Breaking down Padres lineup possibilities

Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

The Padres are going to have a formidable lineup in 2023. What will it look like? 

The second the Padres acquired All-Star shortstop Xander Bogaerts, their lineup became one of, if not the best in baseball.

In fact, ESPN’s Bradford Doolittle ranked all 30 MLB lineups and gave the Padres the top spot.

Based strictly on projected wRC+ via FanGraphs’ ZiPS, here is the order of the Padres’ hitters, from highest projection to lowest.

  1. Juan Soto, 164
  2. Fernando Tatis Jr., 156
  3. Manny Machado, 127
  4. Xander Bogaerts, 123
  5. Jake Cronenworth, 119
  6. Matt Carpenter, 112
  7. Nelson Cruz, 111
  8. Austin Nola, 106
  9. Trent Grisham, 106
  10. Ha-Seong Kim, 102

Having ten players above 100 wRC+ would be an enormous development for the 2023 Padres. That is the makings of a championship roster. Only time will tell if that becomes a reality.

We basically know who will be in the lineup most days. But what will it look like? Bob Melvin has to be giddy with the weapons he has at his disposal. Let’s break down a few options.

Opening Day

The Padres are set to face the Colorado Rockies on March 30. Their Opening Day starter will likely be right-hander German Marquez.

  1. Cronenworth, 1B
  2. Soto, LF
  3. Machado, 3B
  4. Bogaerts, SS
  5. Cruz, DH
  6. Carpenter, LF
  7. Kim, 2B
  8. Nola, C
  9. Grisham, CF

Obviously, this is before Fernando Tatis Jr. is eligible to come off of the restricted list. He can return to the Padres’ lineup on April 20.

There are a few things Melvin can do with his Opening Day lineup. Since Marquez is a righty, he may opt to switch out Cruz for another new acquisition in Adam Engel. The light-hitting Ohio native is a solid outfielder. He could slot into a corner outfield spot opposite of Soto and push Carpenter, a poor defender, to designated hitter. Carpenter has a career .847 OPS against righties.

  1. Cronenworth, 1B
  2. Soto, LF
  3. Machado, 3B
  4. Bogaerts, SS
  5. Carpenter, DH
  6. Kim, 2B
  7. Nola, C
  8. Grisham, CF
  9. Engel, RF

After the return of Tatis

There are two sections of the Padres season. The 20 games before Tatis’ arrival and the 142 after he is scheduled to make his triumphant return. When that day comes, the lineup will look significantly different…and better. Keep in mind Tatis is slated to make the transition to the outfield. Soto expressed his willingness to flip to left field.

  1. Cronenworth, 1B
  2. Tatis, RF
  3. Soto, LF
  4. Machado, 3B
  5. Bogaerts, SS
  6. Cruz/Carpenter, DH
  7. Kim, 2B
  8. Nola, C
  9. Grisham, CF

Incredible that the Padres have a lineup so stacked, they will need to put one of Cronenworth, Machado, Soto, Tatis, or Bogaerts in the fifth spot. This pushes Cruz, a seven-time All-Star with 459 career homers, at sixth at the highest.

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Alternate leadoff hitters

Cronenworth is a fine option as a leadoff hitter. You want a guy who frequently gets on base to set the table for your big bats in the meat of the order. His .332 on-base percentage was 20 points higher than league average in 2022.

However, he batted leadoff just 18 times last season. That distinction belonged to Jurickson Profar, who led off for 90 games. However, Profar is yet to find his next home, and it is looking less and less likely a reunion with San Diego is in the cards.

What about Tatis? He hit leadoff 53 times between 2020 and 2021. He would be the most powerful leadoff hitter in the entire league. The two-time Silver Slugger seems to enjoy that role, as he has a career 1.008 OPS in 532 plate appearances while being slotted in the leadoff spot. That’s basically the equivalent of an MVP season by itself.

  1. Tatis, RF
  2. Soto, LF
  3. Machado, 3B
  4. Bogaerts, SS
  5. Cronenworth, 1B
  6. Cruz/Carpenter, DH
  7. Kim, 2B
  8. Nola, C
  9. Grisham, CF

Soto is not necessarily cemented in the second spot. However, he has 177 career appearances in that slot. Given his elite on-base ability, one would think he should be ahead of Machado and Bogaerts.

For those who might think Soto is best fit as the leadoff hitter, it may not be that simple. Of his 617 career games, he has batted leadoff just twice. Plus, he is a 30-plus homer threat with the skills to drive runs in. Tatis is a better fit up top with his elite speed. Soto hit almost exclusively in the No. 2 spot once he arrived in San Diego last season.

Not sold on Tatis as the leadoff hitter? Or perhaps the Padres should think more about that spot before Tatis arrives. Melvin could opt for another bat in Cronenworth’s stead, especially if they are facing a tough lefty.

Enter Ha-Seong Kim.

Kim posted an above-average .325 OBP last season. His OBP rose to .346 in the 17 games he was slotted at leadoff in 2022. Among the remaining Padres from last year’s squad, only Soto and Nola struck out less frequently than Kim. He also possesses some speed, with 12 stolen bases.

Keep in mind the bases are bigger in 2023. The stolen base is back.

Here is a look at a potential lineup with Kim as the leadoff.

  1. Kim, 2B
  2. Soto, LF
  3. Tatis, RF
  4. Machado, 3B
  5. Bogaerts, SS
  6. Cronenworth, 1B
  7. Cruz/Carpenter, DH
  8. Nola, C
  9. Grisham, CF

Having a two-time All-Star with a career 118 OPS+ batting sixth, with Cruz or Carpenter seventh, just goes to show the Padres lineup is Mariana Trench-deep.

What if Trent Grisham has a resurgence? In 2021, with Grisham as a viable hitter, he batted leadoff 52 times. Even last year, despite his struggles, Melvin penciled him into the top spot 27 times. He has all the make-up of a leadoff hitter- speed, patience, with sneaky power. If he can somehow get out of the year-long funk he had last season, he is as good of a candidate as any.

  1. Grisham, CF
  2. Soto, LF
  3. Tatis, RF
  4. Machado, 3B
  5. Bogaerts, SS
  6. Cronenworth, 1B
  7. Cruz/Carpenter, DH
  8. Kim, 2B
  9. Nola, C

Lastly, don’t sleep on Carpenter as an option to lead off sparingly, with his career .369 OBP. Over his entire 12-year career, he logged 764 games at the leadoff spot.

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Who is cleaning up?

Having to choose between Machado and Bogaerts to hit fourth is like picking between a California burrito or carne asada fries. You really can’t go wrong. Machado has more power, with 32 home runs last season and an average of 30.6 home runs per season in San Diego, excluding 2020. He backs that up with a .504 slugging percentage during his time in San Diego.

Bogaerts hit 15 homers last season after hitting 23 the year before. However, his slugging percentage since 2019 is just one one-thousandth of a point off from Machado’s, at .503. He is an extra-base machine, even without the gaudy home run numbers.

The slight edge goes to Machado for sheer home run numbers, but it’s closer than some think.

All in all, the Padres have a darn-near All-Star Game type of lineup. Bob Melvin will be like a kid in a candy store.

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