I have a confession to make. I’m not that excited about baseball being back. How could I be, with the Padres positioned to be the worst team in the league, if not all of baseball? I barely tuned in for spring training, and I couldn’t name half the 25-man roster, let alone the 40-man. But baseball is back, and I’m determined to find the joy in it, even if the Friars are going to rack up triple-digit losses. So, what is there to get pumped for?
Wil Myers coming into his own
Three years after his Rookie of the Year-winning debut with the Tampa Bay Rays, Wil Myers had his first full season of success last year. He made the transition from outfield to first base flawlessly, filling a gap in the Padres infield that had loomed large since the departure of Adrian Gonzalez. Offensively, he put up the kind of numbers that truly earned him his All-Star appearance. His 28 homers and steals fell just short of making him the first Friar in the elite 30-30 club and a fan favorite. During the offseason he signed the largest contract in Padres history. At 26 years old, he’s ready to lead this club for the foreseeable future, and that’s something any fan can get excitead about.
Austin Hedges getting his big break
It’s taken longer than anybody hoped, but defensive wunderkind Austin Hedges is finally the starting catcher for the Padres. The young dreamboat got his first cup of coffee in 2015, but interim manager Pat Murphy let him languish on the bench for a lot of that time. He saw a handful of games last year after demolishing AAA pitching, and he spent this spring dominating the Cactus League. With the departure of Derek Norris, it’s officially time for Hedges to sink or swim. If the progress he’s shown over the last few years translates to the big leagues, “swim” might not be a generous enough word.
Magical unicorn Christian Bethancourt
The first time Christian Bethancourt took the mound last year, it was the predictable result of a terrible game. The second time he did it, people took notice. Now, the Christian Bethancourt Experiment will see if it can produce something unprecedented in the modern game: A hybrid super-utility player that can do almost anything. Bethancourt’s already proven a solid defensive catcher, and on the mound he’s hitting the high 90s on the radar gun. But don’t sleep on that eephus!
Babies in the outfield
Travis Jankowski will turn 26 in June, making him the old man in an outfield he’ll patrol alongside rookies Hunter Renfroe and Manuel Margot. Jankowski’s speed makes him a plus defender, but it’s also a great asset offensively. He helps make up for his less-than-stellar numbers at the plate by being a serious threat on the basepaths. In his first full season as a big leaguer, he swiped thirty bags. Margot is the youngest guy in the outfield, but he’s got speed to match Jankowski, and in his 10 games as a big leaguer last September, he showed promise in the plate, too. And if you want to see him shine defensively, check out what he did in the Futures Game.
And if you like dingers, you’re going to love watching Hunter Renfroe play all season. The first round draft pick saw action in just eleven games last September, but he made the most of it by going yard four times. His OPS after 36 trips to the plate? A mind-boggling 1.189.
This year’s Padres are going to be really, really bad. Their opening day payroll is less than what Clayton Kershaw will make this year. But the future is so bright you’ve got to wear shades, and that’s something to cheer about.