Portland Beavers 2008 Season Preview

Synopsis: A much improved team from what was on the field last year, led by top prospects left fielder/third baseman Chase Headley and second baseman Matt Antonelli.

The longer Chase Headley is around the better this team will be, but other players are going to have to play well for the Beavers to experience success.

Keep an eye on the three starters at the top of the rotation: Josh Geer, Wade LeBlanc and Cesar Ramos – all of whom could end up in San Diego sometime this summer.

Three Strikes with Grady Fuson/Padres Vice-President of Scouting and Development:

In 2006, Will Venable was the left fielder in Fort Wayne. Last year, he was in right for San Antonio. Why did the Padres decide he would be the everyday CF in Portland?

Grady Fuson: We're just really been happy with his progress – he played a little bit of center for us in San Antonio, and when we look at the needs of the big club and his own development, this seems like the best place to put him. It's what we were trying to do last year – get him in the middle of the field as much as possible so we could take advantage of his athletic ability.

Geer, LeBlanc and Ramos were all big reasons the Missions were able to win the Texas League championship last year. Briefly, what does each of them need to improve upon to become MLB pitchers?

Grady Fuson: Well nothing major with any of the three. With Geer, everyone is anxious to see how his stuff plays at the next level with his sinker, which he can place just about anywhere he wants. Cesar made major strides in becoming more efficient, especially not losing the ball up and away to right-handed hitters. His breaking ball is continuing to develop as well. LeBlanc may have the biggest upside of all three. We would like to see a little more movement on his two-seamer and his curve could be a little better as well, but his changeup has dynamic game stopping ability. The key is getting to it.

What is the biggest thing Chase Headley is going to have to work on to become a quality defensive outfielder?

Grady Fuson: Mainly just playing there on a regular basis. He only had one hiccup out there in spring training. The throws are a little different than at third, some other instinctive things, working on his routes and so on. He's never going to be a real foot speed guy out there, but I think he will become a pretty decent outfielder. He's still going to take ground balls at third and is going to see some time at third, possibly once a week, to keep him sharp.

Projected Lineup:

1B Brian Myrow SP/RHP Josh Geer (MF#15)
2B Matt Antonelli (MF#3) SP/LHP Wade LeBlanc (MF#6)
3B Marshall McDougall/Edgar Gonzalez SP/LHP Cesar Ramos (MF#20)
SS Oscar Robles/Craig Stansberry SP/RHP John Hudgins (DL)
C Nick Hundley (MF#/12) SP/LHPShawn Estes
LF Chase Headley (MF#1) RP/RHP Dirk Hayhurst
CF Will Venable RP/LHP Kevin Cameron
RF Chip Ambres Closer/RHP Jared Wells
DH Rotation of infielders--

Key: MF = Madfriars.com prospect ranking, DL= Disabled List

Notes: Venable has some calf questions so he may not be ready for the beginning of the season. Arm problems for Hudgins will place Hayhurst in the starting rotation to begin the year. Right-hander Cesar Carrillo should be back in June from "Tommy John" surgery. The left side of the infield will rotate at DH.

Catch a Rising Star: Chase Headley. His breakout year in the Texas League has forced the Padres to find a place for him in San Diego. The first sign of injury or any faltering by the Padres left fielders and he's on his way to the Padres.

Pitching: Geer, LeBlanc and Ramos were big reasons why San Antonio won the championship last year. None of them posses big fastballs, but all three pound the zone, change speeds and have varying degrees of success with their breaking pitches. Keep an eye on LeBlanc, his changeup may be second only to Trevor Hoffman in the organization. Estes will be around for the first month, but if he's not in San Diego by then, look for him to be elsewhere.

The past few years the Beavers have ran out quality bullpens and this year should be no exception. Hayhurst is the perfect long man/short man/rubber arm specialist that every bullpen needs. If Wells can overcome adversity when he runs into it and begin to believe in his immense talent, he could develop into one of the Padres' better relievers. Last year, he was very good as the closer, culminating in a big August when he was 6-of-7 in save opportunities with 20 strikeouts in 13.2 innings. If he can show what he did last year after the All-Star break was no fluke, he should be in San Diego with the first opportunity.

Position Players: With Headley in the lineup this will be a dangerous club, but without him the team is going to search for power. The bad news is Headley is unlikely to be in Portland past June. Antonelli silenced quite a few critics last year with a big year at the plate and showed he had the ability, although still raw, to play second base. He needs to tighten up his defense, and he slumped a little toward the end of the season at the plate. Venable is a great story and he made a huge jump from Low-A to the Double-A Texas League last year. He hit well, but he's going to have to do better than a .373 slugging percentage to have a shot, and it's an open question how well he can handle playing in center every day.

Hundley is a quality defensive catcher with some pop, but there are questions about his ability to make consistent contact. Myrow, last year's Pacific Coast League batting champion, returns after being crowed off of the San Diego bench by Tony Clark. Somewhere, he should be able to find a job on a major league bench; it just doesn't appear that it's going to be in San Diego.

On the Spot: Will Venable. The Padres love his makeup, and he's made huge strides for someone who only began playing baseball full time at 23, but he still has long way to go. The Padres think he can develop into a quality all-around player; now is the time to justify their faith.

Under the Radar: Josh Geer. It's amazing how you can win 17 games and still be under the radar, but Geer is. He doesn't have a big fastball, but a steady diet of sinkers, changeups and a chase slider came through for him last year. If he can continue to use both sides of the plate he'll be effective at higher levels.

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