Best of the System: Third Base

The vast majority of the 'Best of the System' articles we print will feature the Top 5 prospects, some will stretch even farther, when two players are just too close to call for the #5 spot. At third, we're generously giving you three. The Padres are like most organizations, seemingly stocked at some spots (catcher, relief pitching) and thin at others. But to call the Padres prospects at third base thin is to insult Dollar Store bed sheets across the land.

#3 Brett Bonvechio came from the Boston organization, and it's not hard to figure out why.  The Red Sox are a team that wins with power pitching and power hitting.  Bonvechio is a glove man extraordinaire who picks balls with the best of them and has a plus plus arm that can gun down speedsters.  The Red Sox had even toyed with the idea of moving him to the mound, but that thought got derailed by the trade. 

Why move him to the mound?  Because he followed a 2002 Gulf Coast (Rookie) League campaign in which he hit .291 and slugged .505 with an '03 season that saw him hit just .190 and strike out almost 80 times in less than 300 at bats.  He has some tools, but bat speed is beginning to become a question, and he'll have to rebound strong in '05 to keep people thinking he'll develop.

#2  In case you didn't get the invitation, 2004 was Lachlan Dale's coming out party.  The Padres have been as aggressive in scouting Australia as any team in the league, and they believe Dale could be the one of the ripest fruits they've picked yet.  After struggling with a new country, and a new caliber of pitchers, in Idaho Falls for two years, Dale showed up at Eugene this year and started putting on the kind of power display that scouts love to see out of a corner infielder.  Fifteen homers and 49 RBI in under 300 at bats will turn some heads, and at just 21 years old, the Padres love both his work ethic and his learning curve.  

If you didn't believe us before about the Padres being thin at third base, consider this.  Dale is the second highest rated third baseman, and he played more games at first base in 2004.  Power isn't a concern with Dale, but glove work, especially at third, is.  Under .900 fielding percentages don't usually endear players to their scouting directors, and that's what Dale posted in his 2004 time at third.  He's got an above average arm, but if he doesn't start picking the ball better, he might get mixed into the much deeper competetion at first base.

1)  Jake Gautreau was #1 on this list.  That is, he would have been if not for the February trade that send Gautreau to the Cleveland Indians in return for another young, talented former first round pick who plays third base, Corey Smith.  In a move that many dubbed a 'change of scenery' trade the Padres and Indians swapped the 14th overall 2001 pick (Gautreau) for the 26th overall 2000 pick (Smith).  Why?  

For starters, despite being drafted a year earlier Smith is three years younger, and while Gautreau was beginning to show signs of being a moderate power threat, Smith has shown signs of being a legitimate home run hitter.  The Padres already have a young, solid fielding, former first round pick at the hot corner who hits for average but not power, and that would be Sean Burroughs, what Smith represents is the anti-Burroughs, and that's not necessarily a compliment.

While the Padres might be a little miffed at Burroughs' gap power never progressing into the pop one usually associates with a third baseman, he's been solid in virtually every other aspect.  No one is going to mistake Burroughs for Scott Rolen, but he makes the plays he's supposed to make at third.  He hit .271 his rookie year and has raised that average in each of the two subsequint seasons.  He plays hard, he plays smart, and he shows up at the park everyday ready to do whatever it takes to help his team win.

Smith on the other hand has gone a different route.  His first full minor league season produced 18 homers and 85 RBI.  It also produced 149 strikeouts in 500 at bats and 45 errors in 313 total chances.  Still, defense can be taught, the kind of bat speed Smith showcased, as the saying goes, can not.  In any case, it appears while with the Indians Smith failed to hit the books, because his best defensive season with the glove produced a meager .911 fielding percentage, and he finished his career in the Cleveland organization with three errors in nine games after a late season call up to Triple-A Buffalo.

That final straw had the Indians moving him to the outfield, a move Smith wasn't happy about, and when he refused to play Winter Ball and work on his defense the Indians elected to first leave him unprotected for the Rule V draft, and then when no one picked him up, trade him for Gautreau.

Smith could certainly benefit from a change of scenery, he'd been passed as the Indians top third base prospect by Matt Whitney, and the organization was beginning to lose faith in Smith's work ethic.  He'll likely start the season in Double-A Mobile, and split time there between first and third base, but improved defense and continued power could earn him a quick promotion to Portland, where Gautreau was expected to start the season. 


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