PLAYER TO WATCH

KYLE BLANKS

Memo to the many major leaguers who think spring training is too long: Meet Padres leftfielder Kyle Blanks, who has been prepping for 2010 since the minute last season ended. The 6'6", 23-year-old Blanks, who was 285 pounds last year, spent the off-season trying to trim his ample profile. He and Rays pitching prospect Matthew Moore, an old friend with whom he shared an apartment in Albuquerque over the winter, followed a diet consisting of frozen, nutritionally calculated meals ("They weren't bad," Blanks says, unconvincingly) and an exercise regimen that included weightlifting in the morning and treadmill marathons at night. The result: Blanks rid himself of 15 unwanted pounds.

Blanks, who missed the final five weeks of last season with a strained arch in his right foot, still isn't the fast, athletic player the Padres need to patrol the vast PETCO Park outfield. But his slimmer physique should help. Ideally Blanks would play first base, his natural position, but until slugger Adrian Gonzalez, who will soon become too pricey for the Padres, is traded, San Diego is set there. And Blanks's bat—he hit 10 home runs with an impressive .868 OPS in only 148 at bats last year—makes finding a spot for him imperative for the Padres, who averaged the fewest runs in the NL. Says Gonzalez, "He has the potential to be a guy that other teams are going to fear."

THE NUMBERS

3.94

San Diego's average runs per game last season, the second year in a row the club was the majors' least productive. No surprise given that the Padres play in pitcher-friendly PETCO Park. On the road San Diego was a respectable seventh in the league in scoring (4.44).

MODEST PROPOSAL

The Padres' rebuilding project centers on trading first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, whose small cost and big production make him an attractive chip. But San Diego may get a better relative return by trading closer Heath Bell. In his first year succeeding Trevor Hoffman, Bell had an NL-leading 42 saves, a 2.71 ERA and 79 strikeouts in 69 2/3 innings. He is not, however, a unique talent; plenty of relievers can be effective for 15 to 20 pitches at a time. The Padres themselves have righthanders Luke Gregerson and Mike Adams to replace Bell's innings. Gonzalez is one of the best players in baseball, but Bell was just used in specific situations that helped him build up a stat. The Padres should be able to leverage that into a prospect package well above the value of what they're trading (perhaps with the Joe Nathan--less Twins), while not making the 2010 team much worse.

The Lineup

WITH 2009 STATISTICS

Manager Bud Black

4TH SEASON WITH PADRES

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11 13 4.01 1.40 RH Chris Young 4 6 5.21 1.45 RH Kevin Correia 12 11 3.91 1.30 LH Clayton Richard 9 5 4.41 1.47 RH Mat Latos 4 5 4.62 1.30 BULLPEN W SV ERA WHIP RH Heath Bell 6 42 2.71 1.12 RH Mike Adams 0 0 0.73 0.59

New acquisition

PHOTOBRAD MANGIN (BLANKS)DOWNSIZING A slimmer, healthier Blanks is one of the few home run threats in the Padres' lineup. PHOTOJOHN W. MCDONOUGH (BELL)

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)