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San Diego Padres 2015 Team Preview

Major winners this offseason, the retooled San Diego Padres will finally return to contention in 2015.

Justin Upton

After finishing under .500 for the fourth straight season and putting out the league’s worst offense, the San Diego Padres made huge moves this offseason, importing an entire outfield and an ace.

Despite their weak record, the Padres had one of the best pitching staffs in the game last year and will only be better with James Shields at the top of the rotation and a very strong bullpen. The question is how much will their offseason additions help a lineup that was completely lost at the plate last season and how much defense did the Padres sacrifice for offense.

Let’s take a look at the new and improved Padres and what we can expect from them in 2015.

 

Last Season:

Record: 77-85

Runs: 30th

Batting Average: 30th

ERA: 4th

WHIP: 8th

 

Off-Season:

Notable Additions: James Shields, Justin Upton, Matt Kemp, Wil Myers, Brandon Morrow, Will Middlebrooks, Brandon Maurer, Ramiro Pena, Clint Barmes, Shawn Kelley, Tim Federowicz, Scott Elbert, Jose Valverde, Wil Nieves

Notable Losses: Yasmani Grandal, Seth Smith, Tim Stauffer, Eric Stults, Everth Cabrera, Rene Rivera, Jesse Hahn, Blaine Boyer, Donn Roach, Joe Wieland, R.J. Alvarez, Jace Peterson

 

2015:

1B: Yonder Alonso, Tommy Medica

Since joining the Padres in 2012, Alonso has shown glimpses of his former top-40 prospect potential but has been limited by injuries and inefficiency, failing to produce at the level of most MLB-caliber first basemen.

He’s played 181 games over the last two seasons, combining for a .263 BA, .698 OPS, 13 HR, 72 RBI, 30 2B, 61 R, and 12 SB. That’s not bad for one season’s production, though certainly not stellar for a first baseman, but it amounts to a lot less spread out over parts of two seasons. The tools are certainly there: he doesn’t strike out a lot, draws a good amount of walks, and hits plenty of doubles. The key is getting 100+ games out of him for the first time since 2012.

Medica played more than expected last season with Alonso’s injuries and looked underwhelming as he batted just .233 with 22 extra-base hits and 27 RBI in 240 at-bats. Medica hasn’t been in the Padres’ farm system long, playing just 324 games but showing he can hit 20+ home runs and close to 40 doubles per season. He’s already lighting up spring training, going 16-for-33 with four homers, two doubles, and 11 RBI. There’s a lot of potential here but he’ll need to get the strikeouts down and the batting average up for his minor league numbers to translate to the Bigs.

2B: Jedd Gyorko, Cory Spangenberg

After an impressive rookie campaign that saw him hit 23 home runs, Gyorko regressed across the board in 2014, batting just .210 with 10 HR, 51 RBI, and 37 R. The former top-50 prospect showed he can be a perennial 30 HR threat in two seasons in the minors where he batted .320 with a .916 OPS. He has the tools to be a top-5 second baseman in the league but he’ll need to stop chasing and have a better approach at the plate to avoid squandering that potential.

Spangenberg is another former top prospect who doesn’t provide much in the way of pop or extra-base hits but he brings a lot of speed and can steal 20-30+ bases regularly. He’s a solid singles hitter but does most of his damage on the bases.

3B: Yangervis Solarte, Will Middlebrooks

Solarte and Middlebrooks are battling for the third base job and Middlebrooks has had the better spring, going 15-for-44 with two homers, two doubles, and eight runs batted in. Middlebrooks was horrid last year, batting .191 with 19 RBI in 215 at-bats for the BoSox but showed decent pop the previous year, hitting 17 homers in just 348 at-bats. The former top-60 prospect also hit more than 20 home runs in a single season in the minors and showed a good ability to hit for extra-bases. He doesn’t walk much and strikes out an awful lot but this team needs power in the lineup.

Solarte had a solid rookie year last season between the Yanks and Padres, batting .260 with 10 HR, 48 RBI, and 56 R. More impressively, he struck out just 58 times while walking 53 times. That’s right on par with what he showed he can do consistently in the minors, along with a healthy dose of doubles and an ability to play any position on the field. Whereas Middlebrooks is a high-risk, high-reward player, Solarte is a low-risk but mediocre-reward guy.

SS: Alexi Amarista, Clint Barmes

In three seasons in the league, Amarista hasn’t shown anything in the way of offensive production but he has a very strong glove and good speed. He’s a bottom of the lineup hitter but a key role player in the middle infield.

Barmes showed a lot of potential early in his career but the last three seasons have seen him to very little in the lineup for the Pirates but he may have an even better glove than Amarista and can play both middle infield positions.

C: Derek Norris, Wil Nieves

Norris had a strong first half and earned himself an All-Star bid last season but fell off in the second half and didn’t finish the season with the same top-level production. A former top-30 prospect, Norris consistently hit 20+ home runs in the minors with a ton of walks. Last season he hit just 10 home runs so we’re still waiting on the power but his 54 walks were good for seventh-best among catchers. He also finished 13th among catchers in RBI and ninth in WAR while playing a very solid backstop.

He’s well on his way to reaching his top-30 potential, though Petco may limit how much he can produce.

The Padres acquired Tim Federowicz in the offseason to back up Norris but he’s out three to six months with a torn meniscus. That leaves Nieves, who has a solid glove and isn’t the worst hitter in the world, by catcher standards.

 

Outfield:

Justin Upton moves to a Padres team desperately in need of pop and that’s exactly what Upton can provide. Upton has now hit 27 or more home runs in three of his last four seasons, hits a lot of doubles, and just drove in a career-high 102 runs for an otherwise inept Braves offense last year. He strikes out a lot but he gets on base and gets the occasional steal, though not the 20+ SB we saw a few seasons ago. He’s not the best fielding outfielder and certainly has holes in his hitting game but he gives the Padres exactly what they need.

Matt Kemp finally played a full season in 2014 after being injured for much of 2012 and 2013 and looked very close to the MVP-caliber outfielder we saw in 2011. He batted .287 with a .852 OPS, 25 HR, 89 RBI, 77 R, and 38 2B. He’s already lighting up spring training, going 16-for-41 with two homers, five doubles, a triple, and nine runs batted in. No longer a threat to steal 40 and far from the best fielding outfielder, the Padres need Kemp to stay healthy and hit for power and extra-bases.

Wil Myers turned heads in 2013 as he batted .293 with 13 HR, 53 RBI, 50 R, and 23 2B in just 88 games as a rookie. Limited by injuries, he fell off big time last year, batting just .222 with six homers, 35 RBI, 37 R, and 14 2B in 87 games. There’s no denying that Myers has the potential to hit 25+ home runs regularly but the former top-5 prospect certainly poses some risk as well. Another thing to watch is the defense. While Upton, Kemp, and Myers were brought in for their sorely needed bats, this outfield is not the most adept on the defensive side.

Will Venable had a strong 2013 as he hit 22 home runs and stole 22 bases but fell off in 2013, batting just .224 with eight homers, 33 RBI, and 11 SB. He’s lost his starting job thanks to that performance but is a good guy to have off the bench as he’s the only good fielding outfielder the team has.

Carlos Quentin has been the subject of many trade rumors with no room for him in the outfield but is a Padre for the time being. Quentin has terrific power and limits the strikeouts much better than most power hitters but he’s never healthy. He played just 50 games last season and hasn’t played more than 86 games since he was an All-Star in 2011. Quentin gives the Padres a lot of pop off the bench and, with his injury history, maybe the bench is the best place for his longevity.

Cameron Maybin is also stuck with a bench role after playing just 109 games over the last two seasons – and not particularly well. Maybin was a top-10 prospect for years and very highly touted. With 561 games under his belt and just a .246 BA and 150 RBI to show for it, it’s fair to say Maybin is a major bust.

 

Starting Rotation:

James Shields is one of the most consistent pitchers in the league; he’s always healthy, always pitches 220+ innings, and always has a strong ERA. In two seasons with the Royals, Shields went 27-17 with a 3.18 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, and 376 K to 112 BB. His numbers should only get better in Petco.

Andrew Cashner has lived up to his potential the last two seasons, putting up a 3.09 ERA and 1.13 WHIP in 2013 before improving to a 2.55 ERA and 1.13 WHIP in 19 starts last season. We haven’t seen the high strikeout totals he flashed in the minors but he does an exceptional job of limiting walks and keeping the ball in the park. A healthy Cashner should continue to build on a very strong start to his career.

Tyson Ross was great in 2013 but no one believed in him. In 2014, Ross proved the doubters wrong as he reached the All-Star game and posted a 2.81 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, and 195 K to 72 BB. Like everyone else in Petco, he does a very good job of limiting home runs and is striking out more and more batters each year. Between the talent at the top of the rotation and the Petco dimensions, this staff is going to give opposing lineups fits.

Ian Kennedy struggled with Arizona in 2012 and 2013 but rediscovered himself in San Diego last year, posting a 3.63 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, and 207 K to 70 BB. He’s always struggled with the longball and Petco helped him limit the homers from his usual 1.2-1.3 per nine innings to 0.7/9. San Diego is obviously a good place for him and if he can repeat last season’s production he’ll make for a very strong No. 4 starter.

Brandon Morrow and Odrisamer Despaigne are competing for the No. 5 job and Despaigne is leading the race.

Despaigne has allowed just four earned runs in 17 innings but has given up 21 hits and six walks, while striking out 11. He showed good promise last season, posting a 3.36 ERA and 1.22 WHIP in 96 innings as a rookie. He pitches to contact which is a good mold to be in Petco where the spacious outfield seldom lets any balls out of the park.

Morrow has allowed six earned runs and 20 baserunners in 12.2 innings this spring and is coming off of two brutal injury-plagued seasons. After putting up a 2.96 ERA in 21 starts in 2012, Morrow has been limited to just 87.2 innings over the last two seasons, posting a horrid 5.65 ERA and 1.55 WHIP. Ultimately, that 2012 run was by far the best he’s had as a starter, having put up ERAs of 4.30+ the three seasons before that. Despaigne has potential to be a longterm option while Morrow merely shows glimpses of the guy we saw three seasons ago.

 

Bullpen:

Joaquin Benoit was terrific as Detroit’s closer in 2013, saving 24 of a possible 26 games while posting a 2.01 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, and 73 K to 22 BB. He was even better after moving to the NL and the Pades last season, posting a 1.49 ERA and 0.77 WHIP and saving 11 of 12 games after being inserted into the closer role. He may be 37 but he’s one of the most reliable relievers in the league and should do just fine as San Diego’s ninth inning man in 2015.

Kevin Quackenbush was unbelievably good rising through the Padres farm system, posting a 1.16 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 11.9 K/9 to 3.4 BB/9 and saving 68 games in 157 appearances. His numbers were almost as good in his rookie campaign last year as he put up a 2.48 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, and 56 K to 18 BB. The 26-year-old is clearly being groomed to be the closer of the future and certainly has the stuff to be just that.

Dale Thayer put up two very strong seasons with the Padres after coming over from the Mets in 2012 but was at another level last season, putting up a 2.34 ERA and 1.06 WHIP while striking out 62 and walking just 16. The only problem with Thayer is that he gives up too many home runs, surrendering nine in 65 innings last year and eight in 65 innings in 2013. He limits the baserunners which helps but he’ll need to keep the ball in the park to be as reliable as he can be.

Shawn Kelley showed some promise in Seattle but was very mediocre in two seasons with the Yankees, putting up a 4.46 ERA and 1.29 WHIP in 105 innings. Like Thayer, he has a tendency to give up home runs and Petco might help him in that regard. His other numbers are quite good and he’s been striking out a healthy 12 batters per nine innings the last two seasons. If he can keep it in the park, he’ll be a lot more successful in San Diego than in the Bronx.

Nick Vincent has been very good for the Padres, posting a 2.68 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, and 139 K to 29 BB in 2.5 seasons in the Bigs. Barring injuries or blowups, this is going to be a very good bullpen and might be this team’s biggest strength.

 

Grades:

Offense: B- to B

Defense: C+

Starting Pitching: B+ to A-

Bullpen: A-

Overall: B- to B

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