NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 08: Cameron Maybin #24 of the San Diego Padres connects on a first inning infield single against the New York Mets at Citi Field on August 8, 2011 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Try to think of the last great baseball team that didn't have any legitimate stars. Well...? No? Nothing? I didn't think so. It's just really hard to build a great team that depends solely on depth, consistency and team play to thrive. Sometimes, when the tides are rolling the wrong way, you need that big motor to push you in the other direction. And as much as Brad Penny wants it, he just can't churn remotely like a Justin Verlander.
And all of this has me worried about the San Diego Padres. In this day and age, you simply need stars to win. It's unrealistic to expect to be good at every position, so you have to recognize the places where you can actually be great. Even the best teams are forced to use the likes of Wilson Valdez or Ramiro Pena once in a while. Frankly, there just aren't enough good baseball players to go around. That's why you need some great players; inevitably, you're going to get stuck using someone that's probably not very good.
Which brings us back to the Padres, an organization whose lack of star-level talent is quite frankly a bit scary. Look at their current roster. How many of those guys realistically qualify as potential stars? Sure, there's Mat Latos, but he still needs to take that next step forward and prove to everyone that he can be a 200-innings-a-year guy. There's Cameron Maybin, but I'm highly skeptical that he can get that much better from here while hitting the ball on the ground nearly 60% of the time. There's Kyle Blanks, too. After what he did in the minors this summer, there's a non-zero chance that he proves to be an impact bat. But really, that's pretty much it. Chase Headley, Nick Hundley, Jesus Guzman and Will Venable are useful players, but they're far from franchise cornerstones.
This all has me wondering where exactly the Padres expect to get their stars. We've seen how good the Padres can be with a decent team and one star (What was his name? Andre?). It's not particularly impressive. They're going to need more star-quality players, and they're probably not going to be coming from the MLB roster. With most organizations, I'd probably be alright with this. The Padres certainly aren't the only team that can't boast a long list of young stars on its roster. But when you comb through their farm system for players with star potential, you really start to wonder if they're just banking on a Jose Bautista-esque lottery ticket.
Looking at San Diego's top prospects, you don't really see any of those "future stars" like a Mike Trout or a Trevor Bauer. Their best prospects- Casey Kelly, Anthony Rizzo, Jaff Decker, Simon Castro, Jedd Gyorko, Keyvius Sampson, James Darnell- aren't generally considered to have huge potential. Fewer and fewer scouts are slapping the "future ace" tag on Kelly and Castro. People are starting to wonder why Rizzo looked so bad in San Diego after looking so good in Triple-A. Decker, Darnell and Gyorko will forever be limited by their lack of athleticism. And while Sampson has taken some huge steps forward this season, that's only one prospect. We've seen enough pitching prospects fail to know that you can't simply bank on one guy succeeding; you need to gather up raffle tickets and hope that luck calls out your name.
Now, things aren't totally bunk in San Diego. As I said before, guys like Latos, Maybin and Blanks are capable of reaching that star-level status. Prospects like Kelly, Rizzo, Castro and Gyorko could still easily prove their doubters wrong, like Adrian Gonzalez did many years before. And the club did just infuse the organization with numerous quality draft picks, including Joe Ross, Austin Hedges, Cory Spangenberg and Michael Kelly.
But acquiring stars usually takes time. It's a very rare instance when a team stumbles into a star player out of nowhere; essentially every star player in the game today was regarded as a potential star prospect at some point during their career. So when you comb through San Diego's organization and recognize so few of those players, it kind of makes you wonder where they expect those players to come from.
This certainly isn't the time for the Padres to panic. They have a ton of good pieces, a boatload of financial flexibility and a strong front office led by GM Jed Hoyer. But if they have actual visions of long-term contention in the NL West, they should probably put some added fervor towards adding some great [or potentially great] pieces in the near future.