers and 35 RBI while platooning in Toronto last year. Those numbers were similar to what Padres starting catcher Gary Bennett had. Bennett, however, was very popular and some Padres didn't appreciate his being released the day after the season ended.

3B/1B Jeff Cirillo, 34, could be dealt if anyone needs a starting defensive third baseman. However, at the cost of $7.5 million, that won't be easy.

Cirillo hit only .205 last year at Seattle but is still a .300 career hitter. He's glad to be back in Southern California.

As it stands now, no team in baseball has a better defensive third baseman on the bench. GM Kevin Towers figured it would be easier for the Padres to move Cirillo if he gets hot at $7.5 million rather than RHP Kevin Jarvis, C Wiki Gonzalez or PH Dave Hansen -- hence the 3-for-1 trade with the Mariners.

INF Ramon Vazquez, 27, can play short and third as well as second. Second seems to be his strongest defensive position.

The left-handed hitter has batted .269 in two seasons with the Padres but doesn't have much power (five homers in 845 at-bats). Has a solid .343 on-base percentage. Both Khalil Greene and Rey Ordonez have far more range at short. His versatility may keep him with the club, but the addition of Jeff Cirillo also hurts his chances. Should Ordonez falter, Vasquez will again be counted on to provide spot duty.


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