Padres Editorial: What The Team Needs In Spring Training

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Spring Training is nearly here, and it certainly promises to be an exciting one for the San Diego Padres. How will the outfield defense look? Who will step up as the fourth or fifth outfielders among Cameron Maybin, Carlos Quentin, or Will Venable? Who will win the first base and shortstop battles, and can the pitching staff stay healthy? Yet there is one intangible that the Padres need to show this spring as well: Attitude. I will explain what I mean by this, who I expect to embody the new attitude, and stumbling blocks to achieving the end goal. 

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I’m not talking about the kind of attitude you showed your parents when you refused to behave or the attitude that Yasiel Puig shows up the freeway when he fails to run out a ground ball or properly chase down a routine fly ball. I’m talking about the attitude that comes with a belief that winning a World Series is not an unattainable goal. If all of the moves made this off-season don’t pan out – the Ron Fowler / Mike Dee ownership group has emboldened this franchise with a new attitude. First year General Manager A.J. Preller has followed up that green light with an off-season where the Padres seemed to be in every possible free agent conversation. Gone are the days of the team claiming small market impotence holding them back from making significant moves. Here are the days where the Padres landed James Shields, landed Matt Kemp in a trade, and were the top bidders for Pablo Sandoval.

Spring Training is of course by no means a tell-all for what a season may bring. The baseball season is already a long 162-game marathon, and spring training is another month of games that don’t even count towards players chasing good numbers before a free agency season or just trying to get one more year out of their aching knees or shoulders. Yet it is an invaluable time for the players to forge together and start building the story of the 2015 San Diego Padres Baseball Club. In every good story there is a conflict that must be overcome in order for the hero to win the day, and I expect this year to be no different.

I’ve written earlier about the need for Matt Kemp to be the on-field emotional leader for this Padres team. He stands to be the oldest starting position player and he has been to the playoffs the most times as well. He understands that April can be a hard month for a team put together the way the Padres have been. A piece here, a piece there, a farm system product here, a utility man asked to take over as a starter.

Remember the Dodgers the last several seasons and their slow starts? Kemp knows how to weather those storms, to calm the nerves of a Wil Myers who has to be wondering himself if he is the player he was in 2013 or 2014. What if he has another sub-par year in 2015 and can’t recover his minors and ROY season success? Justin Upton is in a contract year, what if the Petco Effect saps his power numbers from what they could’ve been in Atlanta and drops his next contract by millions of dollars? Kemp needs to perform on the field and provide mentoring in the clubhouse. I expect him to move that needle and mature more than any other member of this team.

Andrew Cashner needs to learn how to be THE ace and act it out all season long. To me it is no question that James Shields changed the character of the Royals to be able to get to the World Series last year. He brought with him an ace mentality that transferred to the rest of the rotation and clubhouse. Now that he’s here, I would ask him not to do it again – but to groom Andrew Cashner to be that player. He knows what it takes and can impart that wisdom to Cashner. Show the bulldog mentality, throw a few more complete games when your team needs it and make everyone believe they can win the game every single time you step up to the pitcher’s mound.

So what will stop all of this from happening? The answer is pretty simple – the manager position. Now this is not a Bud Black bashing piece – I happen to believe that Bud Black is the perfect man at this point for the job. The makeup of this team is pretty interesting when you start separating out the pieces. Lots of players who have had both incredible success but also struggled with doubt and injuries.

For argument sake, we’ll put Matt Kemp, Will Middlebrooks, Jedd Gyorko and Wil Myers all in this boat. Then you have the guys fighting to be starters on this team: Alexi Amarista, Yonder Alonso, Will Venable. Derek Norris figures to be an emotional rock behind the plate both for the position players and the pitching staff. I expect Black to be able to help these players focus on the positives and push back the negatives more than maybe a fiery manager might. At this point, I don’t think the Padres need a kick in the butt. The moves putting this team together have already brightened the forecast for both the wanted players and the team as a whole.

That said – if the team does tank in April and into May, I think action will be swift to replace Bud Black with someone who will kick the players into high gear at that point. I think Jack McKeon is done for good, but what about even giving Ozzie Guillen another shot at managing or maybe even a Phil Nevin? Both certainly would fit the anti-Black fiery mold.

Spring Training is important alright, because all of these questions begin to get answered with every day that goes by, by bringing us closer to the start of the season. In the spring, you can make minor adjustments that will impact the entire season and bring a championship quality team to San Diego.

Next: Padres Favorites To Land Hector Olivera?

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