Season Preview: The Mobile BayBears

The Mobile BayBears is the Southern League (Double-A) affiliate of the San Diego Padres. The BayBears will play 140 games, with the season divided into two halves. The team will again be managed by Gary Jones, who is in his second year at Mobile. The Southern League, as opposed to the California League, is very much a pitchers league, so expect to see batting averages dip from the California League (or just ask Josh Barfield).

What Happened Last Year: The BayBears won their semifinal series, but were forced to cancel the championship series because of Hurricane Ivan. Led by second baseman Josh Barfield [top ten ("MF"), #1 in Baseball America‘s Prospect Handbook ("BA")], who led the Southern League with 90 RBIs, Ben Johnson (MF top ten, #BA16), second in the Southern League with 85 RBIs, Greg Sain (the Padres organizational leader with 28 home runs) and relief pitcher Brad Baker ( 2004 Pitcher of the Year, MF top ten, BA#9), who set a new single season save record in Mobile with 30, the BayBears had one of their more successful seasons.

Projected Lineup Starting Pitching
1b Greg Sain 1. Travis Chick (MF top ten, BA#4)
2b Ronnie Merrill 2. Brian Whitaker (MF#24)
SS Luis Cruz (MF#16, BA#27) 3. Mike Thompson
3b Corey Smith (MF#27)4. Roger Deago
OF Paul McAnulty (MF top ten, BA#10) 5. Mike Bumstead
OF Kennard Jones (MF#29) Bullpen
OF Casey Baker/Troy Cameron Rusty Tucker (MF#25, BA#20)
C Nick Trzesniak Dale Thayer (MF#17, BA#29)
-3. Natanael Mateo (MF#28, BA#24)

Who to Watch: The first thing that jumps out about this team is a very strong bullpen. Before getting hurt at the end of 2003, left-handed pitcher Rusty Tucker and his high 90‘s fastball was on the fast track to San Diego. If his velocity returns after Tommy John surgery, he will just as dominant. Thayer is coming off a good year at Lake Elsinore and should be the team's closer by the end of the year. The rest of the bullpen led by Mateo, Jack Cassel and R.D. Spiehs (MF#20) comprise the strongest bullpen in the Padres system, perhaps ever.

Having Travis Chick skip the California League is a bit of surprise, but then again Chick is arguably San Diego's best pitching prospect. Travis Chick is a "control pitcher" with a big "power" fastball that simply blew away the competition in the Midwest League in 2004. Chick started seven games, won five and in the process had 55 strikeouts in 42 innings pitched, while issuing only nine base on balls, with a 2.13 ERA.

Chick's fastball routinely sits in the low-to-mid 90's and can go up. Additionally, he has a good slider and changeup, and won't turn 21 until June 10. Brian Whitaker and Mike Thompson put together some solid numbers for Mobile last year and should help a relatively weak starting staff. Look for Whitaker with his hard slider to improve on last year's performance.

The big position prospect for the BayBears should be Paul McAnulty. McAnulty is coming off an excellent Arizona Fall League and spring training with the Padres. Paul will have to show continued improvement in his defensive ability and power numbers. Luis Cruz, 21, should be one of the better defensive shortstops in the Southern League, and has some nice pop in his bat for a middle infielder. Kennard Jones, who going into 2004 was one of the Padres top ten prospects, will try to regain that status for his second tour in Mobile. Nick Trzesniak has always impressed defensively, but must improve upon his sub par offensive numbers of 2004.

If Greg Sain can somehow cut down on his strikeouts, while continuing to exhibit his power, he will attract the notice he deserves in San Diego. Additionally, Sain had the best fielding percentage of any of Mobile's regular's last year. The only reason Sain isn't in Portland right now is because of the logjam at first base with Tagg Bozied and Jon Knott. Look for Greg to earn an early and deserved promotion by mid-season.

2005 Projection: The BayBears should be a good team again in 2005, mainly on the strength of a dominant bullpen. Look for early promotions of pitchers Sean Thompson and Jared Wells to beef up the relatively weak starting staff of Mobile. McAnulty and Sain will be the hitting stars, but Jones and newcomer Corey Smith will need to produce if the offense is to go far.

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