ATLANTA -- The Padres are putting a unique spin on their annual instructional league this fall, both in terms of location and in the experience it will offer for many of their top Minor League prospects.
Starting on Sept. 25, many of the organization's top prospects will head to the team's complex in the Dominican Republic for three weeks of baseball instruction and much more.
With renovations still ongoing at the team's Padres' Spring Training complex in Arizona, the organization decided to move the instructional league to the Dominican Republic with the intent on helping players get better and exposing them to a different environment.
This is about more than just baseball.
"It was born out of necessity, but one of the benefits of it is it will be a fantastic experience, baseball and otherwise, for everyone involved," said Randy Smith, the Padres' vice president of player development and international scouting.
"We will have everyone at the complex all day, we'll be able to work with them and then we'll also get them out to do some work in the community. We want to make this something they'll remember. And they'll get to see where many of their teammates come from."
Players report on Sept. 24, with the first day of workouts scheduled the following day. The last day for the instructional league is Oct. 17.
Most of the players are still in the lower levels of the Padres' system, including two of the Padres former first-round Draft picks, left-handed pitcher Max Fried (2012) and outfielder Hunter Renfroe (2013).
Fried is considered the Padres' top prospect, according to MLB.com. Renfroe comes in at No. 8.
Under Smith and his staff, the Padres have been out front on bridging the gap between Latin American players and their American counterparts. The team offered English language classes for players, which isn't unusual, but has actually offered Spanish classes for staff and coaches to help communicate with players.
Now the Padres are taking many of their top prospects, roving instructors and coaches to their facility in Najayo, San Cristobal, to their 15-acre complex, which opened in 2008 at a cost of $8 million.
For many of the American-born players, this will be the first trip out of the country. That holds true for 18-year-old infielder Josh Van Meter, who was drafted in the fifth round this past June. Van Meter has only been to his native Indiana, Arizona and Florida before now.
"It's going to be a humbling experience. A great experience, not just for baseball but culturally as well," said Van Meter, who is from Ossian, Ind. "We ask the Dominican guys to come to America, now we get to see what their life is like.
"I think that that we grow up in a pretty good environment compared to a lot of those guys. It will show us what they have to go through to get here."
Retiring Kotsay reflects on career
ATLANTA -- When Padres outfielder Mark Kotsay retires at the end of the season, he'll walk away with a lot more than nearly 1,800 hits amassed over a 17-year career with seven teams.
"I'm walking away from the game with the respect of every teammate I've ever played with. That's all I've ever wanted when I was done," Kotsay said Sunday.
Kotsay, 37, said there was no precise moment when he decided that this would be his final season, but acknowledged that the daily preparation is much more difficult than when he was a younger player.
"At the end of the season, you evaluate how you feel moving forward. This year, I've just felt the time is right," Kotsay said. "Mentally and physically, the grind of the season has become more difficult. I'm at peace where I'm at in my life."
Kotsay entered Sunday's game against the Braves hitting .190 in 142 at-bats. He hit .259 coming off the bench for the Padres last season in 143 at-bats.
For his career, Kotsay has a .276/.332/405 line with the Marlins, A's, White Sox, Red Sox, Braves and Brewers, as well as two stints with the Padres (2001-03, 2012-13).
Kotsay's manager, Bud Black, will be sorry to see him go, though he admitted that Kotsay's contributions rated well beyond statistical measure.
"His experience and personality made a huge impact on our group ... not just on players but also for the coaches and me," Black said. "He was a great sounding board for me. He asked me a lot of questions and I asked him a lot, getting the players' perspective.
"He did a great job inside the clubhouse with the younger guys and the older players, sending the right message. With Kots, I always trusted that the right message was being delivered."
Kotsay, who has 1,781 career hits, might have had more if not for surgeries on his back in 2003 and in '09. But he stopped long ago wondering what might have been.
"Even after my second back surgery, I've extended [my playing career] out a long time," he said.
After Sunday's game, the Padres will have 14 games remaining. That's 14 more times Kotsay will put on and pull off a Major League uniform.
"I'll miss the camaraderie of being around the guys," he said. "I'll miss the competition and pure joy that comes with winning as a team."
Luebke's rehab shut down due to sore elbow
ATLANTA -- Pitcher Cory Luebke's return from Tommy John surgery has suffered yet another setback.
The Padres have decided to shut down the left-hander and have him visit Reds physician Dr. Timothy Kremchek to have his elbow examined.
Luebke, who had surgery in May 2012, threw four bullpen sessions in the last month. The first two went well, but he experienced soreness in the elbow recently.
"We're going to back him off throwing for a while," Padres manager Bud Black said after a 4-0 victory over the Braves on Sunday.
When asked if Luebke would be fine to throw at the start of Spring Training in five months, Black said that it was "way too early to tell."
"That's a lot of time to heal," Black said. "That's what we're hoping for."
Luebke has experienced a handful of stops and starts during his rehabilitation program in the last six months. There was a possibility that he would get some innings during winter ball, though that seems remote at this point.