You might have noticed an interesting roster move yesterday. The Padres gave Alex Dickerson a call-up from Triple-A. He joins veterans Matt Kemp, Jon Jay, and Melvin Upton as well as relative youngsters Travis Jankowski and Jabari Blash to form a six-man group of outfielders on the Padres' 25-man active roster. Add Wil Myers and Brett Wallace to the picture, and it really gets confusing. Unless Andy Green intends to play four outfielders at a time, it's hard to see where each of these players fit. I'm going to try to make some sense from this apparent logjam.
Why him? Why now?
Alex Dickerson may be the hottest hitter in the Padres system not named Wil Myers. He's put up an impressive .352/.405/.549 triple-slash in the admittedly forgiving PCL, showing a disciplined and mature approach at the plate. The Padres lineup is missing that second lefty bat since Cory Spangenberg and Yangervis Solarte are on the DL, Brett Wallace isn't hitting consistently, and Jankowski is being utilized in a specialty role. While Dickerson has played leftfield primarily the last few years, he has experience at first base as well. For the uninitiated, the bat-first lefty hitter has been floating near the top of the Padres' prospect lists for a few years now, and he's due for a chance to show what he can do.
What We (think we) Know
Matt Kemp is the face of the franchise and the power in the middle of the lineup. He's off to a nice start this season. While his defensive weaknesses are well documented, he's shown improvement this year due to a healthy ankle, better positioning, and work on better routes. There is no question that he is the everyday starting rightfielder.
Jon Jay has been a breath of fresh air at the leadoff spot. He's gotten on base reliably and provided a little pop and speed. Defensively, he's been adequate and steady. With a reputation for a player who doesn't do well with time off, he's the everyday centerfielder.
Melvin Upton has continued a resurgence that sprouted last season. With a commitment to Gold Glove defense, he's been a highlight reel in the field. He's brought the speed and power he was known for (back when he was known as BJ) . It's worth noting here that Jay's and Kemp's numbers have been trending up, but Upton's been on a downward slide since his OPS topped out at .888 on April 19th. It's slipped nearly 200 points to .691 as of yesterday, which is probably why he started the game on the bench. Still, he's getting paid starter money and he's demonstrated a high level of talent, so he's the regular starter in leftfield, at least the majority of the time.
Travis Jankowski has settled in to a typical 4th outfielder role. He can play all three positions with plus defense and speed. His high-contact lefty bat and basepath speed have been situational tools for Andy Green. When he made the opening day roster, he was told that he would fill this part-time role. Serving primarily as a late-inning pinch runner and defensive replacement in rightfield for Matt Kemp, he's filled the role more than capably.
What about Jabari Blash?
Jabari Blash is a project. While he gave us some jaw-dropping blasts in spring training, it's readily apparent that he's woefully overmatched against major league breaking balls and easily fooled by control pitchers. Management seems determined to hang on to him, so how do they find playing time? He might get the occasional start in LF going forward, but only against very favorable pitching matchups. He's been used as a pinch hitter lately, but it's difficult for a hitter to find a balance and rhythm when they're only swinging a bat a few times a week.
Where do Wil Myers and Brett Wallace fit in?
Wil Myers is entrenched as the starting first baseman, and is doing a fantastic job of it. He's looking comfortable in the field and at the plate for the first time as a Padre. Before the season, Andy Green noted that Myers might get some starts in LF to get Brett Wallace's bat in the lineup, but recently we've seen Wallace used at third base. As long as Myers is healthy and raking, he needs to be near the top of the Padres lineup every day.
Brett Wallace has been struggling when given a start, but has been remarkably effective as a pinch hitter. He's 1-for-19 as a starter, but 3-for-7 with three walks as a sub. It's an interesting split when you look back to last year, when he hit .227/.277/.341 as a starter but an impressive .365/.450/.673 from the bench. The clutch pinch-hitter is a rare breed, but I have to think back to John Vander Wal for the last time the Padres efficiently used a hitter in such a manner. Matt Stairs and Mark Kotsay come to mind as bench bats that was supposed to make an impact but failed to do so. I have a feeling that this roster move will come down to Brett Wallace vs. Alex Dickerson, two lefty hitters with an opportunity to fill a part-time role.
Notable pending roster moves on the horizon
Yangervis Solarte is already past his 15-day minimum disabled list stay, and Cory Spangenberg should be ready to come off soon as well. Alexi Amarista shouldn't be too far behind them, either. At least one of these outfielders will need to move in the next couple of days to make room and allow for some breathing room around the Padres' infield depth chart. I can't imagine that the team will carry six outfielders for long, but it will be interesting to see how they are deployed and how it all shakes out.