Opening Day is nearly here and the Padres have a bunch of roster decisions to make. Some are going to be extremely difficult. Others are no-brainers. Still others will no doubt be over-thought when the answer should be obvious.
After a truncated Spring Training with a shortened Cactus League schedule the Friars have to pick 28 guys to be on their Opening Day roster. Most of them we already know. However, there are a handful of spots where the obvious choice might not be the best choice.
So, here’s how I think the roster SHOULD look when the Friars take the field on April 7 at Chase Field against the Diamondbacks (assuming no more trades are consummated between now and then) and let’s get some controversy out there right from the first pitch:
You may notice one glaring omission here but Fernando Tatis Jr. is out until probably June at the earliest with that wrist injury. Oh, and Eric Hosmer should not be on this club, either. They’ve tried and tried to trade him away, even reportedly attaching controllable big leaguers and/or desirable prospects to entice a franchise to take him off their hands.
The problem with Hosmer isn’t that he’s not producing at a high level. The problem is he’s visibly not trying to be a good baseball player. Like legendary basketball coach Steve Fisher said, “Don’t make me coach effort.” The Angels recently DFA’d Justin Upton and his $28 million contract. If the Friars can’t trade Hosmer they can simply cut him loose (I know, it’s a huge financial commitment but at this point it’s time to fish or cut bait).
Plus, Abrams is more than ready. The 21-year-old infield prospect has played his way onto this team. Shoot, he might have done that even if Tatis was healthy. A starting lineup of Machado at 3rd, Kim at short, Abrams at 2nd, and Cronenworth at 1st might be the best defensive infield in the game and with Voit at DH you have plenty of offense. Now, that doesn’t give you much depth, but that’s also addressed in the next two position groups.
Beaty can play both corner outfield AND both corner infield spots so he can backfill at multiple positions. Myers hasn’t done much during Cactus League play and has underperformed his contract but unlike Hosmer nobody can question his commitment. Plus, at 31 years old he still has a few years left in his prime and a return to the 30-HR guy we saw a few years ago is infinitely possible.
Grisham is a Gold Glover in CF but he’s had injury issues so depth here is still a concern. The Padres have kicked around the idea of Abrams, one of the fastest players in the game, starting to learn the outfield and getting regular reps there when Tatis returns.
Profar is probably best used as a super-utility kind of guy instead of an everyday left fielder but he’s shown more than enough ability to handle the defensive demands of the position. The question is his bat and a general lack of power in the San Diego lineup.
I really, really like this group. Like, a lot more than most people do. Pitchers love throwing to Nola. Yu Darvish had arguably his best Cactus League outing this year with Austin behind the plate instead of his “personal catcher” in Caratini. However, Nola has been dinged up multiple times behind the plate and he’s got some serious positional flexibility.
Nola was a shortstop at LSU and has played every infield spot. You may recall last May when he was a late-inning defensive replacement and ended a game in Colorado with a ridiculous over-the-shoulder catch in shallow right field. He’s a guy who might be best served in a part-time catching role and getting reps around the infield when other guys need a break.
Pitchers also love to work with Caratini (see Musgrove, Joe: no-hitter). His bat seems to be at its best when he’s playing a few times a week. He really wore down last year having to be the everyday backstop because of injuries but has thrived in his career as the backup.
And then we have Alfaro, who during Spring Training has looked like Yadier Molina and Mike Piazza had a catching baby. He’s always had light tower power and showed that off with four homers and a 1.458 OPS in 22 Cactus League at-bats. He did strike out a concerning nine times but the power potential is awfully intoxicating. Alfaro’s arm behind the plate is also elite. He not only has a cannon, he puts the ball right on the bag to stop the opposition’s running game.
If Alfaro can keep his strikeout rate down and Nola can stay healthy, this is a dangerous group. And, it doesn’t even include Luis Campusano, one of the game’s top catching prospects who isn’t quite ready to stick on the big league club (but should have a chance some time during the season).
STARTING PITCHERS (6)
OK, here’s where things start getting a little wacky.
Mike Clevinger is likely headed to the IL with knee soreness. Manager Bob Melvin said he was probably being rushed to get ready after Tommy John surgery anyways so it might be a blessing in disguise to slow him down a bit. The other omission is Chris Paddack.
I thought long and hard about leaving Snell off this list. I think he still has the ability to win another Cy Young Award. However, the reality of the situation on April 5 is the lefty sits tied for the team’s Cactus League lead with four walks. He’s only thrown 1.1 innings. Snell’s progression has been much slower during this shortened Spring Training and the bottom line is he’s just not ready to go right now.
The Friars are likely going with a “piggyback” situation for Snell where they’d keep an extra starter and for the first month or so have them both go on a regular every 5th day basis. For example, Snell would get the first 4.0 innings and anonther starter would know that he’s coming in for the 5th no matter what happens, keeping him on a starter’s routine. If Snell runs into trouble a traditional reliever would fill the gap.
That job basically comes down to Paddack and Gore. Had the 8th inning on Sunday not happened it would be Gore in a landslide. Then he gave up a grand slam to Sheldon Neuse and created just that little bit of doubt. Still, he punched out 16 hitters with just three walks and for the most part was dazzling. If he’s not ready for The Show now he’s never going to be, leaving Paddack as the odd man out. He’d likely either start the year at Triple-A El Paso or be traded away.
Now, that could change on Tuesday. Snell starts against the White Sox and if he doesn’t get through at least 3.0 innings with dramatically improved command he should not make the Opening Day roster. Put him on the IL with some kind of exaggerated ailment (teams do it all the time) and get his arm to the point he’s ready to contribute. That would likely open up another spot for a position player on the club.
As for the rest of the rotation, Melvin all but confirmed on Monday that Darvish, Manaea, and Musgrove will be the first three in the rotation. That means the Grossmont HS kid will start the home opener on April 14 against the Braves, which is AWESOME. Martinez has been extremely sharp in his return to MLB after four years in Japan so it’s hard to imagine him not being in the rotation as the 4th starter.
RELIEF PITCHERS (10)
Yes, this is a monster bullpen, and yes, it’s necessary. It’s still going to take a few weeks for all the pitchers to be fully built up, another effect of the lockout.
Suarez might have right of first refusal on the closer’s job. Much like Martinez, he had a dominant season in Japan last year and struck out seven in 4.0 Cactus League innings with the Padres. Johnson could also get some 9th inning work and Lamet, although he had a hiccup on Sunday giving up back-to-back homers against Oakland, has the stuff to be a stopper.
Pagan got off to a great start then struggled but he’s working with a new split-finger fastball that takes some tinkering. He should be better when the games count. Adams threw 4.0 innings and only hit one batter(!) so he’s got a spot in the ‘pen.
Hill has proven himself a reliable lefty for two years now and Stammen is the consummate professional. What Crismatt did last year didn’t get enough attention. He ate so many innings because of starters being hurt or ineffective that he might have saved a couple of careers. A guy like that is always welcome in my bullpen.
Wilson and Krol combined to go 10.2 innings and didn’t allow a run. The former was an 8th round pick by the Padres in 2018 out of Santa Clara who’ll be making his MLB debut while the latter is another lefty picked up in the off-season on a minor league deal.
Luis Garcia is dealing with an abdominal issue or else he’d be on this list and when Drew Pomeranz is healed up from off-season flexor tendon surgery he’ll add another big arm from the left side.
That’s how I would do things. Of course, A.J. Preller will probably change it all with some blockbuster trade on Wednesday night.
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