Alex Kielar | February 25th, 2020
Next up in our 2020 MLB season previews, we head out West to San Diego to preview the Padres season. The young Padres team has some promise as they try to get back to the postseason for the first time since 2006. They won’t be able to compete with the Dodgers in the NL West, but they can compete for a wild card spot if things go right.
First, we’ll look back at the 2019 season and then look ahead to this season.
Make sure to check out our other Team Previews here.
The Padres finished 70-92 last season, finding themselves in the cellar of the NL West. After starting off great and being in the playoff hunt, they fell off the second half of the season to be way out of it. This season the Padres should see some improvements, as they added some more bats into their lineup, while they have a young and promising rotation. Let’s get into it.
C: Francisco Mejia/Austin Hedges
1B: Eric Hosmer
2B: Jurickson Profar/Brian Dozier
SS: Fernando Tatis, Jr.
3B: Manny Machado
Mejia was once one of the top prospects in all of baseball, but now he has fallen off a bit. Last season he split time with Austin Hedges, who is one of the best defensive catchers in the league but can’t swing the stick very well. Mejia underperformed with a .265/.316/.438 slash line in 79 games, but did have a decent 98 OPS+. He is one of the worst framers in the league, which is why he will probably split time with Hedges again, who frames very well. If Mejia can get better at the plate and hit like he did in the minors, he should get more playing time. Hosmer hasn’t hit for average like he once did, but he will still provide power with around 20 home runs and he is durable to provide over 90 RBI and close to 100 runs. Profar was acquired in a trade with the Oakland Athletics for C Austin Allen and a PTBNL, and he struggled last year with just a .218 batting average and .301 OBP. Despite the low batting average, Profar underperformed his expected stats (.323 xwOBA) and should see an improvement. He still mashed 20 homers, drove in 67 runs, and stole nine bases. Profar could now move around a bit in the infield as a utility guy and split time at second with newly-acquired Brian Dozier. Dozier was just signed on Sunday to a minor league deal with an invite to Spring Training, and with solid play should make it out of camp with the club. The second baseman is coming off a World Series championship with the Nats last year, and while he isn’t the same hitter he once was, he can still give solid pop and production. Last season he mashed 20 taters and drove in 50 runs for the defending champs. He also had a BB% in the top 10% of the league at 12.4%. Tatis, Jr. burst onto the scene last season, as he would’ve been in the Rookie of the Year conversation if not for his injury in August. Machado should see some major improvements as he adjusts to San Diego in his second year there, and he still had a fairly good year last year. The stud defensive third baseman underperformed his expected stats (.342 xwOBA/.335 actual wOBA, .466 xSLG/.462 actual SLG) and still has plenty of room for more breakout. Machado smashed 32 homers and drove in 85 runs.
LF: Franchy Cordero
CF: Tommy Pham
RF: Trent Grisham
Cordero’s 2019 season came to end August 31 as he was trying to rehab back from a quad injury, only playing in nine major league games and 15 overall. He is still young at 25 and has plenty of promise, but hasn’t been able to showcase much with just 270 plate appearances in the minors over the last two seasons. I see Cordero showing off his very high ceiling skills in Spring for the Padres and making it out of camp as the starting left fielder. His ceiling is of a player with 20/20 and even 30/30 potential with very well above-average speed and raw power; with a healthy season, he will be a force to be reckoned with. Pham was acquired in a trade with the Rays back in December for Hunter Renfroe, Minor League infielder Xavier Edwards and a PTBNL. The 31-year old spent the last season and a half with the Rays after the first three and a half with the Cardinals and he adds another solid bat to the San Diego lineup. Pham showed the most durability in his career last season as he played in 145 games. He had a very good xwOBA (.357) and HH% (44.8%) while he showed off his power and speed with a 20/20 season (21 HR, 25 SB). He also had plate discipline with a 1.52 K/BB rate, so he adds very solid production. Grisham was another trade acquisition over the winter, traded from the Brewers along with RHP Zach Davies (more on him later) for 2B Luis Urías, LHP Eric Lauer and cash or a PTBNL. Grisham, now known infamously for allowing the ball to go between his legs on Juan Soto‘s and eventual game-winning double in last year’s Wild Card game, was a rookie last year and played in 51 games. He has the potential after playing well down in Milwaukee’s farm system, but he underperformed when he got to the big leagues (.231/.328/.410, 6 HR, 24 RBI over 183 PA). San Diego has a kind of crowded outfield situation so who wins the last spot will come down to what happens in Spring. Grisham may end up even splitting time with Wil Myers, who hasn’t put up great numbers over the last few seasons.
Starting Rotation Projections
The Padres rotation is very young and very, very unproven, but they have quite a bit of promise. Paddack enters his sophomore season in which he will be let loose a bit more after an innings limit last year. His numbers were outstanding, going 9-7 with a 3.33 ERA, 153 strikeouts, and a 0.98 WHIP over 140.2 IP in 26 starts. Paddack also had a fairly low BB% at 5.5%, but when he did get hit he got hit pretty hard with a 32.3% HH%. He should build off his elite fastball and changeup while improving his curveball to turn into an ace. Richards was signed as a Free Agent back in November to a two-year, $15.5 million deal after coming off a shortened 2019 from going through Tommy John surgery in 2018. The 30-year old spent the last 11 years in the Angels organization, making his debut in 2011, and brings a sort of veteran presence to the rotation. Richards hasn’t pitched in more than 16 games and 76.1 innings since 2015, so it may take him a while to get that workload back. He will probably never be the same pitcher again but will have a lot to prove this year and hopefully give the Padres some solid starts. Davies was acquired in the Luis Urias trade and could be a very solid rotation piece after five seasons with the Brewers. He could see an improvement and benefit from moving from a hitter-friendly Miller Park to pitcher-friendly Petco Park. Davies went 10-7 with a 3.55 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, and 102 SO over 159.2 IP in 31 starts last season. Luchessi had a solid first half last year (3.91 ERA, 4.13 xFIP, and 23.9% K%) but fell off the second half (4.50 ERA, 4.65 xFIP, 22.1% SO%). He really struggled on the road in the second half with a 6.22 ERA and 1.9 HR/9. He will be battling for one of the final rotation spots in the Spring and will hope to get his fastball velocity back as he lost some in the second half. The fourth and fifth spots will be a combination of either Luchessi and Lamet, Luchessi and Quantrill, or Lamet and Quantrill, to start out the season. This will all depend on what happens throughout the Spring and who can perform the best.
The Padres had one of the most dominant bullpens in the league in 2019 and it was their most consistent part of the team. They ranked sixth in fWAR at 5.4, fourth in FIP at 4.00, and second in xFIP at 4.08. They also had a 17.6% K/BB rate, which was good for second-best in the league. The bullpen adds even more to its dominance with new additions Drew Pomeranz and Emilio Pagan. Both of them could be set up men to Yates to make up an extremely feared back-end. Pomeranz was dominant after being traded to the Brewers at the trade deadline last year, improving his fastball velocity and touching up his secondary stuff. He focused on the fastball-curve combo and this helped him put up a 2.39 ERA and 2.68 FIP while striking out batters at a fantastic 42.2% clip (52.1% in September). Pagan, the Rays’ primary closer last season, has some excellent stuff and he even led the league with a low .221 xwOBA allowed among pitchers with at least 100 innings. His strikeout rate jumped to 36.0% up from 24.1% in 2019. Of the Padres 70 wins, 47 of them ended with saves, which was the sixth most saves in the league. Yates recorded 41 of the 47 saves, while the bullpen also recorded 96 holds which were in the top ten in the league as well. The most dominant reliever in the entire league last season (even though he didn’t win the NL Reliever of the Year, but should have), Yates improved several of his numbers from 2018 which was helped out from a more developed and dominant splitter. His strikeout rate went from 36.0% to 41.6%, walk rate dropped to 5.4%, and HR/FB rate was cut way down from 11.4% to 4.8%, despite the juiced balls. After the back three, the rest will be figured out throughout the remaining of the spring. Most of the pitchers I have listed will probably be there, but the order and who gets more innings depends on what they do in the spring. Munoz is another guy who could contest for a setup role, with a blazing fastball that can touch 100 and a solid slider with a 46.3% whiff rate and two hits allowed off it last year. He will need to improve his control (11.3% walk rate) to be a more reliable back-end guy. Strahm was moved to the bullpen in the second half last season and the move worked out for him and the Padres. His ERA as a reliever dropped from 5.29 to 3.27 and his slider that can touch 80 MPH and had a whiff rate of 27.5%. Stammen was brought back on a two-year deal even when it looked like it would be best to let him walk after bringing in Pomeranz. He will be best in a middle innings-eater role as the 35-year old doesn’t have the stuff he once did. Stammen is mostly a groundball pitcher with a career 50.2% GB rate and just a 21.5% strikeout rate.
Players to Watch For
Mackenzie Gore – Gore is the Padres number one prospect and MLB’s fifth overall, according to MLB Pipeline. He reached Double-A Amarillo last season, starting five games and going 2-1 with a 4.15 ERA and 1.29 WHIP in 21.2 IP. Overall between High-A Lake Elsinore and Amarillo, he went 9-2 with a 1.69 ERA, 0.83 WHIP, 135 SO, and .164 BAA over 101.0 IP in 20 starts. He has a very high floor and will be someone to look out for as a potential call-up into the rotation or bullpen sooner rather than later.
Taylor Trammell – Even despite the pretty packed outfield, none of them really blow anyone away. So with that in mind, if anyone struggles the Padres can make some moves to their outfield and give Trammel a shot. He is not currently on the roster, but he did get an invite to Spring Training. The youngster was traded over from the Reds last year at the trade deadline in the three-team deal with Cleveland that sent Trevor Bauer to Cincinnati. Trammel is an advanced hitter with impressive bat speed and has one hit in two at-bats so far this Spring.
The Padres got off to a great start last season but then struggled in the second half to finish with just 70 wins. I believe they will put together a better full season this season and stay in the hunt for a Wild Card spot. They are still very young and unproven, however, so they may be a year away from making the playoffs. I will predict they improve upon last year’s record by 11 games and finish at .500, but they miss out on a packed Wild Card race.
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Main Credit Image: Embed from Getty Images