SAN DIEGO, CA - JUNE 6: Chase Headley #7 of the San Diego Padres connects for a single during the first inning of a baseball game against the Colorado Rockies at Petco Park on June 6, 2011 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images)
Before the Padres unearthed current third baseman Chase Headley, the club spent a pretty long time searching for a legitimate long-term option at the position, and generally to no avail. After Phil Nevin spent a few pretty successful years at the position in the late 1990's and early 2000's, the Padres tried out names such as Sean Burroughs, Vinny Castilla and Kevin Kouzmanoff at the hot corner, but none of those options emerged as a quality option for more than a year at a time.
Now the Padres have Headley, who posted nearly 5 WAR last season according to FanGraphs and is flashing an impressive .370 OBP so far this year. And following the old adage that when it rains, it pours, Headley isn't the only third baseman in that organization that's really coming into his own with the bat. Headley's .742 OPS may not look impressive, but once you factor in the league's recent decline in offense and Petco Park's ability to depress run-scoring, it's actually 20 percent above the league average. And after going years without a quality offensive third baseman, the Padres don't just have one good player at the MLB level; they're absolutely up to their ears with quality prospects at the position throughout the minors.
If you want, we can start from the top and go to the bottom. At Triple-A, they employ probably the weakest prospect we'll bring up: Jesus Guzman, who I noted a couple weeks ago as a minor league bat that could eventually get some playing time in the majors this year. He's currently hitting .345/.438/.536, but he turns 27 next week and he's unlikely to impress clubs in the future if he isn't already.
Then we take a trip down to San Antonio, where James Darnell is absolutely destroying baseballs as the third baseman for San Diego's Double-A affiliate. The 24-year-old was rated as the 90th-best prospect in the game by Baseball America coming into last season, but a rough performance at Double-A caused many evaluations to sour on his offensive potential. He's quickly re-established his prospect status with a monster performance while repeating the level, though. Currently sitting at .376/.472/.678 in 248 plate appearances, Darnell leads the Texas League in doubles and slugging percentage. Expect him to move up to Triple-A at some point this season, and to be the most direct challenger to Headley's position as the long-term incumbent at the hot corner.
The lower minors give us a couple more scorching third basemen from the Padres organization. Edinson Rincon and Jedd Gyorko have been splitting time between third base and designated hitter for Lake Elsinore in the California League, and they're performing like you'd expect from quality hitting prospects in that league: ridiculously well. Rincon, a 20-year-old from Venezuela, is batting .351/.389/.524... and he's being completely out-hit by Gyorko. The 2010 second round pick is currently boasting a .368/.430/.648 line this season and he leads the entire California League in doubles, RBIs, hits and runs so far this year.
In between the Phil Nevin era and the present Chase Headley era, San Diego passed through some pretty mediocre options at the hot corner. But with Headley in place right now and the ridiculously talented trio of Darnell, Rincon and Gyorko down in the minors, third base shouldn't be an issue in San Diego for years.