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The Veterans Strike Back

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The second installment of my series on why the Padres just might be better than those dastardly projections.

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The Padres' roster is an interesting mix of veterans, developing young MLB players, and minor leaguers looking for a shot.   The veterans as a group are coming off of bad seasons.  I think there is every reason to they will have bounceback seasons.

Position Players

Matt Kemp - If you go by WAR, Matt Kemp was roughly a replacement-level player last year.  He had a slow start which made his offensive numbers look bad, and his defense was universally panned as one of the worst fielders in baseball.  A notoriously slow starter, Kemp has been put to task this spring by Green to kick-start the season.  A year ago he was still working off of an ankle injury and his shoulder wasn't 100%.  He's feeling healthy and sounds rejuvenated by the atmosphere in Peoria.  In the field, Green already recognized how he could be better positioned and some things he can do to make a better break on the ball.  Combined with legit centerfielders to his right, Kemp should be able to adequately handle the job in the field.  It's also worth noting that Kemp played in nearly every game, and while the bat was solid down the stretch, the defense may have suffered due to fatigue.  His starts might not drop, but I expect to see him pulled for defensive replacements much more than last year.

Wil Myers - After having a procedure on the wrist injury that has shortened each of the last three seasons, Myers feels stronger than ever.  Moving to a new position that will have him engaged in every play will help his focus.  He has the frame, excellent hands, and athleticism to be a premium defender at first base.  His career is ready to turn a corner as he settles into the most defined role of his career.  Green plans to move him to left field on some days when Brett Wallace will get a start at first, so it's being made clear that this team expect great things out of Wil Myers.

Derek Norris - The 2014 All-Star saw a decline in offensive numbers as he made more starts than ever before.  This offseason Norris made a commitment to improving his physical conditioning to better handle the rigors of a full season.  He's also accepting that the occasional day off will let him carry his production through the season.  Having been declared a catcher only, there is no question that he is the primary backstop for this team.  2015 started off with talk of poor pitch framing skils, but that was apparently fixed by mid-season as he was one of the best framers in the game by season's end.  Next is to develop his skills of game-calling and managing his pitchers, along with handling pitches in the dirt.  Keeping his offense sharp through the season and improving his defense will get Norris back to the All-Star caliber player we know he can be.

Jon Jay - Like Myers, Jay was hampered in 2015 by a wrist injury.  He'll be the first to tell you that he came back too quickly, and it held him back all year.  A .300/.360/.400 season with plus defense is well within reason for Jay this season.  He's one of the best candidates for a leadoff role with his combination of contact and speed.  Andy Green is already impressed with his work ethic and attention to detail.  His approach could rub off on his teammates.

Alexei Ramirez - The White Sox were the other team picked by many to have "won" the 2014-2015 offseason, and they struggled every bit as much as the Padres did in 2015.  An All-Star and Silver Slugger winner in 2014, there's no reason why Ramirez shouldn't return to form in 2016.  He's healthy and rejuvenated with a new team and a new coaching staff, eager to push him to be the best he can be.

Melvin Upton Jr. - 2015 was already a bounceback season for Upton after two awful years with Atlanta.  The .259/.327/.429 triple-slash represented numbers he hadn't put up since 2011.  Still, there's reason to think that there might be an even higher ceiling.  He started the season off slow as he worked back from a foot injury.  He appeared to turn a corner the last two months of the season, posting an even better line of .289/.353/.488 to finish the season.

Starting Pitching

Before getting in to details, it's worth noting that the defense has been improved all around the diamond.  Last year's staff seemed to be working to avoid contact and blow hitters away, leading to high strikeout numbers but dangerously high home run rates.  Defensive miscues led to runaway innings.

A lack of quality left-handed pitching opened the staff up to glaring weaknesses.  Preller has candidates in camp for both lefty starter and relief roles to counter this.  Questions were raised about the receiving ability of Derek Norris.  He shored up his framing last year and has been working to improve game calling and pitch blocking this year.  These changes should have staff-wide effects.

Andrew Cashner - His struggles and the possible sources are well-documented.  His mother's health weighed heavily on him.  Now she's in remission and off dialysis.  He was overthrowing to try to strike everyone out as he questioned the defense behind him, evidenced by an increase in velocity on all pitches accompanied by a decrease in pitch movement.  Andy Green visited him in Texas and discussed how to get some more sink back in to his two-seamer.  With a clear mind and some improved trust in his defense, he should be able to settle in and execute his pitches.  Add to that a contract year and he has plenty of reasons to have a strong showing in 2016.

James Shields - The true veteran of the group, Shields was victim to a spike in walks and home runs compared to previous seasons.  This may have been attributed to an effort to avoid contact, as his location seemed to creep to the edges rather than going directly after hitters.  Combine an improved defense with a better relationship with his catchers, and Shields should regress toward his recent career stats.

Tyson Ross - Easily the best Padres starter in 2015, Tyson Ross is still on the way up.  While his FIP and his K/9 reached career bests, he led the league in walks and wild pitches.  If he can focus on pounding the zone and attacking hitters more with a renewed trust in the defense behind him, the opening day starter can post his best year to date.

Relievers

The departures of Craig Kimbrel and Joaquin Benoit signaled a widespread turnover in the bullpen.  The roster is quite fluid right now, but we're looking at a mix of tested veterans with some raw youth sprinkled in.  Fernando Rodney, Carlos Villanueva, Brandon MorrowCasey Janssen, and Matt Thornton are all likely to contribute sooner or later.  Each is a curious case.  Rodney's 2015 was disastrous, but he was very good to dominant from 2012-2014.  Can he recapture the magic?  Carlos Villanueva is excited to work with Trevor Hoffman, a mentor of his in Milwaukee.  Brandon Morrow was the Padres' most effective starter in 2015 until a shoulder issue shortened his season.  He's working his way back, and will likely wind up in the bullpen.  Janssen  and Thornton were dominant relievers for years, and are working back from some down seasons.  They might be prime Darren Balsley reclamation projects.

This group of veterans is full of question marks, but they are also full of potential to succeed.  Each has his own story, and there is reason to believe in each making a significant mark both on the Padres' win-loss record as well as the culture passed down to the youth behind them.  In a year where the team is not projected to make a splash, it would be great to see this group put together a run for the money.

Keep your eyes peeled for the third and final installment of my trilogy, where I go over the younger members of the organization who are likely to contribute to the Padres' 2016 season.  Hope springs eternal all for all Padres!