2014 Fantasy Outlooks: San Diego Padres
Overall, 2013 was another humdrum year for the Padres, as their 76-86 record gave them their third straight losing season and fifth out of the last six. The team played better after the All-Star break, and the improvement was fueled in large part by skill growth from starting pitchers Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross and late-season surges from outfielder Will Venable and third baseman Chase Headley . Over the course of the second half, the Padres found themselves on the right side of a .500 record, going 34-32.
Perhaps because of the relatively strong finish, some writers have tabbed the Padres as a wild card contender, but they are still lacking upper-echelon Fantasy talent. Everth Cabrera will likely be the Padres' most sought-after Fantasy entity, despite having ended his 2013 season with a 50-game suspension stemming from the Biogenesis investigation. Jedd Gyorko and Chase Headley may not be far behind Cabrera in the draft order, as all are likely to be middle-round targets. No other everyday player from the starting lineup is a must-draft in standard mixed leagues, though Will Venable and Carlos Quentin will find at least some homes in those formats. The same could be true for Yasmani Grandal , if he can stay ahead of schedule in his recovery from knee surgery.
Among pitchers, Cashner has the greatest Fantasy appeal, due to his mid-90s velocity (and thus, strikeout potential) and strong finish last season, when he compiled a 2.14 ERA and 0.95 WHIP in the second half. Though he struck out a modest 61 batters over 75 2/3 second-half innings, Cashner did get whiffs on 10 percent of his pitches while averaging a robust 6.9 innings per start. That efficiency will help Cashner in standard Head-to-Head formats, just as Tyson Ross relief eligibility will. Ian Kennedy and Josh Johnson , the latter of whom was signed as a free agent this offseason, will likely attract less interest in standard mixed leagues, as both are coming off their worst seasons since becoming rotation staples, but neither is far removed from having been relevant in Fantasy.
Eric Stults is the leading candidate to begin the season as the Padres' No. 5 starter, but even with Cory Luebke likely needing a second Tommy John procedure and missing the 2014 season, there could eventually be competition. Robbie Erlin leads the charge of a deep group of young pitchers who could be ready to join the rotation.
Huston Street is set to start his third season as the Padres' closer, but the team has acquired plenty of depth to back up the injury-prone hurler. Though Luke Gregerson was dealt to the Athletics for outfielder Seth Smith , they signed Joaquin Benoit and traded for lefties Alex Torres and Patrick Schuster to provide reinforcements in the bullpen. Torres could also be a candidate for the rotation at some point, while Rule 5 pick Schuster is more likely to be relegated to a lefty specialist role, assuming he isn't returned to the Diamondbacks.
Though the Padres have the pieces to be a playoff contender, there may not be another team that has as many players with boom-or-bust potential. If Cabrera picks up where he left off, Gyorko, Cashner and Ross break out, and Headley, Kennedy and Johnson bounce back, the Friars will be a force to be reckoned with. The same could be true for Fantasy owners who draft these players, but each carries a substantial amount of risk.
Sleeper ... Will Venable , outfield
Venable quietly became a top 30 Rotisserie outfielder in 2013, just one year after he barely cracked the top 60. Not only did he set a career-high with 515 plate appearances, but Venable shattered his personal best for home runs, clouting 22 (his previous high was 13 in 2010). Prior to last year, Venable's sole Fantasy asset was his moderate contribution to steals, and he didn't disappoint in that category, exceeding 20 for the fourth year in a row. The home run spike may not have been a fluke, though. He hit 15 homers at PETCO Park, which after bringing the right field fence in, now ranks as a top home run park for left-handed hitters, according to the 2014 Bill James Handbook. Owners may be used to viewing Venable as an afterthought in standard mixed leagues, but he could deliver tremendous value with a late-round pick, especially in Roto leagues.
Bounceback candidate ... Chase Headley , third base
After breaking out in 2012, Headley was a major letdown last season, as his home run, RBI and stolen base totals fell by more than half. It turns out that Headley played the whole season with a torn meniscus, which he had repaired in October. Even while being hampered by his knee and possibly also his thumb (which kept him out of action in the early part of the season), Headley still hit for decent power against lefties (nine doubles, two triples and five home runs in 149 at-bats). Entering 2014 fully healthy once again, owners could look forward to Headley coming much closer to his 2012 level of production, which was reflected in a .286/.376/.498 slash line. Because his output was so depressed a year ago, you can probably get Headley for the mere investment of a mid-round pick.
Head-to-Head hero ... Tyson Ross , starting pitcher
In early mocks, Ross is getting drafted well behind Cashner, but it's not unthinkable that the former Athletic could outperform his teammate. Cashner holds out the promise of becoming a strikeout-per-inning stud, but Ross actually delivered that performance during the second half of last season. Upon entering the Padres' rotation after the All-Star Break, Ross recorded a 2.93 ERA with 85 strikeouts in 80 innings over 13 starts. Had Ross carried his 14 percent swinging strike rate from that span over the entire season, he would have had a higher rate than Yu Darvish . It's hard to believe that Ross could maintain that pace over a full season, but even with regression, you have to love his strikeout potential. Oh ... and he's dual-eligible in Head-to-Head leagues, so you can get that production out of a relief spot in those formats. Yikes.
Burch Smith , Keyvius Sampson and Casey Kelly are all part of a system deep in major-league-ready starting pitching, and each could get a trial in the Padres' rotation in 2014. Kelly will first have to complete his recovery from Tommy John surgery, which he underwent in April last year. Matt Wisler has yet to reach Triple-A, but he has the most potential of the group and could make his debut this season. ... Austin Hedges gets rave reviews for his prowess behind the plate, but he hasn't shown much offense in the minors. Even with a potential late-season callup in his future, single-season owners can ignore him. ... Rymer Liriano , like Kelly, lost 2013 to Tommy John surgery. He could be a serious stolen base threat within a year or two, depending on how well he bounces back this year. ... Pitchers Max Fried and Joe Ross (Tyson's brother), as well as outfielder Hunter Renfroe , have not blown away the lower minors statistically, but each possesses tools that could bring them greater success as they climb the organizational ladder. Don't sweat the stats and look to target each in dynasty leagues.