With a record of 22-31 nearing the end of month of May, the Padres are still trying to find their footing in order to maintain some consistency. The team currently sits in last place in the NL West but is only 5.5 games out of first in a division that has no clear leader at present.
The Padres have had moments of brilliance this season.
Last weekend’s series win over the formidable Pittsburgh Pirates was an example of the team’s potential when they run on all cylinders. Enough time has passed now for the Padres to be able to identify who their standout contributors are at this point. One player in particular started the season with high expectations placed on him due to his performance in 2017. The question has been circulating as to whether he has been able to live up to those expectations and what his true role on this team should be.
Jose Pirela really came onto the scene with the Padres in June of 2017. He was a free agent signing in the offseason and tore the cover off the ball in El Paso from from April to June. When he was called up to Padres he immediately started making an impact. Injuries in the outfield provided the second baseman turned utility player an opportunity to start almost daily in left field. He finished the 2017 season with a slash line of .288/.347/.490 a wRC+ of 122 and a 2.1 WAR. He actually lead the whole team in batting average, on base percentage and slugging. It’s understandable why he was expected to be a leader again in 2018.
Not everybody believed that Pirela would be able to maintain his 2017 form. The opinion did exist that Pirela, who was never an outstanding prospect, could and likely would fall back to Earth at some point. Among those with that opinion, the idea has been to allow Pirela to play until it starts to hurt the team.
Pirela definitely started strong in 2018. He kicked the season off with five game hitting streak. He saw most of his playing time in left field once again, which continued until it was apparent that Carlos Asuaje could no longer be trusted to play second base everyday, at which point, the job became Pirela’s. Pirela struggled mid April, he had a stretch where he went one for 27 which did not please the fans. Then came the question as to whether the Pirela experiment should finally be over. It has not helped the he is homerless in 217 plate appearances in a league that irrationally loves the longball.
Since the peak of his slump, Pirela has modestly bounced back. His slash line on the year is now at .270/.327/.355. He is leading the team in batting and hits with 54. He is second in on base percentage among qualified batters, only trailing Eric Hosmer. He also has 14 muti-hit games this season. It seems that if this is what a relapse looks like for Pirela then he is still quite the useful player.
Pirela’s defensive play at second base has been suspec,t but with Franchy Cordero and Travis Jankowski both pretty much entrenched in the outfield at this point, it seems like his only opportunity for regular playing time. This of course will only last as long as the team chooses to keep Luis Urias down in El Paso. When Urias does arrive in San Diego, it would be safe to assume that second base would be his to lose. The team will have to figure out what to do with Pirela at that point. He would be a premium utility player for a team on the rise like the Padres hope to be soon. He could also be a solid trade chip if he continues to keep his level of play up. In fact, it would probably be wise of the team to try to get as much as they can for Pirela before Urias arrives, even if that doesn’t happen this season. Asuaje and Cory Spangenberg will have no problem filling the gap at second until he does actually make it up to the Show.
The question has been whether Pirela is still a worthwhile player. The numbers seem to indicate that he absolutely is. On most days he also passes the eye test. He bats three and four in the lineup a lot which is strange to most because he doesn’t hit home runs but he produces in other ways that actually provide value in those slots. He drives in runs and gets on base in front of guys like Cordero and Christian Villanueva who have power, but less consistency. Ultimately, he will probably be dealt by the team at some point, but he is by no means useless and actually one of team’s top contributors.