Season Preview: The Portland Beavers

The last rung of the minor leagues system, the Portland Beavers (AAA) of the Pacific Coast League. The Beavers will play 140 games with Craig Colbert returning for his second year. Continuing with the flip flop trend within the system, the Pacific Coast League is much more a hitter's league, compared to the pitching dominant Southern League.

What Happened Last Year: Xavier Nady absolutely destroyed the Pacific Coast League in 2004. Nady hit .333/.394/.632 (batting average, slugging percentage and on-base percentage) with 22 home runs and 70 RBIs in 74 games. Nady will play a major role for the Padres in 2005.

Jon Knott, Tagg Bozied and JJ Furmaniak and Freddy Guzman all were factors for Portland's first place finish and having the best offense in AAA. With the exceptions of catcher Humberto Quintero (traded for Tim Redding) and third baseman Jake Gautreau (traded for Corey Smith in the offseason), nearly everyone with the exception of Nady will be back in 2005 for the Beavers. On the mound the Beavers will again return three of their top four starters (Dennis Tankersley was traded in the offseason with Terrence Long for Darrel May), Tim Stauffer, Justin Germano and Chris Oxspring.

If the Padres fielded a less talented team at the major league level, several of these players would be making their major league debuts in 2005 instead of returning for another year in Portland.

Projected Lineup Starting Pitching 1b - Tagg Bozied (MF#12, BA#12)* 1. Tim Stauffer (MF top five, BA#5) 2b - Josh Barfield (MF top five,BA#1) 2. Justin Germano (MF#9, BA#7) SS - Jessie Garcia 3. Chris Oxspring (MF#18, BA#17) 3b - JJ Furmaniak (MF#14,BA#21) 4. Steve Sparks OF - Jon Knott (MF#11, BA#11) 5. Marty McLeary OF- Freddy Guzman (MF#10, BA#2)* Bullpen OF - Ben Johnson (MF#6, BA#16) Brad Baker (MF#8, BA#9) [closer] C - Michael Hernandez Randy Williams (BA#30) [setup]
* - will begin season on the disabled list

Who to Watch - The Beavers again will be one of the better teams in the Pacific Coast League with an infield filled with PCL veterans Tagg Bozied (once healthy), J.J. Furmaniak and Jesse Garcia, the star of this year's spring training for the Padres and destined for Portland when Dave Roberts returns in a week. Both Furmaniak and Garcia profile more as utility players and Bozied, a right-handed hitting first baseman who doesn't play other positions, is probably destined to be moved to an American League club.

Barfield, top prospect and Baseball America's two-time top prospect, will need to improve on his plate selectivity to push for a major league position. However, Barfield's power and ability to hit in the clutch should make the Beaver's attack even more formidable. At Mobile, Barfield batted only .248, but hit .331 with runners in scoring position and hit a career high 18 home runs. The Padres have always been very high on Barfield, even structuring Mark Loretta's contract to expire in 2006 (when they presumed Josh would be ready), but Loretta is coming off of two very good seasons, so right now its difficult to see Barfield replacing Loretta in 2006.

The outfield has three good prospects led by Jon Knott, who rivaled Nady as the offensive star of the Beavers. Knott can play either corner OF position and first base, but is stuck behind Phil Nevin, Brian Giles, Ryan Klesko and Xavier Nady. An injury to any of them will probably result in Knott being called up first, followed by Bozied.

Guzman has been getting a lot of press recently and on the surface he seems exactly what San Diego needs, a speedy centerfielder that can patrol the spacious PETCO outfield, while at the same time giving the Padres the leadoff man that they need. Not only does Freddy have off the charts speed, but his stolen base success rate is a career 83 percent, with 235 stolen bases in 369 minor league games. Concerns about his ability to hit major league pitching were not answered in his brief call up last year (.211 in 76 Abs), and if he has enough arm to play centerfield. Currently he is rehabbing his throwing elbow and should be available around early June. Look for Kerry Robinson to patrol centerfield for the present.

Ben Johnson could eventually become the best prospect of the three. A combination of speed and power, Johnson finally put it together in Mobile in 2004. He carried his success into the Arizona Fall League and had a great spring at Peoria. He can play all three outfield positions and if he continues to impress he should have a shot at making the 2006 Padres because of his versatility.

Tim Stauffer and Justin Germano are currently the top Padres pitching prospects, and will be the first to be called on in case of injuries or if someone again fails in the fifth slot. Both Stauffer and Germano are intelligent pitchers, with a wide arsenal of pitches to throw for strikes. The big question with each is if they have enough "stuff" to be an effective MLB pitcher. Neither has an overpowering fastball, Stauffer relies on a plus changeup and Germano a plus curve. Currently Stauffer and Germano are projected as #4 to #5 starters and could be passed by Travis Chick, a pitcher with a much bigger ceiling than either Stauffer or Germano, by the end of the season.

Chris Oxspring returns for his second tour in Portland and could see a promotion as a long man out of the bullpen on the major league level. A good fastball, plus curveball and an improved changeup could be his ticket to the majors.

Brad Baker may be the first pitcher called up in 2005. At Mobile, Baker saved 30 games with 68 strikeouts to only 34 base on balls in 57 innings. Additionally, Baker went 2-1 with a 1.57 ERA. The most impressive statistic is that he struck out nearly a third of all batters that he faced (232 total batters, with 68 strike outs and only two home runs given up). Baker has one of the best changeups in the majors, a good fastball but needs to develop a breaking ball. Promoted late in the season to the Beavers, Brad had four saves in eight games, and again struck out nearly half of the batters he faced (38 batters faced, with 17 strikeouts). If he can maintain his success, he should earn a call up by mid-season.

2005 Projection: The Beavers will again be one of the better teams in AAA. Any of the starters, with the possible exception of Josh Barfield and Ben Johnson, could play a role on the San Diego Padres depending on performances and injuries.

A few players in Mobile may be promoted by mid-season, depending on injuries and possible trades. If Travis Chick performs in Mobile, he will be promoted quickly to bolster an already strong pitching staff. Also look for Paul McAnulty to add a needed left handed bat.

The Beavers again will be the best minor league team in San Diego's system, and the replacement of Josh Barfield, Ben Johnson and Jesse Garcia for Bernie Castro, Alex Fernandez and Jake Gautreau will make a good team last year even better.

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