Stats in the spring may not matter for the proven veterans and stars, but who are the San Diego Padres’ players that need to put up big numbers in Peoria?
Spring Training games begin this weekend, with the Padres facing off against their co-tenant, the Seattle Mariners on Feb. 22.
It is said every year that Spring Training statistics don’t predict success or failure in the regular season. For the majority of the time, that is true (see Austin Hedges’ 1.007 OPS last spring).
However, saying that every player’s spring stats are utterly meaningless is naive.
Spring Training is the perfect opportunity for “fringe” roster players to strut their stuff and earn a spot on the Opening Day roster. Chris Paddack had a strong spring in 2019 with a 1.76 ERA in five starts, which lead to then-manager Andy Green informing Paddack on the mound in an exhibition game in Seattle that he had made the roster.
Fernando Tatis Jr.’s talent and skills showed during the spring were too powerful to keep down in the minor leagues any longer.
Nick Margevicius impressed enough in his four spring outings to garner a nod onto the big league roster before April ended.
Spring statistics can matter for players that are either smack in the middle of a position battle with other quality players or a prospect who is trying to prove himself worthy of an early call-up.
Here are five Friars whose stats could matter this spring.
Josh Naylor falls into the category of being in a heated position battle. With three starting outfield spots, the Friars have Naylor, Tommy Pham, Wil Myers, Trent Grisham, Franchy Cordero with dark horse candidates Juan Lagares, Edward Olivares, Jorge Oña, Abraham Almonte, Michael Gettys and even stud prospect Taylor Trammell in the mix.
Naylor certainly has his work cut out for him. In a recent piece by San Diego Union Tribune’s Kevin Acee, Naylor looks to have dropped significant weight to qualify for a starting outfield spot. Naylor is just 22 years old but has an excellent opportunity to take hold of a corner outfield spot opposite Tommy Pham, who will likely play left field.
Myers stands squarely in the way of Naylor’s starting role hopes, with that big contract and All-Star ceiling. However, that shouldn’t scare Naylor and he should definitely prepare himself as if Myers will be traded before Opening Day, which is entirely possible.
If the Canadian can put together a strong spring, the Padres will have to play him somewhere (the DH would be nice right around now, eh?).
The former 12th overall pick got significant playing time last season, with 279 plate appearances over 94 games. He struggled at times but put up a respectable .719 OPS with eight home runs. If he can resemble his August self (.275 average, four home runs, .853 OPS, 117 OPS+ in 28 games), he will be a valuable asset to the 2020 squad.
This spring may also finally answer the question of whether or not he is capable of playing outfield, and if not, the Friars could explore trading him elsewhere.
He hit .268 with a .806 OPS and two home runs in 21 games last spring. He will have to improve off of those numbers to carve out a role on the Opening Day roster this go-around.
The fifth-best prospect in all of baseball, MacKenzie Gore, is in big league camp this spring and very likely will be the player everyone watches closely. If he has a Chris Paddack-like dominant spring, fans will be clamoring for Gore to be in the Opening Day rotation, like Paddack last season.
Their situations are a bit different as Paddack entered last spring at 23 years old, just recently removed from Tommy John surgery, four years removed from being drafted. Gore will barely turn 21 years old later this spring and has only two full seasons of pro ball under his belt.
Gore filleted minor league batters last season to the tune of a 1.02 ERA in 15 starts at High-A Lake Elsinore before earning a trip to Double-A Amarillo. Although he was not as dominant as the learning curve is steeper in the Texas League, Gore finished strong, with a 2.19 ERA in his last three starts for Amarillo.
The talent is there. Gore is receiving ace-like comparisons, one being to fellow lefty Clayton Kershaw, and San Diego can’t keep that kind of arm down on the farm for long, especially if the team is wanting to reach lofty goals in the next few seasons.
If Gore sets the world on fire during his spring outings, it will be tough to keep him out of the starting rotation past April. The most likely scenario is that he starts in the minor leagues until one of the big league starters goes down with an injury (there are several injury-prone options in the rotation), and from there, he will get the call.
All eyes will be on Gore this spring and rightfully so, as the possible future ace of the next great Padres club.
The Padres made a deal with the Oakland Athletics in December, sending Austin Allen and Buddy Reed to Oakland in exchange for Jurickson Profar. He is expected to compete for the starting second base job, but it will certainly not be handed to him, despite the departures of Luis Urias and Ian Kinsler.
Greg Garcia quietly had a solid season for San Diego in 2019, playing in 134 games in a super-utility role, posting a .364 on-base percentage, and 2 Defensive Runs Saved while playing five different positions. He likely will be getting looks at second base as well, where he played 74 games last season.
Profar offers the unique skill set of being a switch hitter. Being the number one prospect (as he was in 2012) comes with its pressure and expectations. Despite the big expectations, he has mostly under-performed in the big leagues. The Curacao native posted a 0.8 WAR with a 90 OPS+ last season for Oakland with suspect defense at second base, with -10 Defensive Runs Saved.
His last season in Texas, in 2018, offered a glimpse into what the Friars hope the soon-to-be 27-year-old can offer, with a 2.1 WAR, .793 OPS, and 107 OPS+.
The second baseman will need to have a strong spring if he has hopes of being in the Opening Day lineup.
Garcia is not Profar’s only competition. Ty France put up video game numbers in Triple-A in 2019 (27 home runs, 1.247 OPS, 196 wRC+ in 76 games), and he was up and down from the big league club as well. The 25-year-old will also be given at-bats to prove himself, and the only infield spot up for grabs is second base. Esteban Quiroz enters the mix as a non-roster invitee after putting up a .923 OPS in Triple-A El Paso last year. Another contender will be mentioned next.
Profar better bring it.
A unique situation, Jake Cronenworth offers value nobody on this list can serve as a two-way player. His duo of abilities is still relatively new, having only tossed 7 1/3 innings in professional ball. However, he has the stuff to be a useful mid-tier reliever if needed. According to reports, Cronenworth will pitch one inning per week during Spring Training, aside from his work at the plate and in the infield.
The 26-year-old Michigan native arrived in San Diego via trade in December, which also brought Tommy Pham to San Diego from Tampa Bay.
He played the majority of the 2019 season at shortstop, but it is assumed he will enter the second base race with the aforementioned Profar and Garcia. He is the traditional second base hitter, less power and more contact. He put up a whopping 147 wRC+ and .949 OPS in Triple-A for the Rays last year, posting a walk rate of 12.1 percent.
This spring will be key for him if he finally wants to crack a big-league roster. After toiling through five seasons in the minor leagues, the 2015 seventh-round pick is ready to prove he is worthy of being in The Show. His skills with the bat, his ability to get on base (lifetime .375 OBP in the minors), and his potential as a two-way player make him a tantalizing option for the Friars’ Opening Day roster. A strong spring at the plate, on the mound, or both will almost assure he is included.
The new 26-man roster rule makes his case that much more intriguing.
Once a top-100 prospect, Adrian Morejon broke into the big leagues in July of last season and experienced some growing pains. The 20-year-old Cuban pitched in five games with an inflated ERA of 10.13, including six earned runs in his final two outings before being shut down for the year.
This is a big spring for Morejon, who has been marred by injuries and under-performance despite his young age. He is one of those pitchers that, if he can put together a fully healthy season, should be considered one of the best left-handed pitching prospects in baseball.
A starter in the minor leagues, it seems as if the Padres view him, at least for now, as a bullpen arm.
Even though he is not yet 21, patience among the organization’s leaders might be running short with Morejon if he doesn’t show progress. There is some stiff competition for a bullpen spot among lefties with the arrival of Drew Pomeranz, a healthy Jose Castillo, and Matt Strahm.
Morejon will need to impress this spring if he wants to continue to be in San Diego’s current and future plans.