The Padres had a plan for Jedd Gyorko, they’ve been executing it and it’s working out well. This winter they made the decision to move Gyorko, their top position-playing prospect, from third base to second. He’s having a good camp in the field and at the plate. And inconveniently enough, the Padres just got the news that their third baseman, reigning National League RBI champ Chase Headley, might miss Opening Day after suffering a jammed thumb in Sunday’s Cactus League action.
Bud Black broke the bad news after Monday’s game against the Cubs: “The tip of [Headley’s] thumb has a fracture. He’s expected to miss some time, maybe about a month.”
However much time Headley misses, one positive repercussion is that his absence probably makes the Padres’ job of rostering Gyorko and putting him in the lineup that much easier. And while the needs of the moment might lead you to think the Padres would move Gyorko back to his old position at third base on Opening Day, his present, as well as his future, is still at second base. It’s a long-term project, and the Padres remain committed to it.
If anything, Gyorko might be more a second than a third baseman now, so going back wouldn’t be that easy: “It’s definitely not riding a bike; it’s still tough. I’ve taken every rep so far at second base.”
Reflecting on the conversion, Gyorko said, “Josh Byrnes called toward the end of last year -- I was headed to the offseason -- and just mentioned that he wanted me to start getting some balls at second base; that would probably be my position that I’d be playing when I came to spring training. It was good to know that early so I could get a full offseason at second base in.
“I played there one year at college, so it’s not completely foreign to me,” he added. “I’ve been working with Glenn Hoffman a lot out on the back fields, getting a lot of ground balls and a lot of reps.”
The challenge of playing second base at the big league level won’t be easy, though, even as Gyorko makes adjustments. “The most challenging thing has been getting different reads off the bat; it’s coming at a different angle. I’ve gotten pretty used to being around the bag, as far as double plays; I think I’m going well on that. I just gotta keep working on my range; that first step off the bat is huge, so that’ll definitely improve my range as I go on.
“Defense and offense, they’re completely different to me. I don’t take my at-bat to the field, I don’t take my fielding to the plate. Wherever I am on the field, I’m going to do the same at the plate.”
Gyorko is also settling in just fine as far as building rapport with Everth Cabrera, his double-play partner. “We get along really well,” Gyorko said. “The more we play together, the better we’re going to get. We’ve got a lot of reps together, so things are looking good.”
Gyorko might also help make up some of the difference in the lineup during Headley’s absence and beyond. Gyorko hit 25 homers and 74 total extra-base hits in the minors in 2011, and another 30 homers and 24 doubles between Double-A and Triple-A in 2012.
Padres hitting coach Phil Plantier observes, “Jedd did a good job of earning his opportunity, because he’s put up good numbers. How that translates to the big leagues, we’re going to see. He’s got a built-in double in his swing, and I think he’ll have some stretches during the course of the season where he’s going to hit some home runs.”
Having managed Gyorko in the Cal League in 2011, Plantier is understandably optimistic about what Gyorko is capable of. “I had Jedd a couple of years ago, I’m very familiar with him, spent a lot of time with him -- he’s the kind of guy we envisioned him being to this point. Mentally, he’s right where you’d want a player, he’s right where he needs to be.”
Quentin returns to action: With the Padres having to endure the absence of Chase Headley as much as a month into the regular season, they’ll need Gyorko to be ready. But while replacing Headley’s power won’t be easy, at least there was good news about slugging left fielder Carlos Quentin’s recovery from a sore knee. Quentin played in a B game on Monday, and after the A game against the Cubs, Black shared, “Carlos had six at-bats, heard he went 3-for-6 and hit a home run.”
That might provide some solace for Padres fans worrying about who’s going to be left by the time this team breaks camp. Despite lowered expectations last year for Quentin after his getting dealt by the White Sox to the Padres and moving from the homer-happy U.S. Cellular Field to Petco Park, he managed to slug .504 in a half-season after coming back from knee surgery. With the fences coming in at Petco in a move to bring the pitcher’s paradise somewhere closer to neutral, the expectation is that Quentin might be able to exploit the shorter power alley and continue to make the Padres look good for taking the risk.
Christina Kahrl covers baseball for ESPN.com. You can follow her on Twitter.