There’s a month and a half left in the season, but Padres fans may be looking further down the road. The 2017 season is certain to bring a losing record, somewhere near the bottom of the heap. From an organizational standpoint, that’s not a bad thing, since draft position and signing bonus pools stand to benefit, but it makes for a long season. The bright points of this season have been in the improving play of some of the team’s key members. Spring seems like a long ways off, but it’s interesting to look at the candidates for the roles on next year’s opening day roster.
- Catcher: Austin Hedges will be the starting catcher next year and hopefully for years after that. He’s shown more power than anyone expected and has established himself as one of the premium defenders in the game. His eye at the plate should only improve with time, but the blocking, throwing, framing, and game management are what make him so valuable to the organization/
- First Base: Wil Myers was signed to a hefty extension prior to the 2017 season and while he’s underperformed this year, he’s shown signs of the talent that earned him all that money.
- Centerfield: Manuel Margot wowed us last year with a “Hang a Star” catch at the Futures Game, and the defense has only gotten better. At the plate, he turns in as many quality at-bats as anyone on the team. He’s a keeper.
- Rightfield: Hunter Renfroe needs to sharpen his strike zone discipline and improve his routes in the field, but the power is legit and the cannon arm has earned him a reputation. A recent demotion to AAA should send a message that his approach and maybe his mechanics could use some work, but an offseason of work should bring him back to another year of starting action. It’s been noted that Renfroe has a significant platoon weakness, but Andy Green’s philosophy seems to differ from Bud Black’s. Where Bud would shelter young players from their weakness, Green is taking this season as an opportunity to work-harden these guys by exposing them to challenging situations.
Think about that for a second. Can you remember a year when we could sit here in August and pencil in the starters at four positions, without platoon hemming and hawing? I have to go back to the aughts to find a team with defined roles at this many positions without major question marks.
Second & Third Base
- Carlos Asuaje has emerged as a steady defender with excellent instincts and the skills to become outstanding defensively. At the plate, his hard work is paying off with some of the best plate discipline and contact skills on the team. Many see him as a backup long-term, but they probably said the same about guys like Joey Cora and Fernando Vina.
- Cory Spangenberg started the season in AAA but has entrenched himself as the team’s everyday third baseman. He’s shown some surprising power at the plate and seems to come up big in leverage situations. The glove isn’t as reliable as one might like, but experience may help him improve.
- Jose Pirela has long been considered a bat-first second baseman, but he’s taken over the leftfield position this season. He’s always shown a high contact rate through the minors, but his combination of hitting for average and for power has earned him a spot in the middle of the lineup. He’s athletic enough to play a capable leftfield right now, and he seems to be improving with more reps. Right now, he probably has the inside track for the job.
- Travis Jankowski has missed most of the season after breaking a bone in his right foot. His premium defense and game-changing speed were going to be a big part of the Padres’ plans this season, but he’s had to watch from the sidelines. His start was not a good one, as he struggled to hit for average or get on base, but a healthy return should put him back in the running for the starting role. Being a lefty hitter, he may make the roster as a platoon option for the right-handed Margot, Renfroe, and Pirela.
- Matt Szczur was signed off waivers from the Cubs after Jankowski’s injury. He’s performed admirably as a backup and occasional starter and is still a year away from entering arbitration. Both Jankowski and Szczur may make the roster as LF/4th OF options. Both can play all three outfield positions, and platoon splits may dictate some of the playing time splits.
Now take a look at the roster pieces above. The starters at nearly every position around the field are already in place. The team may choose to move someone or acquire someone, but if they stand pat with this group, that’s a solid start.
The Question Marks
- Yangervis Solarte has been a leader on and off the field for the last two years, and he has plenty of experience at both second and third base. With the emergence of Spangenberg and Asuaje, his role has diminished, and his team-friendly contract has made him the subject of trade rumors. At 30 years of age, the likeliness that he’s on the next contending Padres team seem slim.
- Allen Cordoba started the season surprisingly hot, but has cooled off dramatically as the season as worn on. The Rule 5 draftee has played in more games than he ever has as a professional, so it’s reasonable that some fatigue may be setting in. He has shown growth at shortstop and after a fall assignment could be a viable candidate for the starting gig next spring. He might also get a look in leftfield, and he’s proven versatile enough to fill in at third or second base. His bat has shown an impressive ceiling, but he might get optioned to the minors where he can get a daily starter’s share of playing time.
- Ryan Schimpf had a chance to show that last year’s statistically anomalous year could be sustainable, as he was given plenty of playing time at third base to start the season. His bat went cold and he stopped walking as his strikeout rate became unbearable. A demotion to AAA hasn’t unlocked the magic, and at this point he’s fighting for his professional future. Still, there’s a chance that a resurgence could bring him back up to the big league team.
- Luis Urias has risen up through the minors, and all he does is continue to hit. He seems to profile best as a second baseman, although he’s getting extended reps at shortstop this year in AA. It’s unlikely that he’d come up before September roster expansion, but an impressive spring training combined with some injuries or roster moves could open an opportunity.
- Jose Rondon has had a few tastes of the big league, and the consensus is that he has the ability to handle an MLB shortstop’s job with aplomb. The question is his bat. As an internal option already on the 40-man roster, he may make the roster as a backup infielder or even the starting shortstop if he has a strong offseason and spring.
- Javier Guerra is also on the 40-man, and the word is that he has the skills to be an elite defensive shortstop. His problems are consistency on defense and discipline at the plate, both of which seem to be related to focus and emotional discipline. Right now it’s questionable if he’ll ever develop into an MLB hitter, but he’s about to turn 22, so it’s way to early to give up on a talented kid with his kind of tool set.
- Franchy Cordero impressed everyone during his brief time in the majors this year. The converted shortstop played an excellent centerfield, taking clean routes and showing some impressive instincts. At the plate, he has plenty of speed, developing power, and can make contact with any pitch in any location. After returning to AAA, he’s become a monster at the plate, showing that he still has room to improve as a hitter. He’s behind Margot, Jankowski, and Szczur on the depth chart, but we all know how quickly these kinds of things can change.
- Jabari Blash showed us a much improved approach at the plate during his most recent call-up, as he was more aggressive and started to hit for an acceptable average. His discerning eye and mammoth power are indisputable, but his lack of defensive skills and “three true outcome” profile at the plate limit his viability at the game’s top level.
- Alex Dickerson has missed all of the 2017 season with back issues, and has undergone surgery for a herniated disk. A return to health seems less and less likely as time goes by, but the powerful lefty’s bat sure would be nice in the middle of the Padres’ lineup.
Each offseason brings a flurry of roster moves. From trades to free agents to surprise minor leaguer call-ups, we all know that the Padres roster should change quite a bit between now and April. The nice thing about the team on the field right now is that most of the faces around the field should be a part of the organization’s future. It’s inspiring to see a group of guys learning to compete as a team right now, and encouraging to think that they can build on this year’s struggles to form a successful unit in the coming years.