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MLB preview 2019: San Diego Padres are a looming threat in the NL West

With the best farm system in baseball and Manny Machado signed to a mega-deal, should we start worrying about the Padres?

With the 2019 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, formerly of 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 2018? What, ultimately, went wrong?

A lot of things have to go wrong to lose 96 games, but Padres fans are used to looking for silver linings. Joey Lucchesi and Eric Lauer established themselves as major league starting pitchers, and the bullpen was among the best in baseball. The team leveraged Adam Cimber and Brad Hand’s strong first halves into a trade for catching prospect Francisco Mejia. Franmil Reyes broke out and was the team’s best hitter by midseason, and the team saw improvements at the plate from Hunter Renfroe and Austin Hedges. Down on the Farm, Fernando Tatis Jr established himself as one of the game’s top prospects and Chris Paddack dominated his way through Tommy John rehab to become a surprise candidate for this year’s Opening Day starter.

As I said above, a lot went wrong last year. Eric Hosmer had his worst season to date at the plate. Wil Myers, Hunter Renfroe, and Austin Hedges all lost significant time to injuries. The starting rotation was worse than expected, and it wasn’t expected to be good. Chase Headley was dreadful and the team never found an answer at third base. The team fired yet another hitting coach. A player was caught complaining about the manager on a live Fortnite stream.

Like I said, a lot went wrong.

Last year I asked you if Eric Hosmer was the difference, and you offered a cautious no. Is Manny Machado the difference?

Heck yeah, for $300mm he’d better be, right? But seriously, one player can’t do it all on a baseball diamond, no matter how many WAR he produces. He represents a change in direction for a franchise that has been shunning the word “tank,” hopefully turning a corner toward contention. I can say that this preseason feels different than the last few. The roster feels much deeper, and the positions are more settled. There’s the hope that a couple of veterans can lead a group of talented kids to become an interesting team. There are plenty of weaknesses, but it’s not hard to see better times in the very near future for this organization.

Last year you said contention would happen probably around 2020 or even 2022. Does Machado move that timeline forward in an appreciable way?

The team is investing in the on-field product in a big way. By adding players like Hosmer and Machado, the team is no longer giving prospects room to struggle in an MLB setting. Veteran backups Ian Kinsler and Greg Garcia aren’t on the roster just to help groom their replacements. It’s time for the team to start learning how to win. The timeline seems to have been moved up a year as a result. Nobody is picking the team to contend this year, but it’s not hard to see how the team might surprise the league in 2019.

The Padres system is widely regarded as the best in baseball, perhaps one of the best we’ve seen in a few years. Who ended up making a difference from the system last year? Who is set to break through this year?

As noted above, Lucchesi and Lauer made their MLB debuts and pretty much didn’t leave the rotation. They came into this year’s spring training as the two best bets for the rotation. Robert Stock and Trey Wingenter brought triple-digit heat to the bullpen. Outfielder Franmil Reyes rose from relative obscurity by obliterating AAA pitching and made multiple adjustments on his way to becoming the team’s best hitter late in the season. He also won over the hearts of players and fans with his infectious personality.

Second baseman Luis Urias made his MLB debut late in the season, and his future double play partner Fernando Tatis Jr should make his debut early this year. Urias is an athletic fielder who will see time at shortstop this year and has been one of the best contact hitters in the minors. Tatis has superstar potential, combining a powerful bat with aggressive speed on the bases while flashing a premium glove at shortstop and a cannon arm. On the mound, Chris Paddack is blowing away MLB competition in spring training and is making an argument to be the team’s Opening Day starter. His fastball command and devastating changeup already made him a top pitching prospect, and how he’s adding a curveball to his mix. Logan Allen and Jacob Nix are in the mix for the rotation as well, and the bullpen is stacked with power arms hungry to stake a claim for a role on the MLB squad.

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

Matt Strahm pitched from the bullpen in a relief role for most of 2018, and now he’s competing for a rotation spot. He has four above-average pitches and the command to use them all to great effect. The former Royals top prospect has avoided the spotlight that guys like Paddack and Lucchesi draw, but you might want to keep an eye on him. Franchy Cordero is buried behind a bunch of talented outfielders, but he has light-tower power and is one of the fastest players in the league. Righty reliever Gerardo Reyes can touch 100mph from an unorthodox sidearm delivery with a wipeout slider. Catcher Austin Allen, LF/1B Josh Naylor, and corner infielder Ty France are three advanced hitters who could shine if an opportunity should open for them.

What do you think it would take for the Padres to vault into contention this year in a competitive National League landscape?

The veteran group of Machado, Hosmer, and Kinsler need to lead a young roster with sold performances to anchor the lineup. The young rotation needs to stay healthy and avoid rookie struggles. Tatis and Urias need to find consistency and confidence at the plate. Manager Andy Green and new bench coach Rod Barajas need to prove that they can handle a mix of personalities in the clubhouse. It’s a stretch to think that this team might contend for a wild card slot, but the talent is there. The consistency and the chemistry is the hard part.

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 is that the team finds itself in the mix for a wild card spot late in the season. That would take 90 or more wins, which is a stretch, but crazier things have happened, right? Worst case is that injuries combine with struggles and regression and we’re looking at another 90-loss season. Success is somewhere around a .500 season, which the team hasn’t done since 2010. If the team wins more games than it loses and the kids take a collective step forward, the fans should be really excited for big things a year from now.

The team announced that the brown will be returning officially in 2020. Gaslamp Ball has long been on the #BringBacktheBrown bandwagon, but what was the reaction of the wider fanbase?

Padres fans have been clamoring for a change for a long time. The uniforms have become more and more bland ever since the team moved into Petco Park in 2004. Many have loudly demanded a return to brown, while others simply want something that doesn’t look like it was picked out of a generic catalog. Personally, I like that the brown and yellow immediately distinguishes Padres fans in a crowd of caps of varying shades of blue. Overall, people are ready for a change, but what will really sell merchandise is a winning product on the field.

What will be the best part of watching the Padres this year? Or, put another way, why should the casual fan (who’s not scoreboard watching) watch a Padres game this season?

This team has talent and personality! Fernando Tatis Jr plays with flair and a chip on his shoulder. Once he and Luis Urias are manning the middle of the infield, they will combine with Machado and Hosmer to form one of the most potent infield combos in the game. Franmil Reyes has a smile that’s almost as big as his 6’5” 275lb frame, and he loves to win even more than he loves hitting tape-measure bombs. Catcher Francisco Mejia can put the barrel on any pitch, and his cannon arm makes baserunners shiver in their cleats. Chris Paddack will have a posse following the big Texan into Petco Park for each start, and Logan Allen reminds many of a young Jon Lester.