With the holiday season passed and the football regular season in the books, many San Diego sports fans are beginning to get the urge for some baseball. With 43 days until Padres pitchers and catchers report to Peoria for Spring Training, there is reason to get excited! As soon as you know it, trucks will be packed up and baseball’s exhibition slate will be underway. It definitely is not too early to start looking towards Spring Training, especially for this year’s San Diego Padres.
The San Diego Padres 2015/16 offseason has been underwhelming, to say the least. Many people expected much more movement in terms of personnel. A quick summary: A.J. Preller and company rid themselves of three relievers via trade (Marc Rzepczynski, Joaquin Benoit and Craig Kimbrel), their starting first baseman in 2015 (Yonder Alonso) as well as their 2015 starting second baseman (Jedd Gyorko). Justin Upton, Clint Barmes, Shawn Kelley, Bud Norris, and Ian Kennedy‘s contracts expired, and all of these players will be or are likely to be donning something other than a Padres jersey in 2016. Some serious production was lost in the last two months. On the other side, there are currently four new Padres (as of right now) who are pretty much guaranteed be on the Opening Day roster come April 4, 2016 with Major League contracts. These players are RHP Cesar Vargas, left-handed pitchers Buddy Baumann and Drew Pomeranz, and CF/LF Jon Jay.
Due in large part to these moves, there is just not a whole lot of stability and certainty on the Padres 25-man roster. It is for this reason why all Padres fans will have to pay more attention to spring training this year- as it will be one of the more interesting and competitive camps to date.
While there is a lack of certainty in terms of an Opening Day roster, there is talent on the 40-man roster. There is going to be some talent to watch in Peoria. I know it is only January 4th and AJ Preller is due to strike a few deals at any moment, but most of these players listed-trades or not- will still have a very good opportunity to make the Opening Day roster. Without further ado, here are a few players and position competitions to follow in 2016:
On December 10th, the Padres obtained four players from the Rule V draft, and placed them on their 40-man roster. While I wouldn’t expect all of them to stick (the record for Rule V selections on a team is 3, held by the Tigers in 2003, a year where they lost 119 games!!) there is a legitimate chance for one or two of them to remain.
Luis Perdomo (not to be mistaken with a Luis Perdomo, a Padres reliever from a few years ago) is an intriguing prospect. He is incredibly young, at only 22 years of age. Last year he was ranked as the 11th best prospect in the Cardinals system. He began his career throwing about 86-88 MPH, but has strengthened his arm tremendously and now can get his fastball up in the mid 90s. Perdomo also has a changeup and curveball in his repertoire. For information on his minor league statistics, check out this article written for EVT a few weeks ago. Perdomo is young and talented and will get a chance to compete for the starting rotation in 2016. He is one of the top young players to watch in Peoria.
Another intriguing player to watch will be Jabari Blash. Blash, 26, a corner outfielder from the Virgin Islands, will probably be the most entertaining player for Padres fans to look forward to in the spring, as this dude can really CRUSH the ball. Blash hit 32 homers in 116 minor league games last year with a .271/.370/.576 line. He displayed power that would get the attention of scouts and GMs at any level. At least, until you see that he struck out 123 times in those 116 games. He has a career 29.2% strikeout rate. Despite these strikeout numbers, if Blash’s ISO and slugging percentage can even translate just a little bit from the minors to the majors, he will find a spot on the Padres 25 man roster. Power plays anywhere. Blash can draw comparisons to former Padre Kyle Blanks as well as the Astros’ Chris Carter.
Josh Martin posted a 2.27 ERA in 67 1/3 innings for the Cleveland Indians AA affiliate in 2015. He held opponents to a .192 average as well. With a 6’5″, 230 pound build, this right-hander definitely has the body of a big time reliever. More information on Martin can be found here. Martin has a chance to stick if he has a solid spring, however I wouldn’t place his odds in the same ballpark as Perdomo and Blash.
Finally, Blake Smith is a converted outfielder to pitcher, and finished the 2015 season with a 3.23 ERA in 44 Double-A and Triple-A games, with three saves, a 1.358 WHIP and 10.9 K/9. As it is common with players who have converted to pitcher, his command is a concern (4.50 BB/9). Smith, like Martin, has an outside shot to make the starting relief squad. It will really have to be decided by how they compete and work during camp.
- The Center Field Competition: Jon Jay, Melvin Upton, Travis Jankowski
It is a near given that Matt Kemp will start in right field on Opening Day. Beyond that, the other two outfield spots are up for grabs. In center field, there will be a three-man race between Jon Jay, Melvin Upton, and Travis Jankowski.
It is very possible that a platoon may happen in center between the three. Upton had a solid 2015, posting a 110 RC+ in 228 at bats. He also had his best ISO, BABIP, and BABIP+ in years. This means that he put the ball in play with much more authority than in years past. Although he angers some people who think he may not go 110% each time out, Melvin Upton Jr. has potential to actually have worth close to what he’s earning in the last two years of his contract.
Travis Jankowski was introduced to Padres fans in August of 2015 with a 2-3 night at the plate. After having a very good year in AAA (.392/.464/.495), Padres fans were excited to see what he could do in September and beyond. His first cup of coffee in the bigs didn’t yield the best results (.211/.245/.344) but he showed signs of his speed and defense that make him such an attractive option in the outfield. Speed never slumps.
Among Padres fans, new face Jon Jay may be the most attractive option in center field. A.J. Preller has already stated that Jay has a chance to win the starting job. Jay had the worst season of his career due in large part to wrist surgery he had in the prior offseason. In 79 games, he hit .210/.306/.257. That is a far cry from his career splits which measure at 287/.354/.384. A light hitting outfielder, Jay is known as a plus defender and gives the Padres a left-handed bat that was so rare in 2015.
- The Backup Catcher
Most expected the Padres to go into 2016 with a concrete catching situation. Derek Norris would be the starter, and Austin Hedges would be the backup. However, now it might not be the case. With the Padres acquisition of Christian Bethancourt from the Braves, there is a chance that Austin Hedges may begin 2016 in AAA.
Once a top prospect, Bethancourt fell out of favor quickly in Atlanta. Last year, after 104 at bats, the Braves sent him down in favor of AJ Pierzynski. In those 104 at bats, he posted a .198/.221/.287 line with a .218 wOBA and 33 wRC+. Yikes. Largely expected to be the starting catcher all year, he fizzled. His moment of glory from 2015 was when he hit a walk off home run in June, his first MLB home run. He is better known for his defense but will obviously have to improve with the bat if he wants to stick. A.J. Preller decided to take a flier on him to see if he could get a fresh start in a new location It’s worth a shot.
It is also worth a shot because Austin Hedges needs some competition. Hedges shined in some moments in 2015, but his bat is still a major question mark. Hitting only .168/.215/.248 in 152 PA just isn’t good. A.J. Preller might want to see if he can continue to improve with the bat at the AAA level by starting everyday, something he didn’t do with the Padres big league club. We all swoooooooon at his defense, and for good reason. Even if Hedges can’t hit, his defense makes him a viable backup catcher. However, the prospect and potential of his bat starting to come alive may be too much for Preller to resist, and he could very well spend some of 2016 in El Paso. The backup catcher job is something to keep an eye on during camp.
- Oh where, oh where, has the pitching gone?
The Padres are expected to retain their top three from 2015- Andrew Cashner, Tyson Ross, and James Shields. After that, their rotation has question marks. Ian Kennedy is expected to sign elsewhere. Colin Rea shined on the spotlight before elbow/shoulder soreness sidelined him after six MLB starts. Robbie Erlin, a southpaw, is definitely an intriguing option. In limited duty last year, Erlin posted a 3.25 FIP and had a positive WAR. With a solid spring (and barring a major acquisition), I’d put money on him being in the 2016 rotation.
Another southpaw, Drew Pomeranz (acquired in the Yonder Alonso trade) may also crack the rotation at some point in 2016. In 2015, he pitched mostly in a relief role after struggling early on, and relished his new role. He had shoulder surgery in the offseason, which makes it likely he will at least start the year in the bullpen. Brandon Morrow shined early in 2015 until an injury and will go into camp looking for another starting role. Odrisamer Despiagne (4.77 FIP, 4.94 ERA) had one of the highest ERAs among qualified starting pitchers last year and is better suited to be a long-relief guy. However, he will like also have an opportunity to earn a rotation spot. Aforementioned Luis Perdomo rounds out a list of five guys who will be fighting for the final two spots in the 2016 rotation.
The bullpen also has question marks. Returning to the ‘pen will be Nick Vincent, Cory Mazzoni, Brandon Maurer, and Jon Edwards. Cesar Vargas and Buddy Baumann signed major league contracts in the offseason and will likely become staples in the bullpen. Vargas worked to a 2.79 ERA with 8.6 K/0 against 2.9 BB/9 in 67 2/3 AA innings. He had never pitched above the Class-A Advanced level prior to 2015, so there may be some growing pains. His performance in camp will go a long way towards his future. Buddy Baumann held AAA batters to a .148/.225/.222 line in 34 appearances (six starts) with Triple-A Omaha (a Kansas City Royals affiliate). Like Vargas, this is Baumann’s first ever MLB contract and he will be heavily surveyed during camp.
The Padres signed many minor league relievers looking for cheap options. A few key named to watch: Carlos Pimentel (reigning PCL pitcher of the year) and Phillip Humber (threw a perfect game a few years back with CHW). There are reports that the Padres are also looking to sign Fernando Rodney, although those reports have simmered as of late.
At this point, I would expect Brandon Maurer to handle closing duties. Every other job in the bullpen is likely open and can be earned.
The Padres Opening Day roster is far from set, and there is going to be plenty of competition for roles on the big league club. Things change and there is going to be plenty of spring training invites sent out. This is preliminary because, hey, it’s never too early to start talking some baseball. A.J. Preller and Andy Green will be having many conversations about the roster as camp unfolds. Probably more than nearly every other team in the major leagues. At this point, it should be exciting to watch how it all pans out and should get more exciting as spring training draws nearer.