Dwelling in the cellar at 25-40, the 2017 season has been a work in progress for the San Diego Padres.
There are no surprises here. Everyone with some sense was expecting the season to look something like this.
Has it been all bad? No, not at all.
At the close of May, the club managed a 10-game stretch during which they went 7-3 and swept the Chicago Cubs in the process. There has been some outstanding progress made among many of the youngest players, including, but not limited to, Manuel Margot, Hunter Renfroe, Franchy Cordero, Luis Perdomo, Allen Cordoba, Austin Hedges, and Miguel Diaz. On a daily basis one or more of the new Friars demonstrate sparks of excellence, giving fans glimpses of the future.
If there’s one thing that we’re especially excited about here at the East Village Times, it’s the future of this ballclub for years to come. So, while the team’s record may not be so hot this season, from a forward-focused perspective, this has been one of the more exciting Padres seasons in recent memory.
It’s always thrilling to watch young prospects develop, but sometimes it can be similarly gratifying to see an older player put it all together for the first time on a big league roster. Last season we witnessed it with Brad Hand, who took his game to the next level as a back-end reliever after being claimed off of waivers by the Padres. In 2016, he appeared in a league-leading 82 games and struck out 111 batters. His dominance in that same role has carried into the 2017 season.
The Padres acquired Jose Pirela from the New York Yankees in November 2015. The utility infielder had spent his development in the Yankees organization with a short, yet promising stint on the major league roster during the previous season. Pirela started the 2016 season in Triple-A but made his way up to the Padres on April 22. His showing at the plate was unimpressive, posting a .154/.175/.205 slash line with a -2 wRC+, a 2.4 % walk rate and a 22% strikeout rate. Eventually an achilles injury stifled Pirela’s season, and in June he was removed from the 40-man roster. He had done virtually nothing to grab anyone’s attention at that point.
He was non-tendered in the 2016 off-season and became a free agent. Nobody else wanted him, so he then signed a minor league contract with the Padres in December 2016.
Pirela began the 2017 season in El Paso again. This time around he destroyed the Pacific Coast League. In 201 plate appearances, he slashed .304/.333/.304, hitting 13 home runs, collecting 42 RBI, and stealing eight bases with a wRC+ of 161. It seems that suddenly a fire was ignited within the 27-year-old.
On June 6, the Padres promoted Jose Pirela from Triple-A El Paso. In seven games and 30 plate appearances, he has slashed .500/.567/.885, with two home runs and six RBI with a wRC+ of 280. He is in the midst of a seven-game hitting streak and he’s had multiple hits in five of his last six games. He’s also been a formidable fill-in for the injured Manuel Margot in the leadoff spot in the batting order. Sure, it’s a small sample size, but when you combine it with what he’s accomplished in Triple-A this season, he’s sustained a legitimate period of success.
So do we have a diamond in the rough on our hands? We’ll see.
The question with Pirela is; where do you play him? He’s hitting everything right now so Andy Green has to find room in the lineup for him. It’s highly unlikely that he’ll be able to sustain his .500 batting average throughout the season. His best position is at second base, but he can fill in at first base and in left field. His versatility helps him because the Padres have a logjam at second right now. He is serviceable at the other defensive posts which makes it easier for him to get regular at-bats. With Yangervis Solarte entrenched at second and Wil Myers at first, Pirela’s only option right now is to be moved around the diamond.
Let’s face it, the Padres are going to try to make moves at the trade deadline. Solarte is a name that keeps getting thrown around the trade rumor sphere. If a Solarte trade is to occur, Pirela may be well groomed to take his spot at second. If Pirela continues to play well enough, he may even be a trade chip himself.
It’s really too soon to know exactly how far Pirela may rise. He looks so locked into his game and he’s getting some great results. With players like Margot on the disabled list and others, like Myers, seriously underperforming, Pirela’s ability to step up and contribute has filled the void over the last week. It’s just another interesting storyline for Padres fans to follow during this season full of growth and player development.