Five bold predictions for the Padres’ 2023 season

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The Padres are set to begin their much-anticipated 2023 season. Baseball is an impossibly hard sport to predict. Let’s try anyway. 

The Major League Baseball regular season is a 162-game marathon. There is an innumerable amount of variables that come into play when trying to predict a team’s success or failure before a single game is even played. Players get hurt. Players take a leap in their development. Some players come out of nowhere and become stalwarts in their lineup. Others fall by the wayside after showing promise. Teams underachieve, while others overachieve.

Here are five predictions for the Padres’ 2023 regular season.

The Padres will have the best defensive infield in the entire league

Defense is always something tricky to quantify. This year poses a special challenge, it being the first since the orthodox shift was banned. Last year, the Padres ranked fifth as an infield in Outs Above Average per Baseball Savant. Removing Eric Hosmer (-2 OAA, -4 DRS) from the equation, sliding Jake Cronenworth (3 OAA, 2 DRS) over to first, and adding Xander Bogaerts (5 OAA, 5 DRS) at shortstop should do wonders.

Of course, Manny Machado will man third base, solid as ever. Ha-Seong Kim was a Gold Glove finalist at shortstop last season. He moves to a slightly-less demanding position at second base. All four infielders have experience playing shortstop at the major league level. You would be hard-pressed to find a more athletic infield from third to first on any team in the big leagues. Especially with the ban of the shift, that athleticism will be an advantage when the first baseman and second baseman will be asked to cover more ground than in previous years. This is a clear advantage for the Padres.

Heck, this prediction might not be bold enough. San Diego might have the best defense in all of baseball. They have one of the best athletes in the world playing right field in Fernando Tatis Jr. Trent Grisham is coming off of his second Gold Glove in center in three seasons. Plus, Juan Soto looks more comfortable in left field.

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More than ten different pitchers will make at least one start

For reference, the Padres had 12 different pitchers make at least one start last season and a whopping 15 in that turbulent 2021 campaign. While the Padres are confident in their depth, it definitely will be tested. It’s inevitable. Just about every team needs seven or eight players minimum to make a start. The World Series champion Astros needed eight different starters last year. Injuries and illnesses happen. Long stretches without a day off can make a manager get creative with his rotation. This year, the Padres will likely ask a lot of pitchers below their current starting rotation of Yu Darvish, Blake Snell, Joe Musgrove, Nick Martinez, Seth Lugo, and Michael Wacha.

Manager Bob Melvin already prefers a six-man rotation. Not every team is comfortable or in a position to make such a move.

Even with Jay Groome getting demoted to Triple-A, it feels almost inevitable that he will be asked to make a spot start or get significant outs in a Padres uniform sooner rather than later. His solid spring certainly is encouraging, with a 1.29 ERA in 16 innings in Peoria. It’s not hard to imagine him making a start even before April is over.

Guys like Nabil Crismatt and Brent Honeywell Jr. may be asked to make a spot start or two. The Padres seem bullish on Honeywell, who is a former top prospect. Julio Teheran signed a minor league deal and was a non-roster invitee. He was recently re-assigned to minor league camp. However, if he remains with the club, he likely will be called upon when the attrition of a long season sets in. Reiss Knehr made six starts for the Padres over the last two seasons and remains an option.

However it happens, the Padres will inevitably need to tap into their starting pitching depth.

Fernando Tatis Jr. will be a Gold Glove finalist in the outfield

After Tatis’ first few games in the outfield this spring, some might have pointed and scoffed at this. Many skeptics remain. However, no one can deny the sheer athleticism and baseball skills Tatis possesses, regardless of defensive position. He is such an elite athlete, he will be able to out-maneuver and “out-athlete” shortcomings he may have in the minute details of what makes most outfielders great. He will be able to make up for a slow or poor first jump or read with his pure athleticism.

And then, there is his sniper rifle of a right arm.

It’s safe to say he is getting more comfortable in right field. Soon, the metrics will show just how freaky of an athlete he is. Without giving him a chance to get comfortable and adapt, to count him out of ever being a top-level defensive right fielder is folly.

The Padres will have at least six All-Stars

The Yankees led all of baseball last season with six All-Star selections. The Padres likely will challenge that number this season, given their star power. In 2021, the Padres had five. Last year, they had three All-Stars in Machado, Cronenworth, and Musgrove. That’s not to mention three players who were All-Stars for other teams in 2022, in Soto, Bogaerts, and Josh Hader. All of whom are now in San Diego.

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So who will it be? It feels like Machado and Soto are locks. Tatis might as well be if he returns healthy and with any semblance of his pre-2022 form. Hader has been a perennial All-Star, having not missed a Midsummer Classic since 2017. That leaves spots for two of Bogaerts, Darvish, Musgrove, Cronenworth, or…Ha-Seong Kim?

Kim seems like he is riding a wave of momentum created by his time with Team Korea in the World Baseball Classic. Only Trea Turner hit more homers in the WBC than Kim, with two more games played. The Korean infielder made a large jump from year one to his sophomore campaign last year. His average increased by nearly 50 points, with a 107 OPS+. With his torrid start in the WBC, one might think another leap is in order.

He put together a 5.0-WAR season in 2022, second-best on a stacked team. He also is moving to a less competitive position at second base. It’s not too late to jump on the Ha-Seong Kim bandwagon.

The Padres will have two of the top three in NL MVP voting

In 2020, the Padres boasted two of the top four in NL MVP voting, with Machado in third and Tatis in fourth. Machado finished as the tough-luck runner-up in the NL MVP race last season. Now, the Padres have three players in, Tatis, Machado, and Soto, that have finished no worse than third in MVP voting since 2021. Not to mention Bogaerts, who finished fifth in AL MVP voting in 2019.

It is not outrageous to think that at least two of these top four players will once again be in MVP form. As always, there is stiff competition. Reigning NL MVP Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado, Freddie Freeman, Ronald Acuna Jr., and Mookie Betts aren’t going anywhere. However, the Padres have arguably four of the top 20 baseball players in the league in their lineup.

While there are no guarantees as far as who will win the award, it’s not hard to imagine several Padres being right near the top of the mix.

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