It’s been a tough season for the Padres, as the team is clearly rebuilding and lacking in significant talent at the major league level.
The result is a team that will likely lose over ninety games by the time the 2018 regular season comes to a close.
The good news is that San Diego’s farm system is looking as fruitful as it maybe has ever been — giving the team a good chance of contending in the near future. When we’re talking about prospects of the caliber the Padres have, it’s hard not to be very excited about what’s to come soon for them.
The question is, how soon can we expect this team to be contending?
It’s looking like 2020 will be the most likely time the team seriously chases a playoff spot, if we’re being realistic about when a lot of the Padres’ prospects will arrive in San Diego or be settled enough in the league to be successful. Yet the question of whether the team can start to really win in the next season, is quite an intriguing one.
If we look back a few years to the success of young teams like the 2015 Cubs and Astros, it’s clear that the two teams weren’t really considered contenders coming into the season in which they both surprised many people by reaching the playoffs.
These were teams that significantly improved from one season to the next. Take a look at their improvements in record between the 2014 and 2015 seasons:
|Team||2014 Record||2015 Record||Difference|
The Padres are on pace to have a record of 64-98 in 2018, so they compare fairly well to the 2014 versions of the Cubs and Astros. They’re clearly worse, but still resemble the 2014 Astros and Cubs in many ways. It isn’t unrealistic for teams to drastically improve from one year to the next, as the teams in the table above did. The Cubs and Astros saw the rise of highly-touted prospect hitters such as Carlos Correa and Kris Bryant — players who were at the forefront of their respective franchises’ own ascensions to playing meaningful games in October. Do the Padres have a talent of similar caliber in their system? Sounds a lot like Fernando Tatis Jr., right? We can check that box, as the nineteen-year-old was mashing in Double-A this season and is looking close to making his debut early in the 2019 season.
We really need to be more sure that Tatis Jr. is truly comparable to the aforementioned Correa and Bryant, though. Let’s use the MLB Pipeline ratings of the three players to gauge whether it’s fair to consider Tatis Jr. in the same category as the superstars in Houston and Chicago. Here are the tool grades for the three, as given by MLB Pipeline:
The tool ratings and overall grades are very comparable between the three, so it’s pretty reasonable to put Tatis Jr. in the same category as the Cubs and Astros’ franchise cornerstones. Of course no team can turn things around on the back of one single player, though. The Astros already had strong hitters like Jose Altuve, and the Cubs had Anthony Rizzo anchoring their lineup beginning in 2012. The 2014 Cubs had three players produce 11.7 fWAR in Anthony Rizzo, Luis Valbuena, and Starlin Castro. The top three hitters on the Astros’ 2014 team combined for 9.2 fWAR, so clearly Houston and Chicago had strong position player bases to work with going into their surprising 2015 campaigns.
Do the 2018 Padres have enough offensive firepower to reasonably compare to the aforementioned teams? Let’s look at the WAR figures of their three most valuable hitters:
Obviously, the production of the Padres’ three best position players does not match the performances of the Cubs and Astros’ trios. Though it would be reasonable for the Padres to expect more production out of Wil Myers if he could stay healthy during a given season, which he did successfully in 2016 and 2017. A full season of Manuel Margot would also figure to be more useful next season than his 2018 campaign, and Eric Hosmer is another bounce-back candidate as well. Yet being so optimistic is not always the most realistic approach, so it would seem like a 50-50 chance the team gets 8-11 WAR out of Margot, Hosmer, and Myers next year.
We can’t forget the pitching that the Astros and Cubs had in 2014, either. The Cubs got 9.0 fWAR from their three strongest pitchers, while the Astros also had 9.0 fWAR produced by their best three hurlers. Once again, let’s see how the 2018 Padres stack up:
So for the second time, the Padres don’t compare well to the contending teams we’ve tried to compare them to, only producing 4.3 WAR by way of their bullpen arms, actually. The farm system is stacked with pitching, and many of the pitchers will likely be making their debuts next season, such as pitchers Chris Paddack and Logan Allen. The depth of the pitching staff will make it very formidable next year, with many young arms ready to contribute in the rotation and bullpen as needed.
So there you have it, as far as analyzing the Padres’ chances of being contenders in 2019. The reality is that we can’t really know whether the team is going to be very competitive next year, because so much of the Padres’ success would be relying upon young players who haven’t yet made their debuts. Yet the same could be said of the 2015 Astros and Cubs, so there is some chance of the team contending. If guys like Francisco Mejía, Luis Urías, and Fernando Tatis Jr. turn out to be 2-3 WAR contributors, then we’ve already got 6-8 WAR before even counting that of Myers, Margot, and Hosmer. If you add in a big free-agent signing, hopefully that’s another 3-6 WAR kind of player, which is something A.J. Preller could do without surprising anyone. The first shock this offseason may be the Padres making a huge splash in free agency, but the bigger shock would be the team contending in 2019.