Friar Nation's Q&A with

Last week we had our annual visit from our friends at Friar Nation, which was previously known as Padremania. Friar Nation is one of the fastest growing Padres communities on the Internet and its members have an interest in everything from the big club on down.

Denis Savage and John Conniff took questions on everything from Matt Antonelli to Pascual Juan.

What you think of Drew Cumberland? Could he be an option to replace Khalil Greene if we chose to let Khalil go or trade him? (SDSUBaseball)

John Conniff: No. I like Cumberland quite a bit, but realistically the Padres are going to take him one year and level at a time, as they should. So you're looking at '09 in Lake Elsinore, '10 in San Antonio and '11 in Portland if everything goes according to plan. Also while Cumberland is a very good athlete, he had a scholarship offer to FSU as a defensive back, his game, especially his defense, needs polish.

Do Will Venable and Cedric Hunter project as CF options or are they corner guys? (SDSUBaseball)

John Conniff: The Padres are very high on Venable, and according to multiple sources both within and outside the organization, he was playing a good CF before he had his shoulder problems which put him on the DL. He's back DHing right now and there isn't any timetable that I know of when he'll be back in the field. Personally after watching him play in Fort Wayne and San Antonio I have a very hard time seeing him as a major league option in CF. He just doesn't have enough of an arm to really play anywhere other than LF and I can't see him hitting enough for the corners.

Hunter I'm much higher because of his speed and on-base ability. He's very young, 20, and holding his own in the Cal League against players that are two to three years older. His arm improved last year in Fort Wayne and I think the strength of his game is much more suited to center than the corners where he really doesn't have enough power to play there.

A lot was made about Will Inman's struggles in Double-A. He seems to have gotten past that and is pitching very well. How soon do you think he could make an impact in the big leagues? (SDSUBaseball)

John Conniff: The big thing about Inman last year was that he just didn't have that much velocity on his fastball; it was in the 83-86 range. This spring, after a long rest, as compared to the Brewers organization which had him pitching in November last year,, he came into spring throwing in the 89-93 range, which made his change and breaking ball much better. Inman is only 21 so the Padres are going to take their time with him as well. I think he's in San Antonio for the full year and depending what happens in the spring and at Portland next year I could see him being called up mid-2009.

Is a rotation of Jake Peavy, Chris Young, Mat Latos, Inman, and Wade Leblanc possible in a few years? Do all these guys project to be major league starters? (SDSUBaseball)

John Conniff: With the obvious exceptions of Peavy and Young, they all could be major league starters. If they will is another question. Inman I reviewed in the question above, Latos has a tremendous upside. The key for him will be an improvement in his changeup and maturity, but you have to like anyone that is 6'6" and throws consistently in the mid-90's. LeBlanc is struggling right now to throw a two-seamer (a type of sinker) something he didn't do last year – when he threw a four-seam fastball, changeups and a curve. His four-seam fastball was in the 84-88 range and the Padres believed he needed a pitch with more movement. The problem right now is that he has problems throwing the new pitch for strikes and when he throws the change now it's pretty obvious. When I saw him in Portland last month he gave up two three run home runs in one inning.

His big advantage in San Antonio was that his fastball and changeup (its plural he threw two of them) were all coming in on the same plane and nearly impossible to pick up. The two seamer looks so much different from his change it takes away from his effectiveness. He's a good pitcher and I think he will be in the majors, but either the new pitch is going to have to improve significantly or be scrapped.

How did the grand opening of the Dominican Republic facility go? (PadresFanForever)

Denis Savage: As expected. There were some delays that pushed it back until late April, but everyone is pleased with the results. The Padres are excited about what it means in terms of their plans for higher profile acquisitions in the Dominican Republic, and throughout baseball, the talk has been that their facility is the best in Latin America.

Any players down there that we should instantly look forward to hearing about soon? (PadresFanForever)

Denis Savage: I won't name the players that are already listed in another question below, but yeah! Pedro Martinez, a left-hander signed this winter has the potential to be a stud. He already throws in the low-90s and has good secondary pitches. Severino Perez will be the closer for the DSL Padres and could develop into a power arm. There are different takes on Juan Herrera with his pitchability ranking high with one scout and another saying he also has the stuff. He could also develop into someone special.

Will Eric Sogard be bumped to San Antonio in the next month if he continues to make A+ pitching look like a joke ? If so, how does the 2nd base position shake down, or up I guess, from there? (PadresFanForever)

John Conniff: I think so, but keep in mind the team always wants its 32 best position players [4 full season teams x 8] playing every day. Brett Dowdy is hitting .350 in San Antonio right now at 2b, but he can play a variety of positions so if they could find a place for him everyday in Portland – such as third base which is relatively open. Grady Fuson is pretty conservative in moving guys up during the season, which is also good, so I would look for Sogard to be moved up in mid-June if he keeps it up.

Do you think Sorgard could be a MLB 2B? Is it possible Matt Antonelli could shift to CF and do well? (SDSUBaseball)

John Conniff: I like Antonelli quite a bit, but he hasn't played that well not only in April, but in spring training, the Arizona Fall League, August in San Antonio and he's off to a tough start this month. It is a big jump from A ball to AA, even for someone like Sogard, so I think the question is a little premature.

But to go along with your premise, assuming that Antonelli turns it around and Sogard rakes in San Antonio I still don't think they would move Antonelli to center. To me center is the most difficult position on the Padres because of the size of PETCO and you really need someone who is a plus center fielder out there. Between Antonelli and Sogard at second, and assuming they both play up to what everyone believes they are capable off, the Padres would take Antonelli because he is a little more versatile.

John, Do you see the Padres moving Antonelli back to CF after he looked so bad in Jan. shagging in Petco ? Or is the fact that they haven't messed with that idea since a clear indicator that he's a 2bag now and forever? (PadresFanForever)

John Conniff: I don't see them moving him to center and I'm not really sure what the Padres were doing with that in the off-season. There has been no talk of moving him out there and when I spoke with Antonelli he didn't seem that enthused about being out there, unless it was his only ticket to the majors.

How soon do you see Kyle Blanks being major league ready? Since he is pretty much blocked by Adrian Gonzales at 1B, how does he rate as trade bait and who might be interested in him? (websoulsurfer)

John Conniff: He's another guy that is very young, 21, so I don't see the Padres being forced to make a decision for another year. We asked team officials if they thought about putting Blanks into left field so they could play both him and Adrian Gonzalez at the same time, but the team doesn't think he could hold up out there – he plays around 275-290 during the year. As trade bait, being limited to first base, it's probably not as much as you would think – because that is a brutal position to try to break into at the MLB level, there are just so many guys that can play there. If they can convince people he can play the outfield his value will go up.

Is there anyone in the farm system other than Cumberland that we can look at as a replacement for Greene? What is Cumberland's MLB ETA? (websoulsurfer)

John Conniff: Not really. Sean Kazmar [San Antonio] and Jesus Lopez [Lake Elsinore] have good gloves but not really enough of a stick to get excited about. Luis Rodriguez was playing a good shortstop before he got hurt in Portland. Maybe the draft will bring something.

With so much depth at pitching for the Padres at the ML level (Wolf, Germano, Hensley and possibly Prior for the #4 and 5 slots in the rotation), do you think the Padres will be more likely to trade away Germano or Hensley or some prospects in a package for a big bat? (websoulsurfer)

John Conniff: Hensley needs to get healthy first for any team to have a serious interest and if he's healthy San Diego should probably hang on to him. Germano's problem is his best pitches are his secondary pitches, curve and change, but to get to them he has to rely on his two-seam fastball, which if it's on it's going to be a good night, if it's not then the bullpen better get ready quick. So I'm not sure how much either of those guys could really command and if the team traded Wolf I really didn't see anyone in Portland that is ready to step into the rotation right now.

What was the knock on Joakim Soria that made the Padres not protect him? (jacs)

Denis Savage: It wasn't so much a knock as a belief that they would be able to retain him for another year. At the time of his protection, the Padres were looking at several of their young players to add to the 40-man. They chose to add two guys who had been in the system for some time and had advanced to the higher levels. Soria had pitched in just a handful of games in Low-A. They took a chance believing that not many people had seen him. They lost. He was a player they also believed would be very good but had hoped to gain one more year.

Will Rymer Liriano, Jhonaton Spraud and Edinson Rincon play in the DSL this year or are they going to come stateside? (defensiveback23)

Denis Savage: Liriano and Spraud will play in the DSL for the Padres. Rincon is expected to play in the states. These are the top three bats that have come out of the Dominican since Carvajal. Liriano is seen as the potential superstar of the bunch, although I have not seen him play - yet. Spraud looked very good when I saw him. I was surprised at his ability to put the bat to the ball consistently. He just needs to get stronger. Rincon I also saw, and he impressed me with his ability to take things in stride, not get down on himself and come out ahead of the game. He is very mature for a 17-year-old and has a solid stroke.

What's the deal with Pascual Juan? Is he hurt again or are the Padres placing him in a short season league? Is this his last shot to become a prospect and can you see the light ever coming on for him? (defensiveback23)

Denis Savage: Juan was hurt early in spring but is reportedly healthy and ready to pitch in short-season ball. It is hard to say if it is his last shot. How many lefties do you know that can hit the upper-90s with their fastball. They don't come often. But, he is older than most of the kids, has problems with command, and has not been healthy. He will definitely get looks this year and depending on how he fares it could, in fact, be his final ride with the Padres. Honestly, I don't think the light ever turns on. If I were the Padres, he would be the kid I trade off the farm without fear of him coming back to haunt us later.

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