Padres sign four out of tryout camp

A year ago, the Padres got fantastic returns out of their February tryout camp, signing Craig Breslow for $1. Four months later, the lefty was pitching for the major league squad in Shea Stadium.

At the completion of this weekend's two-day auditions, the Padres are trying to catch lightening again by signing three pitchers and one catcher. Left-hander Kyle Pawelczyk, righties Nathan Staggs, and Greg Burke, and slugging catcher Matt Hagen were selected from a group of 80 players who auditioned in Peoria to receive deals with an invitation to return when minor league players report next Sunday.

Hagen, 26, was originally drafted by Seattle in the 12th round of the 2002 draft, and progressed as far as Inland Empire in the California League last year. Although he played primarily first and third base before 2005, he was signed as a catcher.

"He never even took his first baseman's glove out of the bag," said Padres' independent league scouting coordinator Mal Fichman. In his best season, Hagen slugged 21 homers and 28 doubles for Low-A Wisconsin in 2003.

Pawelczyk, 24, was taken in the third round of the 2002 draft by the Angels out of junior-college powerhouse Chipola (Fla.), but struggled before he was released midway through the 2004 Pioneer League season. Fichman spotted the lanky Pawelczyk in the independent Frontier League at the end of last season and invited him to the camp.

"He needs a lot of work mechanically," said Padres' minor league coordinator Bill Bryk. "But, he's throwing 91 (MPH) with all arm." Bryk believes that with some work, the graduate of Liberty University can improve his speed and control.

Staggs, 23, a graduate of University of San Diego High School, spent last season with the San Diego Surf Dawgs. The 6-foot-4, 225-pound hurler impressed at the audition with a mid-90s fastball complimented by a heavy sinker.

"His motion was such a mess when we got him," said Surf Dawgs' manager Terry Kennedy, who recommended Staggs for the tryout. Thanks to work with pitching coach Larry Owens throughout the season, Staggs simplified his motion, increased his velocity, and became a reliable late-inning reliever.

"He's really an example of what the independent leagues can do," said Kennedy. "We gave him the time to develop without the pressure of affiliated ball.

The third pitcher, Burke, 23, is a more polished pitcher already. The Duke graduate posted a 3.70 ERA for the Atlantic City Surf of the Atlantic League last year.

"He's probably the best pitcher right now of the bunch," said Bryk. "He can throw a change-up for strike and has a good slider."

"All the pitchers have some upside," said Bryk. "We're not signing guys just to be fill-in guys."

The Padres are pursuing several other players from the camp and hope to come to terms with them within the week.

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