Complete San Diego Padres 2014 Season Preview

Jasper SchererAnalyst IIMarch 26, 2014

Complete San Diego Padres 2014 Season Preview

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    Denis Poroy/Getty Images

    The San Diego Padres will roll into the 2014 regular season looking to improve upon their disappointing 86 losses from 2013, a total they’ve met in each of the last two years.

    Despite the overall outcome, however, the Padres certainly showed promise at times last season, going 15-13 in the months of May and June. They also ended the season with a 16-11 record in September, a month that included a pair of four-game winning streaks.

    Unfortunately for San Diego, however, a slow start and a few tough months in the middle of the season proved to create a hole too deep for Bud Black’s crew to dig out of, leading to another subpar finish.

    For Padres fans, it’s about time their team made some noise in the NL West. After all, San Diego has lost 86 or more games in five of the past six seasons, and Padres fans haven’t experienced postseason baseball since 2006.

    Unfortunately, barring collapses by a few other teams in the division or a string of breakout performances on the Padres, the playoff drought appears as if it will continue in 2014. Without enough key acquisitions in the offseason to show significant improvement, there’s not a whole lot of reason for optimism this year. Even so, it’s a long season, and if we’ve learned anything from the game of baseball recently, it’s that anything can happen.

    Let’s take a look at where the Padres stand heading into 2014.

     

    All statistics courtesy of baseball-reference.com.

    All payroll info courtesy of cbssports.com.

Spring Training Recap

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    One of the biggest stories of spring training for the Padres has been 25-year-old first baseman Tommy Medica, who has followed up his .290 batting average from last season (in 69 at-bats) by hitting .344 with a .942 OPS in his 64 spring training at bats. Though Yonder Alonso will likely begin the season as the team’s first baseman, a platoon is not out of the question given Medica’s torrid performance.

    Manager Bud Black has also discussed trying Medica at different positions, via MLB.com’s Doug Miller: 

    I think in spring training it's a great opportunity to expose players to different positions, and we're doing that with Tom, getting him exposed to the outfield. We've talked about it as a staff and as an organization, about increasing a player's versatility, increasing chances of playing time, and you do that by exposing them to different positions. With Tom, we think he has the wherewithal to play the outfield along with first base. We'll see how it plays out moving forward, to see if we have another potential outfielder on our hands.

    Another breakout performer for the Padres this spring was right fielder Alex Dickerson, who compiled a 1.019 OPS in his time with club while showing impressive plate discipline, along with a nice power stroke.

    One of the players Padres fans will likely want to keep a close eye on is shortstop Everth Cabrera, who batted a solid .283 with a .355 OBP before his suspension last season. The San Diego shortstop has been unspectacular, with a .264 average and a disappointing 14-to-6 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

    At the very least, Cabrera is determined to put his suspension behind him and come back strong in 2014.

    "I have to come back from zero,” Cabrera told U-T San Diego’s Jeff Sanders. "I did some work every day (this offseason) to get back to normal, to get that momentum again.”

    There’s no doubt the Padres missed Cabrera in his absence—they went 28-39 without him, 48-47 when he was in the lineup. He still has time to return to form by the start of the season, but just having Cabrera’s speed and defensive presence has to be a relief for the team that sorely missed him in the latter half of the season.

    As a team, the Padres are 9-12 this spring with a few games remaining, though that’s hardly reason for concern, especially given the struggles of other top teams this spring. (Also, the Miami Marlins are 17-10, for some added perspective.)

    However, many of the Padres’ starters struggled to get things going this spring. While it’s debatable just how significant spring training statistics really are, it has to be a bit alarming that only seven out of 27 Padres with double-digit at-bat totals are hitting better than .300. The team is also 26th in OBP.

    Pitching has also been an issue—the Padres are 24th in ERA. Ian Kennedy (5.59 ERA), Tyson Ross (4.66) and Eric Stults (5.29) have been hit particularly hard, though it should be stressed that these are over relatively small sample sizes. There’s no reason for alarm if the Padres can avoid carrying their struggles into the regular season.

Injury Updates Entering Opening Day

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    The injury bug has historically run rampant in the Padres clubhouse, and 2013 is no exception. Though the large-scale injuries haven’t occurred quite as frequently as Padres fans have come to expect, there are still some concerns heading into the season.

    The most severe and notable of the injuries is Cameron Maybin’s ruptured left biceps tendon. The Padres outfielder will miss two to three months, as Corey Brock of MLB.com reported. After playing in just 14 games in 2013, Maybin continues to have trouble staying healthy, though he hasn’t exactly excelled as a hitter in his time with the Padres anyway (.249/.311/.365 slash line).

    Starting pitcher Josh Johnson will also miss some time, but to a lesser extent than Maybin—at least four weeks because of a flexor strain in his right forearm, according to Corey Brock of MLB.com.

    The injury is particularly vexing for Johnson because the right-hander was pitching well heading into the regular season, posting a 3.38 ERA in four spring training starts.

    "He's really frustratedin his words, he's devastated," Black said, per Brock’s article. "He felt so good coming into December and into January. He felt really good coming to spring training. He felt great up until his last outing. Hopefully, it's nothing more than a strain."

    After posting a 6.20 ERA last year with the Blue Jays, Johnson is no doubt eager to prove that he’s still capable of putting up solid numbers. The right-hander led the league in ERA in 2010, but he still has plenty to prove after going through a few down years since then.

    Another casualty is catcher Yasmani Grandal, whose status is uncertain for the season opener, having undergone knee surgery roughly nine months ago. He’s seen limited playing time this spring, but the results have been positive, with the catcher batting .333 with a .385 OBP in five games (13 plate appearances).

    The list of ailments goes on. Right-handed pitcher Joe Wieland will be out for the first half of the season, with his return likely to come around the All-Star break, per MLB.com’s Corey Brock. Corey Luebke will miss his second consecutive season because of another elbow surgery. Even Chase Headley, who has dealt with a calf strain this offseason, has looked like an uncertainty to start the season at 100 percent, though he has noted his confidence in his ability to play on Opening Day.

    Much of this season will depend on whether the Padres can collectively stay healthy. If the team can hold out for the first part of the season until players like Maybin and Johnson return, they could be in pretty good shape.

Lineup Preview

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    Jedd Gyorko put up stellar numbers in his rookie campaign, with 23 homers and a .444 slugging percentage.
    Jedd Gyorko put up stellar numbers in his rookie campaign, with 23 homers and a .444 slugging percentage.Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    Projected Lineup

    1. Everth Cabrera

    2. Will Venable

    3. Chase Headley

    4. Carlos Quentin

    5. Yonder Alonso

    6. Jedd Gyorko

    7. Seth Smith

    8. Nick Hundley

    Key Bench Players

    Yasmani Grandal, Kyle Blanks, Chris Denorfia, Alexi Amarista, Tommy Medica

     

    The Padres ranked 24th in the majors in runs scored in 2013, and they didn’t do much to improve in that regard during the offseason. The lone key acquisition came when GM Josh Byrnes traded for outfielder Seth Smith, an addition that will likely inject some life into the bottom of the lineup given Smith’s solid .342 career OBP.

    Other than Smith’s added presence, however, the lineup looks to be entirely the same from last season, meaning Padres fans shouldn’t expect any offensive miracles.

    Even so, San Diego has some potential to make a bit more noise at the plate. Second baseman Jedd Gyorko will have a season of big league experience under his belt after finishing sixth in the voting for the Rookie of the Year Award, giving him an excellent shot at improving upon his 23-homer total from last year.

    Additionally, the Padres should have Everth Cabrera for an entire season after the shortstop and leadoff man served a 50-game suspension last season for his involvement with the Biogenesis clinic. That should insert some life into the top of the lineup, something the Padres lacked for the final third of last season in Cabrera’s absence.

    Indeed, the San Diego shortstop had a .355 OBP last season, and he has stolen 81 bases in his last two seasons, a span of just 210 games. (That equates to 62 swipes in a 162-game season.)

    One of the biggest question marks for the Padres is their No. 3 hitter, Chase Headley. A man of two faces, Headley has shown he’s capable of being an elite hitter, but he also has struggled at times, including last season.

    The San Diego third baseman has also dealt with an injured calf lately, but he made his Cactus League debut Thursday. According to U-T San Diego, Headley is confident that he’ll be ready for Opening Day.

    Even so, maintaining good health is only half the battle for the third baseman. Even when healthy, Headley has struggled at the plate, as evidenced by his disappointing numbers last season, which included just 13 homers and 50 RBI in 600 plate appearances. While Headley will always reach base (.347 OBP last season despite a disappointing .250 average), San Diego will still need more production out of its No. 3 hitter in order to contend.

Rotation Preview

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    Tyson Ross is one of several breakout candidates on the Padres.
    Tyson Ross is one of several breakout candidates on the Padres.Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Projected Rotation

    1. Ian Kennedy

    2. Andrew Cashner

    3. Josh Johnson

    4. Eric Stults

    5. Tyson Ross

     

    Pitching is perhaps San Diego’s greatest strength, and as long as the Padres stay in Petco Park, that won’t change. Ian Kennedy should particularly benefit from his change of scenery—he’ll have an excellent chance of rebounding following a tough 2013 season now that he’ll play in the pitcher-friendly Petco Park. Don’t forget, Kennedy went 21-4 with a 2.88 ERA in 2011, and he proved to be a reliable starter in his time with the Diamondbacks, with over 30 starts in each of his full seasons with the club, to go along with a 3.82 ERA.

    Andrew Cashner is the real exciting part of the rotation, given his success in 2013 (3.09 ERA in 175 innings) and incredible dominance to finish up the season. The right-hander posted a 1.70 ERA in the last two months of the season, a span of nine starts that included just three earned runs allowed in his last 37.2 innings. It’s fair to say Cashner will enter 2014 with some confidence.

    After serving as a starter and reliever for the first four seasons of his career, Tyson Ross will finally get a chance to be a full-fledged member of the starting rotation this year. The right-hander more than cut his ERA in half last season, improving his 6.50 mark from 2012 to a solid 3.17 in 2013.

    A sharp decrease in BB% (10.8 to 8.7, per FanGraphs) and an even sharper rise in K% (13.5 to 23.6) means the stats all point toward another solid performance from Ross. He could be one of the better No. 5 starters in the league.

    Veteran Eric Stults will also return for another season after proving to be a reliable member of the rotation in 2013. His 3.93 ERA was mediocre, but he put up that number in over 200 innings, and he also showed flashes of brilliance. With ERAs under three in May and June, including a complete-game two-hitter against the Diamondbacks on June 14, Stults has shown he can pitch. Whether he can maintain success over an entire season is another story.

    The real interesting part of the rotation is Josh Johnson, who comes over from Toronto fresh off the worst season of his career. But it would be foolish to write off the right-hander, who could be finished with his rough patch. Indeed, it doesn’t get much better than playing for the Padres if you’re a starting pitcher (with the exception of the lack of run support). The division isn’t particularly imposing offensively, except for the Dodgers and maybe the Rockies, and Petco Park is a dream come true.

    That’s especially true coming from the Rogers Centre, where Johnson faced a polar opposite scenario. Home runs fly like there’s no tomorrow in Toronto, and Jays pitchers constantly have to deal with the division’s offensive juggernauts, such as the Yankees and Red Sox. A change of scenery and a full offseason to improve should work in Johnson’s favor.

Bullpen Preview

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    Huston Street has been nearly automatic as the Padres closer for the last two seasons.
    Huston Street has been nearly automatic as the Padres closer for the last two seasons.Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

    Projected Bullpen

    RP: Nick Vincent

    RP: Alex Torres

    RP: Donn Roach

    LR: Tim Stauffer

    SU: Joaquin Benoit

    SU: Dale Thayer

    CL: Huston Street

     

    Losing Luke Gregerson in the deal for Seth Smith will certainly put a dent in the Padres bullpen. In Gregerson's first five years, all with San Diego, he compiled a 2.88 ERA, proving to be a consistent staple of the Padres bullpen.

    Even in the absence of their since-departed middle-inning reliever, however, the Padres still have closer Huston Street, who has converted a remarkable 94.9 percent of his save opportunities (56 of 59) in his two years with the club.

    Street will look to improve on his lackluster home run rate from last season, and his strikeout numbers were also alarmingly low, but there’s no reason to believe the Padres closer can’t put up another solid performance if he can stay healthy.

    Additionally, San Diego added Joaquin Benoit this offseason, and he’ll likely start the season as the Padres’ eighth-inning man. However, it might not be long before Benoit takes over the closer role. The veteran right-hander posted a 2.01 ERA last year while converting 24 of his 26 save opportunities.

    Nevertheless, Padres general manager Josh Byrnes insisted Street is the closer…for now.

    “Street is still our closer,” Byrnes said, via Bill Center of U-T San Diego. “Huston has done it very well for a long time. Benoit has done it for four years. Huston is a pro. Nothing changes here. We do have a decision for 2015. Nothing is guaranteed for 2015.”

    In addition to Street and Benoit, the Padres have solid options when it comes to middle relief. Right-hander Dale Thayer posted a 3.32 ERA in 65 innings of work last year, and Nick Vincent was downright dominant at times, posting a 2.14 ERA, including 0.82 in September to close out the season.

    Perhaps one of the more underrated pickups this offseason was the addition of left-handed reliever Alex Torres. The 26-year-old Venezuelan put up a 1.71 ERA pitching for the Tampa Bay Rays in the hitter-friendly AL East last year, including a minuscule 0.90 WHIP. He’ll unquestionably bolster an already solid corps of Padres relievers, giving the bullpen a strong outlook indeed for 2014.

Prospects to Watch

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    Rymer Liriano is a five-tool outfielder looking to recover from a season-long injury.
    Rymer Liriano is a five-tool outfielder looking to recover from a season-long injury.Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Matt Wisler, P

    The Padres took the right-hander out of high school in the seventh round of the 2011 draft, and he’s blossomed into one of their top prospects. Better yet, Wisler could make an impact with the club in 2014, projecting to be a midseason call-up. 

    Wisler has an imposing frame (he’s 6’3”), and he uses it to his advantage. With a fastball that sits in the low to mid 90s, according to B/R’s Mike Rosenbaum, the right-hander has the ability to overpower hitters and beat them with his slider.

    After putting up a 2.78 ERA in the minors last season and striking out nearly a batter per inning, Wisler should be ready to transition to the majors in the second half if he can hone his repertoire a bit at Triple-A in the first half.

     

    Rymer Liriano, OF

    Liriano was decidedly average in spring training this year, hitting .273 with a home run in the small sample size of 22 at-bats. The word “average” is a good way to describe Liriano’s all-around abilities—he won’t dazzle you in any category. But there’s nothing ordinary about his potential to contribute across the board.

    Indeed, the Dominican native has flashed five-tool ability without being particularly amazing in any one category. He has hit double-digit homers just once but has tons of raw power and has good gap-hitting ability. He also stole 66 bases as recently as 2011, and his defense is solid in the outfield. Oh, and he hit .286 with a .354 OBP at Double-A in 2012.

    Liriano missed all of 2013 due to a ligament replacement surgery in his elbow, but there’s no reason to believe he can’t come back strong from the setback. An appearance in the majors later in the season isn’t out of the realm of possibility, and if Liriano can return to his pre-injury form, he could have an impact with the big league club.

     

    Burch Smith, P

    Smith had a tough time in the majors last season, but that shouldn’t deter Padres fans. The right-hander suffered with his control upon his promotion, and his disappointing performance probably cost him a spot with the club this year. Nevertheless, despite the likelihood of starting the year at Triple-A, Smith will certainly see time in the majors in 2014, and in the wake of an injury (a likely event given the Padres’ history), that promotion could come sooner rather than later.

Breakout Candidates

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    Cashner put up strong numbers in the second half of 2013.
    Cashner put up strong numbers in the second half of 2013.Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    The Padres are filled with players poised to break out, but the first name that comes to mind is second baseman Jedd Gyorko. In 2013, the rookie infielder showed signs of his true ability at the plate. While his uninspiring final stats aren’t particularly impressive, especially when it comes to his on-base rates (.249 average, .301 OBP), the power was undoubtedly there (.444 SLG).

    Gyorko was also on a tear before he lost time due to a groin injury. He batted .312 with eight homers from April 22 until he went on the disabled list June 10, a span of 170 at bats. When he came back, Gyorko hit .100 in July, .253 in August and .238 in September, never quite regaining his pre-injury stroke.

    Even so, Gyorko hit 15 homers over the last two months of the season—his power never went anywhere. At the very least, the Padres second baseman should see an increase in his home run total (he went yard 23 times last year), and he very well could regain his success from the beginning of the year as well.

    From a pitching standpoint, Andrew Cashner is the best bet for a breakout season in the starting rotation. The right-hander posted a 2.14 second-half ERA last season, proving to be one of the better pitchers in the league after the All-Star break.

    That improvement mostly came due to Cashner’s vastly improved control after the break. He increased his K/BB rate by a substantial amount (3.21 in the second half, up from 2.39). That led to a 2.14 ERA and 0.95 WHIP in the second half, putting him seventh and fourth in the majors in those categories, respectively, among pitchers with at least 60 innings pitched during that span.

Top Keys to Success

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    The Padres will need Maybin to step it up when he returns from injury.
    The Padres will need Maybin to step it up when he returns from injury.Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

    Production From the Bottom of the Lineup

    The top of the lineup might not stack up against some of the National League’s elite teams, but there are at least a few established hitters there. For the most part, however, that’s not the case with the bottom half.

    With a lineup that lacks one true star player, the Padres will need production throughout in order to improve upon last season’s run production. That starts with Jedd Gyorko’s development—the sophomore infielder had a fantastic rookie campaign that he’ll look to build upon.

    New addition (and likely No. 7 hitter) Seth Smith will look to rebound after a tough 2013 season, and there’s reason to believe he’ll do so. According to MLB.com’s Corey Brock, Smith said he had trouble tracking pitches for much of the season, an issue he hopes can be corrected thanks to some touch-up Lasik surgery performed in August.

    Following the surgery, Smith put up a .341/.431/.568 slash line after hitting .241 before the surgery, then batted .313 in the playoffs. Whether the turnaround is attributable to the procedure remains to be seen, but the correlation certainly speaks volumes.

    "It's hard to say if it's physical or mental," Smith said, per Brock’s article. "We're crazy humans, and sometimes feeling like a better baseball player can make you a better baseball player," he added.

    Perhaps Smith can return to his 2011 form, when he batted .284 with an .830 OPS. Doing so could provide the spark the lower half of the lineup needs.

    Avoiding Injury

    The Padres won’t be able to prove their talent unless their key players can stay on the field. While staying healthy is only part of the issue—many of the team’s oft-injured players have question marks on the field as well—there’s no question various injuries have constantly held the Padres back.

    On paper, this team has a decent shot to contend for a playoff spot once the injured players return. Josh Johnson was one of the National League’s best pitchers when he was healthy a few years ago, and Cameron Maybin has shown his ability to anchor an outfield in the past, with a solid 4.5 WAR in 2011. In short, the Padres’ chances are questionable even when healthy, but those chances go down to nil if the key injuries keep occurring.

Previewing San Diego’s Opening Series

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    Denis Poroy/Getty Images

    The Padres have a tough opening assignment, going up against the Los Angeles Dodgers for a three-game set beginning March 30.

    San Diego will have the advantage of playing the series at home, meaning Andrew Cashner will throw the first pitch of the Padres’ season as he’ll look to extend his league-leading 16-inning scoreless streak. The game will be televised on ESPN, and Clayton Kershaw figures to make the start for the Dodgers, meaning San Diego will be thrust into action right off the bat.

    The Dodgers began their season with a pair of wins over the Arizona Diamondbacks in Australia, flexing their $216 million muscles in what was the beginning of a season-long quest to break a 25-year World Series drought. The Padres, owners of the fifth-lowest payroll in baseball, might not stack up well against the Dodgers on paper or in spending prolificness, but San Diego still has a few tricks up its sleeve for this matchup.

    For one, Cashner has had exceptional success against the Dodgers in the past, limiting them to a .228 average (and minuscule .598 OPS).

    It also doesn’t hurt that the Dodgers’ power-filled lineup will be more restricted by playing in the Grand Canyon-esque Petco Park, making this more of a level playing field when it comes to offensive firepower. Limiting the Dodgers lineup is one thing, however—whether the Padres lineup can conquer Kershaw and his fellow ace, Zack Greinke, is another far more challenging matter.

2014 San Diego Padres Season Outlook

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    Denis Poroy/Getty Images

    It’s far from a stretch to say the Padres could surprise some teams this season. General Manager Josh Byrnes made a flurry of moves in the offseason, and while it may appear that the team didn’t improve much due to the lack of a big impact player, the patching up here and there could make a big difference in 2014.

    Even so, San Diego’s success relies on far too many “if” situations to inspire much confidence. The Padres will return to offensive respectability if Chase Headley returns to form and the bottom of the lineup can come through. The Padres will have a solid rotation if Josh Johnson returns strong from injury and Tyson Ross has a breakout season. Can Huston Street maintain his success? Will Carlos Quentin post the high-20 homer total he’s capable of, or succumb to yet another injury?

    San Diego is certainly capable of embodying a team that wins without that one star player, à la San Francisco’s 2010 title-winning club. But with so many uncertainties, it’s hard to imagine much success unless everyone does his part, which could just be asking too much. In short, the Padres are a dark horse in the National League West, but they still have plenty to prove. A push for the second wild card spot isn’t out of the realm of possibility, but given the NL West’s difficulty, a .500 finish is a more reasonable assumption.

     

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