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Return of the Rookies

In the third installment of my series on why the Padres just might be better than those dastardly projections, I look at the young players most likely to have a positive impact on the success of the 2016 Padres.

Denis Poroy/Getty Images

The Padres' roster is an interesting mix of veterans, developing young MLB players, and minor leaguers looking for a shot. We've discussed the veterans, now it's time to look at the youth on this roster. Between minor leaguers ready for a breakout, rookies primed for a chance, and players with only a couple of years of major league experience, there's a strong list of young players who may make an impact on the success of the Padres in 2016.

Position Players

Cory Spangenberg came off the bench at second and third base to start the 2015 season, but a prolonged slump for Jedd Gyorko gave Spangy the starting second base job in June, and he stayed there through the end of the season as Gyorko auditioned at shortstop.  His .271/.333/.399 season line looks good enough for a second baseman with a nice glove, but from June 1 through the end of the season, Spangenberg put up a stellar .296/.361/.434 line.  This provides a good indication of what he could project to produce over the course of a season.

Yangervis Solarte was another fortunate recipient of an extended slump, this time at third base behind Will Middlebrooks.  After getting regular starts in late June, his triple-slash of .289/.337/.492 is another indicator of the kind of production he's capable of over a full season.  While his defensive tools are still sharpening, there's no question that he was an impact player for the team and a unifying presence in the dugout.

Jose Pirela was acquired from the Yankees this offseason and has the versatility to be a super-utility player.  With professional experience at every non-battery position, he could be the Swiss army knife to fill in anywhere there's a need.  Not necessarily considered to be a legitimate option for shortstop or centerfield, 2B and 3B are his bailiwick, and he's getting extended looks in corner outfield spots this spring.  While his sack of gloves is the most obvious asset, his propensity for hard contact and low strikeout rates are what make him truly valuable.

Travis Jankowski - The speedy outfielder made an impressive run through the minor leagues last year, earning a promotion as he showed superior contact and on-base skills in AA and AAA.  The hitting didn't make the call up with him, but he still showed premium defense at all three outfield positions and speed on the basepaths.  His hitting style is being tweaked by the coaching staff to turn the high ground ball rate into more of a line drive, high-average profile.  Likely to start the season in AAA, Jankowski could be back up with the team after putting in some work to shore up the offensive side of his game.

Christian Bethancourt was once seen as Atlanta's "catcher of the future".  There's a cannon attached to his right shoulder, and it's been stated that he has the most raw power of anyone in Padres camp this year.  The knocks on him are related to his approach both with the bat and the glove, and a general concern on his work ethic.  Derek Norris showed huge gains in framing skills and general catching mechanics last year, and Bethancourt will be a similar project.  Manager Andy Green has the team gathered to motivate and push players through development routines that might turn this 24-year-old former top prospect into the premium catcher he was touted to be.

Jabari Blash is tall, strong, and athletic.  The Virgin Islander is 26, but he only started playing baseball in earnest in high school, so he's still relatively raw.  Weight training and mechanical tweaks produced one of the most prodigious power spikes in all of baseball as he slugged his way up the minor leagues last year.  The strikeout rate needs to be controlled, but the power is tantalizing.  He moves well for a 6'5" outfielder and will provide good defense in corner outfield spots.  He needs to stick on the 25-man roster to stay with the organization, but the team might have incentive to find a spot for this intriguing project.

Starting Pitching

Brandon Maurer was one of the most effective relievers for the Padres in 2015, but he's always wanted to be a starter.  He'll have that chance this year.  The fastball/slider repertoire has been filled out with a changeup and a revived curveball.  A 2014 Fangraphs article noted that his curveball had one of the highest spin rates in the game, and that certainly was a factor in Preller's motivation to target him in the Seth Smith trade.  He added muscle in the offseason in preparation for the rigors of a long season.  After being shut down late in 2015 due to fatigue, it remains to be seen whether he can endure a full work load.  He's being given every opportunity this spring to work his way into the rotation.  Whether he lands in the rotation or back in the bullpen, Maurer is poised for a very good year.

Colin Rea made an impressive run from Single-A in 2014 all they way up to the starting rotation for the Padres, logging six starts late in the 2015 season.  Never projected as a top prospect, he's found success through hard work and consistency.  Now that he's back in camp with twenty pounds of muscle added to his 6'5" frame, he's readying himself for a chance at a full-time starting gig in the MLB.  He's slotted to be in the rotation, and he has a great chance of being the #4 starter to start the season.  He's never thrown more than 140 innings in a season (2014), so he'll likely be limited this year.

Robbie Erlin looked like a promising prospect as he worked his way through the low minors.  He's struggled to find continued success in AAA and limited MLB time, although his final two starts of the 2015 season gave reason for hope as he went seven innings in each start, giving up a total of two earned runs on eight K's and only one walk.  Control has always been his calling card, so adjustments to location and pitch selection could be key to finding a way to miss bats.  At 25 and with one option season remaining, Erlin is due for a chance to break through.


Drew Pomeranz is an interesting case.  With a live fastball and a filthy slider, he's like a left-handed version of Tyson Ross or Brandon Maurer in frame and pitching style.  Like Ross and Maurer, he comes into the organization with some significant platoon splits, as he held left-handed batters to a .438 OPS in 2015 but got rocked to a .749 OPS by righties.  Darren Balsley turned Tyson Ross into a devasating pitcher with a reverse platoon split.  Brandon Maurer is making the transition back toward the rotation.  Drew Pomeranz very well might follow Maurer's path, working from the bullpen this year as he learns how to become equally effective against righties and lefties.  He's got the stuff to do it.

Luis Perdomo was picked up in the Rule 5 draft just like Jabari Blash above.  That means that he needs to be kept on the active roster all year to keep him - but if they do, they have six years of team control of a tantalizing prospect.  His fastball runs in to the upper 90's with nasty life, he has a tight, hard slider, and his changeup has shown promise.  2015 was a breakout season as he seemed to gain command on all three pitches, shown by a drop in BB/9IP and a jump in BB/K.  While his future may be in the rotation, he's most likely to work from the bullpen this year. Darren Balsley believes in him, so I have high hopes for the kid.

2016 figures to be an interesting year for our hometown Friars.  The projections put their wins somewhere in the 70's, but I see reasons all around the diamond to hope for more.  The individual stories have great potential everywhere you look, and a new management crew seems to be instilling a new culture and a new hope into the entire organization.  I'm along for the ride, and I look forward to watching it all pan out.