Interview with Padres' Jeff Kingston

The Padres trading Josh Barfield? The truth about Jon Knott and his future. Ben Johnson and his turnaround. Clay Hensley getting called up? Brad Baker a Major Leaguer? Justin Germano still part of the future? All topics of conversation between Senior Writer John Conniff and Jeff Kingston, the Padres' Director of Baseball Operations.

Jeff Kingston, 28, has inherited Theo Epstein's former role as Kevin Towers' "numbers guy". As the Director of Baseball Operations for the Padres, one of Jeff's primary responsibilities is to be aware of all the players within the Padres organization.

Kingston was promoted to Director of Baseball Operations in November of 2002 after serving as the Assistant to the Director of Player Development, Tye Waller, for two years.

His duties include assisting the team with statistical analysis in all player acquisitions as well as roster, payroll, and budget management.

We caught up with Jeff to get his thoughts on some of the better known prospects in the system.

The first article in this series will focus on the players that are in the best position to help the Padres for this season, the Portland Beavers.

Portland Beavers:

John Conniff: There was a report by Tom Krasovic, the beat writer for the Padres a few days ago in the San Diego Union Tribune that San Diego was considering trading top prospect Josh Barfield. Is there any truth to that?

Jeff Kingston: When Kevin says that he would "consider" it means we would listen, but it would have to be a really great trade, the type that puts you in the World Series.

Josh has struggled with plate discipline, there are sliders away that he thinks he can hit better than he can. We're tying to work on getting him to identify which pitches he can hammer so we can get him into hitter's counts. He has tremendous raw power, but was late getting to the inside fastball.

To correct this, we've been working with his "trigger mechanism" in his swing ["trigger" refers to when the hands come back before you attempt to hit the ball], to help him make better and more consistent contact while increasing his power. Before he didn't have much momentum going as he hit the ball. Now he's bringing his hands back and starting to really drill the ball.

Right now, we really don't have much else behind him, but we have Loretta in San Diego next year so we don't have to rush him. We're always trying to do what is best for the organization, so we will listen to trade offers, but there are a handful of guys that we really don't want to move.

John Conniff: One of the better hitters in the organization the past few years has been outfielder Jon Knott. Do you foresee him getting much of an opportunity with the Padres?

Jeff Kingston: He's a tough one for us. Jon has always been one of our better hitters and is certainly deserving of a chance at the major league level. The big question is where is he going to play? He really profiles as a slightly below average left fielder defensively, but if he hits like he is now, he can play there in the major leagues.

Knott really just needs that opportunity to play and with Klesko, Nevin and Nady here it's a tough situation. He's probably a better fit in the AL, and it wouldn't surprise me if he got a good shot over there. He has great plate discipline, power and an advanced approach at the plate.

John Conniff: Ben Johnson had some really tough years in the minors, before suddenly turning it around in mid-season with Mobile in 2004. What were the reasons for the sudden turnaround?

Jeff Kingston: Confidence. He's a guy we may have rushed to early to AA a few years ago and it just took him some time to adjust to a new level. He's a really good fastball hitter and its just a question of him staying within himself. He's not swinging at bad pitches any more, and he really carries himself in a totally different manner.

John Conniff: Do the Padres see him more as a center fielder or corner outfielder?

Jeff Kingston: Ideally he profiles more as a right fielder. He has good, but not great speed. With the size of center field in PETCO we put a premium on our centerfielders having that ability. Ben is an above average outfielder and could play there. His ability out there is comparable to Xavier Nady. Neither one of them are blazers, but they can get the job done.

John Conniff: Clay Hensley has seemingly come out of nowhere this year to be Portland's best starting pitcher. What has made him so effective?

Jeff Kingston: Hensley is a smaller guy that flies under the scout's radar because of his size. He pitches very aggressively, and has really good command of his fastball. He can put his sinker at the knees consistently, which is what makes him so tough. He throws three pitches, fastball, sinker and has an average change.

He came into spring training this year with something to prove, and was painting the corners with a 94 mph fastball the first day. After a tough April in 2004, he was our best pitcher in Mobile last year. He's on our radar and if he was on the on the forty man roster we might have already seen him in San Diego this year. We still could see him pretty soon, and we think he can definitely help us in middle relief or as a starter.

John Conniff: Brad Baker, the best relief pitcher in the system last year, has struggled earlier in the season, but is now starting to pick it up. What has been the difference?

Jeff Kingston: Brad's change is comparable to Trevor Hoffman's, it's that good. He has a 13-to-14 mph speed differential between his fastball and change, with the same motion. With Brad it's all about the command of his fastball to set up his change. He has a straight fastball and needs to be able to locate it or it gets hit.

He will be a major league pitcher, his ability to locate his fastball will determine how good a major league pitcher he will become.

John Conniff: How high are the Padres on Justin Germano?

Jeff Kingston: Justin got off to a slow start, but he has been lights out for the last two months. He has the feel for his curveball back and his fastball command is above average. He's just a kid, only 22 and we need to be patient with him. We still believe he is going to be a major league pitcher. Senior Writer John Conniff can be reached at and can be heard each Friday on The Mighty 1090 in San Diego at approximately 10:35 AM PST. Questions will be answered on air each week from readers and listeners.

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