It's springtime, so everyone's in the best shape of their lives, and there are zero games in the loss column. The pundits are picking the Padres to finish in the bottom half of the NL West, but this fan sees hope all around the diamond. Before my hopes and dreams get crushed like a grape, I want to tell you all why I believe in the potential of this organization. In this article, I will focus on team-wide aspects, and I'll delve in to the details in the sequels.
Andy Green and his Coaching Staff - The most significant move this offseason was the hiring of Andy Green and the subsequent overhaul of the major league coaching staff. Now that we're a couple of weeks in to spring training, it's apparent that the new regime is intent on bringing a new culture to the program based on accountability, work with purpose, and attention to detail. The reception from the players appears to be universally positive. The players seem to respect him and his methods while still being relatable. I see guys having fun and working hard, and enjoying the hard work. Green will find out quickly the workers are, and I suspect we'll see the slackers passed up on the depth charts. A fresh clubhouse culture is needed after seven years of futility under Bud Black.
Analytics-based coaching - Andy Green brings an advanced understanding of coaching to the dugout. As the third base coach of the Diamondbacks, he was in charge of defensive alignments. Employing a high number of defensive shifts, the Diamondbacks defense lead the league in Defensive Runs Saved. Shading defenders based on spray charts will make a big impact on game results as well as team defensive metrics. Green takes analytics beyond platoon splits. I expect to see more prudent decisions on defensive replacements, pinch hitters, and pinch runners. We will see the new managerial style manifest itself in-game as decisions will make more sense than they did under Black.
More Balanced Lineup - Last year's team had a ton of power and a ton of strikeouts. The righty-heavy lineup struggled often and slumped as a unit. This year's roster has more left-handed bats and looks to even out the SLG/OBP disparity that plagued last year's team. It felt like feast or famine at times as we would blow one team out and then get blown out. That got tiring real quick. I expect to see more small ball from the top and bottom of the lineup so the thumpers in the middle can get them in. Jon Jay, Cory Spangenberg, and Travis Jankowski will be expected to put a premium on getting on base. While we might miss the thump, I'll love the action, and it should add up to more consistent scoring.
Speed on the Basepaths - Arizona was second in the league in stolen bases, with Green as third base coach. New first base coach Tarrik Brock comes from Houston, who was third in stolen bases I hope to see the speedsters on this team wreaking havoc on the basepaths. Smart baserunning was never a keystone of Bud Black's approach, but Green's attention to detail should instill upon this group a mindset to get the most out of every opportunity.
Improved Defense - The Wil Myers experiment in centerfield was a disaster. Now he's being given the keys to first base, a position he says he loves and he showed great potential in limited time there. Brett Wallace will back him up, a solid defender in his own right. Alexei Ramirez and Cory Spangenberg should shore up the defense up the middle, while Yangervis Solarte continues to progress defensively at third base. Jon Jay and Melvin Upton will dramatically improve the outfield defense. Jabari Blash is an athletic defender in the corner, and Matt Kemp is working to improve his positioning and routes to shake the bad reputation he earned last year. Overall, the biggest difference here should come from a new approach to defensive positioning, shifting, and an attention to detail that will make this team more fundamentally sound and better prepared for each play.
More Balanced Pitching Staff - The 2015 opening day roster contained exactly zero left-handed pitchers. As a result, left-handed batters put up an OPS of .780 against the Padres' pitching staff - hearly 100 points higher than right-handed batters! The 2016 staff is likely to have at least one lefty starter, and there are a slew of lefty bullpen arms in camp this year. Expect to see Robbie Erlin and Drew Pomeranz step forward. Also expect to see Derek Norris and Christian Bethancourt make strides in their game calling skills with an improved relationship with the pitching staff.
Veteran Leadership - Incumbents James Shields, Matt Kemp, and Melvin Upton, Jr are joined by a slew of new veterans. Carlos Villanueva, Fernando Rodney, Jon Jay, Alexei Ramirez, Skip Schumaker, and Adam Rosales were brought in to perform on the field but also to stabilize and lead the clubhouse. All have been deep in the playoffs and all are known as durable, hard workers. Last year's team had talent, but they never came together. Our young players can gel under the guidance of some veterans who have been to the top.
Developing Youth - Wil Myers, Cory Spangenberg, Derek Norris, and Yangervis Solarte will have defined roles this year, and they will be expected to progress in their development. Green expects hard work and consistent focus, and he has a chance to ingrain these ethics into these young men. Each of them shone last year and showed flashes of the talent that they are still developing. With the balance that this roster affords, each can settle in to a role that fits what they do best. Wil Myers can focus on hitting lasers near the middle of the lineup instead of trying to morph into a leadoff player. Solarte can continue to be a hard out without thinking about power. Norris can let his passion and grit flow while the occasional day off refuels his tank. All the while, there is depth young and old backing them up should they stumble.
Positional Depth - AJ Preller has quietly assembled a solid depth chart around the diamond. There are backup options at least three deep at each position, and most options would fare no worse than the conceptual "replacement player". The weakest post is starting pitching at this point, but there's still time to shore that spot.
I know that it will take some remarkable alignment of the stars for this team to contend this year, but I see reason for hope. Anything is possible this time of year. Over the next few days, I'll try to get my thoughts out on specific players and why they are primed to contribute to this new hope that could lead the Padres organization through a successful season.