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Something Different This Way Comes -Spring Training 2014 

Twenty one days and counting! That would be three weeks to you and me. Padres pitchers and catchers report for physicals on the 13th of February with the full squad due on the18th. If you’ve been paying attention this off-season you will have noticed that the Padres 40 man roster looks a lot different than the start of last spring training. And I am excited by those changes.

Going into the first game of the 2014 exhibition season, the Feb 27 charity game against our arch rivals the Seattle Mariners, the Padres have fewer positions to fill, or decisions to make, than any recent spring seasons. And those decisions stack up to be more difficult, with better quality players battling for those spots.

The following is an overview of the spring season, the Padres 2014 roster and the players not on that roster who were invited for a look-see this spring.

Yesterday’s seven player trade with the Tampa Bay Rays seems to be the last major deal of the pre-spring off season. The Padres cleared two spots on the 40 man roster then added the two players acquired in the trade. I am not upset about losing Logan Forsythe because of his injury issues the past two seasons. He is a fine athlete and a hard nosed baseball player but he can’t stay healthy and that has hurt the team, especially last season. Brad Boxberger tore it up in the minors but could not seem to execute at the major league level. If he achieves better control  the Rays will have a quality reliever going forward. 2B Maxx Tissenbaum does not figure to be a top flight major leaguer nor do Matt Andriese or Matt Lollis burn it up either. Of the two, Andriese has the most upside and may become a back of the rotation starter or reliever for the Rays.

So the need for the Rays seems to have been the utility skills of Forsythe and I hope, for his sake and theirs, he can tame that injury bug.

For the Padres it is a definite need filler. We have heard since the end of last season that the organization was seeking a quality left hander to replace Joe Thatcher. They have that and more in Alex Torres. He has a power arm (92-95 mph fastball) with a good change and an above average slider with good control. He has almost equal success versus lefties (.175 avg) as righties (.149 avg) with 31 strikeouts against both. His only weakness against righties seems to be base on balls where he allowed 15  to only 5 versus lefties. His only HR allowed was to a right hander. This was his final line for 2013 in Tampa: 4-2 record, 1.71 ERA in 58 innings pitched and a .159 avg against. He is more than a LOOGY and could be used in the 7th inning role rotating with whoever else qualifies for that spot during the spring.

As an extra bonus, Torres can also be converted to a starter should the need arise. He pitched as a starter for much of his minor league career and could still be used in that role going forward. But for this season his arm seems most needed in the bullpen and getting used to the NL will be easier in that role.

The other player the Padres received in the trade was right hander Jesse Hahn. An interesting acquisition and much more than a throw in. Hahn was the 14th ranked prospect in the Rays system according to Baseball America. His 2013 season was spent at high A with a 2-1 record, 2.09 ERA in 20 games started and 69 innings pitched. He had 67 strikeouts versus 18 base on balls and a .214 avg against. He missed all of 2011 due to Tommy John surgery and had a broken foot the beginning of 2012. His progress will need to be monitored for innings as he progresses due to his delayed professional start but he has shown the same skill set and advanced feel for pitching as he showed before his injuries. He throws a 94-96 mph fastball and has a heavy two seamer that sits at 91-96 mph with excellent sink. His secondary pitches include a overhand curve with good drop and a change that has good depth. He is also working on his slider. His 6 ft- 5 inch height provides him with a sharp downhill plane. His 2013 numbers show he has progressed with his command and could progress quickly if he stays healthy (scouting report compliments of Bill Ballew in the 2013 Baseball America Prospect Handbook).

He projects out to a mid-rotation starter, possibly as high as a number 2 if he develops well. He should start the season in AA San Antonio.

With those two acquisitions the Padres rounded out the 40 man roster and we will take a quick look at how the Padres project to look as they start the 2014 season March 30th against the Dodgers, on Sunday Night Baseball.

Catcher is the biggest question mark going into spring training. Yasmani Grandal may or may not be ready for opening day. By all reports his recovery from knee surgery has progressed well and might be ahead of schedule but there are many hurdles to jump before he can be declared healthy for the start of the season. And that will lead to the discussion of whether he will still be the same player he was before his PED suspension.

Nick Hundley and Rene Rivera are the only other catchers on the 40 man roster and will figure to be the options going into the 2014 season if Grandal cannot perform. Which brings up to another interesting development that was brought to light with the release of the list of non-roster invitees to spring training. 1B/OF Cody Decker is now on that list and is listed as a catcher. Decker had played during his earlier, non-professional career as a catcher and did some catching before last season for the Padres to evaluate him. He was then sent to work with Brad Ausmus and others in the organization to see what he could do. Randy Smith, head of player development for the Padres, was recently quoted as saying that Decker has made significant strides with his catching skills and has worked hard to get this invite.

Here is a look at Cody’s minor league numbers as a hitter: 5 full time seasons, 507 games played, .269/.353/.534 slash line with 106 HR and 350 RBI. He posses right handed power, which puts him at a disadvantage in this organization, and he has been blocked the last two years by talent ahead of him. But with the added skills of catching to go with his abilities at 1B, and some outfield, he might be able to get his Major League look that he has been working toward. Austin Hedges is the only other catcher to receive a spring training invite so the five of them will handle the bulk of the catching duties for the 29 pitchers invited to spring camp (roster and non-roster).

With the trades of Jesus Guzman and Logan Forsythe, the picture has become clearer regarding the Padres and their bench players. With Carlos Quentin, Cameron Maybin and Will Venable/Chris Denorfia penciled in as the everyday outfielders, the Padres traded for Seth Smith to provide a left handed bat off the bench and needed relief for both Quetin, who is coming off an injury year. (It can be argued that every year is an injury year for Quentin but we will be positive here. It is the optimism of spring).

Smith has a nice history to support him. Originally developed by the Rockies, he played from 2008-2011 with the major league team and was traded to Oakland before the 2012 season. In his six seasons and 729 games he has hit .265/.342/.456 with 128 2B, 21 3B, 73 HR and 273 RBI. He is suited to Petco for his straight away left field power and ability to hit the gaps as well. He gives the Padres a legitimate DH for interleague games when they are facing right handers. This also provides a spot for Kyle Blanks to provide off the bench power as a right handed bat and relieve Yonder Alonso at first base as well as a right handed DH in the interleague contests.

At this point we will mention non-roster invitee Alex Dickerson. Acquired by the Padres for Jaff Decker and Miles Mikolas, Dickerson was the 11th ranked prospect in the Pirates organization by Baseball America. He was drafted as an OF but his slow foot speed and lack of arm strength motivated the Pirates to switch him to 1B. In a November 2013 posting by Corey Brock on Padres.com, Josh Byrnes was quoted as saying that the Padres like him better as an outfielder and he will work there with the organization. He has been a successful hitter at all levels so far, winning the Big Ten triple crown in college and the league MVP award in high A.

Dickerson uses the whole field and is not motivated to pull everything. He has the raw power to develop into an average power hitter and is especially useful to the Padres as a left handed power bat. He played the 2013 season in AA where he hit .288/.337/.494 in 126 games with 36 2B, 3 3B, 17 HR and 68 RBI.

Dickerson joins  rostered outfielders Yeison Asencio, Reymond Fuentes, Rymer Liriano and Alexi Amarista as the options should a regular be placed on the DL. Fuentes had a limited late season look last year and seemed in over his head most of the time. Yeison Asencio has not played above his 74 games in AA last year and would not seem a viable option in case of injury. Rymer Liriano is the most tantalizing of the bunch but needs more playing time in the minors after rehabbing from Tommy John surgery last year and not having played above AA yet as a professional. Liriano and Asencio were placed on the 40 man roster to protect them from the Rule V draft in 2013. This leaves Dickerson as a viable option should a regular go on the DL.

The Padres infield seems set.

Alonso, Gyorko, Cabrera and Headley don’t appear to have any serious challengers for their jobs this spring. And, with the trade of Guzman and Forsythe, there are few challenges to Amarista as the primary utility man. Enter Ryan Jackson, obtained by the Padres in a trade of Jesus Guzman to the Astros. You might ask, why trade one utility man for another? But the Padres seemed to view Guzman and Blanks as redundant and it seemed one had to go. Kyle is younger with more upside so it makes sense he would stay and the Padres received an infielder who ranked #15 on the St Louis Cardinals prospect list going into last season (according to Baseball America). He was waived by the Cardinals in November and claimed by the Astros on the 21st. The Padres acquired him in trade on Dec 18th. Known as a quality defensive shortstop, Jackson can play 2B and 3B as well. He will be on the 40 man roster and has minor league options remaining. He has only played 20 games and 24 at bats on the major league side but was regarded as the best glove in the Cardinals system with the potential to develop into an average every day hitter. Jackson played for the Miami Hurricanes with Yonder Alonso and Yasmani Grandal. He doesn’t seem to have received a fair major league trial as of yet and it will be interesting to see if he can develop into a viable utility option for the Padres going forward.

The Padres start the 2014 spring training season with a wealth of quality starting pitching. Let’s hope they finish 2014 with that same wealth!

The injury bug has devastated this team the last two seasons with the pitching staff being especially hard hit. Lost to Tommy John reconstructive surgery were highly rated prospects Casey Kelly, Cory Luebke, Joe Wieland and Juan Pablo Oramas. All are slated to return at some point this year. Spring training will help us to determine who will be ready to start the year with the major league team and who will need more seasoning in the minors (or the bullpen).

At this stage the starting rotation will include returning starters Andrew Cashner, Ian Kennedy, Tyson Ross and Eric Stults.
The Padres added Josh Johnson as a free agent (from Toronto) to give them a veteran, front of the rotation capable addition. Johnson has also had a history of injuries that have interfered with an otherwise impressive career. He had dominant performances with Florida in 2009 and 2010 but has struggled the last couple of seasons with injuries. He had off-season surgery to remove a bone spur from his elbow and is switching from one of the most hitter friendly parks to one of the most pitcher friendly. But stats don’t lie and even with his injury issues he strikes out 9.2 batters per 9 innings throughout his career. With even a little help from his defense and the ballpark it seems a perfect environment for Johnson to have a bounce back season and make the 8 million the Padres spent on him a bargain.

If, and when, someone gets hurt the Padres have Luebke, Weiland, Robbie Erlin, Casey Kelly, Oramas, Burch Smith andTim Stauffer all waiting in the wings. Don’t look now but that is 12 starting pitchers either ready to pitch or available soon. Hopefully that will give us the depth needed to protect the team from the injury bug.

And now for the bullpen.

Up until yesterday I was a little concerned how the structure of the bullpen would pan out. But with the addition of Torres I feel much more confident. Just think of the Padres trading Brad Boxberger for Alex Torres and hopefully the trade will make you happy.

So now the back end has Huston Street, Joaquin Benoit, Dale Thayer and Alex Torres with Nick Vincent working his way into the mix. The middle relief will be a choice between Tim Stauffer, Vincent and the winner of the Patrick Schuster, Keyvius Sampson, Donn Roach, Leonel Campos, Anthony Carter, Blaine Boyer and Kevin Quackenbush run off. That appears to be seven guys competing for two roster spots. I’m not sure if there is a clear favorite although it would make it easier if someone already on the 40 man roster won out. That would be between Roach, Sampson and Schuster. The first two are right handers and the third is the lone lefty of the group. I would imagine that Bud Black would prefer Schuster to win the spot but he has not pitched above high single A so that would be impressive indeed. If he doesn’t stick with the team he will be sent back to the Diamondbacks as a Rule V guy. That would open up a 40 man roster spot for someone else to be added.

Roach and Sampson are both more advanced but Sampson was recently converted to the bullpen from being a starter and might need more seasoning as well. Donn Roach is sneaky good and needs to be in good command to be successful.

The non roster list is pretty interesting. Blaine Boyer has major league experience over seven years and four teams, Anthony Carter has bounced around with his 2013 season spent in AAA with a 2-0 record and 3.47 ERA in 62.1 innings pitched. Leonel Campos and Kevin Quackenbush are organizational standouts who have excelled, with Campos posting a 2013 line of a 3-1 record with a 1.61 ERA in 67.1 IP and 106 strike outs to 38 BB.

Quackenbush has a minor league record of 15-5  with a 1.15 ERA in 144 games and 164.2 IP with 62 saves, 225 strikeouts to 63 walks and a .198 avg against. That’s over three full seasons and he spent from June to the end of 2013 at AAA. I’ve been watching Kevin since the Padres drafted him and I will be really excited to see him pitch in Peoria. He pitches with a low 90’s fastball and tons of deception. He is fun to watch.

So there are your choices for the bullpen. Not too shabby and I, for one, am glad to see quality choices all around for the depth the team so desperately needs.

To round out the non roster list are a few more pitchers (you can never have too much pitching!). With Dennis O’Grady, a surprise to me, Adys Portillo, Joe Ross and top prospect Matt Wisler all getting a chance to work with the major league team. This is Wistler’s first ST invite but it won’t be his last. He needs more seasoning at the minor league level but to see him working with the major league coaches will be really fun.

The other outfielders on the list are Rico Noel and Daniel Robertson. Noel was once a top prospect in this system and is now hardly mentioned. He has great speed, a good arm and defense but his bat has not developed as they hoped.

Daniel Robertson is a fireplug. DRob made a big impression in spring training last year as a minor league invitee during major league exhibition games. He plays hard nosed baseball and makes you root for him. He can hit (.303/.381/.408 career), run, field and has a career 309 K’s to 306 BB. He has been with the Padres five full seasons, the last two at AAA. He has earned this invite. A diminutive 5-8, Robertson takes full advantage of every inch and I hope he has a great time this spring.

The infielders on the list include a very familiar name to Padres fans. Xavier Nady signed a minor league contract in the off season with a spring training invite. Anyone who has followed his career since leaving the Padres knows injuries have plagued him along the way. He did not play last year and had only 59 games in 2012 with a .184 average. He is trying to make a comeback and it will be good to see him.

Jonathon Galvez, Alberto Gonzalez(for the second time), Cory Spangenberg and Jace Peterson are all on the list with Spangenberg and Peterson legitimate prospects and Galvez and Gonzalez along for depth.

There are 58 players reporting to Peoria in February and the list contains the most talent we have seen since the 90’s. The farm system is beginning to feed quality into the major league roster.

All of the NL West is improved this year but that includes the Padres and this should be a lot of fun.

 

 

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