Caminiti tops my list among Padres third basemen

His bat places Phil Nevin at No. 2 on the list

Bill Center, longtime sportswriter for U-T San Diego, is an employee of the Padres.

Ken Caminiti is one of the more dynamic players in the history of the San Diego Padres.

He is also one of the most controversial.

Caminiti is the only Padre ever to be named the National League's Most Valuable Player. But that 1996 honor was tainted by Caminiti's post-retirement admissions that he used PEDs during 1996. Substance abuse plagued Caminiti throughout his playing career and he died at the age of 41 on Oct. 10, 2004, of what was ruled a drug overdose.

As controversial as Caminiti's life was, in my book he is still the best third baseman in Padres history.

In four seasons with the Padres, Caminiti helped transform a team that was rebuilding from a fire sale into a division winner in 1996 and the National League pennant winner in 1998.

Caminiti's 1996 season - on defense as well as offense - was a highlight film unto itself. In addition to being named the National League's MVP award, Caminiti also won the league's Silver Slugger and Gold Glove awards at third base. In 1996, Caminiti hit .326 with 40 home runs and 130 RBIs.

I picked Caminiti as my top Padres third baseman over what he did in four seasons - again on defense as well as offense.

Because I like offense at third, No. 2 on my list of all-time Padres third basemen is Phil Nevin. My third pick is Chase Headley because of his longevity at the position and his spectacular 2012 season.

Selecting the final two spots on my Top 5 was not easy. Although he played less than two full seasons for the Padres, Gary Sheffield was spectacular and gets my nod at No. 4. I gave the fifth spot to Kevin Kouzmanoff over Sean Burroughs, Graig Nettles and Luis Salazar, who played 551 games as the Padres third baseman over seven seasons as a utility player.

Here are my 5 Padres third basemen:

1.KEN CAMINITI (1995-1998): In four seasons with the Padres, Caminiti hit .295 with 121 homers and 396 home runs. He had a .384 on-base percentage and a .540 slugging percentage for a .924 OPS. Among qualifying players, Caminiti is the Padres all-time leader in slugging percentage and OPS. He ranks fourth in batting average and on-base percentage and also ranks seventh in homers. His WAR as a Padre was 17.5. As a Padre, Caminiti was named to two National League All-Star teams and was voted a starter in 1997. He won three straight Gold Glove awards for his fielding from 1995-1997, joining Tony Gwynn as the only Padres to win three straight Gold Gloves. Caminiti's 1996 season is one of the best all-around seasons in Padres history. He had 37 doubles to go with the 40 homers. He also scored 109 runs with a .408 on-base percentage and a .621 slugging percentage for a 1.028 OPS. The slugging, OPS and RBI (130) totals are the highest single-season marks in Padres history while his 40 homers rank third and his 109 runs rank fifth. Caminiti and center fielder Steve Finley came to the Padres as part of an 11-player trade with Houston on Dec. 28, 1994.

2.PHIL NEVIN (1999-2002) - Nevin was an offensive force as a Padre from 1999-2005. Primarily a third baseman for his first four seasons with the Padres, Nevin also caught, played first and in the outfield. In seven seasons with the Padres, Nevin had a .288 batting average with 156 homers, 158 doubles, 573 RBIs plus a .359 on-base percentage and a .503 slugging percentage for a .862 OPS. Among Padres career leaders, Nevin ranks third in homers and RBIs, fourth in slugging percentage, fifth in OPS, tied for eighth in doubles and ninth in runs scored (428). But he was even more potent while playing third where he had a .297 batting average with a .531 slugging percentage with 92 homers and 316 RBIs in 425 games. He made the 2001 National League All-Star team during a season when he had career highs of 41 homers and 126 RBIs while hitting .306 as a third baseman. Nevin had a 17.7 WAR as a Padre.

3.CHASE HEADLEY (2007-2014) - Headley's 680 games at third are the most in Padres history. In 2012, the switch-hitter had a breakout season, batting .286 with career highs of 31 homers and 115 RBIs (becoming the only Padre to ever lead the National League in RBIs). But in five other full seasons as a Padre, Headley never hit higher than .289 with 13 homers and 64 RBIs. Headley had a career .266 batting average as a Padre with 70 homers and 310 RBIs in 680 games. He had a .349 on-base percentage with a .415 slugging percentage. Headley's 908 games as a Padre (he also spent a season in left field) are the sixth-highest total in Padres history. He is fifth on the Padres all-time list with 873 hits, fourth in doubles (186), 10th in RBIs and seventh in walks (377). He is also the franchise's all-time leader with 844 strikeouts. Headley's WAR as a Padre was 19.1.

4.GARY SHEFFIELD (1992-1993) - Sheffield spent an amazing 1 1Ž2 seasons as a Padre and led the National League in hitting in 1992 with a .330 mark. During that only full season as a Padre, Sheffield had 34 doubles, three triples and 33 homers with 100 RBIs. His batting average is the ninth-best single-season mark in Padres history while his .580 slugging percentage and .965 OPS are both the fourth-best, single-season marks in Padres history. He finished third in the 1992 National League Most Valuable Player voting and won the league's Silver Slugger Award at third base. He was also a member of the National League All-Star team. In 212 games as a Padre third baseman, Sheffield hit .319 with a .372 on-base percentage and a .547 slugging percentage. He had 46 doubles, five triples and 43 homers for 135 RBIs. His WAR as a Padre was 5.8. The Padres acquired Sheffield from Milwaukee in a trade on March 26, 1992. On June 24, 1993, Sheffield was traded to Miami as part of the Padres' infamous "fire sale." One of the three little known players coming to Padres in that deal was a young relief pitcher named Trevor Hoffman.

5.KEVIN KOUZMANOFF (2007-2009) - Again, the fifth spot on my list was the most difficult to pick. Burroughs had a solid .280 batting average and .338 on-base percentage in four seasons (2002-2005), but hit only 10 homers and drove in only 126 runs at a production position. San Diego native Nettles played three seasons (1984-86) at the end of his distinguished career with the Padres and was a key member of the 1984 National League championship team. But he hit only .236 with the Padres with 49 homers and 168 RBIs in 364 games. Salazar played 551 games at third as a Padre and hit .268 between 1980 and 1989. Kouzmanoff hit 59 homers with 240 RBIs in three seasons as a Padre with a .262 batting average. During his three seasons as the Padres third baseman, Kouzmanoff's defense improved dramatically.