The Padres have played their first ten games of Spring Training, and while it’s way too early to get excited about results, there are plenty of impressions being made all over the field.
The Padres are in contention for a pennant (albeit a meaningless one)
- After losing their first three games of the spring, the Padres have now won six of their last eight, losing only to the A’s in a split squad game yesterday, and notching a rare tie game against the Rangers. Tie games are a fun rarity of spring training, as the teams can agree to end the game at the end of regulation, and usually the managers care more about the health and performance of the players than the results on the scoreboard. Spring training standings do qualify for a meaningless title, and the Padres are in the hunt.
The new guys are really interesting
- Newcomer Eric Hosmer has made his debut and is already drawing praise for the factors that contributed to his “prestige value”. The coaches and players already see him as a leader, and he sees an organization that’s positioned similarly to his former Royals franchise when he entered the league. So far he’s 4-for-13 with a homer of the opposite field variety.
- Freddy Galvis has come into camp looking like both a stud shortstop and a veteran leader. He’s said all the right things and has taken guys like Fernando Tatis Jr and Luis Urias under his wing to share his knowledge of the middle infield. At the plate he’s 4-for-10 with a double and three walks against only two strikeouts. The glove is his calling card for sure, but he’s shown an improved approach at the plate so far.
- Japanese submariner Kazuhisa Makita works fast and pitches to weak contact, which should play well in front of a much improved defense. Andy Green is intentionally holding him out of games against division rivals to keep his unorthodox delivery and repertoire as much of a surprise as he can. When a guy’s lobbing slow pitches with whiffle-ball movement that start from the mound’s dirt, it’s a shock after facing 90mph gas over and over.
- Bryan Mitchell has made two starts and has only given up two hits in that time. The command hasn’t been ideal, but it’s still early. All indications are that he’ll be given a long leash as he gets comfortable in the Padres rotation.
- Chase Headley has adopted his veteran role quickly, and he’s looking like the guy we remember from way back when by drawing his share of walks and making the textbook plays at third base. The question here is what happens if Christian Villanueva continues to look like a stud. (more on this topic below)
The returning players are looking good
- Austin Hedges is showing some impressive power, currently tied for second place among all players in home runs. Some simplified mechanics and plenty of off-season work with coach Johnny Washington are being credited for improved pitch recognition and timing. The homers are the loudest result of this work, but he’s logged some quality at-bats, drawing three walks that manager Andy Green likes to see even more than the bombs.
- Wil Myers reportedly put on twenty pounds of muscle this offseason while having plenty of time to prepare for a shift back to the outfield. All five of his appearances so far have been in the outfield, and he’s already looking quite comfortable out there. It’s nice to see him launching bombs to the opposite field too.
- Manuel Margot has quietly picked up where he left off last season, working quality at-bats and looking like a Gold Glove centerfielder.
Some fascinating position player battles are shaping up
- Franchy Cordero and Hunter Renfroe and Jose Pirela: with Wil Myers slated to man one corner of the outfield and Manuel Margot entrenched as the team’s starting centerfielder, there’s a healthy competition in the outfield. Jose Pirela was assumed to have the inside track on the leftfield job before Wil Myers came into the mix, and he has hit the ground running with a .375/.476/.500 triple-slash. He’s showing the results from work to improve his outfield defense this offseason. Franchy Cordero has wowed everyone with his .421/.522/.947 line, which doesn’t include a couple of way-too-easy triples in split-squad games. Hunter Renfroe got off to a slow start, but he hit a single and a homer off right-handed pitching on Saturday, and he needs to show that he can hit righties to avoid starting the season in El Paso. Alex Dickerson has been held back with more injuries, and Travis Jankowski needs to get some hits to go along with all the walks. Don’t forget about Matt Szczur, who occupies a 40-man roster spot with no minor league options but has yet to make an appearance in a spring training game.
- Carlos Asuaje and Cory Spangenberg came in to spring looking like a two-man fight for the job at second base, but Luis Urias has entered the ring, and all bets are off. Urias leads all of spring training in doubles, with five in only 13 at-bats, and he’s flashed some tantalizing leather in the field. Asuaje has hit well, including two impressive triples. Spangenberg finally shed his cold start with a homer yesterday. Jose Pirela has seen time at second base, and he may get an extended look to get his bat in play with a crowded outfield. But with roster status and service time set aside, Luis Urias has clearly been the best second baseman in the Padres’ camp this spring.
- While Freddy Galvis may repeat his ironman performance from last year (he played in all 162 games), the team still needs a backup at shortstop. Enter Christian Villanueva. The third baseman was a shortstop when he was signed by the Rangers as an international free agent in 2009 out of Mexico, and now he’s getting some reps there in practice as he’s being considered for the backup job. Chase Headley will start at third base, but Villanueva is out of minor league options and he brought his bat with him to Peoria, as he’s knocked in ten runs while hitting .450/.542/.950. Always considered a glove-first prospect, Villanueva broke out last year and continued to succeed in his brief time with the MLB team late in the season. He can play 2B and 1B as well, but if he can demonstrate that he can handle the role while giving Galvis a late-game breather, the team will find room for him on the roster.
- The backup catcher role appeared to be penciled in for AJ Ellis after he was signed to a minor league contract, but Raffy Lopez is making a strong argument for the job with his bat. The switch-hitting catcher had a breakout season in 2017 after some personal tragedies changed his perspective on the game and on life in general.
The kids are alright
- MLB Pipeline has ranked the Padres’ system as the best in all of baseball. The Padres have amassed a breadth and depth of talented young players that make people say awesome things like “hot talent lava” into microphones. Seven Padre prospects are listed on the site’s Top 100, and six of them are in the top 50 of that list. The cream of the crop are still a ways away from MLB service time, so this evaluation should stick around for a while as the kids in the minors continue to develop.
- Fernando Tatis Jr is the youngest player in any major league camp this spring, and he’s drawing plenty of attention with his play on the field. He’s shown off his power with an opposite field home run and three laser-beam doubles, and he’s shown his speed with three stolen bases. On defense, he’s looked MLB-ready at both shortstop and third base. It’s easy to forget that the 6’4” athlete is hardly 19 years old. He looks and plays like a grown-ass man.
- Luis Urias and first baseman Josh Naylor feel like they’ve been in the organization for a while, but both are only 20 years old. Plenty of other Padres prospects who can’t legally buy a beer have been brought up to play in games so far, including: Esteury Ruiz (19, 2B), Luis Almanzar (18, SS), Gabriel Arias (18, SS), Mason House (OF, 19), Justin Lopez (17, 2B), Tirso Ornelas (17, OF), Hudson Potts (19, 3B), Jeisson Rosario (18, OF), and Jack Suwinski (19, OF). Honorable mentions to Buddy Reed (22, OF), Nate Easley (22, OF) and Brad Zunica (22, 1B), all of whom can legally buy a beer but still are part of an exciting group of kids who have had a chance to shine this spring.
- Eric Hosmer, whose agent Scott Boras coined the now-legendary “hot talent lava” phrase, had shirts made for the players to wear around the camp to commemorate the poetic metaphor. If anyone knows how to get a hold of one of those shirts, please let me know!
- Colin Rea’s bid for the opening day rotation appears to be over. His recovery from Tommy John surgery seemed to be on track, but he was recently shut down due to shoulder soreness after pitching two innings in a “B” squad game. It’s a cautionary move, but with the depth that the Padres currently have in the rotation competition, there’s no reason to rush Rea.
- Skip Schumaker is hardly two years removed from playing spring training games for the Padres, but he’s the team’s new first base coach. Dennis Lin of The Athletic interviewed him. He has some thoughts on how to make the team better on the basepaths, and he thinks that the outfield has a chance to be the best in all of baseball.