As spring training concludes and the 2019 baseball season gets underway, expectations for the San Diego Padres are the highest they’ve been in years. While many predict the Padres to be competitive in 2020, the signing of superstar third baseman Manny Machado brings hope now. The future looks brighter than ever in San Diego, and for success to be ensured in 2019, it will be up to Andy Green to set the tone with a win on Opening Day.
While many Padres fans are demanding that top prospect Fernando Tatis Jr. be the Padres opening day starting shortstop, the organization may decide to keep him in the minor leagues to start the year in order to ensure an extra year of control.
Other top prospects such as Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Eloy Jimenez have already been notified that they will begin their respective seasons in Triple-A. Therefore, it’s reasonable to think that the Padres may follow suit with Tatis Jr., waiting a month into the season to call him up.
Also, since the Padres will most likely be facing left-handed ace Madison Bumgarner on opening day, Andy Green will want to optimize the number of right-handers in his lineup.
Therefore, the Padres could see their lineup looking like this:
In order to ensure success on opening day, top prospect Luis Urias deserves the first at-bat of the season. After compiling a slash line of .296/.398/.447 in Triple-A last year, Urias has proven that he has the innate ability of creating quality at-bats and getting on base.
While Urias will be the table setter for the Padres, Franmil Reyes proved enough in the second half of last season to earn a start on opening day. After compiling a .349/.419/.602 slash line against left-handed pitchers last season, Franmil has earned the right to start over Hunter Renfroe against lefties, a trend which should begin on opening day.
Although Andy Green may opt to start the more experienced Austin Hedges behind the plate, Francisco Mejia would be the better offensive choice against Bumgarner. While Mejia has hit an astounding .414/.452/.862 this spring, Mejia’s switch-hitting ability will prevent Andy Green from removing him from the game due to situational matchups.
Defensive Substitutions/Pinch Hitters
If the Padres find themselves with a lead in the later innings, and Andy Green needs to bring in a new pitcher via a double switch, Hedges will pinch hit and stay in the game as a defensive substitution.
Additionally, Renfroe or Franchy Cordero will be the most likely candidates to pinch hit for the pitcher’s spot late in the game. Additionally, either player can be utilized as a part of a double switch that would defensively replace either Wil Myers or Reyes in the outfield.
Finally, Urias may see himself substituted in the late innings for the likes of Greg Garcia for no other reason other than it being the most “Andy Green” thing to do.
The question as to who will start opening day for the Padres has been one of the most burning questions throughout spring training. While strong spring performances from Matt Strahm and Chris Paddack have put them into the conversation, Joey Lucchesi deserves to start on opening day. Lucchesi, who amassed a 4.08 ERA while compiling 145 Ks in 130 innings last season, was by far the best and most consistent Padres starter last season.
Although Strahm has compiled better spring training numbers than Lucchesi and Paddack, Strahm has only pitched five innings once in a major league game, a game which took place in 2017 when Strahm played for the Royals.
Additionally, while 2018 minor league pitcher of the year Paddack has the highest potential out of the three starters, the highest level he has pitched at in his competitive career has been Double-A. Consequently, Lucchesi has most likely earned the opportunity to oppose Bumgarner and the rival Giants.
With lefties such as Brandon Belt and Joe Panik scattered throughout the Giants lineup, expect Lucchesi to be effective. However, once Lucchesi enters his third time through the lineup, look for Andy Green to pull him, not wanting to overexert one of their best young starters on the first day of the season. In Lucchesi’s place, don’t be surprised if Robert Stock replaces him. After posting a solid 2.50 ERA in his rookie season, Stock and his 100 mph fastball will be a nice change of pace from Lucchesi’s low 90’s fastball and slow breaking pitches.
Following Stock’s first inning of work, when a lefty such as Panik, Belt, or Steve Duggar comes up to bat, look for Aaron Loup to make his Padres debut. With Jose Castillo out for at least the first two months of the season, Loup will be vital for Andy Green in crucial situational matchups for the first few months of the season.
Following Loup will most likely be set up man Craig Stammen, who was ranked as Fangraphs’ fifth-best reliever in 2018.
Stammen’s effectiveness understandably flew under the radar on an underperforming Padres team. However, Stammen’s track record has made him the unequivocal option in bridging the gap to Kirby Yates in the ninth. Yates will enter 2019 as Padres closer for the first time in his career. Although Yates is still relatively unknown across the league, last year’s 12.86 K/9 strikeout rate exceeded the likes of Andrew Miller, Sean Doolittle, and David Roberton. Pair this with his 2.14 ERA, and Yates is the clear choice to close out games in 2019.
Although these predictions may or may not come true, the future is bright for San Diego, and the Padres have a chance to set the tone for a successful 2019 with a win on opening day.