In baseball, little second basemen have made a renaissance as productive players. Guys like Jose Altuve, Dee Gordon, Josh Harrison, and Cesar Hernandez have played like standouts in the last couple of years of major league baseball.
Now that isn’t to say that smaller second basemen are automatically better than bigger ones, because Robinson Cano and Jonathan Schoop would beg to differ. Nonetheless, this is a perfect introduction into the subject at hand. Carlos Asuaje is another one of those small second basemen. Standing 5′ 9″ and weighing 158 lbs, it’s very easy to tell him apart from his hulking peers in the Padres’ clubhouse.
In case you are unaware of his history, he was originally drafted in the 11th round by the Boston Red Sox in the 2013 draft. He started at Single-A for the Lowell Spinners and hit a decent .269/.366/.368 in his first taste of professional baseball. His second pro season is where he really flourished, hitting a fantastic .310/.393/.533 while slugging 15 homers, a surprising number for a player of his size. Asuaje recorded 12 triples, showcasing his speed out of the box and around the bases.
In the seasons following that, he continued to hit and hit, eventually gaining a little bit of buzz around him. He was included in a 2015 trade between the Red Sox and the Padres that sent Craig Kimbrel to Beantown, and a bundle of top prospects to the Padres. Also in that deal, for the Friars, was current starting center fielder, Manuel Margot. While Asauje was an afterthought in the deal at the time, he still managed to crack both the Top 10 second base prospects and Top 20 Padres’ prospects lists heading into the 2016 season, placing #9 and #20 on each list, respectively.
In spite of this, his future with the Padres remains very murky. There are a lot of variables that could determine how much playing time he receives, and if he even stays in a Friars uniform for the 2018 season and beyond.
The biggest factor is the presence of Luis Urias, Esteury Ruiz, Luis Almanzar, and other young prospects in the system. The Padres are really loaded with players that were selected as shortstop prospects, but more often than not, those men ultimately settle at second base. Luis Urias could possibly be a spark plug at the top of Padres’ lineups for years to come if he keeps hitting like he has in the minor leagues. With a .310 career minor league batting average and having already reached the Triple-A level, he could very well be at Petco very soon. With most of his plate appearances coming as a teenager, he has always been significantly younger than his competition, and that is exciting.
Ruiz could turn out to be special, though, as he was a relatively unknown player before being swapped in the Brandon Maurer trade with the Royals. He made his professional debut as a 17-year-old, in 2016, and has plus skills with the bat. Ruiz hit .331/.386/.556 in 469 plate appearances at the Rookie Ball level in 2017 between the Royals and the Padres, and should get a his first taste of full-season ball in 2018.
So Carlos will really have to step up his performance if he wants to stave off these young studs from taking his playing time eventually.
Another thing that could impact Asuaje is competition at the major league level from the likes of Cory Spangenberg, Jose Pirela, and Allen Cordoba. While Asuaje is currently listed as the starting second baseman on the Padres’ depth chart, any of these three are capable of stepping in and taking a lot of innings from him at the position. Spangenberg, in recent years, has taken on more of a utility man role, playing second, third, and some outfield. Pirela and Cordoba received most of their games played at positions other than second base (Cordoba only played 2.2 innings at 2B, while Pirela did not play there in 2018 for SD).
Spangenberg, like Asuaje, is a left-handed hitter, and as the first round pick for the Padres in 2014, he has the pedigree factor. You really have the feel that the team wants him to get consistent at bats in 2018 to determine what his future is. Meanwhile, Pirela was a breakout star last season and opened many eyes around the league, as he became the Padres’ best all-around hitter down the stretch. The team did move him to left field, where he learned on the fly and was an average fielder by the end of the season. But with the full-time returns of Travis Jankowski and Alex Dickerson, those two could push for regular at-bats, and the Padres might consider moving him back to the keystone to give him a better look as a hitter and raise his value for a trade.
Then there is Allen Cordoba, the young middle infielder that was a Rule 5 pick one season ago. He comes with lots of promise, but struggled in limited time last year down the stretch. While he didn’t perform well, the front office obviously sees something in him or they would’ve gotten rid of him. While his natural position is supposed to be shortstop, the transition to second would not be that difficult if that’s the direction upper management decides to take. On a side note, he played mostly outfield this winter in the Dominican Republic Winter Leagues.
Ultimately, Carlos will determine his own fate, as performance always trumps everything else. Whether he hits enough to start in San Diego or gets shipped off elsewhere for a shot, he needs to perform in order to earn at-bats. While he hit decently enough for a rebuilding squad last year, he will need to significantly up his power production, or compensate for his lack of pop with excellent contact and on-base skills.
He has shown in the minors that he can have those excellent contact skills, but it has yet to translate to the MLB level. He will never be confused for Jose Altuve with a .266 average, but there is room for growth. He will also need to solve lefties if he wants to keep on playing consistently, as his .229 average vs LHP won’t fly. One positive to note is that he hit very well with a 0-2 count in 2017, showing that he does not go down easily. He had a .286 average with two strikes and no balls against him, which is significantly better than the league average, as evidenced by his 245 sOPS+(OPS+ in a given split, in this instance it is with a 0-2 count) according to Baseball Reference.
All in all, there will be much competition for playing time this spring. Carlos Asuaje is right in the center of it, as the young infielder is ready for major league service time and the Padres are a young team looking for an identity.