Padres Playing Time Battles: Hitters

We’ve started our annual Depth Chart Discussions, re-branded as Playing Time Battles for 2016. You can catch up on every team we’ve covered in the Playing Time Battles Summary post or following along using the Depth Chart Discussions tag.

After an offseason marked with drastic change, it’d be hard to term the Padres 2015 season as anything short of a disaster. General manager A.J. Preller shot for the moon, and landed with a loud, crashing thud as the club finished 74-88, 18 games out of first and better than just six of its National League counterparts.

Flat out the Padres simply did not hit last year. They did show a little power, but ultimately ranked 15th in batting average and on-base percentage. Ranking 12th in slugging percentage and eighth in home runs probably helped the team finish 10th in runs scored, but being last in hits and 10th or worse in basically every other offensive statistic paints a pretty accurate picture of what was going on with the Friars.

The infield has been drastically re-worked, with three-quarters of the starting squad gone. Among those shipped off included the chronically underperforming Yonder Alonso and Jedd Gyorko. Alexi Amarista, who was allowed to take over 350 PA with a .544 OPS, has been rolled back to a more fitting utility role. Yangervis Solarte is basically the sole survivor of the infield, though that doesn’t mean there’ll be a shortage of familiar faces.

Derek Norris returns to take the bulk of the catching duties, and he’ll likely be backed up by either Austin Hedges or Christian Bethancourt. Strangely, Bethancourt’s calling card is defense, but a recent twitter storm suggested he was struggling badly in that respect in spring training. Maybe Hedges has the leg up? Neither will give you enough offensively to be relevant in fantasy though, so onto Norris. Norris hit a respectable .250/.305/.404 with 14 home runs last year, which in some leagues is probably back-end catcher fodder. He also hit 33 doubles, and played basically every day (147 games). Oddly, it wasn’t the move to San Diego which hurt his offense. He had a .759 OPS at home and .662 on the road. A very cold middle of the season — .661/.553 June-July OPS spell — was the primary culprit. He still hits lefties (.810 OPS) far better than righties (.678), so that’s also something to take into consideration. You can do far worse at catcher, but he’s not really a priority.

At first base is possible post-hype darling Wil Myers. It’s a little strange that the club is going to employ a ghastly outfield defense in the corners yet still willingly move Myers to first, but that’s *sips tea* none of my business. Perhaps it is in part to keep Myers healthy, as he’s still yet to even break the 90 games played barrier in the big leagues. He bounced back pretty nicely offensively when healthy — he played 60 games last year — and hit .253/.336/.427, but he’ll probably have more value fantasy-wise as an outfielder in deeper leagues. Then again, if he hits like he did in Tampa in 2013 (.831 OPS), there’s some first base value to be had, too. There’s also the ghost of first baseman past (Brett Wallace) staring him in the eye, motivating him to not fail.

Cory Spangenberg gets the nod at second base, and carries a bit of intrigue. The soon-to-be 25-year-old hot .271/.333/.399 for the Pads last year while being a jack-of-all-trades, but those numbers would look nice when prorated for a full-time second baseman. Of course, that’s not something people couldn’t have said about Gyorko a few years ago, so it’s not like it’s a guarantee he’s going to be an asset. But there’s sneaky value here; he’s got some pop (26 XBH in just 345 PA) and some speed (nine steals), and a pretty clear path to playing every single day at the keystone. This might not be a high-end second baseman, but a nice pick in deep leagues.

Just two teams in baseball — Baltimore and Milwaukee — got less production out of shortstops than the Padres last year. San Diego’s shortstops compiled a 59 wRC+, and a triple-slash line of .215/.266/.313. That’s akin to going up to the plate with a swim noodle. And while Alexei Ramirez certainly isn’t coming off his finest season, if he can simply replicate his .249/.285/.357 line, that’s a huge upgrade. Of course, that’s also going from a hitter’s park to Petco, and as a 34-year-old. There’s not a ton to see here, but even in a down year he hit 10 home runs and stole 17 bases while hitting .249. Only four shortstops stole more bases, and Ramirez is a career .273 hitter. Just four qualified shortstops beat that mark last year, so if he has any sort of resurgence there’s some value late at the position.

Solarte was pretty dang good last year and no doubt came cheaply. He hit .270/.320/.428, which is virtually identical to how Evan Longoria hit (.270/.328/.435) at a much higher price. He had a higher batting average than Kyle Seager, Todd Frazier and Chase Headley, a higher OBP than Frazier and Trevor Plouffe and outslugged Matt Duffy, Aramis Ramirez, Brett Lawrie and Headley. If you miss out on your high-end target, you can do a lot worse.

The outfield boils down to Melvin Upton, flanked by a Federalist and a former Dodger. Upton had a rebirth of sorts with the Friars, hitting .259/.327/.429, good for a 112 OPS+ that is his second-best mark since the 2007 season (136). Now comes the test, as that was in just 87 games played. He hit lefties very well (.792 OPS) and held his own against righties (.736), but is most likely a prove-it candidate in even the deepest of leagues.

But who can’t you say that about in this outfield? Kemp is slated to make $21.75 million for the next four years and hit just .265/.312/.443 last year. That’s not to say he’s without value if he stays healthy — and he’s played 150 games the last two years — since he hit 23 home runs, drove in 100 runs and stole 12 bases last year (his first 10-plus steals year since 2011). But the days of Kemp as a monster are clearly over; the last time he stole over 10 bases he had stolen 40 (!). It feels like a broken record, but you can surely do worse.

Jay is a reclamation project in every sense of the word. Since being a pretty nice player for the Cardinals — five straight seasons of 100-plus OPS+ — he completely fell apart for the Birds last year, hitting just .210/.306/.257 in 79 games/245 PA. Then again, missing a large chunk of the season to have your wrist surgically repaired is probably a good reason for that. A bounceback for him would entail a high batting average, decent walk rate and maybe 10-12 steals. Not worthless, but not worth a lot, either.

In addition to Rotographs, Warne writes about the Minnesota Twins for The Athletic and is a sportswriter for Sportradar U.S. in downtown Minneapolis. Follow him on Twitter @Brandon_Warne, or feel free to email him to do podcasts or for any old reason at brandon.r.warne@gmail-dot-com

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No mention of Margot challenging Mevlin Upton for playing time?