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The Upside of The San Diego Padres-Part Two

(Part Two of our look at the San Diego Padres focuses on their ML roster, and the prospects who could contribute for them in 2017.)

There are quite a few players on the ML roster who have given us an idea of what they can do, as well. Despite their record thus far, they have shown themselves to be an interesting group of ML talent in San Diego.

Behind the dish, the future belongs to Austin Hedges. He got off to an abysmal start, and even after going 10-33 over the past week his average is still .182, but Hedges has got the goods to stick. He had a three-game home run streak (Apr 20th-22nd) and racked up nine RBI in that week, as well. He needs to keep working on being selective at the plate, but that should come along with time. Hector Sanchez has been getting the stuffing beaten out of him, having spent time on the DL (concussion protocol) and then taken a few more shots off of foul tips since then. Luis Torrens was a Rule 5 pickup from the Yankees, going to the Reds back in December 2016, then heading to SD after Cincy traded him for IF Josh VanMeter. Torrens is very young, as he turns 21 on May 3rd, and has shown himself adept at handling the running game. He does need to improve on blocking in the dirt, but he’s got time on his side. Look for him to become an adept backup at the big-league level.

At first base, there is Wil Myers. What do I need to say about him that you don’t already know? I can tell you that he is easing into a “lead-by-example” role in that lineup, and should be making appearances in a lot more highlight clips in the future.

Yangervis Solarte has himself a bit of a hot streak, at the moment, having hit in seven straight (April 21st-27th) with three doubles, four runs scored and five RBI in that span. Solarte has seven multi-hit games so far in 2017, he’s driven in 16 runs and gone down on strikes only eleven times in 88 at-bats. He’s been a tough one to strike out since he made his ML debut in 2014, averaging one K per 7.9 AB. The 29-year-old infielder has spent the bulk of his time this year at second, but has historically been primarily a third baseman. While he is not known as a power hitter, he did hit 15 homers and 26 doubles in only 109 games in 2016, so 20+ homers in a batting order on the upswing is not out of the question.

If 2B/3B Ryan Schimpf can manage to cut down significantly on his 2016 strikeout total (105 in 276 AB), he could become a significant run producer in this lineup. He did have 20 homers in only 89 games, last year, with 17 doubles and five triples, and at age 28 he’s at that point during which many players hit their peak. He has a paltry eight base hits so far in 64 AB, five of which are homers. I would give him a little more time to break out of his funk before I gave up on him.

Cory Spangenberg, now at Triple-A El Paso, could be back on the big-league roster if Schimpf falters, and could get increasing work in the outfield in any case, as long as his recently-injured hamstring holds up. It would behoove him to be as versatile as possible, as he is set behind a rather crowded infield, but he will be on the big-league roster to stay before long. With experience at second and third, he should become a viable option for the Padres in the outfield as well.

Shortstop Erick Aybar has been a remarkably steady presence throughout his career, the bulk of which has been spent with the Angels. Consistent, if not necessarily spectacular, performance has been his hallmark, and on a team with so many young players his experience is a much-needed asset. UT Luis Sardinas will pick up some innings at the position throughout the season, from time to time, but Aybar otherwise has short on lockdown as long as he’s healthy.

In the outfield, Travis Jankowski is pure speed both in the field and on the bases, though he is also off to a poor start (.160 BA, 1 XBH in 50 AB). He is dealing with a bruised right foot and will be out of the lineup for possibly three more weeks. Jabari Blash is on the roster to handle his spot in left. Blash brings with him monster raw power but falls victim to breaking pitches outside the zone on a regular basis. The clock is ticking on this 27-year-old slugger, but regular AB and a lot of reps in the cage could make him a force to be reckoned with at the big-league level. Manuel Margot is getting it done in center. This NL ROY candidate brings gap power and plus speed to the top of San Diego’s batting order, where he occasionally flip-flops with #2 batter Jankowski. Hunter Renfroe is a future All-Star in right, and there’s little doubt that he will become a significant run producer. Allen Cordoba is a fascinating prospect; selected by San Diego in last year’s Rule 5 Draft from St Louis, Cordoba had not played higher than rookie ball before this season. The Padres will have to carry him on the active roster in order to avoid losing him on waivers or having to return him to the Cardinals. The talent is certainly there, but whether he can cut it in the majors after 206 games in the rookie leagues remains to be seen. Primarily a shortstop, Cordoba is getting work in left field as well. He has the quickness and speed to handle the outfield, and certainly isn’t intimidated by ML pitching so far. The question is whether such a quick promotion will ultimately set back his development or slow it considerably, as it will with some prospects.

As for pitching, the biggest questions have to do with the starting rotation. Clayton RichardJhoulys Chacin and Jered Weaver have a combined 627 starts between them, but both Weaver and Chacin are coming off rough years. Weaver remains a pitcher’s pitcher, slogging through batting orders with a fastball that rarely touches 86 and a typically well-placed curve. He also will sink and cut the fastball, and there is just enough separation between his fastball and change (usually 7-8 MPH) to help keep hitters off-balance. Richard sits around 90 with his sinker, which he throws 50-60% of the time, and is starting to go to the curve more often than in the past. He’s a ground-ball pitcher who works best with a quick defense, and he has that in San Diego, especially up the middle. Trevor Cahill is another ground-ball pitcher who could find renewed life with the Friars, working off his low-90’s sinker as the foundation of his arsenal. He throws a high-70’s curve with fairly consistent two-plane break and a sinking change in the low-80’s that works well vs. lefties. A consistent Cahill is someone the Padres can build around, considering the makeup of the rest of their rotation.

There are three pitchers in particular that I’ve been focusing on, lately: Christian BethancourtJose Torres and the aforementioned Lockett.

Bethancourt’s got easy, excellent velocity (mid-90’s, topping out at 97-98), but clearly no feel for pitching at the moment. He dropped his arm slot a number of times and had issues staying on top of the ball. If he can get a feel for his control and develop even an average second offering, he could become a dependable, perhaps even dominant short reliever in the Pads’ ‘pen. But that day is a long way off. For now, he’ll get his education pitching for a team that’s not expected to contend anytime soon, and that means less pressure to perform immediately.

The lefty Torres has excellent velocity on a four-seamer that gets good lateral movement from a low ¾ arm slot. He sits around 95-96 and can get it up to 98, but needs to work at establishing his fastball before he can be little more than a great arm. He throws a hard curve with good two-plane break, as well as a straight change, but everything hinges on his command of that terrific heater of his. He should get plenty of opportunity to learn on the job with the big club.

There are other, well-established ML arms in this bullpen. Brad Hand had a career year in 2016, making 82 appearances and striking out an outstanding 111 batters in 89 1/3 innings. He’s primarily a sinker-slider guy, but he also throws a four-seamer in the low-90’s and enough curves to keep hitters mindful of it. It helps that he’s a short reliever with four pitches, but he has a good approach to go along with quality stuff. Ryan Buchter, yet another lefty in the current San Diego pen, lives and dies by the fastball; more than 80% of his pitches in 2016 were fastballs, with a smattering of mid-80’s sliders and 80-MPH curves mixed in on rare occasion. He was a 29-year old rookie in 2016, but his overall numbers were excellent (2.86 ERA in 67 appearances, 78 K). He allowed a paltry 34 hits in that span of 63 innings, but he also walked 31 batters, an unusual ratio of nearly one walk per hit allowed. Better command could vault him into the upper tier of short relievers.

Speaking of which, Craig Stammen was picked up on a minor-league deal after he reestablished himself over a year in the Indians minor-league system. While his 2016 numbers weren’t spectacular, he appears to have retained his velocity after suffering a forearm injury that cost him nearly all of 2015. Another sinker-slider type, Stammen has had several strong, even excellent seasons, but he is 33 now and may have a few missteps this season before he hits his stride.

Closer Brandon Maurer has given the Padres a bona fide door-slammer in the ninth, as his 95-97 MPH heat and low-to-mid-80’s slider combine with a mid-80’s change to make him a tough customer. Maurer will come right after hitters, leaning on his slider nearly 30% of the time. He gets sharp vertical movement with it, but it can flatten out from time to time and come back to bite him. Maurer has 193 appearances to his credit already at age 26, and brings additional veteran leadership to a relatively young ‘pen.

Right-hander Miguel Diaz looks like another fantastic young prospect on a team that seems to have its share of them. With a fastball that ranges from 95-98 with a bit of tail and sink, Diaz also throws a low-80’s curve that could become a plus pitch with more use. He has starting experience in the minors, splitting his appearances nearly evenly between the rotation and the pen, and the addition of even an average third option like a straight change or splitter could make him a potential #3 or #4 starter. However, he could have a very bright future in relief.

The long and short of it is this: yes, the Padres do have a long road ahead of them before they can compete with the likes of the NL West. But many of the pieces are already in place; it’s just going to take some time before they all fit in the way they are meant to fit. This is a team that should draw interest from those fans who enjoy watching a rebuilding process that is actually moving forward.

Click here to read Part one.

Clinton Riddle has been writing for sites such as SB Nation, Fansided, Baseball Magazine and Sports Central (as well as the occasional newspaper) for more than 8 years, in addition to feeding an obsession with photography for nearly 30 years. He has an abiding interest in telling the stories not often told, hoping to give fans of the game a greater understanding of the sacrifices made by many pro athletes as they strive to succeed. A medical background has given him a firm grasp on the significance of sports-related injuries, as well as how they might impact a team's record.

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