Washington Nationals v San Diego Padres

2012 Record: 76-86, 4th NL West
2012 Pythagorean Record: 75-87
Impact Player: 3B Chase Headley
Impact Pitcher: RHP Edinson Volquez
Top Prospect: RHP Casey Kelly

Significant Acquisitions: RHP Freddy Garcia, RHP Tyson Ross

Significant Departures: IF Andy Parrino

The San Diego Padres entered the 2012 season with a thin roster and knew they would take their lumps in the first half but, with considerable prospect depth on its way, General Manager Josh Byrnes and the rest of his front office thought they might have a team that could make a run in the second half. Unfortunately, the team was so bad in the first half—they were 28-50 on June 29—that no manner of second-half surge could save their year.

Still, from that point on, only five NL teams put up better records and only the Giants were better in the NL West. What’s more incredible about that impressive second-half came without much impact from the young prospects expected to lead the charge. Only catcher Yasmani Grandal left much of an impression after his debut in June—and he was impressive.

The four promising young arms that were supposed to contribute—righties Casey Kelly and Joe Wieland and lefties Robbie Erlin and Juan Oramas—all got hurt and missed time. So all things considered, the Padres had an okay year in 2012 and look poised to make some noise in the NL West.

Pitching

Pitching in PETCO Park is a luxury most pitchers probably dream about as there is no park in baseball that suppresses offense more. That may change this season as the team moved the fences in a bit, but the dense marine-layer combined with humid conditions is likely to keep PETCO from ever becoming anything other than an extreme pitcher’s park.

Those four promising young arms I mentioned in the opening are still unlikely to make an impact at the Major League level—at least to start the year. Erlin should be healthy for Opening Day but is expected to start in the minors while Oramas and Wieland are unlikely to contribute anything in the first half as both are recovering from mid-season Tommy John surgeries. Kelly, meanwhile has a sore elbow again and could require a little TJ surgery of his own, which would cause him to miss the year. That leaves the rotation on the thin side heading into the season.

Left-hander Cory Luebke is probably the best pitcher in the organization but he fell before Dr. Andrew’s knife as well and isn’t expected back until at least June. The pitcher with the next-most upside is probably Andrew Cashner who is expected to be tried in the rotation full-time, but thumb surgery after a hunting accident will keep him out for at least the first month.

That’s six pitchers discussed and not one of them will start the year with the team, so who’s left? Edinson Volquez will likely be the Opening Day starter and is coming off an okay season, but he’s nobody’s number one. He’ll need to lower his walk-rate if he wants to be as effective as he once was with the Reds. The fact that he managed to stay on the field last season is a plus in and of itself.

Soft-tossing lefty Clayton Richard pitched in 218 2/3 innings last season and posted a terrific 1.73 walk-per-nine rate, but gave up an NL-high 31 home runs despite plying his wares in PETCO. His sub-par stuff suggests that although he’s durable, he’d probably find it hard to succeed on just about any other team.

The rest of the rotation will be made up of veteran pitchers who may not even be with the team by season’s end. Right-handers Jason Marquis and Freddy Garcia both had ERAs well into the fives last season and will be joined by lefty Eric Stults who was impressive in 99 innings between the White Sox and Padres in 2012, but is a prime regression candidate with underwhelming peripherals and a low opponents’ batted-ball average. Tyson Ross was also brought in from Oakland and could start or relieve.

With Erlin in the minors and the expected return of Luebke, Cashner and Wieland, the Padres rotation could look vastly different in September than the one that will start the year.

The Padres will once again field one of the best bullpens in the NL—something they’ve become known for over the past few years. Closer Huston Street had a 1.85 ERA and a 4.27 K/BB ratio in just 39 innings, but when he’s healthy, he’s one of the most consistent relievers in baseball. Setting him up will be Luke Gregerson who has been terrific for a few years now.

Right-handers Brad Brach and Dale Thayer were mostly solid last year although Brach’s peripherals suggest regression, and Nick Vincent should also make the team after a 1.71 ERA in 26 1/3 Major League innings last year. The only left-handed reliever expected to make the team is Joe Thatcher who pitched in just 31 2/3 innings in 55 games. Anthony Bass will probably be the long-man although he could end up starting as well. Brad Boxberger, Ross, Fautino De Los Santos, Miles Mikolas, and lefty Tom Layne could also be in the mix.

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Lineup

It’s been a while since you could confidently say that the most promising aspect of the Padres is their lineup, but even with the strangling effects of PETCO, San Diego finished 10th in the NL in runs scored in 2012. The emergence of third baseman Chase Headley as an elite-level player along with breakouts from first baseman Yonder Alonso and Grandal at catcher has given them their most feared middle-of-the-lineup in a long time.

Headley could be traded soon if the Padres don’t contend this year, but in just under 700 plate appearances last summer, he had a 145 wRC+ and 31 home runs. Alonso only hit nine homers, but he got on base and should come into more power as he enters his prime. Grandal, meanwhile, will miss the first 50 games after being suspended for PEDs, but he posted an impressive 144 wRC+ in 60 games last season.

Leftfielder Carlos Quentin is unable to remain healthy, but when he’s on the field, he’s a legitimate middle-of-the-order bat and he’ll be joined in the outfield by Cameron Maybin in center who struggled a year after breaking out, but still has tremendous upside and is only 26. In right, the Padres will deploy a platoon of Will Venable and Chris Denorfia which worked very well last season as the two combined for a 118 wRC+.

Up the middle, the Padres will have Everth Cabrera and Logan Forsythe at short and second respectively. Cabrera doesn’t hit for power, but can handle the position defensively and has tremendous baserunning skills. If he can find a way to hit just a little more he could be a very valuable player. Forsythe, meanwhile was solid in 91 games last year, but could eventually lose at bats to Jedd Gyorko who’s just waiting for playing time after tearing it up again in the minors last year.

With Grandal out, Nick Hundley will start the year as the everyday catcher after a disastrous season in 2012. Hundley went from being a solid offensive catcher to hitting just .157/.219/.245 in 225 plate appearances last year. John Baker is also around until Grandal gets back. The bench, meanwhile, has some depth with the likes of outfielder/first baseman Jesus Guzman and veteran Mark Kotsay. Half-man-half-refrigerator Kyle Blanks is also still around after spending last year hurt—if he can actualize his power potential he’ll find his way into the lineup at some point.

Defense

The Padres finished fourth in the NL in defensive efficiency last year and with players like Maybin, Venable and Cabrera they should be solid again this year. Headley is well-regarded at third base, as is Alonso at first, but Quentin and Forsythe aren’t considered good with the glove. Hundley is about average behind the plate, but Grandal is apparently much better.

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2013 Outlook

The Padres were a much improved team in the second half of last year and have one of the deepest farm systems in baseball, which could bolster their roster as the season goes on. The rotation could start off mediocre, but they should get reinforcements as the year goes on from the likes of Luebke, Erlin and Wieland and the lineup is as good as it has been in years—maybe more than a decade. The NL West is a surprisingly deep division, but they’re not that far off from true contention. Look for an even bigger leap in 2014.

2013 Prediction: 82-80, 4th NL West

For a detailed depth chart with statistics, click here. Stats obtained from FanGraphs (San Diego’s team page here) and Baseball Prospectus. Depth chart info provided by MLB Depth Charts.