PEORIA - As the San Diego Padres made their final moves this week at spring training, their Triple-A team roster took on a more definite shape.
The Triple-A Tucson Padres will be a young group but will boast major-league experience and combine speed and power, Padres director of player development Randy Smith said Tuesday at the Padres' spring training complex.
The Padres open the Pacific Coast League season April 7, then play their home opener April 15 at Kino Stadium. The team is expected to play at least two seasons in Tucson before a new ballpark is possibly built in Escondido, Calif.
Shortstop Everth Cabrera, outfielders Aaron Cunningham and Luis Durango, third baseman Jesus Guzman and starting pitcher Wade LeBlanc all have major-league experience and will play in Tucson. LeBlanc, who was a candidate for the major-league rotation and was optioned Monday to Tucson, is expected to be the opening day starter.
"It's going to be a good club," Smith said. "It's going to be young, but I think it's going to be pretty good, as long as we stay healthy and the major-league club stays healthy."
Injuries already have impacted Tucson's roster. A strained hamstring landed outfielder Eric Patterson on San Diego's disabled list, allowing outfielder Cedric Hunter - initially expected to go to Tucson - to make the big club after an impressive spring. Hunter is expected to join Tucson eventually, while LeBlanc might be with Tucson briefly before going to the majors.
Others slated for Triple-A include first baseman Anthony Rizzo (part of the Adrian Gonzalez trade with Boston), second baseman Logan Forsythe, power-hitting first baseman Matt Clark, and closer Evan Scribner, a former Arizona Diamondbacks farmhand.
Outfielder Mike Baxter, who played 136 Triple-A games last season, will be out for two months because of a thumb injury.
The rotation will include LeBlanc, who started 25 games for San Diego last season, highly regarded prospect Simon Castro, Josh Geer (who pitched for San Diego in 2008-09), Jeremy Hefner and Will Inman. LeBlanc is the lone left-hander of the group.
As for the bullpen, Greg Burke, Scott Munter and Aaron Poreda will return to Triple-A.
"We're going to be better," said manager Terry Kennedy, who led the team in Portland, Ore., last season. "Being in Tucson will improve our offense."
Cabrera was optioned to Tucson on Monday after the Padres acquired utilityman Alberto Gonzalez from the Washington Nationals. Cabrera received congratulations from his parents and teammates, who had read premature reports of him making the big club.
"It's a little hard, but I know it happens in baseball," he said.
The 24-year-old hit .208 in 76 games with San Diego last year after he batted .255 in 103 games in 2009. The Padres want him to play every day.
"He'll provide a lot of energy for that team and spark," Smith said.
Another former major-leaguer who could see time in Tucson is first baseman-outfielder Kyle Blanks, who underwent Tommy John surgery on July 30.
Blanks has been taking batting practice, but his throwing has been limited. He said his throwing intensified Monday, a positive step. Smith said he is unsure which level Blanks will go to, but he will need at-bats.
"It's gone at a pretty good pace," said Blanks, who has played 87 big-league games over the past two seasons. "In the last month, my activities have increased a lot more than I thought they would."
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