Graham Pauley making strong case to begin season with Padres

Feb 23, 2024; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; San Diego Padres infielder Graham Pauley against the Los Angeles Dodgers during a spring training game at Camelback Ranch-Glendale. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

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Mandatory Credit: Allan Henry-USA TODAY Sports

With Manny Machado likely starting the 2024 season as a temporary full-time DH, the Padres are in need of a third baseman to step up. Graham Pauley is answering the call.

It was always a strong possibility that Manny Machado, fresh off of elbow surgery, would start the season as a full-time designated hitter. He eventually will be eased back into his normal role at the hot corner, but likely after the regular season is underway.

In the meantime, the Padres need a third baseman to man the post on defense and at the plate. During the first week or two of spring, it was very unclear who that might be.

It is becoming much clearer now. Graham Pauley should be the one to get the nod.

It’s quite unusual for a 13th-round pick to possibly break camp with the big league club after just one full season of minor league ball under his belt. The Georgia native was drafted out of Duke in 2022.

As of now, Pauley has 680 plate appearances in the minor leagues to his name. Only 88 of those came at a level higher than High Single-A.

The proclamation of him becoming even the temporary third baseman for the Padres is a bold one to say the least. Yet, that seems to fit the narrative of playing cheap, young players the Padres are putting out as perfectly as a surfer’s wetsuit out in Oceanside.

Yes, some of it is out of necessity. To this point, the Padres have balked at (refused?) a possible signing of any major league-caliber pieces to fill the bench roles. Only non-roster invitees on minor league deals have been ushered in, minus Jurickson Profar.

Pauley now stands as the Padres’ best option at third base while Machado ramps up his throwing  program. Machado will inevitably return as the lynchpin of the infield and de facto captain of the squad. But not for the first few series, it appears.

It’s not all due to the fact that the Padres basically have no one else to turn to. It certainly helps that Pauley would be in contention for an imaginary Spring Training MVP award if the Padres were to give out such an honor.

He is second on the team with 10 hits this spring. That includes three extra-base hits to the tune of a solid .933 OPS.

Another telling number is that he leads the team in games played since Spring Training began. Clearly, the Padres brass wanted a long, hard look at the lefty.

Yes, he fills another big need for the Padres as a lefty bat. The Padres have far too few lefty options, with Jake Cronenworth as the lone incumbent starter from a year ago from the left side. We might be able to assume Jackson Merrill, a fellow lefty rookie, will also make the squad.

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Pauley and Merrill would give the Padres two rookies starting Day One in 2024.

Looking at Pauley’s profile, he ranks as San Diego’s 11th-best prospect in the organization. His hit tool is certainly ahead of his defensive touch at this point. He has a compact swing that is short to the ball. Over his minor league career, he maintained a strikeout rate under 20%, which is good for this era.

The call-up to Double-A last year did not seem to faze him. In 20 games for San Antonio, he batted .321 with three homers and 10 doubles. He also amassed a .931 OPS and a stellar 141 wRC+. Even with the limited sample size, he displayed an advanced approach at the plate. He also played 85 games at third base over the 2023 season throughout his various stops. That came with a .943 fielding percentage, which is below average.

Even with his defense not exactly Machad0-esque, Pauley’s ability at the plate from the left side looks to be enough for him to get the nod when the team breaks for Korea later this week.

His fate is not officially written in stone yet. However, if the daily lineups and individual stats are any indication, Pauley will be playing third base in a Padres uniform to start the season. When Machado becomes healthy enough to return, that will be another conversation. If Pauley truly gets the job, it will have been earned.

The best-case scenario is for him to hit so well the Padres are forced to find a slot in the lineup for him. They are still without a quality DH once Machado returns to the defense. Pauley could fill in nicely if he is up to the task.

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