Complete San Diego Padres 2014 Spring Training Preview
The San Diego Padres' projected 25-man roster is full of players who have performed at a high level in the majors. The question of whether they can all play at a high level and/or stay healthy at one time is what makes this team an enigma.
With an impressive core of talent, all in the prime of their career, they certainly appear capable of competing for a playoff spot.
But will slugger Carlos Quentin ever stay healthy for an entire season? Will Everth Cabrera be the All-Star shortstop he was in 2013 before a 50-game PED suspension ended his season? Will Yasmani Grandal, who showed so much promise as a rookie in 2012, come back strong from an ACL surgery that was preceded by a suspension for a high level of testosterone?
Was Chase Headley's MVP-caliber performance in the second half of 2012 a fluke, or is he really an elite hitter who was just slowed by injuries last season? Has Will Venable finally just put it all together or was his second half of last season just a once-in-a-career extended hot streak?
Will Andrew Cashner, who finally stayed healthy for an entire season, continue to avoid the disabled list and pitch like a top-of-the-rotation starter? Is Tyson Ross, who had a 3.06 ERA and 9.3 K/9 in 16 starts last season, for real or is he the inconsistent pitcher that ran out of chances in Oakland?
There's no telling how good this Padres team can be because they just haven't been on the field together very often and because most of the core players don't have a long track record of success. But it's not hard to see this group breaking out and making a run in 2014.
The Padres, in all likelihood, had their choice of free-agent starting pitchers who were interested in rebuilding a diminished value on a one-year deal.
Former Flordia Marlins ace Josh Johnson, who has battled injuries the past few years, was the lucky pitcher to sign on with a team that plays their home games in one of the most pitcher-friendly ballparks in baseball. The 30-year-old, who had a 6.20 ERA in 16 starts for the Toronto Blue Jays last season, signed a one-year, $8 million deal.
As easy as it is to lure free-agent pitchers to San Diego, the same can't be said for free-agent hitters. Thus, the Padres went the trade route to add a much-needed left-handed bat. In acquiring outfielder Seth Smith (pictured) from the Oakland A's for setup man Luke Gregerson, the Padres added insurance for the oft-injured Carlos Quentin and another starting option should they prefer to move Will Venable to center field and Cameron Maybin to the bench.
The trade of Gregerson created a huge void in the bullpen, which is why the team gave free agent Joaquin Benoit a two-year, $15.5 million deal to be closer Huston Street's setup man. General manager Josh Byrnes also brought in two left-handed relief options in Alex Torres, who was acquired in a multi-player deal with the Tampa Bay Rays, and Rule 5 draftee Patrick Schuster, who was acquired from the Houston Astros.
Injury Updates Entering Camp
A team that's been snakebit by injuries over the past couple of seasons and hoping for a year in which the core of the team is relatively healthy has already received its first bit of bad news.
Left-hander Cory Luebke, who has been out since April 2012 recovering from Tommy John surgery, is likely headed for the same season-ending elbow surgery after a torn elbow ligament was recently discovered.
Casey Kelly, who had Tommy John surgery last April, could join the starting rotation in the second half while outfielder Rymer Liriano, who has been one of the team's top prospects over the past few years, is on track for the start of spring training after undergoing the same surgery nearly a year ago.
The biggest storyline, however, could be the progress of catcher Yasmani Grandal, who underwent knee surgery in August and was initially slated to be a long shot for the Opening Day lineup. The 25-year-old switch-hitter says he's well ahead of schedule and expects to be ready for the start of the season, according to Corey Brock of MLB.com.
While players can tend to be overly optimistic in their recovery from injuries, Grandal looks pretty convincing while going through catching drills in his video he posted on his Instagram account.
Coaching Staff Analysis
General manager Josh Byrnes announced shortly after the conclusion of the 2013 regular season that manager Bud Black and his entire coaching staff would return for the 2014 season.
Despite three consecutive losing seasons, Black has never come under much fire because of the team's limited financial resources and rash of injuries. But he enters year eight of his tenure with a team payroll that will be an all-time high for the small-market Padres and a solid roster of talent that should be capable of competing for a playoff spot.
Expect a managerial change—Black has a club option for 2015—and possibly several coaching staff changes if the team fails to play at least .500 ball in 2014.
1 Everth Cabrera, SS
2 Will Venable, CF
3 Chase Headley, 3B
4 Carlos Quentin, LF
5 Yonder Alonso, 1B
6 Jedd Gyorko, 2B
7 Seth Smith, RF
8 Yasmani Grandal/Nick Hundley, C
If Cabrera (pictured) is the real deal, and he can return to his All-Star form of 2013 before a suspension for his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal ended his season prematurely, and Venable's second half (.906 OPS, 11 HR, 13 SB) was a breakthrough and not a fluke, this Padres offense has a chance to be great.
Headley, even if he's not the MVP-caliber hitter he was in the second half of 2012, is a solid No. 3 hitter and Quentin is still a feared middle-of-the-order slugger when healthy. The addition of Smith should help offset Quentin's inability to stay healthy, as well as the inconsistency of Cameron Maybin.
Gyorko and Grandal, the latter expected back early in the season after recovering from August knee surgery, have the potential to be one of the most powerful bottom of the orders in baseball.
1 Ian Kennedy, RHP
2 Andrew Cashner, RHP
3 Josh Johnson, RHP
4 Tyson Ross, RHP
5 Eric Stults, LHP
If Cashner can stay healthy for a second consecutive season and Ross can carry over his success from the second half of 2013, this rotation has the potential to be very good even if Johnson proves that he's not anywhere close to the staff ace he was while with the Marlins a few years back.
Kennedy (pictured), who was acquired at last year's trade deadline, had a solid 10-start stint with the team and figures to at least continue at that level of production. A return to his 21-win, 2.88 ERA form of 2011 might be too much to ask. But if there's any ballpark that could bring it out of him, it's Petco Park.
CL Huston Street, RHP
SU Joaquin Benoit, RHP
SU Dale Thayer, RHP
MID Alex Torres, LHP
MID Nick Vincent, RHP
MID Patrick Schuster, LHP
LR Tim Stauffer, RHP
The bullpen doesn't figure to miss a beat with Luke Gregerson out—he was traded to Oakland for Seth Smith this offseason—and free-agent signee Benoit (pictured) in. The 36-year-old, who posted a 2.01 ERA with 24 saves for the Detroit Tigers last season, moves back into his familiar setup role where he'll help bridge the gap to Street, who has 56 saves in 59 chances in two seasons with the Padres.
Torres (1.71 ERA, 9.6 K/9), Thayer (3.32 ERA, 8.9 K/9) and Vincent (2.14 ERA, 9.5 K/9) give the bullpen three solid options for the seventh inning while prospect Kevin Quackenbush could also jump into the mix at some point.
Prospects to Watch
The Padres might not have a pitching prospect with the ceiling of a clear-cut staff ace, but they have some impressive depth in the upper minors and a handful of players will have a chance to break through in 2014.
Amongst that group is Burch Smith (pictured), who flashed his potential in a dominant performance versus the Braves in September (7 IP, 0 R, 3 H, 2 BB, 10 K) but proved that he wasn't nearly ready otherwise. The 23-year-old will compete for a rotation spot this spring and could be first in line for a shot later in the season if he can pitch well in Triple-A.
Matt Wisler, the team's top pitching prospect according to Baseball Prospectus, is also likely to be in Triple-A and just one phone call away from joining the Padres' rotation. Juan Oramas, Donn Roach and Keyvius Sampson aren't nearly the caliber of prospects as Wisler but could also warrant a look if they're pitching well in the upper minors.
On the relief side, expect Kevin Quackenbush to make his big league debut at some point in 2014. The 25-year-old right-hander dominated upon his arrival in Triple-A last season, where he posted a 2.91 ERA in 28 relief appearances.
The outfield depth is strong in the majors, but with injury-prone Carlos Quentin and Cameron Maybin part of that group, Alex Dickerson and Rymer Liriano could get their first shot in the majors at some point in 2014.
Dickerson, who was acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates this offseason, posted an .832 OPS with 17 homers and 10 stolen bases in Double-A last season. He'll likely man the opposite corner of Liriano, who missed all of the 2013 season recovering from Tommy John surgery, in the Triple-A lineup.
If only because a 13-start stint of dominance isn't enough to change the opinion on a 26-year-old with a well-earned reputation of inconsistency, Tyson Ross' terrific second half can't be considered a breakout.
But if he can come close to what he did (2.93 ERA, 80 IP, 56 H, 23 BB, 85 K) over a full season, the right-hander (pictured) could establish himself as one of the top starting pitchers in the league.
Another pitcher with a small sample size of success in 2013, and expected to take on an integral role during the upcoming season, is newly acquired Alex Torres, a lefty relief pitcher who had a 1.71 ERA with a 3.1 BB/9 and 9.6 K/9 in 39 appearances for the Tampa Bay Rays last season.
While he could come to camp with a chance to earn a starting role, the 26-year-old is in line to be the primary lefty out of the 'pen. Unable to establish enough consistency as a minor league starter, Torres flourished in a relief role and will likely remain there with the Padres.
Position Battle Predictions
The season-ending elbow injury to Cory Luebke has likely opened the door for several young pitchers to win the No. 5 spot in the Padres' starting rotation.
While 34-year-old Eric Stults will likely go into camp as the favorite after a solid season (3.93 ERA in 33 starts), Robbie Erlin (pictured), Joe Wieland and Burch Smith will each get a long look in camp while top pitching prospect Matt Wisler will also have a chance to force the team's hand.
Erlin, a 23-year-old lefty, finished the season on a strong note by posting a 1.97 ERA in five late-season starts. The Padres wouldn't go wrong with either he or Stults balancing out an all-righty rotation.
Prior to missing the entire 2013 season recovering from Tommy John surgery, the 24-year-old Wieland had appeared to lock down a spot in the rotation early in 2012. After getting knocked around in his big league debut, the right-hander had a 3.18 ERA over his next four starts before the elbow injury derailed his promising career. He should be at full health entering spring.
Smith struggled as a rookie in 2013, which shouldn't be unexpected considering he was making the jump from Double-A. He does have a higher upside than either Erlin or Wieland and has the ability to stand out in spring training.
Although likely considered a long shot, the 21-year-old Wisler has emerged as the cream of the crop amongst a deep group of Padres pitching prospects and shouldn't be ignored this spring. In 20 Double-A starts in 2013, the right-hander posted a 3.00 ERA with a 2.3 BB/9 and 8.8 K/9.