During Saturday’s FanFest, Wil Myers confirmed that the third base experiment is over. He’s preparing to be an everyday outfielder moving forward, with the possibility of playing a little third base as a backup option. While this news answers a question about Myers’ role on the roster, it places some emphasis on a couple of other issues that the team needs to address before Opening Day.
When he started taking grounders at third base, people took notice. The team has had a need at the hot corner for a while now, and the roster had a bunch of outfielders, so if he could learn the role and earn the full-time job, it would have solved two problems at the same time. After a couple of starts at third base in minor league rehab appearances, manager Andy Green handed the keys to third base over to Myers, and from August 13th on he was the team’s starting third baseman. Through 36 games he showed a few reasons for people to find hope in his prospects at the position, but it was clear that he lacked the proper fundamentals as evidenced by his propensity for back-handing ground balls and a sidearm-flip throwing motion that led to booted grounders and some difficult digs for his first baseman. There was still hope that he would put in work in the offseason and come into spring training looking more comfortable at the position. Instead, the team still has a big hole at third base and a big group of candidates for the MLB outfield corps.
The Outfield is Crowded
The 40-man roster currently features eight players who are listed as outfielders in Wil Myers, Manuel Margot, Hunter Renfroe, Travis Jankowski, Franmil Reyes, Franchy Cordero, Jose Pirela, and Edward Olivares. While it’s easy to look at all of those guys and conclude that there isn’t room for everyone, the situation isn’t that clearly defined. Each of those players have concerns ranging from injury to performance and beyond. Here’s a breakdown of each of those players and their situation with regard to the 2019 outfield job openings:
The Padres currently have only two players committed to long-term deals, so by salary alone, Myers is lined up to start in one of the two corners. After two healthy seasons in 2016 & 2017, Wil hit the disabled list early in 2018 with issues generally attributed to some added muscle from the offseason combined with a shift from first base to leftfield. While the injuries limited him to only 83 games and a subpar .253/.318/.446 line on the season, he appeared to be at his best in leftfield. In 30 starts as a leftfielder, he hit .276/.326/.569 which rates as 30% better than league average while providing surprisingly good defense. He has the speed and athleticism along with a strong arm to be an excellent defender in either corner. Perhaps the simpler defensive assignments of the outfield suit Wil, where he can focus more on his offense which is where his real value lies.
The team’s starting centerfielder for the foreseeable future is Manuel Margot. It’s easy to forget that he just turned 24, even though he’s already logged two full years of service time. Margot possesses all the tools of an elite defender and an offensive profile that rocketed him through the minors but has yet to bloom at the game’s highest level. A promising rookie campaign in 2017 was followed up by an apparent step backward in 2018 as his on-base and power numbers slumped and his baserunning became a liability. Even his defensive metrics regressed. But this is where we need to remind ourselves how young he is and that there are few evaluators around the league who see Margot as a potential bust. The centerfield job appears to belong to Margot until someone else takes it away from him.
A year ago, people were down on Hunter Renfroe. In his rookie season he hit 26 home runs to set the franchise record for rookies, but he hit only .231 with a .284 OBP and he appeared lost at times in the field. 2018 was a season of adjustments and improvements for Renfroe, albeit one limited by significant time missed to injury. Less than a month into the season, Renfroe went on the disabled list with elbow inflammation, and he would lose more than a month to the injury. By the time he came back, Franmil Reyes had been promoted, so Hunter found a new home in leftfield, a position he had only played sparingly before last year. Whether it was the change in scenery or finally getting comfortable with the speed of the MLB game, his defense improved significantly as he was getting better reads and taking better routes as well as making more accurate throws. At the plate, he showed enough improvement in his slash-line numbers to grade out as the team’s most productive player at the plate not named Franmil and his struggles against same-handed pitching seemed to disappear. Renfroe is now looking like an asset with plenty of room to improve, but the corner spots are crowded territory. Injuries and Wil Myers’ extended tryout at third base provided the flexibility needed to find playing time for Renfroe as well as Reyes, but with Myers occupying a corner full-time, there might not be enough playing time to go around.
By this point in Jankowski’s career, we know who he is. He can play all three outfield positions as well as anyone in the game, he’s a weapon on the base paths, and he’s good at getting on base, especially against right-handed pitching. What he’s not good at is hitting for power or for average with any consistency. That makes him an ideal fourth outfielder, which isn’t particularly valuable on the trade market but fills a key role over the course of a season. He has a minor league option season remaining, so the team could use that to give playing time to others on this list if needed.
The team’s best hitter in 2018, Franmil Reyes took the season by storm. He was left exposed in the Rule 5 draft last offseason and evaded selection due in part to a broken hamate bone during Fall League action that required surgery, but the massive Dominican healed quickly and was back on the field for spring training. A monstrous start to the season in El Paso along with injuries to both Myers and Renfroe forced the team’s hand and Franmil brought his talents to Petco Park. Possessing light-tower power and a gifted eye at the plate, Franmil successfully made adjustments throughout the season and finished with a stellar .280/.340/.498 line and 16 home runs. He was optioned a couple of times and each time he came back, he seemed to come back as a more balanced hitter. He saved his best for last, hitting .318/.385/.548 in the last two months of the season. When many Padres batters were Along the way he won over the hearts of Padre fans with his effervescent charm and enthusiasm that seemed to spread throughout the clubhouse. The challenge here is that he’s defensively limited to rightfield and he doesn’t project to ever be better than average with the glove. With fellow righty power hitters Myers and Renfroe on board, there aren’t enough at-bats to go around on paper. Unfortunately, his time in the Dominican Winter League was cut short by a knee injury requiring minor surgery, so the team could opt to start him on the disabled list and/or option him to El Paso to start the season, which would clear up the playing time jumble. That said, if Franmil starts crushing PCL pitching like he did last year (.346.442.738 before his callup, at one point hitting eight homers in five games), the team will once again find itself looking for room on the major league roster for this dangerous slugger.
One of the most electrifying athletes in all of baseball, Franchy Cordero possesses the power-speed combination that makes scouts drool. He has put those skills on display at the major league level, hitting one of the longest home runs of the 2018 season while also showing some of the fastest measured sprint speeds in the game. What he also possesses is a propensity for striking out and a lack of experience as an outfielder that can make him a liability on both sides of the plate at times. His ceiling is higher than all but a handful of players in the Padres organization, which has some people calling for him to supplant Manuel Margot in centerfield immediately, but there’s no need to be hasty here. The 36% K-rate he posted in 2018 is a little better than the 44% rate from 2017, but it was still worst among all Padres hitters with 150+ plate appearances and isn’t viable long-term. Combine the plate discipline work with his defensive misplays and it’s easy to justify assignment to AAA El Paso, where he can get his full share of near-MLB-quality pitching and defensive situations to continue to refine his rough spots. He missed most of the 2018 season with elbow issues that eventually led to surgery to remove a bone spur. He played in the Dominican Winter League but struggled to find the success that earned him the MVP award the year prior. Don’t be surprised to see him light it up in spring training, but the chances that he breaks camp with the team are slim. That said, if he demonstrates the right improvements in the first half of the season, he could compel the team to make a move to open a spot for him on the major league roster.
Apparently Heart and Hustle can earn an extra-long leash with the Padres, because Jose Pirela is still a part of this conversation. Through most of the 2018 season, Jose Pirela was getting more playing time than just about anybody while providing negative value on both sides of the ball. He’s not a good hitter for power or for average, and he doesn’t draw many walks. He’s not a good defender at second base, and with Luis Urias, Ian Kinsler, and Greg Garcia, projected for the 25-man roster he’s not an option there. He’s not a good defender in leftfield, and again with the guys listed a little higher on this page on the roster, he’s not an option out there either. Yet here we are in mid-January and Pirela is still on the 40-man roster with no minor league options. Good grief.
The Padres added Edward Olivares to the 40-man roster to protect him from last December’s Rule 5 draft. He’s toolsy and athletic, with power and speed that plays in the field as well as at the plate. He’s also quite raw, drawing mixed reviews at advanced single-A Lake Elsinore last year, so anything beyond an assignment to AA Amarillo is ambitious. It’s unlikely that he’ll see MLB action outside of a possible September “cup of coffee” but since he’s on the roster he deserves mention here.
I’m no clairvoyant, but it’s fun to take a stab at the team’s future moves. Wil Myers is coming off a down year with recent injuries to further cloud his trade value and a contract that’s about to blow up, so he’s a tough guy to trade. Hunter Renfroe and Franmil Reyes are both on the way up, so their value both to the organization and as trade targets are on the way up as well. It doesn’t make business sense to trade any of them right now. If I was a betting man, I’d wager than Franmil Reyes will start the season on the DL and he’ll head to El Paso with Francy Cordero. An opening day outfield of Myers-Margot-Renfroe just feels right, with Travis Jankowski backing them up. A wealth of depth is never a bad thing, and any of those guys will have more value as a mid-season trade target for a contender if they do what we hope they will do. So now that I’ve settled the outfield logjam, what about the “Hot Corner”?
As the roster stands right now, the most experienced third baseman available is Ty France, who has played 25 games above the AA level. Christian Villanueva and Cory Spangenberg are gone. Wil Myers isn’t an option there anymore, and please don’t suggest that Jose Pirela should get a look at third. It’s been clear since the season ended that the team wants to improve at third base from outside the organization. The folks over at MLBTradeRumors kicked around the Padres’ potential options at third base, referencing articles by Kevin Acee and AJ Cassavell, and they listed a bunch of players that have been connected to the Padres in one way or another this offseason. Mike Moustakas tends to get the most mentions, and it makes sense. He was a free agent this time last year, and he wound up going back to Kansas City on a very reasonable one-year deal, only to have a slightly disappointing year with both the bat (.251/.315/.459, 28 HR’s) and the glove, but it’s worth noting that he would have been a significant upgrade over the Padres’ team production at the position (.235/.301/.407). Moustakas is close friends with Eric Hosmer, and the two played in a charity softball fundraiser yesterday, so maybe they got to talking? Miguel Andujar of the Yankees is young and can rake, but there are questions regarding whether he’ll ever be even acceptable as a defender at third base, and Yankees will want a haul in return for him. Eugenio Suarez and Nick Senzel could be targets, but they’d cost a chunk of prospect wealth as well, and the Padres aren’t in a position where they should be mortgaging future assets to plug present gaps. David Bote has been mentioned, but he’s the Cubs third-stringer, so are the Padres really going to settle for another team’s leftovers again? The guy who makes the most sense from a baseball standpoint would cost a ton of money, but the Padres have been pulling in a ton of profit in recent years and the future payroll projects to have a bunch of flexibility. Maybe, just maybe, AJ Preller’s team might pull off a coup and go against Ron Fowler’s better sensibilities to bring Fernando Tatis Jr’s idol on board. He sure looks good in brown!