Austin Hedges, Fransisco Mejia
A lot of people seem to believe that the catcher position is already set for the Padres come opening day. While the probability that both Austin Hedges and Fransisco Mejia will be on the opening day roster is quite high, the team may elect to go a different way.
Hedges is a lock to make the roster and will likely be the opening day starter. He is one of the best defensive catchers in all of baseball and provides tremendous value to the young pitching staff that the Padres currently have. The biggest negative for Hedges has always been his struggles at the plate and the lack of improvement in that department over the years. There is some pressure on Hedges to perform at the plate because of the offensive capabilities that Fransisco Mejia has, but for now, his starting spot should be safe.
When the Padres acquired Fransisco Mejia from the Cleveland Indians last season, many fans viewed him as the long-term catcher for the organization moving forward. Players like Mejia are very rare, as he is a catcher with tremendous offensive abilities. He has the potential to be the best offensive catcher in baseball and a staple in the Padres lineup moving forward. Mejia is nowhere near the defensive catcher that Austin Hedges is, but he is no slouch either. He possesses one of the best arms in the league right now, but he needs to improve his pitch framing to truly become a reliable catcher at the professional level. The Padres paid a hefty price in acquiring Mejia and expect them to give him every opportunity to be their franchise catcher moving forward.
The narrative that the Padres should carry three catchers, or that Mejia should start the season in El Paso, does not make sense to me. In what will likely be a developmental year, Chris Stewart has no business making this roster as he will just take away reps from both Hedges and Mejia. Austin Allen is a great player and prospect, but him breaking camp with the Padres just takes away everyday reps he could be receiving in the minor leagues.
Both Austin Hedges and Fransisco Mejia should break camp with the Padres and both of them should get a decent amount of playing time this season to see who will be the team’s primary catcher moving forward.
This one is about as obvious as can be. Hosmer, who signed an eight-year deal with the Padres last off-season, will be the Padres’ first baseman for a very long time. He was the only first baseman on the roster 25-man roster last season and will likely be the only one this year. Wil Myers will likely be the backup first baseman when Hosmer is given an off day but expect Hosmer to play around 150 games for the Padres this year.
Obviously, last season was not what most expected it to be for Hosmer. He struggled mightily, posting a .253 batting average and striking out a career-high 142 times. There should be no reason to panic, however, as Hosmer was still making adjustments to the national league and is a career .280 hitter. He does need to improve on elevating the baseball more but Hosmer is poised for a bounce-back season and is still a big part of this team moving forward.
Kinsler is the only player I have listed at second base because, spoiler alert, I fully expect Luis Urias to break camp as the opening day shortstop.
Signed by the Padres this off-season, Kinsler was brought in by the organization to act as a veteran mentor for the young talent that the Padres have in their middle infield. By default, however, Kinsler is going to find himself playing pretty much every day until Fernando Tatis Jr. is called up to the team. A gold-glove caliber second baseman, Kinsler struggled with the bat last season with both the Angels and the Red Sox. He’s historically been a really good offensive player, however, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he was at least average with the bat this season. He’s certainly not apart of the Padres’ long-term plans by any means, but Kinsler is the perfect low-risk, high-reward player that could be traded at the deadline for a potential piece if he gets hot at the right time.
Jose Pirela is listed as an outfielder on the Padres’ website, but he played the majority of his innings at second base last season and I am classifying him as a second baseman for that reason. Pirela was impressive for the team in 2017 but struggled mightily last season and has likely played his way out of a job. With the additions and infield versatility of Ian Kinsler and Greg Garcia, Pirela just does not have a fit on this roster anymore. He will likely be designated for assignment at the end of spring training, if not before.
Esteban Quiroz, who was acquired from the Red Sox this off-season, is another intriguing player in camp with the team. He’s 27 years old and made his professional debut last season, but the offensive abilities of Quiroz cannot be overlooked. Despite standing at roughly 5’6″, Quiroz can swing the bat well and has some raw power in his toolbelt. If he was able to play shortstop at a consistently good level, he would easily have made the roster for me here. Quiroz is the perfect prospect trade candidate, as he does not have a long-term fit with the Padres but does offer an interesting skill set that a team may want to take a chance on.
Luis Urias, Greg Garcia
Let’s address this now before anything else: Fernando Tatis Jr. will likely not break camp with the Padres and he should not. Having Tatis up for an extra month or so is not more valuable than getting that extra year of service time out of him and the Padres front office will likely realize it. He is also known for starting out the season slow and it just makes logical sense for the team to allow him to get into a rhythm before calling him up for his debut.
With that out of the way, another Padres’ prospect will hold the fort down before Tatis is ready to come up. Luis Urias, who made his big league debut last season, has gold glove caliber potential in his future as a second baseman. He will play shortstop for the Padres until Tatis is ready, however, and will then slide over to second base once the star prospect is called up. Urias is a virtual lock to make this roster.
The Padres claimed Greg Garcia off waivers from the St. Louis Cardinals this off-season. The left-handed Garcia is not anything special at the plate, but he adds a left-handed bat to the lineup and has a knack for getting on base. His versatility on defense certainly impressed the Padres, as Garcia can essentially play anywhere on the infield. He should spell both Urias and Kinsler when Andy Green wants to give them a day off and should be a solid bench option for the team.
Javy Guerra is easily the best defensive shortstop in camp not named Fernando Tatis, but his offensive game has not improved at all. Guerra is a legitimate liability at the plate and has not shown any signs of an improvement over the years. The potential for him to be great with the glove is there, but with no offensive game at all, Guerra is likely just organizational depth at this point.
This one does not take much explaining. The Padres made Machado the highest paid athlete in the history of American sports and he is easily one of the best third basemen in the game. He will start almost every game for the club at the hot corner and will be their best player by far this year.
The Machado signing means that presumed starter Ty France will more than likely be heading back to the minor leagues. France impressed last season when he was called up to El Paso but there are legitimate concerns as to if France can ever become a major league caliber baseball player. That will not happen with the Padres, as the corners are currently occupied by Machado and Hosmer, and France will likely get an opportunity with another team at some point in his career. For now, he will start the season in Triple-A with El Paso.
Jason Vosler was acquired by the Padres this off-season in a trade that sent Rowan Wick to Chicago. Vosler was not protected by the Padres from the Rule-5 draft and it was a shock to some when he was not selected by another team in that draft. The 25-year-old Vosler hit 23 home runs last season at the Triple-A level and does have some untapped power in his swing. He does not fit anywhere on this Padres roster at the current moment, however, and will likely spend the majority of this season in El Paso.
The Padres have an overcrowded outfield, to say the least. This is both a good and bad problem to have, as there is a plethora of talent patrolling the Friars outfield but simply not enough playing time for all of them.
Wil Myers is an automatic lock to make this roster. Myers struggled to stay healthy last season as he only appeared in 83 games for the Padres. There is no doubt that, when he is healthy, Myers is one of the best offensive players on the entire roster. In the two seasons that Myers has played in more than 150 games with the club, he has belted 58 home runs and 58 doubles. He was a double away from hitting 30 doubles and 30 home runs in 2017 and almost accomplished that feat in 2016 as well. Myers will be the opening day starter in left field but expect him to be moved around the outfield during spring training. The Padres have expressed interest in playing him in center field at times so that he, Franmil Reyes, and Hunter Renfroe can all get in the same lineup against certain left-handed pitchers. Myers is poised to have a bounce-back season in 2019.
Manuel Margot, the presumed opening day starter in center field, has a lot to prove in 2019. Had Franchy Cordero not gone down with an injury last season, Margot could have potentially lost his starting spot in what was a down year for the 24-year-old. His improvement on the defensive side of the ball was much noted, as Margot played gold-glove caliber defense all season, but he regressed at the plate and should some weakness in running the bases. With Luis Urias likely to be in the lineup almost every day, Margot can slide down to the bottom of the order where he will face less pressure and hopefully improve his offensive numbers. He needs to show that he is still a key piece of the Padres’ future moving forward.
Hunter Renfroe is probably the most frustrating Padres’ prospect that we have seen in the last five years. The potential for him to hit 35+ home runs and be a legitimate offensive threat has always been there, but Renfroe has just not seemed to tap into it yet. Renfroe struggled mightily at the beginning of 2018, but turned it around after the all-star break and showed glimpses of what he can become one day. His plate discipline improved and he started to hit for more than just power, spraying the ball to all fields. The power was, and always will be, there as he led the Padres in home runs again despite the fact that he only received 441 at-bats on the season. Renfroe will be in an on-going competition with Franmil Reyes for the starting job in right field, but he is just too talented to not crack the big league roster.
Franmil Reyes was undoubtedly the team’s best hitter last season as he provided a much-needed middle of the order bat for the Padres in 2018. In 261 at-bats in 2018 Reyes posted a .280/.340/.498 batting line with 16 home runs and drove in 31 runs. Reyes has tremendous plate discipline and is more than just a power hitter despite his size. The biggest question mark with him is how good of a defender he can truly be, but Reyes has said that he has been putting in the work to improve defensively. The competition between him and Renfroe should be closely monitored despite the fact that both of them will crack the opening day roster.
The final roster spot comes down to one thing: versatility. Travis Jankowski just does more for the Padres than Franchy Cordero does at this point. He is a prototypical grit-and-grind player, as Jankowski prolongs at-bats, is a great bunter, can play all three outfield spots well, and can enter the game as a pinch runner or defensive replacement at any time. Cordero can do all of those as well, but his high strikeout rate is still a concern and he just does not provide as much value to the club that Jankowski does. There is no doubt in my mind that we will see Cordero at some point in 2019, but Jankowski is just a better compliment to the rest of the outfielders on this roster to open up the season.