San Diego Padres shortstop Dusty Coleman took a day off on Thursday afternoon after five straight starts. This break for Coleman came on the heels of an 0-3 night at the plate on Wednesday, during an 8-3 loss to the Cincinnati Reds.
I first became aware of Coleman during spring training. I saw the squad play the Oakland Athletics at Hohokam Stadium in Mesa, Arizona on March 18th. During that game, the Padres’ non-roster infielder launched a solo shot to score the team’s lone run of the day. The Padres ended up losing the game, 2-1. In such a low scoring game, Coleman’s knock stood out to me. Who was this shortstop in a Padres uniform that I had never heard of? My interest was piqued enough for me to do a little research on the player.
Coleman is a 30-year-old, right-handed, glove-first infielder, originally from Sioux Falls, South Dakota. He was drafted by the A’s in the 28th round of the 2008 MLB draft out of college at Wichita State. He signed with the Kansas City Royals before the 2015 season and was called up to the show for the first time on July 3.
During his stint with the Royals, he saw five plate appearances but didn’t manage to get any hits. Though he saw very limited playing time that season, his contribution to the World Series championship team was enough for him to receive a ring.
He signed on to play with the Royals again in 2016, but sustained a broken thumb in May of that season, and remained sidelined until August. The short season ended Coleman’s tenure with the Royals’ organization.
In the 2016-2017 off-season, Coleman signed a minor league deal with the Padres and made his way into training camp as a non-roster invitee. Short of a stellar performance in spring training, the team’s intention was to retain Coleman for Triple-A depth during the season. Erick Aybar, Luis Sardinas, and Rule-5 draft pick, Allen Cordoba, made the Padres’ opening day roster as the team’s options at shortstop. Coleman did in fact, begin the season in El Paso.
As usual, the shortstop position has been like a game of musical chairs for the Padres in 2017. The first fly to fall was Luis Sardinas, who the team designated for assignment on May 21. They promptly claimed Chase d’Arnaud, a journeyman shortstop, who had just been released by the Atlanta Braves. After a light-hitting performance, spanning a little over a month, the Padres released d’Arnaud on July 4. Aybar had been the one consistent player at shortstop on the season, though his batting average was at a dismal .227. He broke his foot in late July and hit the disabled list. At this point, he’s out indefinitely and might not see any more playing time this season.
Running out of options, the Padres thought that they might roll with Cordoba as the starting shortstop for the rest of the season, but with a .219 batting average, his light bat would put too much of a hole in the lineup. The team has also been trying out Yangervis Solarte at the position, but he really lacks the range to be serviceable there.
The team may have held out on Coleman for so much of the season because his offensive numbers were not very good in El Paso. He was slashing .209/.280/.438 with a 76 wRC+ in 348 plate appearances. He also had an ugly 34.2 strikeout percentage. In the Pacific Coast League especially, this is not great hitting. If the Padres were trying to avoid having a hole in the lineup, Coleman didn’t appear to be the answer.
It finally got to the point where the Padres needed a guy in the field who could play the position. As a generally well-regarded fielder, Coleman fit the bill. On Monday July 24, the Padres called him up from Triple-A to join the team at home against the New York Mets.
It didn’t take long for Coleman to start making a statement at the plate. After an 0-3 night in his first appearance on the 24th, he suddenly shifted into gear. On the very next night, he collected his first major league hit against the Mets, an RBI double. Two days later, on the 27th, he smacked his first big league homer, a three-run bomb to right center, once again, against the Mets. On August 5, he had himself a three-hit game against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Since joining the team he’s gathered three multi-hit games.
In 38 plate appearances, Coleman has 11 hits, three home runs, and eight RBI. He is slashing .306/.316/.639 with a wRC+ of 142. Even more dazzling, is his .421 BABIP. He’s hitting the ball exceptionally well when he’s making contact. For comparison, Jose Altuve has a BABIP of .389. Justin Turner is at .353.
The thing about BABIP, though, is that it’s only measuring the times that a player puts the ball in play. There are indicators that Coleman’s success at the plate might be a fluke. His abysmal strikeout percentage in El Paso has followed him into San Diego. He currently sits at K rate of 39.5 percent. That is incredibly high. The lack of plate discipline may end up being Coleman’s downfall.
Realistically, Coleman’s numbers are unsustainable. I guess you can never say never, especially after watching what Jose Pirela has been able to do this season, but it’s unwise to place expectations too high upon a player. Unless Coleman is able to bring the strikeouts down he is eventually going to hit a wall. If he can improve his discipline at the plate and hold onto a semblance of his current numbers he could stick around for a little while.
He does have the best defensive numbers on the team at shortstop. He has a DRS of four and a UZR of -.7, compared to Cordoba who has a DRS of -3 and a UZR of -4. Aybar was sitting at -1 DRS and a -5.2 UZR. It was probably true all along that Coleman was the best defensive, MLB ready, shortstop in the organization. Now that his bat has caught up a little bit, he’s making sense on the team.
The Padres have really been exciting to watch this year for a variety of reasons. Certainly, it’s been entertaining for fans to watch the development of the young players, scheduled to be with the team for years to come. The grit that this team has displayed has also been a source of excitement. There also has been a handful of players who have exceeded expectation and created surprising story lines. I’m talking about players like Pirela, Matt Szczur, and of course, Coleman. Who doesn’t love an underdog? I think as Padres fans we know a thing a thing or two about rooting for the little guy. It’s been fun to watch Coleman defy the odds thus far. I’m looking forward to seeing how long he can keep it going. Ultimately, it would be nice for him to sustain some decent production and find his niche and carve out a nice career in the big leagues for himself. Stay tuned.