With the arrival of Spring Training comes the promise of a new season and fresh starts for all 30 Major League Baseball teams. With the arrival of warmer weather (which is already here, anyway) comes the prognostications and chatter between fans regarding players, lineups, management decisions, uniform debates...
With many clubs aspiring for bids into the postseason, what questions and stories are revolving around the Padres clubhouse which for all intents and purposes is a club waiting for the future?
Who is Wil Myers?
Much of the offseason has been spent pondering the future of first base for the Padres thanks to the multitude of rumors regarding a certain free agent. The debate gone ad nauseam stems mainly from Wil Myers’ performance (or lack thereof) last year. Compared to a 2016 All-Star campaign that showed some of the fabled promise Myers has been linked to since his MLB debut 2017 came off as a “more of the same, not great” season.
Myers saw a dip in production at the plate (109 wRC+, which ranked average among 1B) despite launching 30 home runs in a season where everyone was mashing. Some have also labeled Myers as having a lackadaisical defensive approach, going from a positive (8.0, or eight runs better defensively than average) to a negative (-7.7) UZR rating from 2016 to 2017. Myers himself admitted to needing a mental adjustment and has taken the steps to address his focus.
Even though Wil has been projected to do more of the same this year, others have pegged him for a breakout as he enters his age 27 season. Which Wil Myers will we get this season?
Will Brad Hand be traded?
A question that still lingers from last season resides in the team’s current closer. Will Brad Hand be moved this season for prospects?
Many suspected the left-handed reliever was on the move last season after an All-Star appearance. The trade deadline came and went with Hand still in a Padres uniform, so this offseason the team inked the reliever to a three-year extension considered extremely team-friendly. The extension also makes Hand more valuable on the trade market since he would be locked up for any prospective team until 2020, also the year fans have predicted the Padres to be in full contention mode.
The Padres will have a good problem on their hands should Brad continue to excel as the closer for the 2018 squad.
Will Hunter Renfroe adjust to MLB?
By all appearances Hunter Renfroe had Rookie of the Year promise going into the 2017 season. A small taste of Renfroe’s power was on full display in his September 2016 call-up where he sent a baseball to the roof of the Western Metal Supply Co. building.
His 2017 campaign showed the power was real (26 home runs, a Padres rookie record) but everything else needed serious work. Hunter struggled with strikeouts (striking out in 29% of your at-bats is never good) and generally hitting anything that wasn’t a home run (.231 batting average). Renfroe also struggled in taking a free base with just a 6% walk rate (27 walks in 445 at-bats?!).
Though Hunter possesses a live arm in right field, his defense also left a lot to be desired. Capable of throwing over 100 mph on an assist (one throw came in at 101.6 mph last season), Renfroe will need to work on locating his throws and performing better overall in right field. His below average -5.7 UZR rating was second to last among all qualified right fielders in 2017.
After a demotion to AAA El Paso showed that Hunter had nothing more to prove in the minors, it will be up to him to make the adjustment to the major league game. Hunter goes into Spring Training 2018 as the prospective right fielder though will be pushed by teammates such as Franchy Cordero, Alex Dickerson, Travis Jankowski, and Jose Pirela.
Is Jose Pirela for real?
Speaking of Pirela, the once-2B-now-outfielder put together a surprising 2017 season after being called up from AAA. In 83 games Pirela lead the Padres in WAR (2.1) and batting average (.288) among other stats. Andy Green even declared Jose to be first for consideration as the starter in left field, stating “he’s definitely at the front of the line.”
Plenty of fans (check Twitter) are bearish on Pirela maintaining his success going into 2018 and expect the Venezuelan to fall back in the depth chart behind aforementioned names such as Franchy Cordero, Alex Dickerson, et al.. Keep an eye on left field this Spring Training to see if Pirela keeps hitting his way into the Padres’ future plans.
Which minor league player will debut first?
Those future plans are looking very bright for the Padres, who are considered to have one of the strongest farm systems in MLB after very strong prospect showings in multiple top prospect ranking lists. One of the players ranked on those lists will be seen this Spring Training and could play his way into the main roster this year.
Luis Urias is among one of a few names thrown into consideration for a call-up prior to September. A native of Sonora, Mexico, the 2nd baseman and erstwhile shortstop has continued to light up the minor leagues with his consistent hitting and mature approach at the plate. The 20-year-old may earn himself a shot with the Padres should his bat stay consistently hot in the minors though some have knocked the 2nd baseman for his lack of power and defense projecting as average in the big leagues. Urias will be featured in Spring Training alongside future double play partner Fernando Tatis, Jr., who despite a phenomenal rise in the Padres prospect rankings is probably a year or two away from making the main roster.
Another player pegged for a call-up is Joey Lucchesi. The crafty left-hander boasts a interesting mix of pitches with growing velocity. His ability to mess with hitters’ timing thanks to a elongated delivery and a penchant for keeping the ball low in the zone has led Joey to stellar numbers while in San Antonio (1.79 ERA in 60.1 AA innings). Expect Lucchesi (lew-kay-see) to be on the short list for a call-up should his performance in Spring Training and in the minors continue to impress.
What storyline will you follow through Spring Training into Opening Day? Are there any other Padres stories that interest you?