Almost two weeks ago the Padres finally did the inevitable and traded Derek Norris.
He went to the Washington Nationals for prospect RHP Pedro Avila.
This was a positive and necessary move, another nod towards the youth movement, as it finally opened up the starting role for Austin Hedges behind the dish. In return, the Padres received another solid piece of young pitching depth to look forward to. I like Norris and I also hope this move works out for his career.
With that, the Padres now have the task of finding Hedges a proper backup. He figures to start around 100 games in his first season leading the team from behind the plate. That is about the range he has been in over the past few years while splitting time in the minors and the majors. It’s hard to tell how he’ll handle the grind of full-time work at the higher level. So if 100 games is the case, the Padres will need someone reliable to account for the 62 remaining games. The obvious response would be Christian Bethancourt. He showed himself to be a quality presence offensively and defensively last season. He’s a great backup choice. The thing is, he’s turning himself into much more than just a traditional backup catcher and that could open up more options for the Padres to give Hedges some support behind him.
Last season, Bethancourt spent the majority of his playing time behind the dish but also spent some time in the outfield and even pitched a few innings. He impressed everybody during his appearance on the mound by pitching a 96 MPH fastball accented with a 53 MPH knuckleball. This unusual ability of Bethancourt’s has prompted the Padres to really look at him as a pitching option. And not just a pitching option, but also a backup catcher and an infield and outfield super utility man. Apparently, Bethancourt has been working out to try this type of role during winter ball. This kind of thing is so unconventional in the modern game, and it’s awesome. We’ll just have to wait and see how it pans out.
If Bethancourt becomes superman, the Padres will be in the unique position to reasonably carry three catchers. Bethancourt will become valuable all over the field, making his roster spot worth more than that of a traditional backup catcher. With all the empty space on the current roster the Padres could easily carry Bethancourt, Hedges, and a traditional backup catcher. Now the question is who will that be?
The Padres did just bring Hector Sanchez back for 2017 on a minor league contract. He’s definitely serviceable behind the plate and he’s a pretty solid pinch hitter. His splits were .286/.348/.524 in 46 plate appearances with the Padres last season. He would profile great as that second backup catcher. Alright then, we’re done with the catchers. Time to find some pitching. Right?
Well, there is one more option to consider. A.J. Preller and the Padres did with the Rule 5 draft just about the same thing that they did during the Amateur Draft and during the international signing period, and ran the table. They acquired all three of the top three selections in the draft. They snagged RHP Miguel Diaz from the Brewers by trading for him with the Twins, who had the first overall pick. They also got catcher Luis Torrens from the Yankees, again by trading for him with the Reds, who had the second pick. The Padres had the third pick and chose infielder Allen Cordoba from the Cardinals. Boom, boom, boom, numbers one, two and three. The Padres came away with some more potential pitching depth, infield depth and oh look, catching depth.
The Reds gave up Luis Torrens to the Padres for cash and lefty-batting infielder Josh Van Meter. Van Meter was considered by some scouts to be one of the Padres top 30 prospects. He’s seen time at third base and at shortstop. He profiles as a potential power threat. Surely the Padres wouldn’t have parted ways with this guy if they weren’t somewhat serious about holding onto Torrens. Now, per the rules of the Rule 5 draft, any player selected must remain on a team’s 25-man roster all season long or else they must be offered back to their original team. The Padres have to keep Torrens on the 25-man roster all season, or lose him.
Torrens is a defense-first catcher, but some scouts believe he could eventually hit for average and maybe even show some power once his body finishes developing. He actually played shortstop and third base as an amateur in Venezuela, but scouts saw more of a catcher in his build. So he switched and turned into a solid catcher. He elevated himself to the number nine prospect in the Yankees organization before tearing his labrum, requiring surgery. He missed all of the 2015 season and played only 52 games in 2016. He did throw out 42 percent of runners in low-A in 2016.
He has never played above low-A. To stay with the Padres, he would have to make the gigantic leap from low-A to the majors and stay there all season. What a stretch.
Here’s how I see it; If the Padres go with Torrens and keep him all season, which I believe they are able to do, it would be a sign that they are thinking really long-term. That would be in line with the strategy that they profess. They have the roster space now and the willingness to allow young players to develop. As much as the win-now voice in my head (which is currently irrational) wants to see Sanchez on the roster, taking a chance on Torrens makes sense from a rebuilding stand point. Of course Sanchez will provide depth from the minors in the event of injury (which is so unlikely in San Diego sports) or even if Torrens simply doesn’t cut it. You also never know, Torrens may pleasantly surprise everyone and rise to the occasion the way that Luis Perdomo did last season.