The San Diego Padres made me work harder than I intended. This is the last entry in the BtBS Team Preview series. Managing editor Matt Provenzano created the preview schedule on January 17th, and the writers divvied up all the teams that day. As such, I’ve had more than two months to ponder this article.
Isn’t it oxymoronic that having too much time to think about something makes it tougher, not easier? I had what I thought to be a solid angle to use for the Padres preview, but it was more or less ruined... by the Padres. Here’s the lede I intended to write:
“You don’t really care about the 2019 San Diego Padres. The team finished 66-96 last year— their eighth consecutive losing season. They won’t be any good this year either, but the wins and losses are irrelevant.
The goal is the near future— probably 2020 or 2021— for which the franchise is built to dominate. As Jeffrey Paternostro said of the Padres’ farm system in Baseball Prospectus’ organizational rankings, ‘This is the best system I’ve ranked in my time as BP’s lead prospect writer. I don’t think it’s all that close.’
Instead of writing a preview for the 2019 Padres— who you don’t care about— I’m going to preview the 2021 Padres. That’s the iteration of the team that will matter most.”
That was what I planned to write when I accepted this writing assignment back in January. Since then, they’ve signed Manny Machado and promoted Fernando Tatís, Jr. Chris Paddack struck out 20 out of 54 batters faced in Spring Training, and, as Patrick Brennan pointed out, Matt Strahm is ready to make some noise as well.
I can no longer write, in good conscience, that the 2019 Padres are irrelevant. This team could be ready to win right now. Furthermore, they’re building a winner in the most fan and player-friendly manner.
As Paternostro summarized above, this farm system is more than just the best in baseball; it’s the best in recent memory. Padres prospects occupy ten spots on the MLB Pipeline Top 100. At the front of the list is 20-year-old shortstop Fernando Tatís, Jr., who is ranked second overall on nearly every top prospect site. He’s a do-it-all talent whose game is so complete that he became the youngest position player to start on Opening Day since Adrian Beltre in 1999.
Tatís will be joined in the lineup soon enough by fellow prospects Luis Urías and Francisco Mejía. Urías is a slick middle infielder himself who will probably become a permanent second baseman in deference to Tatís, and his excellent contact skills and walk rate should make him an ideal table-setter. Mejía has been ranked one of the top three catching prospects in baseball each year since 2016. He’s a switch-hitter who made headlines with a 50-game hitting streak in the minors.
The other seven members of the MLB Pipeline Top 100 from the Padres are all pitchers. If there was such a thing as a Spring Training Cy Young Award, Chris Paddack might have won it with his strikeout rampage. He earned a rotation spot on the big club despite just seven starts in Double-A and none at all in Triple-A. Left-hander MacKenzie Gore has an even higher ceiling, despite being younger than Tatís.
About a half dozen additional pitching studs would also top other team’s organizational lists. Pretty soon, the Padres will likely have the “good problem” of too many excellent young pitchers and not enough innings to go around!
The best part of their wealth of developmental riches is the way in which the Padres are handling them. Tatís and Paddack both made the Opening Day roster, service time manipulation be damned. Joey Lucchesi earned a full year of service time last year as well. While other clubs blatantly repress their most able prospects— such as the Blue Jays with Vladimir Guerrero, Jr.— it’s refreshing to see San Diego put the best players on the field.
The Padres are celebrating their 50th birthday this season. On May 11th of their inaugural year, Nate Colbert hit his sixth home run. He has remained the franchise leader ever since. It’s a bad look for a half-century old ball club that no one has managed more than 163 dingers in team history. However, the person who will break Colbert’s record is probably on the 2019 roster.
The Padres were one of two teams to win the free agent lottery this offseason, snagging third baseman Manny Machado to a ten year, $300 million contract (the other being the Phillies with Bryce Harper, of course). Machado needs no introduction; he has accumulated 30.3 fWAR since his 2012 debut. He’s slugged 175 homers through age-25, making him a near lock to top Colbert’s record over the next decade.
San Diego also signed the biggest free agent contract of the previous winter, inking first baseman Eric Hosmer to an eight year, $144 million deal. That one hasn’t looked too good just yet. In his first season with the club, he produced a weak .398 slugging percentage. He was the only player in MLB last year with a negative average launch angle (-1.2 degrees, minimum 150 batted ball events). Nevertheless, he did manage 18 bombs. He’ll need to average 21 per year for the remainder of the contract to surpass Colbert.
Even if the Hosmer contract looks like a bust, and it’s way too early to judge the Machado signing, the Padres are once again bucking the system simply by spending their money. Much digital ink has been used on these pages and others to decry the frugality of MLB teams in free agency. San Diego deserves kudos for grabbing the best players available, actively working to improve their team.
Make no mistake, the 2019 Padres are far from perfect. The current rotation is rather thin, and the prospects have yet to prove themselves. They have too many corner outfielders, while the only true center fielder is Manuel Margot, who carries a career 85 wRC+ into the season. There are holes to fill, which can be accomplished by waiting for prospects to develop, trading for veterans, or signing more free agents next winter.
Last year, 91 wins were needed for a playoff spot in the NL. The Padres fell 25 games short. That’s a tall mountain to climb in one season, and most likely they won’t reach the summit in 2019. However, they’ve made great strides and should field a highly competitive roster. Best of all, the Padres are setting a good example for other teams; they’re ignoring service time with regards to player development and spending big money in free agency.
Since the Chargers headed north for Los Angeles, San Diego is the largest single-sport city in America. The fans deserve a franchise worth rooting for, so good for the Padres in doing their best to give them one.
Daniel R. Epstein is an elementary special education teacher and president of the Somerset County Education Association. In addition to BtBS, he writes at www.OffTheBenchBaseball.com. Tweets @depstein1983