Call-Ups or Hang-Ups: San Diego Padres and Mike Baxter

Once again it is collaborative post time here on Call to the Pen. This month’s topic is September call-ups. To get the ball rolling, I posed the following question to each of our Lead Writers, “Which player do you want your team to call-up in September and why?” It is a simple question but I think you will find the responses to be very diverse.

Taking the path less traveled this month, I decided to post each team’s write-up individually instead of grouping them by league or division as we have done in the past. To mix things up further I decided to chime in with my own thoughts on each team.

Up 4th in our series is the San Diego Padres. Representing Chicken Friars is the site’s Lead Writer (and Call to the Pen columnist) Nathaniel Stoltz. Check out what Nathaniel and I have to say after the jump.

Nathaniel’s Take:

With one of the worst teams in Triple-A (the Portland Beavers) as their AAA affiliate, the Padres don’t have too much to choose from.

On the pitching side, almost nobody stands out, save for reliever Ryan Webb, who’s been up-and-down all year, so he doesn’t really count, in my eyes. Starter Cory Luebke is the only legitimate pitching prospect on the Triple-A squad, but there’s no need to push his innings up this year. Let him get a shot at replacing Jon Garland in the rotation next year.

So, that directs us to the hitting side. Outfielder Aaron Cunningham had a nice run with the Padres earlier this year, and he definitely deserves a recall because of that, but he has a 0.251/.333/.413 line in AAA, so it’s tough to say he’s most deserving.

The three hitters on the Portland squad that have distinguished themselves the most are veteran corner guys.

The first option is Kyle Phillips, a 1B/3B acquired from the Blue Jays earlier in the season. The 26-year-old has put up a 0.340/.379/.447 line in Portland in 50 games since the trade. He could be an emergency third catcher and lefty bat off the bench.  Then there’s former big league outfielder Wily Mo Pena, signed out of independent ball last month. The former top prospect has crushed the ball at a 0.336/.413/.591 clip with the Beavers.  Finally, there’s Mike Baxter, a 25-year-old 1B/3B/OF who’s spent the whole year in Portland, hitting 0.296/.380/.508 while chipping in 20 steals.

While all three probably deserve recalls, none are on the 40-man roster, so it’s highly unlikely the Padres make room for all of them. I’ll take Baxter because he offers more speed and defensive versatility in addition to his potent bat, plus he’s the youngest of the three options. I have to wonder if he’d be an upgrade over Will Venable‘s 0.232/.325/.407 line, as well, whereas Pena and Phillips wouldn’t really be upgrades on anybody, just bench bats/occasional starters.


My Take:

My own evaluation of talent currently on the Portland Beavers roster brought me to the same place.  Mike Baxter is the one guy that legitimately could help the Padres down the stretch.  He’s now logged 220 games and 891 plate appearances (primarily in 2009 and 2010) at the Triple-A level and it is safe to say he’s been sufficiently “seasoned.”  Baxter has some pop and some speed, and he’s shown a nice progression in the last two seasons.

In 2009 he hit 40 doubles to go with 9 home runs while splitting time between the San Antonio Missions (AA) and Portland Beavers.  This year he’s hit just 28 doubles so far, but has already established career highs in triples (8) and home runs (17).  The power is developing and so is his eye at the plate.  Last year he struck out 1.56 times for every walk he drew.  This year that number is down to 1.35 SO for every 1 BB. Ah improvement … it’s a wonderful thing.

While Baxter, the Padres 4th round pick in the 2005 draft, can play a little 1B and maybe a little 3B he isn’t needed at either spot.  Those positions are held down by Chase Headley and Adrian Gonzalez who two just happen to be, in my opinion, the two best hitters on San Diego’s roster.

Where he is needed is in the OF. Saturday night, the Padres started Ryan Ludwick in RF, Chris Denorfia in CF and Will Venable in LF.  It’s not exactly a trio that strikes fear into opposing pitchers.

Ludwick is, of course, the most recognizable name, but outside of his 40 2B-37 HR season in 2008 which saw him finish with an OPS+ of 150 and a 0.299/.375/.591 hitting line, he’s been a slightly above average major league bat.  Still the Padres just acquired his services in a July 31st deadline deal and, according to UZR, he’s been an above average defender in RF every single season he’s played there.

With Tony Gwynn Jr. likely out for the season after breaking the hamate bone in his right hand on August 18th, the CF job belongs to Denorfia.  He’s not TGJ with the glove, far from it in fact, but the team lacks a better option.  Mike Baxter has played CF in his career, but has done so in only 36 minor league games so he’s really not an option in center.  Even if Baxter could play CF adequately, Denorfia has hit well in his first real shot at extended major league playing time this season (0.285/.353/.475 with an OPS+ of 134 in 250 PA).

That leaves, LF as the best place to potentially fit Baxter into the lineup.  It just so happens that Will Venable, as Nathaniel pointed out, is the weakest link.  Venable is an above average defensive player, has good speed, and certainly belongs in the majors but one has to wonder if the Padres would, perhaps, be better off having him slotted as their 4th outfielder.

The bottom line here is that Mike Baxter can help the Padres down the stretch.  Whether or not that opportunity comes as the starting LF in a “sink or swim audition,” or as a bench bat and spot starter remains to be seen but San Diego would be doing themselves a service by giving him a look in September. He should be a part of the teams’s present and could be a part of the future as well.

Admittedly this is an issue of tinkering more than a matter of fixing a massive problem.  The San Diego Padres, at 76-52, currently have the best record in the National League and 3rd best record in all of baseball (the Rays and Yankees are both 79-50).  They are on pace to win 96 games this season which would be the 2nd best mark in their franchise history.  The only season that tops it, is 1998 when they finished 98-64 and reached the World Series.

Tags: Aaron Cunningham Adrian Gonzalez Chase Headley Chris Denorfia Cory Luebke Jon Garland Kyle Phillips Mike Baxter MLB NL West Ryan Ludwick Ryan Webb San Diego Padres Tony Gwynn Jr. Will Venable Wily Mo Pena

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