The San Diego Padres will need several key factors to go their way in 2021 if they hope to play meaningful baseball in October.
The San Diego Padres began the 2020-2021 offseason with a buzz about them unlike any Padres’ team in recent memory. A season for San Diego’s history books concluded at the Dodgers’ hands in the Division Series, yet optimism and excitement drowned out any feeling of disappointment.
The positive feelings surrounding the franchise immediately following the 2020 season were the product of a franchise working cohesively as a unit toward a common goal.
A.J. Preller and fellow decision-makers in the Padres’ front office filled the farm system with unmatched young talent while simultaneously adding quality big league talent, opening doors for a winning culture. Equally important, ownership began investing in winning by opening up their checkbooks, allowing Preller to build a team that could compete.
On the field, players bought into the team concept that allowed for exciting and high-quality baseball. Lastly, coaches seemed to pull strings that worked when needed and allowed situations to work themselves out at other times.
The 2021 Padres are now taking shape following their first week of spring training games, and the momentum is still marching along. Preller’s busy offseason, highlighted by the addition of major starting pitching talent as well as a 14-year contract extension for franchise cornerstone Fernando Tatis Jr., has now made the Padres an industry-wide contender.
Excitement and expectations, however, still must be validated between the lines when things begin to matter. For the Padres to match expectations and continue their progression as a franchise, a lot has to go their way. Some of which they control, and some of which they don’t.
While a successful season requires many things to go right for a franchise. In no specific order, three major keys for the Padres 2021 success:
Starting pitching health
This is probably a key to success for any Major League Baseball team that hopes to seriously contend in a given season. For the 2021 San Diego Padres, their starters’ health is a key to the future while serving as a lesson from the past. The 2020 season that brought so much excitement was seriously affected by the loss of their two top starters just before the start of the postseason.
Dinelson Lamet and Mike Clevinger were not able to contribute in the postseason after their seasons were cut short due to injury, leaving the team scrambling to fill the missing holes that injuries created. The Padres hope they have learned from 2020 with the additions of three impactful arms.
Blake Snell and Yu Darvish were acquired around the same time in the winter, adding star-power to San Diego’s rotation that had to replace Clevinger after he was announced to miss the 2021 season due to the arm issues from the season prior. The trades were also a result of the continuous health questions surround Lamet, which still remain unanswered with less than a month until Opening Day.
No matter who the Padres send out to the mound in 2021, health will be a major factor in where the team finishes. While Darvish is coming off a 2020 season that saw him finish second in National League Cy Young votes, his injury history and age cause legitimate concern.
The Padres added San Diego native Joe Musgrove to help ease any concerns of rotational depth, giving the team depth and talent that they hope can withstand a long season filled with unknowns.
Injuries are inevitable in most cases for any team, and San Diego has done their best to address such instances with depth and top-level talent. Now, they will try their best to manage those arms accordingly, mixing and matching their rotation to stay as healthy as possible come September.
Second Base production
While very few questions remain for the Padres’ depth chart at this point in the spring, second base is certainly one of them. There is plenty of optimism for the position, with Jake Cronenworth hoping to match his stellar 2020 rookie season.
Cronenworth started 2020 with the Padres as a utility type of reputation and few expectations. He earned a spot in the daily lineup after an injury to first baseman Eric Hosmer presented an opportunity for consistent at-bats. The rookie never looked back following Hosmer’s return, finishing 2020 among the offensive leaders at his position in countless categories.
Finishing the season with a .285 average, a .477 slugging percentage, and a 1.6 WAR, Cronenworth will start 2021 with expectations to continue his success at the plate while continuing to be a versatile defensive option.
Profar will likely assume his role from 2020 that saw him spend a majority of his time in the outfield. He became a valuable asset due to injuries and athletic ability but remains able to play most positions on the field competently.
Kim remains the group’s biggest wildcard, with his ability to hit Major League pitching unknown and his defensive abilities limited to his middle infield samples from Korea. If Kim can hit like the team hopes he can, he will earn playing time at any position the Padres can realistically find for him. With such little data to go off of, it would be unfair to project Kim’s role on this team this early.
Cronenworth provides stability for the team heading into the season, while Profar and Kim provide necessary depth. The questions surrounding the position are more about the unique skill sets of the players than anything else.
Cronenworth’s value is maximized when he can replace infield positions due to injury or rest, similar to Profar in the outfield. These guys are valuable because they provide stability when chaos rears its head. Until Kim reveals his abilities at the Major League level, however, Cronenworth’s plug-and-play options that give players valuable rest might not be as open for Jayce Tingler’s team.
Follow-up seasons for Wil Myers, Eric Hosmer
2020 saw Wil Myers and Eric Hosmer recreate their Padres’ careers and reputations. Constant subjects of negative conversations between Padres’ supporters due to some things fair and unfair, both players lived up to expectations. They contributed in big ways to the end of San Diego’s 14-year playoff drought.
Myers finished the season as one of the most effective bats in a lineup that had Manny Machado, Tatis Jr., and Hosmer (to name a few) turn in huge numbers. Myers finished with a .606 slugging percentage to lead the team, second-best in franchise history.
Hosmer overcame injuries in 2020 to produce arguably his best season in San Diego. Though he finished with good numbers considering the time missed, the production in important spots stood out for the lefty veteran.
Thanks to slowing down his approach at the plate, Hosmer saw his fly balls increase, which led to his extra-base hit percentage increasing along with it. His .287 average and .517 slugging percentage were his best with the team, giving hope to continued success from a new mindset.
The two often-criticized Padres will face the same pressure for success in 2021 that they did a year ago. One season doesn’t erase a fan base’s memory, however unfair.
For the team to reach the heights it thinks and hopes it can reach in 2021, the production and energy that Myers and Hosmer bring will undoubtedly be a key.