When the Chargers moved up the interstate to Los Angeles this January, San Diego found itself with one remaining professional team: the Padres. The Padres are also now the only MLB club that does not share its city with another pro team. Though being the sole survivor in America’s eighth largest market would seem to be a boon to the Padres, local focus will now be squarely on them. Unfortunately 2017 may not be the best season for the Padres to have the spotlight to themselves.
Unconventional Padres Find Themselves The Only Game in Town
Last year San Diego finished tied for last in the National League with an anemic 68 wins. They added a couple of middling starters in the offseason (Jhoulys Chacin and Jered Weaver) but did not take any meaningful steps to immediately improve their fortunes. Consequently, the 2017 Padres will likely be worse than last year’s version. Many pundits suggest they will end up 30th out of 30 MLB teams. This might be a year the Padres prefer to fly under the radar.
Within the National League West, San Diego has to battle perennial playoff teams in the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants along with the expected-to-improve Colorado Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks. The Padres will duel with these teams while simultaneously trying out a youth movement at the big league level. Three rookies, right fielder Hunter Renfroe, center fielder Manuel Margot and catcher Austin Hedges, have been handed the opportunity to play every day.
Margot, 22, was the main piece sent back from Boston in the 2015 Craig Kimbrel deal. He had some late season at bats with San Diego last year and is considered the team’s top prospect. In most organizations he would start this year in Triple-A. The Padres thin big league talent does not allow for such a luxury. He must be a top of the order spark plug now.
Renfroe has power potential and hit .371 as a September call-up. With such a small sample size at the major league level it is unclear whether he is ready to handle a full season. The sample size is larger for Hedges whom fans have been waiting to develop for years. Though only 26, he’s been their top catching prospect for several seasons but has struggled in each big league audition. With these three rookies at key positions there could be a lot of growing pains for fans to sit through.
Management has not shied away from making other interesting choices heading into 2017. There are an unprecedented three Rule 5 picks on the roster. This means infielder Allen Cordoba, catcher Luis Torrens, and right handed reliever Miguel Diaz will remain in the majors for the entire season. Neither Cordoba or Torrens has played above A-ball before this year. It is unlikely these long term projects will make meaningful contributions for some time.
Other odds and ends on the roster could make for interesting viewing, if not a winning ball club. Christian Bethancourt is the most unconventional utility man in the majors. He will sub in as a reliever, catcher or outfielder. They have also made left fielder Travis Jankowski a de facto second leadoff hitter by occasionally batting him after the pitcher.
With the future talent on hand, the 2017 Padres have the makings of an excellent minor league team. The fact they play in the majors is the problem. So San Diegans have to wait and see which of the many unproven players pan out. If such fan patience wears out by summer’s end, there will not be any NFL to distract, except on TV.