Former Cal star rising through the Padres’ minor-league system
When Cal alumnus Xavier Nady signed with the San Diego Padres after the 2000 Major League Baseball Draft, expectations were high. He was a highly sought-after college baseball player who experts projected would be producing at the major league level sooner rather than later. Two years later, Nady is on the brink of proving the experts right.
Earlier this year, in May, he was promoted to the Padres’ Triple-A affiliate, the Portland Beavers, just one rung on the ladder away from the major leagues.
In 1997 the St. Louis Cardinals thought highly enough of Nady’s talent to make him a fourth-round draft choice out of Salinas High School. Nady chose instead to accept a scholarship from Cal.
“(Choosing Cal) was an easy decision,” Nady said. “I felt going to college would make me a a better player. My days at Cal were the best time of my life.”
Nady chose Cal over Pepperdine, the only other college that recruited him. He stepped in and right away drew national attention while leading the nation’s freshmen in a number of offensive categories, including home runs.
“I felt welcomed by [then head coach] Bob Milano,” he said. “He put me in the third or fourth hole every game. I felt like I belonged there. Everything fell into place. I had a blast.”
At the end of the year, he was named National Freshman of the Year by both Baseball America and Collegiate Baseball.
He left Cal as the school’s all-time leader in home runs (57), RBI’s (191) and total bases (479). He was a three-time All-Pac-10 selection and a two-time All American. His all-time slugging percentage (.729) is the highest in Pac-10 history, besting the .718 Mark McGwire chalked up at USC between 1982-1984.
Before the 2000 season, Baseball America projected Nady as the top overall draft choice. He responded to the pressure with another All-Pac-10 season, but he slid to the second round. Some teams were rumored to have passed on him up in fear of dealing with his agent, notoriously tough negotiator Scott Boras.
Considered an advanced hitting prospect similar to current major league stars Pat Burrell and Troy Glaus before him, Nady skipped two minor league levels, taking his first assignment with Lake Elsinore in the California League. Not many prospects can stay afloat at that level without prior experience, but for Nady it was easy. He was named the league’s Most Valuable Player and Rookie of the Year after leading the league in many offensive categories while making the move to first base.
His performance earned him the distinction as best power prospect in the California League and second best overall prospect, trailing only teammate Dennis Tankersley, a pitcher who made seven starts for the Padres this year before being demoted to Double-A Mobile.
This offseason Nady underwent Tommy John surgery, a ligament transplant to his throwing arm that prevented him from playing third base in the minors. A full recovery from the surgery typically takes nine to 12 months. Nady was prohibited from throwing a baseball to start the year.
Nady began this year at Lake Elsinore again, this time as the team’s designated hitter. Over the course of the first couple of months he picked up where he left off, hitting .278 with 13 home runs and 37 RBI’s with plenty of walks, while playing DH while his arm healed.
In May Nady was rewarded with another organizational jump, this time skipping Double-A Mobile and going straight to the Portland Beavers, the team’s Triple-A affiliate, just one step from the majors.
“I heard that might happen over the winter. I was excited to skip Mobile,” Nady said. In the two months at that level Nady has not matched the numbers he put up at Lake Elsinore, as he continues to adjust to the new level of competition and recover from the surgery. He only has one home run in his first 137 at-bats.
“The guys are a little older and they know how to pitch,” Nady said.
His adjustments to the higher level of competition has been compounded by another position change, this time to left field. Since his freshman year in college, Nady has logged time at second, shortstop, third, first base and now the outfield. Nady is happy to play anywhere as long as it means getting some action on defense.
“It’s much better to be running out there than DHing,” Nady said of playing left field. “I’m getting use to left field. I enjoyed first base last year. As long as you’re playing (on the field).”
The Padres continue to be cautious with Nady. At Portland he is playing one of every three days on the field, then as DH another day and off the next, but he should be back to playing full time soon.
The Padres have a glut of talent throughout the organization in the position that Nady played during most of his Cal career, third base. At the start of this season, the Padres moved Phil Nevin to first base and put Ryan Klesko in left field to make room for another top prospect, Sean Burroughs. On top of that, the Padres are stockpiling the best college hitters, regardless of position, for the past few years. The Padres have selected three high-round college third-basemen since 2000: Nady, former University of San Francisco player Tag Bozied and Tulane University’s Jake Gautreau.
Nady has found that the best way to keep himself on the fast track to the major leagues is to continue producing the numbers that were expected from the former Cal star when he was drafted. At the very least, Nady is on track for another call-up this September.