For San Diego Padres fans, it was an absolute gut punch when the team decided to trade away Juan Soto. It represented the end of the era where the Padres were one of the most aggressive and spendy teams in baseball in their desperate attempt to bring home a World Series title. It is hard not to think about how things could be different if the 2023 season had gone to plan or if owner Peter Seidler hadn't passed away.
Nonetheless, this is the hand that the Padres have been dealt. While the pitching staff is very unsettled at the moment, the offense should be in a good spot even with the loss of Soto assuming that guys like Fernando Tatis Jr., Manny Machado, and Xander Bogaerts play up to their potential. Last season taught us that that is far from a certainty, but there is clearly enough talent on this roster to make some noise.
However, there is still the matter of finding Juan Soto's replacement. Some have floated the hope that the Padres find a way to sign a guy like Cody Bellinger, but that feels like a longshot possibility at present. With the free agent market lacking both depth and options that don't break the bank, San Diego should look in their organization and one position prospect that has been getting a lot of traction of late that could be a great option is minor leaguer Graham Pauley.
Graham Pauley could end up being a surprisingly good Juan Soto replacement
While Pauley's name doesn't get the same level of respect or recognition as other top Padres prospects like Ethan Salas, Jackson Merrill, or even Samuel Zavala, this guy can absolutely rake at the plate. In 127 games last season across three levels of the minor leagues in 2023, the Padres' 13th round pick in the 2022 draft posted a .931 OPS with 23 homers. His reign of terror continued during his stint in the Arizona Fall League where he got on more scouts' radars even as he showed some signs of fatigue from a long 2023 season.
Most agree that Pauley should end up being a quality hitter in the big leagues at this point, but his future position is a bit more speculative. Some are down on his ability to stick at third base anyways and with Manny Machado around for the foreseeable future, third base isn't going to work with the Padres regardless of what one things of Pauley's defensive ability at the hot corner.
Fortunately, the Padres just had a spot open up in their outfield once the team traded Soto. No, Pauley won't be able to completely replace Soto's production as the list of guys that could come close to doing that is in the low single digits. However, moving Pauley to the outfield this spring would allow him to develop at a position that isn't blocked by guys under contract for the next decade and give the Padres a really intriguing option to bolster their outfield that is in real need of a boost. He could end up being an option early in 2024 if everything breaks their way.
Nothing is guaranteed with prospects and Pauley hasn't been around long enough to call him a sure thing. However, his rapid ascent through the minor leagues gives some hope that a quality replacement for Soto could already be in their organization after all.