Several Spring Training battles set to begin for Padres

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Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Spring Training games begin this week in Phoenix, and the San Diego Padres will be looking for answers as to who will make the roster and start.

Expectations are rather high given that General Manager A.J. Preller made multiple moves this offseason to put the team in a position to contend for the playoffs. Tommy Pham is expected to be a leader on and off the field, Drew Pomeranz and Emilio Pagan are expected to be lockdown relievers in front of  Kirby Yates. Additionally, Trent Grisham, Jurickson Profar, and Zach Davies are all expected to produce.

Let’s take a look at a few spots up for grabs and the candidates.

Catcher

The San Diego Padres once again enter the year without knowing who will do the bulk of the work at catcher. With Austin Allen departing via trade, Austin Hedges and Francisco Mejia are left as the two backstops for San Diego.

There’s an easy way to compare Hedges to Mejia. Hedges has the greatest strength, his fielding, which is among the league’s best. Mejia’s strength comes as a hitter, though his hitting isn’t nearly as good as Hedges’ fielding. Mejia’s weakness comes as a defender but improved slightly as 2019 went on and is significantly better than Hedges’s strength. Hedges struggles mightily at the plate, regressing considerably in 2019. Basically, Hedges has a better strength but got worse at his weakness.

Hedges started more games last year than Mejia, 93 to 57. Whoever improves more upon their weakness in spring will likely earn more starts, even though both players will likely start at least 60 games.

Second Base

Luis Urias showed promise in September and looked like the prospect San Diego Padres fans were hoping for. Urias was traded away to Milwaukee, leaving second base open for Greg Garcia. Then Preller traded for former No. 1 overall prospect, Jurickson Profar.

A platoon at second seems likely, given Profar and Garcia both have strong platoon splits. Looking at their 2019 platoon splits if you combine Garcia’s 107 OPS+ vs. right-handed pitching and Profar’s 137 OPS+ vs. left-handed pitching, that makes a solid second baseman. While most of their at-bats in Spring Training will come against their opposite handedness, watch to see how they perform against their weaker side.

Fifth Rotation Spot

Barring injuries, the top two rotation spots will be filled by Chris Paddack and Dinelson Lamet. Zach Davies and Garrett Richards will take the three and four spots. This leaves only one open rotation spot.

Joey Lucchesi, Cal Quantrill, and yes, MacKenzie Gore, will compete to earn the final rotation spot. Gore is the underdog going into camp with only 21 innings above Single-A. This spot should be his in 2021, but there’s some work still in front of Gore to earn a spot in the rotation.

Lucchesi is the favorite for the spot right now. He is a slightly more experienced pitcher and had a better 2019 ERA. Quantrill started to pitch really well during the summer but fell apart in late August by allowing four-plus runs in four of his last five starts. The San Diego Padres can’t go wrong here. Whoever wins it will face little pressure as the No. 5 starter, but will have a small margin for error given the starting pitching depth.

Center Field

When Manuel Margot departed to Tampa Bay, the center field starting spot opened up. The battle will likely be between Franchy Cordero and Trent Grisham, but don’t rule out Wil Myers or an acquired center fielder. General manager A.J. Preller added big names during the past two Spring Training sessions. Why not 2020?

Franchy Cordero’s best feature is his bat from the left side and his speed. The injury bug keeps biting Cordero, so his full potential is still yet to be seen. Although Cordero possesses elite speed, his fielding up the middle is rather shaky. Negative DRS, RTOT, and a below-average RF/9 innings are definitely concerning. However, multiple outfielders improved defensively for the San Diego Padres in 2019. Cordero hopes to be the same way in 2020.


Trent Grisham is yet to play a game for the San Diego Padres and is only a second-year major-leaguer, yet can be the starting center fielder in San Diego on Opening Day. His ability to get on base despite a low batting average in his rookie year is very encouraging. In the field, Grisham is known for his error in the NL Wild Card Game against the Washington Nationals that sparked their championship run. However, Grisham is actually a plus fielder. His 5 DRS in limited playing time is nothing to shake your head at, and he made zero errors. He played his best defense in right, but he may play a lot in center field.

Wil Myers once looked like the future of the San Diego Padres. Now, his future with the Padres is in question. If Myers remains a Padre, he’ll likely see some time in center. Myers struggled against righties in 2019 but slugged against left-handed pitching. Not to mention, his .965 OPS against NL West opponents led the team. Myers is not good defensively in center, but there will be opportunities for Myers to succeed in 2020. The Padres need him to succeed for success in 2020.

Center field will be a revolving door for San Diego and Jayce Tingler. The hot hand will find its way on the field. Similar to the starting pitchers, there will be little margin for error.

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Dominic Stearn
Dominic is currently a Freshman at Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. He was formerly a Staff Writer for Pulse Magazine, writing about the Padres, the MLB, and the NFL.

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