With a record of 17-31, the San Diego Padres have utterly met expectations.
For a short time, there was hope among some that the team would surprise the baseball world, and prove the many analysts who predicted a dismal season for the Friars wrong. Most fans acknowledged that during this rebuilding year, the team was on track for a losing season; maybe even headed for the worst record in MLB. It seems that we’ve finally reached the point of the season in which the idea of “embracing the tank” has changed from what some would describe as a highly pessimistic perspective into a simple reality; a by-product of the rebuild to help us make sense of the team’s performance.
At least the team hasn’t remained stagnant. In the month of May, the Padres have posted a record of 6-15 as of the 24th. The front office has decided to shake some things up. One of the first offensive moves the team made was the claiming of journeyman outfielder Matt Szczur from the Chicago Cubs off of waivers on May 8th. Immediately, he introduced a jolt of energy into the Padres’ lineup, going 3-4 in his first start with the team against the Texas Rangers on the 10th.
Still, the team struggled. From the 15th-21st the Padres went 2-5 at home, in a week-long stretch of abysmal baseball, plagued by horrible pitching all around as well as a severe lack of run production. At the end of the homestretch, the front office decided they needed to bring in some more new blood. Luis Sardinas was DFA’d and eventually snagged by the Baltimore Orioles. Carter Capps was moved to the 60-DL which opened up a spot on the 40-man roster. The team claimed journeyman infielder Chase d’Arnaud off of waivers from the Boston Red Sox.
There’s one other move that has some people scratching their heads, and that was the call up of second base prospect Carlos Asuaje from Triple-A. He came up for a couple of days beginning on the 23rd, and was sent back down on the 25th. He was given two pinch hit at-bats during his short stint, going 0-2. His showing was apparently not good enough to hold onto a spot and he was replaced on the 25-man roster by Dinelson Lamet, who started Thursday’s game against the New York Mets.
Should Asuaje have gotten a better look? He is certainly one of the Padres’ upper prospects, closest to MLB ready. He has proven his value in Triple-A over the past few seasons. What would it look like to bring him back in the near future?
The Padres are currently carrying several second/third baseman on their 25-man roster. Yangervis Solarte is pretty much locked into his starting role at second, while Ryan Schimpf and Cory Spangenberg have been sharing time at third. Schimpf has taken most of the playing time at the hot corner with Spangenberg spending time in left field in Alex Dickerson and Travis Jankowski’s absence. Erick Aybar, Allen Cordoba, and d’Arnaud are also capable of filling in around the infield.
Asuaje hasn’t performed very well in El Paso this season so far. His slash line is .222/.335/.319 with a wRC+ in only 80 in 171 plate appearances versus his 2016 season in which he went .321/.378/473 with a wRC+ of 128 in 597 plate appearances.This is not exactly the stellar performance in a hitter’s league like the PCL which compels a call up. So what is Asuaje’s benefit on this roster?
If you ask me, I think team management is starving to see run production in more aggressive and creative ways. During the last home stretch, manager Andy Green came right out and told the press that he believes the team cannot rely on production from home runs alone, which has certainly been their main source of scoring in the month of May. It simply has not been good enough. There have been way too many empty innings with runners stranded on base. It’s enough to drive anyone watching insane, let alone management. What the team seems to need is a healthy infusion of small ball.
The “spark plug player” may be the answer to the needs of this team. Guys like Szczur, Cordoba, Spangenberg, Myers, Solarte, and a few others, regularly bring energy to the lineup that has the propensity to get stuck in the mud. Usually these guys aren’t all on at the same time, so having fresh blood introduced to the lineup and coming off of the bench can provide a little extra mojo to a team that often needs it. It may be the best way for the team to keep things interesting in this “tank” season. It would be really great to see if Asuaje can bring the same energy to this Padres lineup that he brought to the PCL championship team as a member of the “Core Four” in El Paso in 2016.
It appears that the team is attempting to retain some solid options off the bench. With a pitching staff as volatile as the Padres have, there are plenty of pinch-hitting opportunities on a regular basis. Szczur and Cordoba have been providing some solid production when they come off the bench; so has Hector Sanchez when healthy. It’s too soon to know what d’Arnaud is capable of. He may stick, he may not. If called back up, it’s possible that Asuaje could find his niche off the bench as well, which could lead to more playing time. He profiles as a line drive hitter with some gap power and a good eye for the strike zone. A quick bat like his could be just what the team needs, especially with runners in scoring position.
Trades are by no means an impossibility and who knows; it’s tough to think about it, but Solarte may be one of the team’s top trade chips. If he is moved at some point, Asuaje’s left-handed bat may become much more valuable on the roster. Sardinas was a switch hitter, so the Padres have already lost his bat from the left side (as ineffectual as it was) and may see a benefit in replacing it with Asuaje’s down the road. It would be a good thing for the young player to have gained a little MLB experience prior to any such move. This will give the front office an opportunity to evaluate Asuaje before making big changes.
Erick Aybar may also not make it through the season. I imagine his .206 batting average puts him on a pretty short leash. Chances are he may get released, especially with Cordoba performing like he has. The youngster really should be starting at shortstop at this point. If this happens there will be one less bat off of the bench for Asuaje to contend with, though they do bat from different sides of the plate.
Before the season, Asuaje was ranked as the 26th top prospect in the Padres’ system by us here at the East Village Times, and even higher on many other ranking systems. In an organization as deep as the Padres, that is saying something. The team’s run production is underwhelming at the major league level and a good shake up from time to time may keep things interesting. Dare I say that there’s more to come this season? Unlike many other prospects in the organization, Asuaje is pretty much major league ready. Trades are certainly on the horizon, so room for Asuaje could possibly open up. In the event of one or more infielders being traded from the Padres’ roster, it may be best for Asuaje to gain some major league experience leading up these moves in order for him to slot into a new role more comfortably. We will have to wait and see what is on the horizon for this prospect, but chances seem good that we will see him in a Padres uniform again before the end of the season.