San Diego Padres 2019 season preview: Future is bright with Machado, prospects -- but immediate contention isn't likely
A Padres breakout could be coming, but probably not in 2019
Over the course of a pretty miserable 2018 season, things started to line up for the future of the Padres. Their strong and deep farm system established itself as a true powerhouse, ranked as the best in baseball by many outlets. Becoming a contender from a prospect darling takes more than hugging, though, and the Padres went out this offseason -- OK, early in spring training -- and made the biggest splash they could make. They signed Manny Machado to a 10-year, $300 million deal. He's now the face of the franchise and there's a lot of hope on the horizon in San Diego. Let's just hope there's patience with this particular group, though I'm sure the locals are tired of hearing that.
- Ian Kinsler, 2B
- Manny Machado, 3B
- Eric Hosmer, 1B
- Wil Myers, LF
- Hunter Renfroe, RF
- Franchy Cordero, CF
- Luis Urias, SS
- Austin Hedges/Francisco Mejia, C
Margot, a righty, matches with Cordero (L) in a platoon in center field should the Padres so choose. Outfielder Travis Jankowski would've been in the mix here, but he's out at least three months after fracturing his wrist. A lot of eyes are elsewhere, too, when it comes to a certain prospect, but we'll get to him in a bit.
Right-hander Garrett Richards was signed in the offseason, but he's coming off Tommy John surgery and is expected to miss the whole season. The big thing to watch here -- and it'll become a theme -- is how younger arms emerge this season setting up for a possible 2020 run. Again, we'll get to those.
At this point, a lot of this is guesswork. Relievers are filtered in and out for most teams and the turnover here might be higher than most. Other names that could figure at some point: Carlos Torres, Brett Kennedy, Luis Perdomo, Jose Castillo (strained flexor tendon), Miguel Diaz (torn meniscus) and Japanese import Kazuhisa Makita. And several more, including if any of the above-listed starters are bumped from the rotation.
Hosmer and Machado complement each other
The Padres' big splash last offseason was adding free agent first baseman Eric Hosmer. Sure, he was coming off a season in which he hit .318/.385/.498 with a 133 OPS+ and 4.1 WAR, but he's not a marquee superstar. Machado is.
On the flip-side, Machado has never really been a team leader on a deep playoff run. This isn't to say that he shouldn't or can't handle the job, but now he doesn't even need to. That's Hosmer's role.
Machado is the bona fide superstar. Hosmer can now, in terms of on-field production, sit back and not worry about the pressure of being The Man in the lineup and instead hopefully get back to previous production -- it's worth noting here that, while a coincidence, he's essentially alternated good and down years in his career -- without the spotlight. Meantime, behind the scenes, he's the clubhouse leader with two pennants and one ring who has been through postseason battles.
Obviously Hosmer will have great on-field moments and Machado can certainly mentor the likes of Urias and Fernando Tatis Jr. It's not like these guys have to exclusively pick a lane. It's just that they fit together here in covering lots of bases.
Rotation answers needed
The offensive side of things, when it comes to looking ahead, already has an established foundation. It starts with Machado and Hosmer, but Myers also has four two-plus WAR seasons in the majors and posted a 3.5 when he was an All-Star in 2016.
The rotation, however, has question marks.
- Lucchesi hadn't been above Double-A before last season. Knowing that, he handled himself relatively well in 26 MLB starts. He was inconsistent for the season, but had some nice stretches. Still, he has 26 starts with a 94 ERA+ in the bigs and that's it.
- Another lefty, Erlin is now 28 and and has made 37 starts and 69 appearances since debuting in 2013. Last year he had a 6.23 ERA in 12 starts but a 2.05 ERA in 27 relief appearances.
- Lauer, like Lucchesi, had never been above Double-A before last season. He was good in four Triple-A starts, but that's only four starts. In 23 MLB starts, he ended up with an 89 ERA+ while getting hit too much and giving up too many walks. However, he returned to the rotation on Aug. 30 and made five starts to finish the season, pitching to a 1.07 ERA, 0.99 WHIP and 25 strikeouts in 25 1/3 innings. It's a small sample, but maybe the 23-year-old lefty is starting to figure it out.
- Paddack hasn't made the majors yet and it's probably aggressive on my part to throw him in the rotation, but he's been a stud at every stop. Last year, Paddack made 17 starts (10 in High-A, seven in Double-A), pitching to a 2.10 ERA, 0.82 WHIP and 120 strikeouts against seven unintentional walks in 90 innings. Those aren't typos: 120 K, 7 BB, 90 IP. He might start the season in Triple-A, but there aren't five better MLB starters in this organization.
- Strahm is also an aggressive selection, given that his only five starts last year were as an "opener," but he's got the stuff and is competing for a rotation spot. Of course, he's never succeeded as an MLB starter before and he's 27.
- Mitchell had a 5.42 ERA in 73 innings last year. His best success as a starter was with the Yankees in 2016, when he had a 3.24 ERA in five starts.
- Perdomo had a 7.05 ERA last season and his career mark is 5.40 in 355 innings.
- Kennedy was only 23, but had a 6.75 ERA in six starts last season. He was fine in 16 Triple-A starts, so he has a shot at a rotation spot.
- Jacob Nix is only 23 and had a 7.02 ERA in nine starts last season. In 10 minor-league starts (nine Double-A, one Triple-A), he had a 1.84 ERA and 0.90 WHIP.
The upside plays here would probably be Lucchesi, Lauer, Paddack, Nix and either Kennedy or Strahm, but some of these guys might not be ready for a full season and the Padres shouldn't be stunting development when the long-term prospects for this nucleus seems promising. So it's up to the front office and manager Eric Green to see how things fit behind Lucchesi for this coming season while looking out for both the present and the future.
The Kids, position version
The headliner here is Fernando Tatis Jr. Depending upon where you look, he's either the best, second-best or third-best prospect (in with Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Eloy Jimenez) heading into this season. He has all the makings of a five-tool superstar. He only got 88 games in Double-A last season, though, so he'll likely terrorize Triple-A this year. If the Padres are contending, he'll come up. If not, we'll probably have to wait until next season. He's only 20.
- Urias got a cup of coffee last season and hit just .208/.264/.354, but it was just 53 plate appearances and he was only 21. He hit .296/.398/.447 in Triple-A last year. MLB.com pegs him as the 23rd-best prospect in baseball.
- Mejia, 23, is a consensus top-35 prospect and I've seen him as high as 20th. He hasn't yet had big success in the majors, but it's only 76 career plate appearances. In 110 career Triple-A games, he's hit .293/.338/.471. He's already had a bit of a signature MLB moment, too:
This is the type of prospect trio a team could build around, should they all avoid the dreaded "bust" label.
Bear in mind Machado is only 26, too.
The Kids, pitcher version
We already discussed Lauer (23 years old), Paddack (23), Nix (23), Kennedy (24) and even Lucchesi is 25 with very limited MLB service time. The growth of those pitchers this season is going to go a long way in how this organization fares in the future, but it's not only these guys.
- Logan Allen, 21, is yet another on a seeming assembly line of Padres' southpaws. He's a consensus top-100 prospect and pitched to a 2.54 ERA with 151 strikeouts in 148 2/3 innings between Double-A and Triple-A in 2018. Only five of those starts came in Triple-A, but he could end up figuring in the big-league picture this year.
- Cal Quantrill hovers around 50 in the prospect rankings. He's 24 and had a rough go in Double-A last season, but finished with a 3.48 ERA in six Triple-A starts.
- Longer-term, MacKenzie Gore is another consensus top-30 prospect. He was the third overall pick out of high school in 2017 and just turned 20. He's a while away (he was in Class A last year), but he has ace upside. Watch his progress this year.
- Ryan Weathers -- you might remember his father, long-time MLB reliever David -- was the seventh overall pick out of high school last June. He's only 19, but had a 3.44 ERA and 18 strikeouts in 18 1/3 innings between Rookie Ball and Class A after he signed.
There are more, but the point is, the Padres have so much depth in the organization that even some misses won't change the idea that things are getting brighter.
Enjoy the growth, but be ready to focus on 2020 roster
Things can come together and happen seemingly a year early, sure. The 2015 Astros were the second AL wild card and actually pushed the eventual World Series champion Royals to the limit in the ALDS. The took a step back in 2016 before truly breaking out as a powerhouse in 2017.
The point isn't that these Padres are the Astros, but it is to say that this Padres team could arrive a year or two early. It's entirely possible. I'm just not seeing it.
That doesn't mean there should be a lack of enthusiasm around this Padres team. On the contrary, it's a good time to start falling in love with the players who will be part of the next contender.
We already expect the nucleus of the next Padres contender to be Machado, Tatis and Hosmer. It's likely that Urias, either Mejia or Hedges (or both) and Lucchesi figure prominently. The next step is seeing who will fill around those guys. Myers and Renfroe? Possibly. The Cordero/Margot platoon could prove very effective. How about all those young pitchers sorting themselves out, from the big leaguers to the kids in the minors?
Another point that matters: The Padres could get to a point with the pitching that they have more prospects for rotation spots than they need. That's not a problem, because then prospects become currency on the trade market which could land them a position of need (A stud reliever? A marquee outfielder?) either this coming deadline or more likely the ones in 2020 or 2021.
It's all very exciting.
I don't believe the Padres ultimately contend this season, but there are plenty of fun things to watch in San Diego as the proverbial tide starts to turn. Things are looking up in Petco Park. Let's just stay patient, San Diego.
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