Top Padres prospect has played himself into contention for an Opening Day roster spot

The Padres have several young players making a push to start the season in the majors.
San Diego Padres third baseman Graham Pauley
San Diego Padres third baseman Graham Pauley / Matt Thomas/San Diego Padres/GettyImages

With news coming out of Padres camp that Manny Machado will not be manning third base during the upcoming Seoul Series, San Diego has a decision to make ahead of next week's two-game set with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Who's going to start at the hot corner?

Machado will obviously be given his starting job back once he's fully rehabbed from offseason elbow surgery, but at the moment, the San Diego Padres' All-Star third baseman will be acting as the team's designated hitter to begin the 2024 season.

After optioning Matthew Batten back to the minors earlier this week, it's now a two-horse race to become the Padres Opening Day third baseman. Though Eguy Rodriguez has had a cup of coffee in the big leagues, Graham Pauley is on the verge of breaking through and joining the Padres for their trip to South Korea.

Graham Pauley has played himself into contention for Padres Opening Day roster spot

If you put the Cactus League stats side-by-side, which is all we have to go by, then Pauley holds the slight edge over Rosario. The Duke alum is 10-for-31 (.323) with three extra-bases hits and a .933 OPS in 14 games this spring.

Flip over to Rosario, and you'll see an 8-for-31 (.258) performance thus far. Rosario has three extra-bases hits of his own and a .771 OPS in 13 games. Both Rosario and Pauley have a similar strikeout-to-walk ratio this spring as well.

Padres manager Mike Shildt could blindside everyone and go with Tyler Wade as his starting third baseman on Opening Day. The non-roster invitee signed a minor-league deal last fall and has hit well this spring.

It boils down to roster construction. Shildt could choose three non-roster players to join the Padres' Opening Day roster without displacing anyone on San Diego's 40-man roster. The Friars currently only have 37 players on the 40-man roster.

The Padres should add Pauley to the Opening Day roster and name the 23-year-old their starting third baseman. When Machado returns on a full-time basis, the Friars could always bump Pauley back to the minor leagues or rotate him between third base and DH.

Given the hole at the hot corner, his production this spring, and long-term projection, it stands to reason that Pauley should break camp with the Padres and open the season in San Diego's starting lineup.

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