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MLB preview 2018: The San Diego Padres and a volcano of hot talent lava

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Roy Thomasson of Gaslamp Ball helps us preview the upcoming season for Eric Hosmer’s new team

With the 2018 season just around the corner, it’s time to catch up with 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 neighbors here at SBNation to help catch us up.

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 Padres in 2017? What, ultimately, went wrong?

Young players established themselves and defined roles. Austin Hedges finally claimed his seat as the Padres’ starting catcher after a few years of expectations in the minors. Manuel Margot got comfortable in centerfield and had a solid season at the plate. Hunter Renfroe impressed with his power and hit lefties well. Promising debuts from Carlos Asuaje, Christian Villanueva, and Franchy Cordero have fans looking forward to their future within the organization.

The bullpen formed a stable core. Brad Hand followed up an impressive 2016 season with an All-Star campaign, holding down the closer role all season. Kirby Yates went from waiver wire pickup to reliable setup man. Phil Maton was impressive in his first partial season, as were lefties Buddy Baumann and Kyle McGrath.

Another excellent draft and improvement across the minor leagues further deepend an already impressive pool of young talent (more on that in a moment). The future is bright.

The starting pitching was never expected to be a strength for the Padres in 2017, but when Jered Weaver struggled in most of his starts before retiring mid-season and the team was relying on guys like Travis Wood and Jordan Lyles to fill the rotation, the team had little chance for success in the win-loss column. While the young players mentioned above all progressed well, they each had their own rough patches… it’s just that the roster had so many kids learning on the job that the roster didn’t have the veteran stability to keep the ship afloat through the rough patches.

Is Eric Hosmer the difference? If so, how? If not, how does the casual fan view his signing?

Signing Hosmer brought mixed reviews among the fans, but the general consensus is that he isn’t the type of impact player that could push the Padres into contention. He’s here to bring some left-handed thump to the middle of the order, stabilize the infield defense, and help drive the team culture on the player level. His addition pushed Wil Myers into the outfield, which has also drawn a mixed reaction. The contract is big, but the way it’s structured makes sense when considering the declining value of a player who will be under contract well into his 30’s. In general, the casual fan has come to grips with the deal and should see his addition as a net positive to the organization. There’s plenty of skepticism, and there will continue to be, but where else were the Padres going to spend their money?

Manager Andy Green has expressed his drive to establish an organizational ethic along the lines of “the Cardinal way” and “the Yankee way”, and that isn’t solely driven by management and coaches. On the field, he works hard at being the best he can be defensively, and he’s always a tough out at the plate. He put in work this offseason with the same hitting coaches that transformed JD Martinez into a monster, so we’ll see if he can turn some of those ground balls into liners and longballs, but he’s a steady player who should provide OBP and a power threat at the plate, plus Gold Glove caliber defense at first base. He’s known to lead both by example and with his voice, so we’ll see how he settles into the Padres clubhouse, but his presence will be a major focus this season.

What were the most important moves of the offseason?

Signing Eric Hosmer was the biggest free agent signing of the offseason for any team, so it’s naturally the biggest move the Padres made. Shortstop Freddy Galvis was acquired via trade from Philadelphia, giving the Padres their best player at the position since Everth Cabrera. They also signed closer Brad Hand to a three-year extension, acquired third baseman Chase Headley and starting pitcher Bryan Mitchell via trade from the Yankees, and signed Japanese reliever Kazuhisa Makita. Tyson Ross was brought back on a minor league deal and he’s looked as good as ever this spring. He’s made the opening day rotation and is healthy and ready to regain his form as a dominant starter.

Tell us more about the “volcano of hot talent lava.” Who should we be keeping an eye out for this year? Who is the player that has you the most excited?

This year, we can expect to see lefty starters Joey Lucchesi and Eric Lauer make their MLB debuts. Both were very impressive throughout Spring Training. Luchessi mixes four quality pitches with a deceptive delivery very effectively, and Lauer has the command and temperament to make him a successful big leaguer. Several relievers are ready to break through, including 6’7” righty Trey Wingenter and sidearmer Adam Cimber. Franchy Cordero made his debut last year, but a strong finish to the season in AAA and a dominant winter in the Dominican Republic have the athletic outfielder ready to make an impact.

The player set to come up this year with the most acclaim is Luis Urias, a second baseman with some of the best contact skills in the minors. He’s hit very well at every level coming up, earning Rookie of the Year and MVP awards in the California League in 2016, then earning an All-Star selection in the Texas League in 2017, while being the youngest player in each league. He’s demonstrated that he can play shortstop well enough to be an option at the MLB level, and there’s no doubt that he’ll continue to hit at the game’s highest level.

Down in the minors, the guys that should draw the most press is the core of young pitchers. Mackenzie Gore, Cal Quantrill, Michel Baez, Adrian Morejon, Anderson Espinoza, and Logan Allen are the headliners of an incredibly deep group of young arms that will be spread throughout the minor league system. Fans who keep an eye on the minors will be watching this group closely, along with plenty of other intriguing young men.

All that said, the most exciting player in the organization has to be Fernando Tatis Jr. The 19-year-old shortstop is filling out his 6’3” frame and fit right in with the grown men during his non-roster invitation to spring training. He stole 32 bases and hit 22 home runs while hitting .278/.379/.498 across single-A and AA last season while making highlight-reel plays in defense all along. Some feel that he’ll outgrow the shortstop position and slide over to third base, but he’ll get every chance to stay at shortstop in the meantime. The organization will promote him aggressively this year, but it’s unlikely that we’ll see him in San Diego. His arrival will likely come early in 2019.

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

Kazuhisa Makita is a 33-year-old veteran reliever from the Japan Pacific League who is unlike anything most of us have ever seen. He’s a submarine pitcher who releases the ball less than a foot off the ground and generates a ton of weak contact with a combination of whiffle-ball breaking pitches and pinpoint command of a surprisingly effective sub-80mph “fast”ball. Adam Cimber, a sidearming righty reliever, just made the team by tearing through spring training games until the team couldn’t say “no”. Franchy Cordero will start the season in AAA but he has the best combination of speed and power in the Padres higher levels and can excel in all three outfield positions. Bryan Mitchell will be in the opening day rotation, and he has a power fastball and a polished repertoire that had him dominating the AAA International League with the Yankees system last year.

The Padres had about a dozen uniforms last year (but not as many as the Dbacks), but it does seem like they are playing with the brown more and more. Is that ever going to happen?

Ugh, we all want it to! This year is the 20th anniversary of the 1998 team that won the National League pennant. In honor of that team, the Padres are splashing the 1990’s navy & orange color scheme all over the place. 2019 will be the team’s 50th anniversary as a major league franchise, so it would be wonderful to see the team make the switch to brown and yellow full-time. While some of the uniforms the team wore in the 1970’s and 1980’s were garish to many, those colors can be used in a tasteful and pleasing manner. What I love about those colors is that it’s easy to pick a Padres fan out in any ballpark, while the blues they’ve been wearing lately blend right in with so many others. Present ownership seems reluctant to make the switch full-time, but you never know what might change their minds.

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

A realistic best-case scenario for this team is a .500 record in my opinion. A worst case approaches 100 losses, but what matters more than the win-loss record is the health and development of the young talent poised to bring this organization to future success. The team lost over 90 games last season, and it can be argued that they overachieved. This year, the defense is much better, the offense should be better across the board, and the bullpen is built around a solid core. The starting pitching may still leave some room for improvement, but with some talented kids ready to make an impact, there’s a chance this team could surprise some people. A successful season would feature a core of young players taking the next steps forward in their maturation supplemented by a wave of “hot talent lava” making their debuts on the game’s biggest stage.