It’s time for our Depth Chart Discussions to begin. In an effort to suss out every team, we’ve divided them into four parts (infield, outfield, bullpen, and rotation) and will begin breaking them down for you over the next few weeks. You can find them gathered here.
It has been a whirlwind offseason for the San Diego Padres, who made blockbuster trades for a brand new, brand name outfield of Matt Kemp, Justin Upton, and Wil Myers. Between the new outfield, the free agent acquisition of James Shields, and the incumbent rotation talent, the Padres will make a play for their first postseason berth since 2006.
If they do reach the postseason, it will likely not be because of the exceptional player of their infield, which was left largely intact after a disappointing 2014 season. In fantasy, that unit is similarly unenticing, although there are a few bounce back candidates who could become fantasy relevant.
The two additions the Padres did make to their infield are likely also their two most interesting players in fantasy. Catcher Derek Norris replaces Yasmani Grandal, now a Dodger, and Rene Rivera, now a Ray. As such, he has a pretty clear stranglehold on the primary catching duties in San Diego. Still, fantasy owners in daily formats are better served to deploy Norris in a platoon. His .061 wOBA edge versus left-handed pitchers compared to right-handed pitchers in 2014 actually undersells the split for his career, and if used only against lefties, Norris would have finished as the second best catcher in wOBA (.379) with at least 300 plate appearances in 2014, just below Devin Mesoraco (.387) and just above Buster Posey (.371).
For players in deeper leagues or leagues with roster restrictions that make platooning multiple catchers infeasible, Norris offers nice on-base skills—he has walked 12 percent or more of his plate appearances the last two seasons—but not much in the way of counting stats. In traditional formats, that makes him a back-end second catcher. He’s worth more in OBP leagues.
The other new addition, Will Middlebrooks, failed to live up to his potential in Boston. Specifically, that manifested in his inability to lay off breaking pitches outside of the zone:
His swings and misses on those pitches are most responsible for a strikeout rate that escalated to 30 percent in 2014, which in turn dropped his batting average to .191. In other bad news, Middlebrooks moves from Boston—whose Fenway Park allowed two percent more home runs to right-handed hitters than an average park in 2014—to San Diego—whose Petco Park allowed nine percent fewer home runs to right-handed hitters than an average park last season. Meanwhile, Middlebrooks hit just two home runs in 2014, in any case, although that is likely related to a hand injury.
There are a lot of reasons to avoid Middlebrooks in fantasy, but there are still a few that could make him a flyer in NL-only formats. The aforementioned hand injury is a reasonable excuse for the loss of power, and Middlebrooks had hit 32 home runs over the first 660 plate appearances of his career in 2012-2013. He’s also still just 26 years old. Even if he never learns to lay off the breaking pitches in the dirt, Middlebrooks has the skill set to follow the Mark Trumbo path the fantasy relevance, but even that is no guarantee.
Middlebrooks does face competition for the third base job with the Padres, but Yangervis Solarte offers even less potential to fantasy owners. Solarte played 131 games between the Yankees and Padres in his rookie 2014 season, and he hit .260 with 10 home runs and little else in the way of counting stats. He does offer more real life value than fantasy value, particularly in his near 1-to-1 rate of walks to strikeouts, and he is likely not as bad a fielder as Middlebrooks. But even if he does win the third base job, he’s undraftable in most formats.
At shortstop, the Padres have a pair of defense-first options in Alexi Amarista and Clint Barmes. Barmes has enjoyed a 12-year career because of his excellent glovework, but there has been nothing to show for it in fantasy. It has been four years since he hit double digit home runs and six since he did the same with steals. Amarista did steal 12 bases in 466 plate appearances in 2014, but his .286 OBP was even worse than Barmes’ career line (.295). Both players should be avoided.
Jedd Gyorko was not much better than Amarista in 2014, but it wasn’t too long ago that he was a promising young second baseman with power. Really, Gyorko is fairly similar to Middlebrooks, but with a bit less power, a slightly less extreme strikeout-to-walk rate, and with an injury (plantar fasciitis) that could explain his poor play. In fact, once Gyorko returned from a two-month DL stint, he produced a .335 wOBA in the second half that was .120 points better than in the first half. It’s fair to be optimistic and expect a return to 20-homer power, but a low average and other counting stats make him a low-end middle infield option in standard formats.
The massive downside risk across the infield could be good news for prospect Cory Spangenberg, who was effective in 65 plate appearances in 2014 to the tune of .290/.313/.452. Spangenberg has also stolen 38 bases per 600 plate appearances throughout the minors. As such, he may be the infielder with the most fantasy potential of the bunch, but he is expected to be a bench bat in 2014 and defensive limitations could limit his future plate appearances, as well.
Strangely, the Padres have less home run potential at first base than they do at either second or third. Yonder Alonso enters his age-28 season having never reached 10 home runs in a season in the majors. A wrist injury in 2014 likely didn’t help matters, but there is little evidence that Alonso has a power breakout in his future. Steamer projects a .266 average with 14 homers, 55 runs, 60 RBI, and seven steals, and that just isn’t enough to make him draftable at a relatively deep first base position. Frankly, it wouldn’t be that surprising to see Carlos Quentin or even Matt Kemp earn some time at the position as way to add a bit of defense to their outfield and offense to their first baseman spot.
Scott Spratt is a fantasy sports writer for FanGraphs and Pro Football Focus. He is a Sloan Sports Conference Research Paper Competition and FSWA award winner. Feel free to ask him questions on Twitter – @Scott_Spratt