Greetings from Peoria, Arizona. Tuesday was the 21st day of San Diego Padres spring training, and there is a lot of excitement around camp.
At the conclusion of Tuesday’s 9-0, 1 hit allowed victory over the Milwaukee Brewers the San Diego Padres have a 9-1 record and lead all of the Cactus League in victories with eight wins in a row. Everyone knows that spring training stats mean less than nothing, but it is worth noting that establishing a winning culture in spring training can’t hurt.
The practices in this camp are notable for the energy, intensity, and speed by which they are executed. Manager Jayce Tingler oversees the baserunning and infield drills with an intensity I have not seen in previous camps. He is vocal, enthusiastic and constantly coaching throughout while being physically involved by pitching, hitting fungoes or playing at a base.
The voices of Bobby Dickerson, Wayne Kirby and Tingler are heard loudly and frequently during drills. Many players linger on the field after the rest of the team has gone inside to take extra batting practice, extra pitching work or individual work on fielding and technique.
These are all new developments in my experience. There seems to be a new focus with these players, a commitment to fundamentals that has resulted in an almost error-free early spring record.
Then there’s the pitching.
There have been the inevitable spring training hiccups with a couple of games but with ten games played so far, the pitchers have allowed 26 runs and the offense has scored 61 (a +35 differential), by far the best in the Cactus League. Although the 2.6 runs allowed per game is not a sustainable stat, it is a sign of the depth and quality of the Padres pitching staff overall.
The roster battles taking place during these games are beginning to take shape with some clear indications of how the battles might end up.
Trent Grisham has been a pleasant surprise thus far
CF Trent Grisham has performed admirably on both sides of the ball with solid defense and good contact offensively. He shows no signs of yielding the job to any other outfielder, and the closest competition appears to be Franchy Cordero. Cordero is notably behind Grisham offensively and has been working on the back fields to hone his swing and improve his contact. The only other center fielder on the team is Juan Lagares, and he is more suited to a backup job on this team.
The right field battle is more up for grabs, but the early favorite looks to be Wil Myers who has once again teased us in the spring with power hitting and decent defense so far. Josh Naylor, although not listed as injured, has played sparingly with only seven at-bats so far this spring. He and Franchy Cordero might be competing for the left-handed half of a Wil Myers platoon in right field but neither has played as much as Taylor Trammell. Trammell is getting an early spring audition in right field predominately.
The backup outfield situation is more clouded than ever at this juncture. Abraham Almonte, who is able to play all three outfield positions, has been murdering the ball and playing excellent defense. Defensive specialist Lagares has looked great on defense, but his bat is lagging at this point.
And to further complicate matters, 23-year old Edward Olivares is playing defense and pounding the ball. It is unlikely that he will break camp with the team but has been fun to watch.
Dozier leading the way at second?
Second base appears to be coming down to a battle between Brian Dozier and Jurickson Profar. Profar has an edge offensively at this point, but the defensive edge is definitely in Dozier’s favor. Although Profar is able to make all the throws in defensive drills his in-game performance is lagging behind that of Dozier.
If Dozier can maintain his present .273 average and Profar doesn’t improve his defense, then the battle will be for the utility spots on the team. Veteran Greg Garcia appears to have a spot locked up, so Ty France, Jake Cronenworth, and Profar could be the leading candidates to battle it out.
Nonroster utility man Jason Vosler has been impressive in camp up to this point with all indications that he will provide further depth at the AAA level if needed.
It might be worth noting that either Profar or Cronenworth should be a part of the final 26 in order to provide a true shortstop alternative for Fernando Tatis Jr. My hope is that Cronenworth will make the team but if not he will be available in AAA for a call up if needed.
Catcher remains a questionable position on this roster
As for the catching situation, I remain unconvinced that Francisco Mejia will be adequate as the front line catcher. I see someone who has poor strike zone discipline and is inconsistent on defense. There are times when he seems to lose focus, makes a mistake and then compounds the mistake with a bad decision.
Austin Hedges is an elite defender but swings at bad pitches way too often and allows pitches that appear to be hittable travel into the catcher’s mitt for strikes. It may be too much to hope for even a mediocre .220 average from Hedges at this stage of his career.
Luis Torrens is getting significant playing time in early spring, but his hitting has not stood out at this point; his defense has been solid.
How this works itself out remains to be seen but this could prove to be the least successful battle of the spring if the Padres make no moves to upgrade the position.
While a 9-1 record is fun, the results are potentially misleading
Spring Training statistics are notoriously misleading, especially early spring when all the pitchers are working on command and trying out new pitches. It is safe to say that no decisions will be made based on these early returns, but the performance so far is encouraging.
Many of the roster spots that will be decided in the next 21 days could change significantly if GM AJ Preller uses some of his talent depth to add a difference-maker to the mix. Upgrading the team in right field or at catcher would further enhance the chances of this group playing meaningful baseball into September.
Overall, I have been encouraged at the progress of early spring and am especially impressed by the work I see being put on the practice fields. Wins and losses mean little at this stage but I like the mindset that they are working toward.