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Padres' Top 5 shortstops: Cassavell's take

@AJCassavell
April 21, 2020

No one loves a good debate quite like baseball fans, and with that in mind, we asked each of our beat reporters to rank the top five players by position in the history of their franchise, based on their career while playing for that club. These rankings are for fun

No one loves a good debate quite like baseball fans, and with that in mind, we asked each of our beat reporters to rank the top five players by position in the history of their franchise, based on their career while playing for that club. These rankings are for fun and debate purposes only. If you don’t agree with the order, participate in the Twitter poll to vote for your favorite at this position.

Here is AJ Cassavell’s ranking of the top five shortstops in Padres history. Next week: left fielders.

• Padres All-Time Around the Horn Team: C | 1B | 2B | 3B

1. Khalil Greene, 2003-08
Key fact: Greene's 84 homers are more than double the next highest Padres shortstop. In fact, Greene owns five of the seven double-digit homer seasons for a shortstop in franchise history

Khalil Greene burst onto the scene with a brilliant rookie season in 2004, en route to a second-place finish in National League Rookie of the Year Award voting. In hindsight, a more analytically inclined electorate likely would've picked Greene over Jason Bay. He led all rookies with 3.2 wins above replacement and slashed .273/.349/.446 at a premium defensive position.

Greene endured a sophomore slump the following season, but went 4-for-10 with a pair of doubles in the 2005 NL Division Series. Then he racked up 6.1 WAR over the following two years, while showcasing an excellent glove.

"He was real quiet, kind of a shy guy off the field, but he really was spectacular," said Mark Loretta, Greene's double-play partner (and our top-ranked Padres second baseman). "It was so fun to play alongside him. There were times I'd think, ‘There's not a chance in hell he'll get the ball,’ and he'd get it, then get it to me quickly in time to turn a double play. I always had to be on my toes."

Greene's tenure in San Diego ended unceremoniously after a slow start to the 2008 season. Frustration mounting, Greene broke his hand punching a storage box and missed the remainder of the season before a trade to the Cardinals that winter.

Greene never reached the heights many envisioned for him in 2004. But he remains beloved in San Diego for a thrilling six-year tenure. Until another dazzling rookie burst onto the scene in '19, no other shortstop in Padres history had a peak comparable to Greene's. That peak -- plus his impact on one of the most successful eras in Padres history -- lands Greene atop this list.

2. Ozzie Smith, 1978-81
Key fact: The first two of Smith's 13 straight Gold Glove Awards came in San Diego

Like Greene, Ozzie Smith broke into the big leagues with the Padres and finished second in Rookie of the Year Award voting in 1978. Unlike Greene, of course, Smith is known mostly for his accomplishments after his trade to St. Louis. Still, Smith was a very effective defense-first shortstop during his four years in San Diego. He batted just .231/.295/.278 during that time. But his otherworldly range and hands made Smith an 11 WAR player across those four seasons -- the highest-rated Padres shortstop all time, according to Baseball Reference. After he reached the first of his 15 All-Star Games in '81, the Padres sent Smith to the Cardinals in a six-player deal, which landed the next man on this list in San Diego.

3. Garry Templeton, 1982-91
Key fact: Templeton easily leads all Padres shortstops in hits (1,135), runs (430), RBIs (427) and games (1,286)

Depending on your perspective, Garry Templeton either belongs at the top of this list or here in third. He never reached the peak seasons of Greene or Smith. But his steady presence at shortstop was crucial in the Padres' run to the 1984 NL pennant. The following season would be Templeton's best, too, as he batted .282/.332/.377 and reached his only All-Star Game as a Padre. Templeton would spend parts of 10 seasons in San Diego, finishing with a .252 batting average and a .632 OPS. In the process, he became the leader in virtually every counting stat at the position in the team's history.

4. Tony Fernandez, 1991-92
Key fact: Fernandez’s .274 batting average is highest among Padres shortstops with at least 1,000 plate appearances

Tony Fernandez arrived in San Diego in the December 1990 deal that also netted Fred McGriff and sent Roberto Alomar and Joe Carter to Toronto. It was a certifiable blockbuster, in part because of the stature of all four players involved. Always smooth and sure-handed at shortstop, Fernandez posted his best offensive seasons outside of San Diego. But he still notched a respectable .274/.337/.359 slash line in his two years with the Padres. Fernandez would end up back in Toronto the following season after a pair of trades, but for a franchise without many star-caliber shortstops, his brief tenure in San Diego stands out. Fernandez died in February at 57, after suffering a stroke while battling kidney issues.

5. Fernando Tatis Jr., 2019-present
Key fact: Tatis has played only 84 games, yet he already ranks fifth in WAR among Padres who played at least half their games at shortstop

Over/under three years until Fernando Tatis Jr. sits at the top of this list? (I'll take the under.) Of course, Tatis' seemingly unstoppable rise to the best Padres shortstop of all time says two things: First, it points out the franchise's dreary history at the position. It’s impossible to ignore. But it also signifies a huge shift away from the longstanding shortstop woes in San Diego. Tatis is 21, and he's already one of the most electric players in the sport. As a rookie, he batted .317/.379/.590 with 22 homers and a dazzling skill set on the bases. The Padres essentially spent the decade after Greene's departure in search of a long-term answer at shortstop. At long last, they seem to have found one.

Honorable mention
Damian Jackson spent parts of four seasons in San Diego, playing all over the diamond. But he played shortstop more than anywhere else, and among primary shortstops in franchise history, he ranks fifth in Baseball Reference's WAR, fourth in Fangraphs' WAR, fifth in runs and seventh in hits.

Chris Gomez won two division titles and the NL pennant at shortstop, and he batted .364 in the 1998 World Series.

Everth Cabrera reached an All-Star Game in San Diego and racked up 430 hits in six seasons.

Enzo Hernandez was the franchise's first stalwart at short and ranks second at the position in games played.

AJ Cassavell covers the Padres for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell.