Over the next few weeks, we’ll preview the 2011 San Diego Padres, starting with the infield and progressing to the men who catch fly balls and finishing with the pitching staff.

Catcher

In 2010, Yorvit Torrealba’s batting average dropped by twenty points, yet his rWAR jumped from .4 to 2.8. You see, Torrealba switched from one of the leagues most hitter-friendly environments (Colorado) to its least, making his slight drop in raw OPS (.732 to .721) look very sweet for the Padres.

Torrealba used his breakout campaign to ink a two year, $6.25 million deal with Texas, leaving the catching duties to Nick Hundley. Hundley was solid last year as well, hitting .249/.308/.418 in just over 300 plate appearances, a slight improvement on his 2009 numbers.

Hundley has no problem showing just what kind of hitter he is. He strikes out often, walks occasionally, and has moderate power when he puts the ball in play. At the catcher spot, for little money, you can live with that.

Backup duties will likely go to Rob Johnson, with the recent retirement of Gregg Zaun. That’s a pretty big offensive drop, as Johnson simply hasn’t shown that he can hit Major League pitching (.200/.282/.281, 534 PAs). Hopefully Hundley stays healthy.

Nick Hundley projection: 410 PAs, .255/.315/./430

First base

Brad Hawpe is an accomplished hitter, and he may as well just forget about replacing Adrian Gonzalez. That’s too much pressure on one’s shoulders, and it’s not like the Padres traded A-Gone because Hawpe became available.

Hawpe has an impressive career line of .279/.373/.490, though he’s spent almost his entire career in Colorado. His career splits:

  BA OBP SLG
Home .285 .377 .509
Away .273 .369 .470

Aided by Coors Field? No doubt. But Hawpe’s offensive output certainly hasn’t been solely a product of thin air. If he can adjust to Petco and perhaps more importantly, playing first base, Hawpe could easily be one of the surprise players on the 2011 Padres. He’s played just 72 innings at first in his Major League career.

Jorge Cantu will likely see time at first, coming off a poor season with Florida and Texas. Cantu’s had plenty of productive years in the past, though, putting up a career .274/.320/.446 line. Cantu also has considerably more experience at first, with over 1500 innings played there (though he isn’t a plus defender anywhere on the diamond).

Brad Hawpe projection: 450 PAs, .260/.355/.445
Jorge Cantu projection: 150 PAs, .255/.310/.400

Second base

Orlando Hudson will continue his tour of the National League West, picked up by the Padres on a very reasonable two year, $11.5 million deal ($8M option).

Hudson’s coming off his worst offensive season since 2005, hitting .268/.338/.372 with the Minnesota Twins. However, from 2006 through 2009 Hudson was above average offensively. Hudson has been up and down by the advanced metrics in the field, but he probably rates somewhere just North of average at this point in his career.

David Eckstein will be missed, not so much because of his production but because he really is a fun guy to watch. Eckstein wasn’t terrible in his time in San Diego, but as he enters his late thirties it’s probably a good time to move on.

Eric Patterson came over from Boston in the Adrian deal and will see some time at second. Patterson hasn’t done much with the bat in the majors (.224/.299/.353, 471 PAs). but he’s a versatile enough guy who can play in the infield and outfield. Kevin Frandsen should also see time at second.

Orlando Hudson projection: 550 PAs, .275/.340/.385

Shortstop

The Padres picked up SS Jason Bartlett and a PTBNL from the Tampa Bay Rays for Adam Russell, Cesar Ramos, Brandon Gomes, and Cole Figueroa. The Padres promptly signed Bartlett to a two year, $11 million deal (with vesting option).

Bartlett is a serviceable enough player, who has surrounded one breakout campaign (he hit .320/.389/.490 in 2009) with middling performance. Bartlett won’t have to match his 2009 performance to offer a solid upgrade, as Padres shortstops hit just .244/.306/.360 last season.

The acquisition of Bartlett allows Everth Cabrera to receive some much needed seasoning in the minor leagues. Cabrera could return to the majors and get playing time at short and/or second if things go well for him.

Jason Bartlett projection: 510 PAs, .265/.325/.370

Third base

Chase Headley has not quite lived up to lofty expectations, as he’s actually declined offensively in each of his first three seasons. Last year, he hit just .264/.327/.375, though his performance actually looked solid thanks to a big turnaround in the field.

It’ll take time to see how much of that fielding value was real, though. Most likely, Headley’s bat is going to decide whether he becomes a true cornerstone third basemen or just another guy in the revolving door.

Entering his age-27 season, Headley should be primed for a breakout campaign, and if he can keep up the glove-work Headley could be the Padres most valuable position player in 2011.

Jorge Cantu will likely spot Headley at third.

Chase Headley projection: 620 PAs, .280/.350/.440

Next up, the outfield.

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