General - The Padres usually do not make much of a splash in the hot stove league. Limited resources and a small market encourages low salary structure, restricting them from signing or acquiring high profile players. Not this year. A.J. Preller came on and swooped up three new outfielders in Wil Myers, Matt Kemp and Justin Upton. The defense these outfielders provide will not help the Padres climb from their last place finish in fielding percentage last year, but they should make up for the runs they give up with their gloves with a bucket full of runs with their offensive output. Still on the Padres roster are outfielders Will Venable, Carlos Quentin and Cameron Maybin. That is six outfielders for three positions, though the talk is they may move Quentin to some first. They also revamped themselves up at catcher and signed an ace in James Shields. Those moves are certainly not what Padre fans are used to seeing. Last year the Padres finished last in hitting, runs scored and homeruns. The big stadium had a lot to do with the popgun offense. On the plus side the Padres were second in ERA and second in opposition average. Just as the stadium restricted the Padres offensive numbers, they also enhanced the team’s defensive numbers. With all that activity the Padre fans may feel anything less than a playoff appearance is not acceptable.
2015 Key Additions - Lots of them. They revamped their outfield with the acquisition of Justin Upton, Wil Myers and Matt Kemp. This outfield has the potential to hit 90-100 homeruns, depending on what the park will yield. The Padres helped their bullpen with the acquisition of Brandon Maurer, who is not to be confused with Brandon Morrow, trading one of their excess outfielders. Shawn Kelly was another player acquired to help their bullpen, acquired from the Yankees. Will Middlebrooks was acquired from the Red Sox to fill their third base slot. To add to their depth in the starting rotation the Padres signed the disappointing Brandon Morrow. Injuries have derailed his career to this point. They also signed James Shields to a big contract to give themselves an ace in the rotation. Catching was improved by acquiring Tim Federowicz in the Kemp deal with the Dodgers and on the same day the Padres acquired Derek Norris from the Athletics. With the departure of Evereth Cabrera the Padres signed Clint Barmes for shortstop depth, not putting all their faith behind Alexi Amarista. They changed players at virtually every position but first and second base.
Catchers - Gone are Yasmani Grandal and Rene Rivera, who combined for 26 homeruns last year. The Padres will make due with Derek Norris, who struggles on defense, but draws walks with a .361 OBA. Norris also had 11 less passed balls than the duo of Rivera and Grandal in fifty plus less games, but lacks the arm to stop a running game. Tim Federowicz was acquired to be a backup to Norris. He is a solid defensive player, but last year provided little offense (.113) in 23 games. Wil Nieves was signed to a minor league contract to provides insurance if Federowicz struggles. Nieves is another defensive catcher who will not provide any kind of meat to the offense. His career has revolved around being a backup catcher.
First Base - Yonder Alonso needs to turn on the juice to hit more homeruns if he expects to stay at this position. Last year he slugged only .397 with seven homeruns, but he was restricted to just 84 games because of injuries. With a surplus of outfielders, and a plethora of injuries, the Padres may be inclined to move Carlos Quentin to first base. Last year he was restricted to 50 games, hitting only .177. He is a much better hitter than that. Alonso tends to struggle against lefthanders so this could end up being a platoon. A final player to compete for the position is Tommy Medica, who was able to carry the ball over the spacious park nine times. Tommy can also play left field, but the outfield is crowded as it is now. His biggest area to learn is patience, with a 14/75 walk to whiff ratio a bit on the high side.
Second Base - The Padres hope to get a better year from Jedd Gyorko. He is one of the few returning position players Padre fans will recognize on the roster. Last year was a year he wishes to forget, hitting only .210 with 10 homeruns. Those numbers fall far short of his 2013 figures when he hit .249 with 23 homeruns. If he continues to struggle the Padres may call on youngster Cory Spangenberg, who hit .290 in a sixty plus major league at bat. Cory lacks power but he was able to torch AA pitchers for a .331 average. Yangervis Solarte was a late season acquisition from the Yankees last year and played a few games at second base. His primary position is third base. After a hot start Solarte cooled off with the bat, hitting only .267 with the Padres. His tools are better utilized in a utility role, where he can even play shortstop for short spurts.
Third Base - Wil Middlebrooks was supposed to be the answer for the Red Sox at this position. It was one of the reasons they traded Kevin Youkillus to the Yankees. He hit only .191 last year, losing the third base spot to Xander Bogaerts after the Red Sox acquired Stephen Drew. Yangervis Solarte can retake the position if Middlebrooks continues his struggles. He lacks the power for the position, but plays a solid defense.
Shortstop - Alexi Amarista held his own at this position on defense after Evereth Cabrera experienced legal and drug problems. Alexi only hit .239 with a .286 OBA, but he provided a glue at shortstop, committing only 6 errors, half the amount contributed by Cabrera. Alexi battled against lefthanders so expect Clint Barmes to see time here versus the southpaws. Barmes is better noted for his glove and not his bat. With the Pirates he hit .245 with a .294 slugging average.
Left Field - It seems no matter where Justin Upton plays he is always considered a disappointment. That may never change until he leads a team to a World Series. Last year he hit .270 with 29 homeruns and 102 RBIs. Braves fans focused more on his 171 whiffs. At 27 years of age he is just hitting his prime so he should only get better. The spacious Petco Park may bring down his numbers, but he is still a force on offense. Carlos Quentin played left field last year for the Padres when he was healthy. The problem is he has rarely been healthy. He may see more time at first this year since Upton is capable of playing 150 plus games. Discount the .177 average Quentin hit for last year. He is a much better hitter than that. Returning players Will Venable and Cameron Maybin are also options to play here.
Centerfield - Their best defensive centerfielders are Cameron Maybin and Will Venable. The Padres did not trade for Wil Myers to sit him on the bench. He played some centerfield when he was in the minors with the Royals. He does not have the greatest range, but the Padres hope his bat makes up for his lack of defense. Last year he missed out on the second half of the season, but the first half did not have a lot to feel confident about. Myers only hit .222 with a .320 slugging. He will not be playing centerfield in 2015 putting up numbers like that. Cameron Maybin is another player who has had health issues the last couple years. He had superstar potential when drafted first by the Tigers a number of years ago, and was the principal player when the Marlins traded Miguel Cabrera to the Tigers. Now he will be limited to defensive replacement, occasional starter. Last year he had a soft bat, hitting just .235 with a .621 OPS. Will Venable may get a lot of playing time because he is the only lefthanded bat in the outfield. He played a lot of centerfield last year after the Maybin injury, but failed to replicate what was thought to be a breakout year in 2013. At 33 years of age it is hard to see Venable having that breakout career. He is what he is, a fourth outfielder who fails to consistently use his five tools to be an impact player.
Right Field - Matt Kemp will see time in right field. Last year he finished the season on a hit streak to finish with impressive numbers (.287, 25, 89) with a .852 OPS. His bat carried the Dodgers into the playoffs. With the disclosure of arthritic hips the Padres may feel a need to rest him to keep him fresh. Will Venable might be the first player off the bench to spell him in right, but Cameron Maybin and Carlos Quentin are also options. The challenge for Bud Black is to get all six outfielders fresh for the season by giving them consistent at bats. Rymer Liriano may have to spend most of his time in AAA this year. He did not shine when called up (.220 average, .555 OPS) last year and the Padres would prefer he get at bats in AAA than ride the bench in the major leagues as a fourth outfielder.
Starting Pitcher - James “Big Game” Shields got the Royals to the playoffs during the regular season (14-8, 3.21) but struggled to win games once the playoffs began. The Padres signed him to be their ace to get them to the playoffs. Anything that happens after that is gravy. Andrew Cashner has the stuff to be an ace. He needs to stay healthy for a full year to live up to that moniker. Last year he only got 19 starts but a 2.55 ERA confirmed his potential for ace hype. He also only walked a little over two batters per nine innings. Ian Kennedy won 20 games with the Diamondbacks a few years ago. He’s fallen far short of that in the last four years, but he can eat up innings (201). He led the Padres in innings pitched and still struck out a hitter per inning. Tyson Ross fell four innings short of 200. He also struck out a batter per inning and limited the opposition to a .230 average. At 28 years old he is entering his better years. Orlando Despaigne pitched well enough to win the fifth spot (3.36 ERA). He is one of many Cuban defectors sprinkling the major league landscape. Not a lot of pitchers have the stuff of Brandon Morrow. The problem has been his ability to stay healthy. To keep his arm fresh he may be best used out of the bullpen. Robbie Erlin is a pitcher that gave the Padres 11 starts, but they were not effective starts (4.99 ERA). The opposition hit him at a .293 clip. Matt Wisler had a poor ERA in AAA last year (5.01 ERA) but those numbers will be better when pitching in the coastal plains of Petco Park rather than the high altitude of El Paso. Josh Johnson had Tommy John surgery and will not be available until mid-season. The Padres may have to make some critical choices if he is ready to be used in the rotation. He didn’t pitch last year but in 2013 with Toronto he was 2-8, 6.20 ERA).
Closer - The Padres traded their closer from last year Huston Street in the middle of the season. Joaquin Benoit took over the reigns and saved 11 games with a 1.49 ERA. He limited the opposition to a .151 average and struck out 10.6 hitters per nine innings. Benoit has been given closer roles in the past (Tigers) and failed to produce.
Other relievers - Kevin Quackenbush picked up six saves for the Padres AAA team last year. He also picked up six saves with the Padres last year and will be the alternate closer if Benoit should struggle. In a setup role he limited the opposition to a .212 average, striking out a batter per inning. Dale Thayer, Alex Torres and Nick Vincent all had 60 plus appearances last year. Alex throws from the left side but walks 5.5 batters per nine innings. He also has better success retiring righthanded bats (.209) than lefties (.256). Thayer and Vincent have better control, but Vincent has an issue retiring the lefthanded hitters (.274). Shawn Kelly was acquired from the Yankees to fill a bullpen spot. He struck out over 11 hitters per nine innings. Brandon Maurer was acquired from the Mariners to add depth to the Padre bullpen. Neither of these two traded pitchers had ERAs under 4. That gives seven pitchers in the pen, eight if you count Morrow if he fails to make the rotation. That does not leave a lot for others to find a role.
Top 2015 Rookies - If Austin Hedges finds a modicum of offense he could find himself leading this Padres staff from behind the plate. The premium defensive catcher in the minor leagues must still be able to hit to be a starter in the major leagues. There is a lot of depth in the Padres rotation but Matt Wisler is the most ready of any Padre minor league starting pitcher. Rymer Liriano could have competed for a starting job in 2015 if the Padres had not traded for three former All Stars. Last year he hit 14 homeruns in AA. The Padres will have him improve his craft in AAA this year with a mid-season call up still a possibility. Injuries have prevented Casey Kelly from solidifying a spot in the rotation. Last year he was limited to four minor league rehab starts. The Padres will give him a long rehab look in the minor leagues. Second base is an open spot Cory Spangenberg can win if Jedd Gyorko continues his struggles. Cory does not have the power of Jedd but his defense and bat can be more consistent.
2015 Finish - Normally when you have a large park you build a team with players who have speed and play good defense. They tend to be more contact oriented when at the plate. The Padres were last in the National League in defense last year and did not add any players to significantly improve that. Because we like what they did we will pick them for one of the two National League wild card spots. One thing they seem to have after the signing of James Shields is depth at pitching. Let’s hope the below par defense does not cancel that out.