San Diego Padres
SLEEPER Adrian Gonzalez's terrific batting eye and improving power will allow him to climb the first-base ranks again this season.
BUST Marcus Giles was already disappointing in 2006, and Petco Park is not the place to rediscover one's power stroke.
HITTER TO WATCH: Nick Hundley, C Hundley is probably the closest Padre hitting prospect to the majors. He's an adequate defensive catcher with a little pop in his bat, and is now the Padres' best catching prospect too.
PITCHER TO WATCH: Cesar Carrillo, RHP
If Carrillo can come back from the elbow sprain that ended his 2006 season in June, he's a strike-thrower with a plus fastball and could step into the San Diego rotation by midyear.
MLB Preview 2007
FIXED Bud Black is a newbie manager, but he's also wise to the ways of baseball. "I don't know why, but the guy you play catch with on the first day of spring training is the guy you play catch with all season," Black says. "So I told Clay Hensley, 'Play catch with Maddux.' " Though the 333-game winner could get 15 W's this season, his greatest asset will be helping rotation mates Hensley, Chris Young and ace Jake Peavy, who has spectacular stuff but needs to learn pitching efficiency. Says Young, "I'll be sitting next to Greg every game."
NEEDS FIXING Last year, Padres third basemen scored the fewest runs and had the fewest RBIs in all of baseball, and they were second to last in batting average, slugging and on-base percentage. So GM Kevin Towers traded promising young second baseman Josh Barfield to Cleveland for rookie third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff. "He may not know it," center fielder Mike Cameron says of his new teammate, "but he's under a lot of pressure." Kouzmanoff led Double- and Triple-A in slugging last season, but he hasn't shown he can pull the ball, which is the best way for a righty hitter to knock one out of cavernous Petco.
At 26, outfielder Paul McAnulty isn't a hot prospect, but he tore it up in camp, and he's hit .318 in two Triple-A stints. He might get his chance if left fielder Terrmel Sledge struggles.
New stadiums raise excitement, and expectations. Since Petco Park opened, in 2004, the Pads have averaged 35,170 fans a game (nearly 40% more than during their last year at Qualcomm) and have won two NL West titles. But fans want more. Those two postseasons produced exactly one win, and though payroll has increased nearly 20% since 2004, it's still well behind the in-state rival Giants ($95M) and Dodgers ($114M).
"Forget the big market naysayers, the Friars have shown some consistency the past couple of years, with minimal spending and very minimal star power. ... With a mostly young club, and a healthy dose of veterans, expect nothing but improvement in 2007."