If one were to label the 2018 season for the San Diego Padres, what metaphor would one use? Maybe more apt than any is the “volcano of hot talent lava” line uttered by none other than Scott Boras during the press conference of Eric Hosmer. The Padres have embraced the line just as Padres Twitter™ has by printing shirts for the team with the now eponymous phrase. Flashes of talent have already been on display during Spring Training, giving many of the friar faithful a taste of the heat coming through the system.
Continuing with the volcano metaphor, the 2018 season for the Padres looks like a few tremors close to the mountainside; enough to startle the nearby inhabitants and start speculation for an eruption. By all means a developmental season, the Padres will look to field a surprisingly competitive team that will most likely be hampered by the starting rotation and growing pains more than anything else.
Speaking of the team, how will the Padres do in 2018? As with all things, that depends on who you ask. Some fans are optimistically pushing for the team to possibly compete for a wildcard appearance should a few of their NL West counterparts falter. Some predict another flat season with enough wins to keep the team out of prime draft pick range. Some are asking for another rendition of Team Tank.
The Padres should look to be somewhat competitive in the NL West but will more than likely sit close to or near the cellar for another year thanks to a patchwork rotation and some question marks along the batting order. What is obvious to fans, however, is that this is all according to plan: the aforementioned eruption is coming soon.
Looking at the starting rotation yields an Opening Day starter in veteran Clayton Richard, still-developing Dinelson Lamet, an import/project from the Yankees in Brian Mitchell, and a hodepodge of back-end starters still in competition for a rotation spot in Spring Training.
Clayton Richard has been nothing but serviceable for the Padres since re-signing with the team in 2016. 2017 saw Richard make a return to starting duties where he did exactly what the team needed: eat innings (197 1/3) and take the ball every 5th day. While prone to being hit (allowed a major league best 240 hits) and the longball, Richard was signed to an extension through 2019 and will serve primarily as a placeholder until the talent from the minors begins to emerge in the coming seasons. As previously predicted/mentioned Clayton will be the Padres Opening Day starting pitcher.
Dinelson Lamet will be the Padres pitcher to watch this season as many prognosticators have pegged the 25-year-old to have a breakout season. While still developing a third pitch outside of his fastball and wipeout slider, Lamet is a strikeout machine that could play as an important part of the Padres future either in the rotation or in the bullpen.
Part of the return for Jabari Blash, Bryan Mitchell has been given a chance at the starting rotation for the Padres after doing both starting and bullpen work for the Yankees that yielded mixed results. The biggest takeaway on Mitchell is his stuff vs. his control: he has a starter’s mix of pitches yet struggles to control those in the strike zone. Bryan will be given a very long look in the starter’s role this season.
Competing for the back end of the rotation are various names with varying talent pedigrees. Luis Perdomo is a still-developing 2015 Rule 5 pick that has shown the ability to pick up grounders better than teammate Clayton Richard but struggles to go deep into games. Tyson Ross has been getting rave reviews in Spring Training but will have to prove he can stick in a starting rotation again after thoracic outlet surgery. Chris Young has returned to the Padres and has done relatively well in his auditions for the rotation. Matt Strahm has been described as having electric stuff but will need to rebuild his conditioning before making the starting 5 after missing part of last year with a torn patellar tendon. Throw in Robbie Erlin as well and you can see the Padres are far from having a defined lights-out rotation.
Despite all the flux in the starting rotation, the Padres will go into the season with a very strong bullpen unit that looks to get even stronger with the early returns from Spring Training.
Brad Hand will remain closer until traded. Fellow waiver-wire pickup Kirby Yates found success in San Diego. Craig Stammen has also had a career renaissance with the Padres and has found a niche role in getting out of severe jams. Phil Maton is a still-developing pitcher with remarkable spin rate. Kazuhisa Makita will give batters a completely different look entirely with his submarine delivery and mid-50s off-speed stuff. Along with other relievers such as Buddy Baumann, Kyle McGrath, and Colten Brewer, the Padres have tons of bullpen talent in the wings. Names such as Trey Wingenter, Brad Wieck, Adam Cimber, and T.J. Weir are waiting in the minors for a call-up should some assets be moved.
While the starting rotation is a work in progress, the bullpen should keep the team close or ahead in games.
Catcher - New-and-improved Austin Hedges will get the majority share of time as the backstop. Hedges’ defense has never been in question; he’s an elite defender. The biggest turnaround of Spring Training so far has been Austin’s bat. He’ll look to carry that success over to the regular season. Raffy Lopez seems to have the edge in ST to back up Hedges thanks to being a left-handed bat though AJ Ellis would also be a prudent pick thanks to his veteran presence.
First Base - Eric Hosmer. You’ve heard everything about him by now, right?
Second Base - One of the more intriguing positions for the Padres so far in Spring Training. Carlos Asuaje and Cory Spangenberg have been competing all spring for the spot and either player will still be spelled occasionally by Jose Pirela. Of intrigue is the performance of Luis Urias in Spring Training. Should Urias keep up his hitting the Padres will be hard-pressed not to give the young Sonoran a look at the big league level and force a move of either Asuaje or Spangenberg.
Third Base - Chase Headley will return to duties at third for the Padres. Christian Villanueva has been performing immensely during Spring Training and could see starts at the hot corner as well. Cory Spangenberg will serve as the third option.
Shortstop - The Padres finally stopped the trend of retreads at short and traded for Freddy Galvis, securing the position for the season until Fernando Tatis, Jr. is ready next possibly as soon as next year. Christian Villanueva has been proposed as backup though you should realistically expect to see either Cory Spangenberg or Carlos Asuaje if Galvis needs a day or two off.
Left Field - Probably the position left most in contention this season thanks to the ripple effect of Eric Hosmer joining the team. Competing for the spot is Hunter Renfroe, Jose Pirela, Travis Jankowski, Franchy Cordero, and various others
such as oft-injured Alex Dickerson (Alex will likely start the season on the DL). The popular idea going around is a possible Renfroe-Cordero platoon. Expect left field to be a revolving door throughout the season with Travis Jankowski and Matt Szczur as the backups.
Center Field - Manuel Margot has center field duties locked in after a great rookie season. He’ll be backed up by either Franchy Cordero or Travis Jankowski with cameo appearances by Matt Szczur.
Right Field - For all intents and purposes right field now belongs to Wil Myers. Myers has had the most experience in right field so far in his professional career and has made his reps there during Spring Training. Up next behind him is previous RF Hunter Renfroe then everyone else.
What will we get from this group of players in 2018? Early action in Spring Training has proven positive with lots of offense, though one should always be wary of Spring Training performances. Plenty of positions will be left to shake out over the course of the regular season and Padres fans will be left with these questions for the season:
What will happen in the outfield? Will Wil Myers be capable of manning the outfield and regaining some of his sheen as an All-Star? Will Hunter Renfroe learn to hit righties and be more than just a platoon player? Will Franchy Cordero bring the excitement he’s generated in spring and cut back on his massive strikeout rate? Is Eric Hosmer a now-consistent player or will he continue his yo-yo career? Can Freddy Galvis provide more than just defense at short? When will we see Luis Urias? Fernando Tatis, Jr.?
I’ll conservatively project the Padres at fourth in the division, scraping 70 wins. The Giants will remain in the cellar after their “trade for old guys” initiative falls through.
The hot talent lava should be beginning to erupt out of the proverbial volcano in 2019.
After a promising 2018 campaign with an exciting September round of call-ups, the 2019 roster should have some fresh faces. Luis Urias will have earned a spot at 2nd base and Fernando Tatis, Jr. will be in line to join the team in April. The pitching staff could sport names such as Joey Lucchessi, Cal Quantrill, Eric Laurer, and Matt Strahm. Anderson Espinoza will battle for the top prospect spot in the Padres system alongside Mackenzie Gore. The Padres will enjoy more accolades as a top farm system in MLB and the team will begin to take steps forward towards contention.
The hardest part of all the talent swelling to the top will be management of the 40-man roster (and eventually the 25-man). Which players will be exposed to the Rule 5 draft? Which major league players will be designated for assignment? Who will be traded?
Let’s say 80 wins in 2019, maybe?
The Padres were slated to come into the season relatively light on the contract side until the Eric Hosmer signing and Chase Headley trade.
Eric Hosmer signed the richest contract in Padres franchise history at 5 years, $105 million with an option for Hosmer to stay 3 more years and collect $13 million per year. While the signing was seen as much better than what was projected in talks (8 years, $160 million!?) it has been considered a sign that San Diego will not participate in next year’s free agent sweepstakes featuring such names as Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Josh Donaldson, Clayton Kershaw, and others. Pulling in any of next year’s crop would be both an absolute coup and financial shackle; expect the Padres to allow their farm system to mature and then possibly look into mid-market free agents to supplement holes in the roster.
Of further note is the contract of Wil Myers: this year and next will represent the last segments of Myers’ “cheap” portion of his contract. Beginning in 2020 Myers will collect $22.5 million, once again making him the richest-paid Padre on a per-year basis.
Past Padres still on the books are James Shields, whose $11 million to the White Sox this year is the last portion of that payment. The team is still on the hook for Hector Olivera’s payout for the next three years, this year’s payment coming in at $6.5 million. Jedd Gyorko is still getting Padre money for the next two seasons and will get $2.5 million from the team while playing for the Cardinals.
Barring any other signings the Padres will stay just below the $100 million threshold for the season according to Cot’s Contracts. Flexibility in payroll may start to become a concern in the coming years should San Diego begin to contend and need to sign free agents to compete in the postseason, though trading of the vaunted farm system could be in play much to the chagrin of many Padres fans.
Overall, the San Diego Padres appear to be a team very much in transition to something that could be tremendous given the amount of talent bubbling beneath the surface of the 2018 squad.
My prognosis for the team is good, but wait and see for big improvements next season. Don’t make too much of the on-field product this year. Instead, keep your eyes on Wil Myers and Eric Hosmer: their performances will either make the duo team cornerstones for the coming “eruption” or absolute liabilities on the bottom line with plenty of time on their contracts still to come. Every other position seems to have some fluidity to it thanks to the amount of talent on the roster and on the farm, especially when it comes to stockpiled pitching talent.
Care to make any predictions or forecasts on the 2018 season? Who do you think makes the major league roster first? Which question are you most looking forward to answering as the season goes on?