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MLB preview 2017: Padres have the youth, the talent, and the time to wait for them

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When are the Padres going to Bring Back the Brown? Roy Thomasson of Gaslamp Ball answers this and other essential questions.

With the 2017 season just around the corner, it’s time to catch up what the other teams around the division. Instead of trying to figure out what we need to know about them ourselves, we thought it would be a good idea to ask our friends at our sister sites here at SB Nation to help acquaint us with the teams in the division.

We asked Roy Thomasson of Gaslamp Ball to answer a few questions for us about the upcoming San Diego Padres season. You’ll find his answers below, edited for length and clarity.

What went right for the San Diego Padres in 2016?

Wil Myers had a big first half and became the “Face of the Franchise,” and the team rewarded him by team signing him to a six-year, $83 million extension. The bullpen found a strong finishing trio in Brad Hand, Ryan Buchter, and Brandon Maurer. We saw a strong season in Triple-A transition to the MLB squad with the promotions of Alex Dickerson and Ryan Schimpf, and later in the season with Austin Hedges, Hunter Renfroe, Manuel Margot, and Carlos Asuaje.

What were the most important moves of the offseason?

Two of the most important moves of the offseason could be considered addition by subtraction. On December 2nd, the team traded catcher Derek Norris to the Nationals for pitching prospect Pedro Avila. This move cleared the way for Austin Hedges to finally come to the majors with a clearly defined role. Long considered one of the best defensive catching prospects in the game, Hedges’ performance at the plate has leapt forward since working with hitting coach Alan Zinter the last two offseasons. Now he finally gets to take over with the big league club, and he’s taking the reins as a team leader already.

The other big offseason decision was to non-tender starting pitcher Tyson Ross, who missed most of the 2016 season after a rough Opening Day start. He was projected to draw approximately $9.5 million in his final year of arbitration eligibility, but after undergoing surgery, there was no guarantee that he would be healthy this season, and what level of performance the team would be getting. The fact that he signed a one-year deal with the Rangers for only $6 million (plus incentives) suggests that non-tendering him was the proper business decision.

Other moves (like signing pitchers Clayton Richard, Jered Weaver, Trevor Cahill, Jhoulys Chacin and shortstop Erick Aybar) certainly aren’t moves that a potential contender makes. This team is trying to add value where they can and get through the season while focusing on developing the young players both at the MLB level and in the minors.

It seems like the team is finally committing to the rebuild. Do you like the general direction this team seems to be taking?

I’m a huge fan of what’s going on within the organization. When you combine last year’s investment in the international signings and impressive draft haul with the assortment of high-talent players acquired via draft over the last few years, there’s an incredible volume of very skilled players. They’ve overhauled the player development and scouting staffs at every level, and invested in the facilities to give these kids the best chance to progress and succeed. Naturally, these seeds need to bear fruit down the road, but the approach and commitment inspire a lot of hope for what lies in the coming years.

Also, the extensions to emotional leader Yangervis Solarte and to Myers are an early indication that the current ownership is willing to open the pocketbooks for the right reasons, which gives fans some confidence that when the window for contention opens, the team will retain its stars and spend to fill roles as needed.

Given reasonable success from that crop of prospects, when do you realistically think the Padres will be contending again?

2017 is clearly a non-contending season; 2018 would be a big reach, and I think 2019 is optimistic. By 2020-2022, the majority of the top prospects in the system now should be in the league and contributing at a high level, while players like Myers, Hedges, Renfroe, and Margot should be at the peaks of their careers.

Who are some unheralded players we should keep an eye on this season? Prospects, role players, free-agent signees, etc.

Hedges should immediately be one of the best defensive catchers in the league, and he seems to have found a new gear with his offensive game. Renfroe has immense raw power at the plate and is an athletic outfielder with an absolute cannon for an arm. Margot is an elite defender in centerfield who should hit for average right away. Jose Torres looks like he’ll be a dominant lefty reliever, and Phil Maton could join him in the bullpen with his high-spin fastball that sent him rising up through the minors last year.

In the minors, infielder Luis Urias won the California League MVP while also being the youngest player in the league. He combines a great eye with elite bat control and impressive plate coverage. Anderson Espinoza is the Padres’ best pitching prospect, and will be joined by Stanford alum Cal Quantrill, Cuban Adrian Morejon, and a slew of other fresh arms. None of them are slated to see MLB time, but they’re worth following.

Christian Bethancourt working as a reliever and an outfielder this offseason. Where did that plan come from and how is it looking like he’ll be used? More importantly, do you think it will work?

Last May he surprised everyone by taking the mound against the Mariners in garbage time and zipping 96mph fastballs with arm-side run, and making it look easy. Another audition in June brought similar results, so they decided to pursue the idea this offseason. They coached his mechanics a little and then let him pitch in the Panamanian Winter League, where he also played in the outfield. He’s performed well on the mound this spring, and the bat still has plenty of power. If he can serve as a pitcher, reserve outfielder, and third-string catcher, that would afford the team some roster flexibility, which could let them retain Luis Torrens, a catcher the Padres selected in the Rule 5 draft.

There was a lot of bad press for AJ Preller and the Padres last season, between the flurry of moves and the injury cover ups. What is your and/or the general fan’s perspective on Preller at this moment?

It sounds like the rest of the league has moved on from the health records issue, and the organization has taken the proper steps to show that they’re complying with league policies moving forward. For example, the team hired Stephanie Wikia as Associate General Counsel & Baseball Operations Compliance Officer. She came highly recommended from the MLB office and has experience working with the Astros, Dodgers, and Red Sox organizations.

Former CEO Mike Dee’s departure from the organization has come with plenty of questions from the fans, most of whom were happy to see him go. Along with his title as CEO, he was also directing baseball operations, and by all accounts had a major say in player transactions. The failed push to field a competitive team in 2015 was considered by some to have been directed by Dee or by ownership. The medical records fiasco seemed like it came from above Preller’s pay grade, since he was out of the country supporting the international scouting effort for much of the first half of 2016. Dee’s dismissal may have had dirtier reasons, but since they settled to terms, the world may never know.

Regardless, the storms seem to have passed and the successful restocking and revamping of the farm system has everyone excited. Preller has done what many had hoped that he would, and at the same time he needs the time to let this crop develop before we can declare the endeavor a success or a failure. The ship is pointed in a good direction, so the fans are happy with the captain.

What do you think is a realistic best case scenario for the Padres this year? What would a successful season look like for the team?

Best case scenario: The kids (Hedges, Myers, Margot, Renfroe, etc) bloom and form a core of young position players to lead the organization forward. The veterans (Richard, Cahill, Chacin, Schimpf, etc) show improvement and become deadline trade targets. The team wins enough to be fun to watch, but loses enough to get a high draft slot and pool allocation. More important for the big picture, lots of kids show development in the minors and NOBODY GETS HURT.

Last question: when is the team going to fully adopt the brown again?

Ugh, not soon enough. Last year they introduced the Friday alternate brown/yellow jersey, which everyone seemed to love. Then the MLB chose an awesome throwback design for the All-Star Game Workout Day which broke sales records and should have sent a big message to ownership. Sadly, members of the ownership have expressed a passive attitude toward the uniforms in general, with a preference toward blue and a dislike of brown. There’s a very “vocal minority” (to use ownership chairman Ron Fowler’s phrase) of fans who will never give up the fight to “Bring Back the Brown,” and I’d like to count myself among them.