I thought I'd let this one be a surprise for everyone either watching the game last night or reading the box score this morning. By now you probably know that we've purchased the contracts of both Matt Antonelli and Wade LeBlanc.
Matt started last night for the Padres at 2B and notched his first big league hit, against Greg Maddux no less. Matt's struggles this year at AAA have been well-chronicled. After spending a good part of the season with a batting average on the interstate, Anto had an Antonelli-like August which pushed his final season numbers at AAA to .215/.335/.322. That certainly wasn't what anyone was expecting this season. However, Matt's line in August of .290/.391/.473 was precisely what we were hoping for at some point during this season. The encouraging thing throughout the year was that Matt never lost his plate discipline despite his overall batting line, which is a testament to his strong mental makeup. The fact is that we pushed Matt aggressively through the system, his most recent promotion to the big leagues being no exception. Remember, the Padres drafted Anto just barely more than two years ago.
The 2B position has been a tough spot for the Padres over the past four seasons. Starting with 2005, we've ranked 15th, 10th, 15th, and 15th in the National League at 2B in terms of OPS. That isn't the end-all, be-all stat, but it does indicate that we haven't been competitive with the rest of the league at 2B even after considering park factors. Certainly, Edgar Gonzalez's bat has helped, but we thought this was as good a time as any, probably the best time actually, to get Antonelli some Major League experience, because we believe he will eventually make a difference at that position for us.
Wade LeBlanc is joining the Major League rotation with his first start coming tomorrow night (Wednesday) against the Dodgers. Like Antonelli, LeBlanc was a 2006 draft by the Padres and has moved rapidly through the system. We knew we were pushing him by putting him in AAA at the beginning of the season, and his performance reflected that: a 9.27 ERA in April and a 6.56 ERA in May. However, Wade surged in June and over the final three months went 93 innings with 80 hits, 20 walks, and 103 strikeouts.
The most significant part of these two callups and what separates them from your typical September callup is the fact that neither player needed to be protected on the 40-man roster this winter. I know it may not seem like it, but that is a big deal. Bringing these two players now is a loud statement for the Padres. I'll expand on that thought in a later post.
Quick Update: Both AA San Antonio and High-A Lake Elsinore have pulled through and qualified for the playoffs! Additionally, short-A Eugene is still alive - one game back with two to play. Playoffs in AA and High-A begin on Wednesday.