As I type this, the Padres are currently 49-62 and fresh off the heels of an 11-3 loss to the lowly Cincinnati Reds. Yeah, not all that fun. The Padres have been playing decent baseball for the last few months, but part of that has been due to luck. Their run differential is by far the worst in the big leagues, at -143. They are an even thirty games behind the Dodgers in the NL West. The race to a top-five pick is on, and no matter how thrilling a high draft pick will seem in 2018, the present (in terms of wins and losses) is all but that. It can be tough watching a losing team, but the Padres definitely have some exciting pieces that are worth paying attention to. That is something that you could not necessarily say a few years ago.
There are 51 games left in 2017, so I am here to provide you with seven reasons why you should keep watching this Padres team from here until the season wraps up in early October.
1. The Infield Battle
The Padres have a glut of infield options. Jose Pirela, Yangervis Solarte, Cory Spangenberg, and Carlos Asuaje can all play 2B/3B. Pirela and Spangenberg can play LF, although it seems like the Padres are hell bent on continuing to give Pirela reps in LF on an everyday basis. For good reason, too. He has a positive UZR/150 out in left field and is currently hitting .285 with a 119 wRC+. He is showing himself to be a pretty decent ballplayer after years in the minor leagues. If Pirela wants to stay on this team and have a future with San Diego, left field is probably the track towards that.
That leaves Yangervis Solarte, Cory Spangenberg, and Carlos Asuaje competing for two infield spots. It sounds like the Padres are going to try and get all three bats in there every now and again by putting Solarte at shortstop, but that definitely is not going to be a long-term kind of thing.
Solarte, just coming back from injury, has been his typical self this season, hitting .262 with 11 home runs in 77 games. He is the heart and soul of the team. He is a veteran guy that does not necessarily have to play every day down the stretch, and probably has a good chance of being traded in the off-season. To get traded and have value, though, he needs to produce and get at least some at bats.
Cory Spangenberg has been impressive ever since being called up from El Paso, as he has hit .268 while playing a solid third base. One major red flag with Spangenberg, though, is that he strikes out a ton. He has a 27.4 K% so far this season while only walking 6.7% of the time. For someone who does not have + power, that is not great. Couple that with a .355 BABIP & a 90 wRC+, and he has not been as good as people have made him out to be this season. He has been solid, though, and is worthy of constant playing time so the Padres can at least see what they got with him.
Then, there’s Carlos Asuaje. Asuaje has been remarkable since his second call-up from El Paso, and is currently slashing .301/.367/.419 with a 112 wRC+ in 39 games; good for a 0.7 fWAR. If he was to keep up this pace the entire season, he would be almost a three win player. Not bad for someone who was overshadowed by Hunter Renfroe, Austin Hedges, and Manuel Margot in 2016. All of the peripherals seem to match with Asuaje as well. His plate discipline has been great, as he has an 8.8% BB rate (which is improving) and is only swinging at 24.4% of pitches outside the strike zone. His soft contact % is down as well. One of the more pleasant surprises this season, Asuaje has also VASTLY improved his 2B defense en route to a 1.4 UZR/150.
Padres fans are excited for the Luis Urias era, as well they should. But Carlos Asuaje has performed at second base like he wants to make the Padres think about that decision, which is not a bad thing at all.
The Padres have some choices to make for 2018 regarding their infield. It would not be surprising at all to see the Padres trade from their surplus of infield options this off-season, but they have to trade the right ones. Right now, they have a lot of “decent but maybe could be good” infielders.. and they have to stick with a few of them. Picking the right ones to keep and the right ones to trade is obviously key, and something the organization has not done well in recent years.
Bottom line: it would be hard to imagine a 2018 Opening Day roster with all four on it (including Pirela), barring a position change or injury.
2. Manuel Margot
Margot hasn’t had the smoothest season, and that is OK. At 22 years old, he has been through a lot this season. He missed a few weeks of spring training due to a sore right calf, and basically the entire month of June with a right calf strain. Although the Padres and Margot might not admit it, I would be led to believe that Margot’s calf really wasn’t fully healed when he came back for the first time–late in spring training. Although his performance leading up to when he injured his calf again in the last week of May was not bad by any means, Margot wasn’t great. Up until the last few weeks, Margot was actually worse than league-average defensively… which isn’t Margot-like at all. Keith Law basically said in his chat a few weeks ago that Margot’s sub-par performance so far has surprised him. Couple that with Margot welcoming his first child into the world this year, having to face big league pitching for the first time, and having to get adjusted to big league lifestyle.. it can be understood why Margot was not performing up to what people think his capabilities are.
Since July 17, though, Margot has been quite good on both ends. He is hitting .319, slugging .551, and is back to covering a heck of a lot of ground in center field. He is up to 1.2 WAR and his wRC+ is approaching 100, both positive signs. It would be nice to see him walk a tad more, and that is something to monitor the last few months of the season.
Bottom line: Margot will keep developing and be just fine. It will be fun to watch him continue to transform into a very, very good center fielder. Life is good for him right now: he is a new father, raking in the bigs, and it appears his legs are 100% healthy.
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Baseball is fun. College sophomore that is aspiring to work someday in the sports industry. Follow me on twitter @Friar_Faithful. Go Pads!