We are into the home straight now – there is major league baseball on the horizon(!) – and we are close to wrapping up our series of UK fan previews. This San Diego Padres preview (written just before news of Dinelson Lamet’s injury broke) is by Tom Pringle, who began following the Padres last season and hasn’t stopped (yet). You’ll know Tom as one of the Bat Flips and Nerds gang, and as ‘The Other One’ representing the UK in the inaugural Great Fantasy Baseball Invitational…
Imagine you hear a friend of yours is in hospital. What are your first thoughts? What’s wrong? Do they have serious problems? Complications? Are they going to be OK? Maybe in an extreme and morbid thought, you think they might die.
Turns out they have appendicitis. A trauma that looked serious at first, especially when they were writhing on the floor and then subsequently blacked out because of the pain, however now they are now in hospital. That pesky appendix is out the way, it turns out they aren’t as bad as you first thought.
That’s a long-winded way of explaining that the “100-loss Padres” weren’t as bad as we all thought they would be. Don’t get me wrong, the rotation was terrible and their hitting wasn’t exactly great, but hey, they had Brad Hand, Franchy Cordero and Jose Pirela. It wasn’t all bad! Well, it really needed to be.
They went 71-91 and finished in 4th place (that’s not last, Giants fans) in the NL West and failed to pick up the number 1 draft pick going into 2018. Special thanks go out to the Detroit Tigers for some plus-plus tanking to grab that golden ticket.
This was Season Two of a significant rebuild and guess what? It’s working, right?
Comings and Goings
The big move for the Padres was the signing of former Kansas City Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer, at $144m over eight years. The contract is heavily front-loaded and includes a player opt-out after year five. This fills a big gap for the Padres, who haven’t had a first baseman for some time…wait. Didn’t Wil Myers play first base? Didn’t Wil Myers have a huge contract extension? Oh, I see how this is going.
Other moves for the Friars, include them filling the actual hole at shortstop — prior to the arrival of their wunderkinds — comes Freddy Galvis for some consistency. They also signed reliever Kazuhisa Makita from Japan. He’s not going to blow opponents away with scorching fastballs, but his knuckle scraping slinging sidearm action is absolute must watch TV. He also has a high-50mph eephus pitch, that has fooled quite a few hitters in Spring Training.
The Padres also dumped a load of players, none of whom were noteworthy. They were mainly one-year deals/trade bait types that didn’t really run anywhere.
Oh, they also signed AJ Ellis for…no reason whatsoever. Padres eh?
So, now we look at the 2018 Padres. I want to split this section into two seasons, pre and post All-Star. You’ll see why.
In the rotation we have a “battle” for the final two spots. It’s not really a case of the other parts of the rotation being great, it’s more like “Who’s not going to give a bucket ton of runs away and still manage close to 200 innings this year?”. Dinelson Lamet leads the rotation this year (Despite the Clayton Richard getting the opening day start — don’t ask, otherwise I’ll end up making this post 10,000 words), with Old Man Clayton and Bryan Mitchell coming in the two and three spots. After that the battle is between Luis Perdomo, Tyson Ross and Robbie Erlin. My money goes on Luis Perdomo taking one of those spots, he’s a ‘known known’ who still has plenty of options to be sent down if/when the ERA starts to build. The Padres brought Ross back to try and see if he has anything left in the tank. He’s been ok in Spring Training and making the Padres think about if he can buy them some time. Which is all they need to do, especially come post All-Star break.
The bullpen is probably the Padres strongest asset. Headliners starting with Kirby Yates, who is hoping to continue to impress on his outing last season. Makita and his funky action causing some confusion and breaking up hitters flow, the same could be said of Carter Capps and his bunny hop action. However, Capps has struggled in Spring Training and has changed his already odd action once again. Finally, the bullpen is anchored by the biggest bit of 2017 trade bait that never actually got traded, the once-abandoned Brad Hand. Once the Padres (finally) moved Brandon Maurer off the closer slot by trading him to Kansas City (LOL), Hand really bloomed in the role and showed he could perform under pressure.
The Padres lineup looks familiar to last season, except the addition of Eric Hosmer pushing Wil Myers to the outfield. Meaning Franchy Cordero, Jose Pirela and Hunter Renfroe have to compete for the final OF spot. Cordero has speed and exit velocity, Pirela gives you options in other positions on the field and Renfroe has power and an arm like a medieval cannon. Powerful but wildly inaccurate at times. (Yes, I’ve used the medieval cannon comparison again. I know it’s the second time I’ve done it, but it’s a different site, leave me alone.).
Now, the second half of the season is what I’m really interested in when it comes to the Padres. If they end the first half a few games out of .500 (unlikely), they will probably stick. Ride this bunch of players out and wait for an appropriate moment to promote some talent. However, if this rotation is crashing and burning (Beyond Lamet, likely), expect them to promote the likes of Padres number nine prospect Joey Lucchesi, ANOTHER funky wind-up action pitcher, but this time a starter. Lucchesi has seriously impressed in the minors last year and Spring Training this year. If pushed, we may also see Padres number four prospect Cal Quantrill, a RHP drafted in the first round of the 2016 draft who has a high ceiling and much expectation.
If on the other hand, we see problems in the lineup, we could get to see Padres number one prospect, shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr, a prospect from the Chicago White Sox, who was acquired during the “Big Game” James Shields trade. Whoops. We may also have the opportunity to see Padres number 6 prospect second baseman Luis Urias. This middle infield duo have been drawing plenty of attention at Spring Training, with many saying the prospect of seeing these two in the Majors in 2018 as absolute must watch TV.
Essentially, the youth is coming and it’s a bloody bright future right around the corner.
With the above in mind, the current Padres rotation (Beyond Lamet) is rubbish, so they will have a weak start followed by a small collection of winning runs once the prospect starters settle in. Add that with a refreshed lineup and actual battles for starting positions (instead of last years “Can you play shortstop? You’re in!”), the potential for Tatis Jr. and Urias being called up and a more balanced NL West, I see the Padres going 75-87.
I picked Austin Hedges before Spring Training and I’m going to stick with him. There was talk of swing adjustments during the offseason and it started to show in the first four Spring Training games. He hit dingers in each of those first four games. Then he slumped to approximately 3 hits since those games, which, if his start last season was anything to go by, could be just as bad. However, Hedges is a great defensive catcher with an incredible arm. He brings a hell of a lot to the team on that side. So although it won’t be a flashy MVP season, it will be important.
If Lucchesi, Urias and Tatis Jr. come up to the Majors though, all bets are off. I pick those three.
One to watch
Jose Pirela should be on folks radar this year. After ending the year as the Padres fWAR leader, it’s no surprise people are starting to look at him differently. A player that destroyed pitchers in AAA, was promoted to San Diego and proved he could shift around the field as a solid utility player. He was helped by a high BABIP of .343, but that shouldn’t put you off keeping an eye on him.
Oh, that Hosmer bloke will probably be quite good as well.
Tom Pringle. You can find me on twitter @PedroiasFace tweeting about cakes and baseball. You can also find me writing and podcasting for @batflips_nerds. This year I will be covering the Padres in detail, again. Oh god.