The Curse of Caminiti

Since Ken Caminiti's last season in 1998, the Padres have struggled to find a long-term solution at third base, arguably one of the toughest positions to fill because of its offensive and defensive demands. Is there reason for optimism within the system – Grady Fuson and Bill Bryk believe so.

Phil Nevin had a monster year at the plate in 2001, but his defense left much to be desired. Baseball America's wunderkind Sean Burroughs was supposed to become the next Tony Gwynn, but despite hitting .298 in 2004, he was the poster child of an "empty batting average" with sub par on-base and slugging percentages, which gave him the lowest OPS for third basemen in the league for a few years running.

Going into 2006, the team believed that they might be able to squeeze another year out of Vinny Castilla, which allowed them to move pitcher Brian Lawrence's expensive and unproductive salary. While the Padres did benefit from trading Lawrence, who blew out his shoulder before the season began with the Washington Nationals, Castilla did not work out, hitting .232/.260/.319 before being cut.

By now everyone knows the rest of the story, the team attempted to go with a platoon of Geoff Blum/Mark Bellhorn and to the disappointment of Padres fans everywhere was unable to acquire a marquee third baseman, settling for Todd Walker in a salary dump move by the Chicago Cubs.

In short, the players that you see on the field now for the team will be the ones who will finish the season. Its unlikely that there will be any other third basemen available or that the team would have the ability to acquire one.

So what are the options in the minor leagues?

Paul McAnulty is really the only player that could be a viable option, but even then opinions are mixed. The left-handed hitting McAnulty has always possessed a special bat, having power to all fields and an advanced approach at the plate; but the problem has always been where to play him. With Adrian Gonzalez ensconced at first base and Ben Johnson in the outfield, the team experimented with him at third base in spring training.

"Its still in the beginning of the beginning stages of how he adapts to everything. We don't ever think he's going to be great defensively, but he could become a serviceable option," said Grady Fuson the Padres ‘vice-president of scouting and player development.

"We might consider doing something this winter with McAnulty, either a two week intensive course in the Arizona Fall League or in winter ball, if I can find someone [coach] that I can trust."

Others within the organization believe that while McAnulty can hit, he is not a realistic option as an everyday third baseman. They perceive him as much more of a Matt Stairs style player who is just not mobile enough for the hot corner.

Justin Leone had the month of his life in April, 386/.469/.723, but hasn't seen his average approach .300 in any other month. He will be a free agent at the end of this year and its unclear if the Padres will retain him. Right now, the organization tends to view him as a possible option in a utility role, but not an everyday player, and has seen much more time at second base than third base in Portland.

Brett Bonvechio had an up and down year with the Lake Elsinore Storm last year, putting up solid RBI, home run and on-base numbers, but also striking out more than once a game and committing 35 errors. This year he has struggled with consistency and injuries in Mobile.

Where the Padres see the most promise is in the A-ball and short-season leagues. Chase Headley, David Freese, Matt Antonelli and Felix Carrasco are all players that the team believes can become solid major league players.

"When you think about a year ago, it was vacant position," said Fuson. "We had higher expectations for Bonvechio in Double-A, but he blew out his knee out and has missed most of the year."

"Headley is way up on the map. David Freese has more life in his body than we were led to believe and at 23 he's talented enough to go to a level [Midwest League] where he has done well. We've been really pleased with Antonelli as well."

However the biggest sleeper in the bunch may be Felix Carrasco, 19, a switch-hitter signed out of the Dominican Republic.

"Carrasco, might have the highest ceiling of all the players, if everything clicks," said Bill Byrk, the Padres' minor league field coordinator. "He throws, run and has big time raw power. We just hope he doesn't get too big and can stay at third base."

Fuson was equally as effusive on Carrasco, "He bypassed the Dominican Academy, extremely raw, big powerful kid with a good arm and power from both sides."

So what is the solution for 2007?

Antonelli and Carrasco are too far away right now to take anything more than an educated guess.

Headley has had a good year in Lake Elsinore, but Freese may be the better fit for the Padres as a big right-handed hitter that the team appears to desire. By the end of 2007, Headley could be in Portland and Freese in Mobile, giving the Padres quite a few options.

But keep in mind that both Headley and Freese are doing this on the A-ball level; doing it in the Southern League is another story. This years BayBears team has seen quite a few of the former Storm: Michael Johnson, Drew Macias and Colt Morton have struggled with the transition to Double-A after experiencing success at the lower levels.

In all likelihood the Padres will continue to play McAnulty at third base as much as possible in Portland and probably in the winter leagues. He has a major league bat and provides a good cheap internal option if nothing else is available during the winter, but a .917 fielding average is going to give the team some pause, especially with a team that relies on a solid defense with sinker ball pitchers like Clay Hensley.

McAnulty has proven to the Padres that he has little left to prove in the minors with his bat, the key is can he convince the team in the winter and in spring training that he can be a serviceable third baseman and reverse the curse?

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