Roster juggling in the minors

First base throughout the organization seemed to be a logjam but as the final days to the season draw near the separation appears complete, unless a Walter Young wrench gets thrown in. Changes are coming in centerfield and the closers appear set. Also, several surprises could be on the way.

With Tim Brown impressing after being added via the Independent Leagues, the door has opened for Kyle Blanks and Daryl Jones. All three came to an early hitting camp and may reap the rewards of their hard work this off-season.

Brown appears headed to Lake Elsinore and that may push both Blanks and Jones to Fort Wayne, their first taste of full season ball.

"I don't know if I knew what to expect coming out of (high school)," Brown said. "It was a big jump from playing baseball in Oregon to playing professional baseball in Florida. You are going against guys that throw hard consistently and the heat definitely wore on me. I matured a lot and have gained a lot; I am stronger for it."

Brown has stayed true to his game since arriving on scene and his hot bat has made the move up to High-A justifiable. The trickle down effect, along with solid springs from Blanks and Jones, puts the 19-year old tandem in the Midwest League.

The emergence of Brown also affects the upward movement. There had been whispers of Fernando Valenzuela Jr. being back with the Storm to open the year as Michael Johnson is a fixture to move up but now Valenzuela appears to be in the mix for Mobile, a team that plays just two teams that have a designated hitter. That could mean Valenzuela rides the bench more than he is used to with priority placed on Johnson getting game action. Neither player figures to see action at another position on the diamond.

The trade of Greg Sain has opened up the Portland roster, at least a little. With Paul McAnulty seeing time at third base and in the outfield, Tagg Bozied stays at first for the majority of the time. Jon Knott also figures to be outfield only and the injury to Ryan Klesko keeps Adrian Gonzalez in San Diego, preventing a major retooling of the lineup through the system. Walter Young would mess with the calm waters but there are plenty of designated hitter games.

Centerfield is also a position that has seen transition this spring. With Kennard Jones back in Mobile, Drew Macias heads to a corner outfield position. Mike Sansoe and Josh Howard also figure to be on the corners with Yordany Ramirez likely in centerfield for the Storm. Ramirez is by far the best outfielder in the system.

"He saved more runs than anyone I have ever seen," Fort Wayne manager Randy Ready said. "It is amazing how many balls he gets to and he takes charge out there. There is no questioning his defense."

Ramirez and shortstop Matt Bush have been on the bubble as to whether they were ready for the California League but the thinking at this stage is that they will benefit in a league where the batting averages are higher and thus it will boost their confidence. The other possibility is sending them back to Fort Wayne for another year, something the Padres would prefer not to do. Struggles from either could be grounds for a demotion in the future.

In Fort Wayne, Neil Jamison will begin the year as the closer, despite Alfredo Fernandez and John Madden being included on the roster. Jamison will likely end up as a setup man but has the moxie to perform under the gun, a spot the Padres want to see him excel at before promoting him to High-A.

Matt Varner will close for Lake Elsinore with Leo Rosales in Mobile and Jon Adkins expected to close in Portland. Dale Thayer could also get some save opportunities with the Beavers.

A strong showing through spring has elevated Grant Varnell to Lake Elsinore, skipping Fort Wayne on the way. Patrick Clayton has had a similar spring that propels him to Fort Wayne via the Arizona Rookie League, skipping Eugene in the process.

Meanwhile, two top picks from 2005 will begin the year with the Wizards as Cesar Ramos and Josh Geer return to the club they last played with to end the year.

Fireballer Evan Meek is ticketed to Lake Elsinore and the control problems that plagued his career in the Twins' organization are a thing of the past. The Padres only made a minor tweak of his mechanics and believe half the battle was mental, something he has conquered since the Instructional Leagues.

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