There are shockingly few interesting questions we might ask about the 2011 San Diego Padres, mostly because for a rebuilding team they have shockingly few interesting players.
The most interesting thing about the Padres is their bullpen, which turned in another stellar season in 2010. But where's the question? With most of the group returning, San Diego's relievers should be excellent again.
The second-most interesting thing about the Padres is ... Well, that's where we run into trouble. Starting pitcher Clayton Richard is still fairly young (27) but he's been almost exactly the same pitcher for three years running, so we know what we're going to see from him. Tim Stauffer is 28, and is intriguing solely because of his back-story. The fourth overall pick in the 2003 draft, Stauffer spent years struggling with injuries and other years in Triple-A, but has posted a 2.66 in 152 innings over the last two seasons and was just named the Padres' Opening Day starter. If nothing else, you have to admire his perseverance.
Organizationally, the Padres have a lot of work to do. They did add some fine prospects in the Adrian Gonzalez trade, but there's not a Grade A prospect in the entire farm system and there are precious few Grade B's. Which makes the young and talented players on the major-league roster seem all the more important. And since there are precious few of those guys, too, that makes them all the more important.
Last summer, Latos put together 15 straight starts in which he pitched at least five innings and gave up two or fewer runs.
Believe it or not, no one -- not Cy Young or Christy Mathewson or Lefty Grove or Whitey Ford or Bob Gibson or Sandy Koufax or Nolan Ryan or Steve Carlton or Tom Seaver or Roger Clemens or anyone else -- had ever done that before. Not bad for a 22-year-old kid who'd pitched only 47 innings above Class A before graduating to the major leagues.
But Latos still has some things to learn, mostly about living with himself. According to Baseball Prospectus (the book), Latos's "lack of self-control was noticeable enough that team officials and pitching coach Darren Balsley were moved to comment on it multiple times."
With that in mind, it's worth noting that Latos -- who did so much to get the Padres into first place down the stretch -- went 0-5 with an 8.18 ERA in his last five starts.
Perhaps he was merely tired, as Latos had never been worked so hard before (and probably wouldn't have been, if the Padres hadn't been fighting for a playoff spot). Whether because he threw 185 innings last season or not, Latos will open this season on the Disabled List with a strained right shoulder. The injury isn't thought to be serious, and Latos is expected to take his place in the rotation soon.
Young pitchers are inherently question marks, though. And Latos should wear a jersey covered with them.
Cameron Maybin's a completely different story, without even a hint of Latos's success in the majors.
* four years ago, Maybin was ranked as the game's No. 6 prospect by Baseball America;
* three years ago, Maybin was ranked as the game's No. 6 prospect; and
* two years ago, Maybin was ranked as the game's No. 8 prospect.
Two years ago.
So what's happened since then? Maybin made that dreadful transition from prospect to suspect.
In 2009, he played in 54 games for the Marlins and didn't hit much.
In 2010, he played in 82 games for the Marlins and didn't hit much at all.
Throw in some earlier brief action with the Marlins and Tigers, and Maybin's .246/.313/.380 career line in the majors doesn't suggest future greatness. Then again, that career is only 610 plate appearances, roughly one full season's worth ... and isn't a talented young player allowed a season's worth of adjustments, and failure? They can't all be Jason Heyward and Buster Posey, right?
Or so the Padres are hoping. For whatever reason, Maybin's had a particularly tough time making contact in the majors. He's always been an excellent defensive center fielder, so if he can simply maintain his defense and cut the strikeouts down to a reasonable number, he might yet prove all those prospect mavens right.
Two brilliant young players won't be enough to get the Padres back into contention. But two is better than one, or none. And you have to start somewhere.