The Padres only put 52 players in their potential 60-player pool for the 2020 season. That could change over the next few weeks if they sign any more players, whether they're veterans (like Brian Dozier or Juan Lagares) or youngsters (like 3rd round pick Cole Wilcox if they can get that deal done).
Even if that doesn't happen the Friars have assembled one of baseball's more interesting rosters. Of the 52 players on the list, 15 have never played in a Major League game. That includes top prospects like pitchers MacKenzie Gore and Luis Patino, guys who were expected to make the big league debuts in 2020 anyway and are not surprising additions.
What really jumps out is the number of young guys in the pool. And I don't mean young like young by MLB standards. I'm talking about dudes who would still be underclassmen in college if they weren't playing professional baseball. What's even more surprising is the fact that some of them just might see time in a Major League game this year.
It's just one of five potential surprises we could see from the 2020 Padres player pool. The first one is just the opposite of the kids:
- Who Are These Old Guys?
Sprinkled in with the prospects are a few names most baseball fans won’t recognize like Webster Rivas, Jerad Eickhoff and Breyvic Valera. Rivas is a 29-year-old catcher who had a decade of professional experience but has never played a Major League game. Eickhoff is a 29-year-old right-handed pitcher who has a career 21-30 record in five seasons with the Phillies, mostly as a starter. Valera is a 28-year-old infielder who’s appeared in 54 big league games … spread out between five different teams. His most extensive playing time with any club is 20 games with the Dodgers (he also played for the Yankees, Orioles, Cardinals and Blue Jays). So why are they in the mix? My best guess is the Padres can take three extra players on the road with them to fill in should anyone get hurt or have to go into quarantine. These three guys have been around the game a long time so they could add a veteran presence and get ready to go on short-notice.
- Will There be ID Checks at Petco Park?
Although he seems like a seasoned veteran, Fernando Tatis Jr. is only 21 years old. So are Gore, Luis Campusano and Adrian Morejon. But Luis Patino is just 20 years old. Tucupita Marcano is 20. Gabriel Arias is 20. Ryan Weathers is 20. Joey Cantillo is 20. C.J. Abrams is 19. Hudson Head is 19. Robert Hassell III was in high school, like a month ago and has never seen a single professional pitch. Yet, here they are in the pool of guys who would be allowed to potentially play a Major League Baseball game THIS YEAR. It’s a testament to how talented these guys are (Hassell III was the 8th overall pick in the 2020 MLB Draft) but also a very telling sign of how seriously the Padres take their player development. On the MLB Pipeline list of the franchise’s Top-30 prospects, the top 13 are all in the pool. But what’s really crazy is …
- Some of These Youngsters Might Play in 2020
Last year Blue Jays pitcher Elvis Luciano made his big league debut at the age of 19. Over the years there have been a few notable teenagers to appear in Major League games. Perhaps you’ve heard of Mike Trout, Bryce Harper and Juan Soto? Those guys all have Hall of Fame talent and are certainly the anomalies but the Friars have proven they’re not afraid of promoting a prospect quickly if he deserves it. The Padres teen who is most likely to get a callup this shortened season is Abrams. He’s only gotten eight at-bats above the rookie league level, all of them at Fort Wayne last year. What makes Abrams a candidate to play are his advanced bat-to-ball skills and, even more important, his borderline Ichiro-level speed. Abrams might already be the fastest player in the minor leagues. He’s been clocked going home-to-first in less than 4.0 seconds multiple times. In all of MLB in 2019 Statcast only clocked seven players break the 4.0 second mark. In 2020 teams will start extra-inning games with a runner on 2nd base. Abrams would be one heck of a weapon in that situation and certainly something the Friars have thought about. In case you were wondering Hassell III turns 19 in August so he’d only have a couple of weeks to become the first 18-year-old to make The Show since 1994. That kid was named Alex Rodriguez.
- How About a Platoon at DH
American League teams get to sign guys like Nelson Cruz, Khris Davis or Edwin Encarnacion and tell them to put their gloves away until interleague play in an NL park. National League teams aren’t usually built like that but San Diego has several options. We will see guys like Wil Myers, Manny Machado and Fernando Tatis Jr. occasionally DH to get a day off from playing the field to keep their bats in the lineup. For an everyday DH, however, I see three intriguing possibilities. One is Francisco Mejia. If you want to keep Austin Hedges behind the plate for his elite defense but still get Mejia’s switch-hitting bat in the lineup this is the easy way to do it. There is also a natural lefty-righty opportunity with Josh Naylor and Ty France. Both have shown they can hit at the highest level. Both are corner infielders by nature (Naylor at 1st, France at 3rd) but are blocked by Eric Hosmer and Machado. Naylor can play a corner outfield spot and France can play 2nd base but there are better defensive options for the Padres at those spots. Having a switch-hitter, a lefty and a righty for skipper Jayce Tingler to pencil in at DH could give the Padres a matchup edge in the lineup most other NL teams don’t have.
- 4.0 Innings And a Cloud of Dust
This is WAY out there but humor me for a moment. The way the Padres choose to utilize their pitching staff could be nutty, especially in the first two weeks when they have 30 guys on the active roster. There will only be about three weeks of camp to get guys ready for the regular season. We can probably assume most everyone stayed in good shape during their downtime but it will still take a bit to get pitchers into full-blown game mode. San Diego’s strength is without a doubt its bullpen. I could see the Padres approaching this thing with a starting rotation of Garrett Richards, Chris Paddack, Dinelson Lamet, Zach Davies and Joey Lucchesi … and a second starting rotation of Cal Quantrill, MacKenzie Gore, Luis Patino, Michel Baez and let’s say Ronald Bolanos. The first five guys go four innings and are replaced by the next five guys, who go three or four innings. If you have two catchers, seven infielders and five outfielders then that leaves you with 16 spots for the pitching staff. Here’s where Matt Strahm, Drew Pomeranz, Emilio Pagan, Pierce Johnson, Craig Stammen and Kirby Yates round things out. You do that for two weeks to get the starting five eased into the season and when the rosters drop to 28 you remove the 2nd starting five and send two of them to the alternate training site so the regular rotation can start going deeper into games. Now you have three more guys who can pitch in long relief, if necessary, as well as two more pitchers on the taxi squad who’ve been throwing multiple innings at the big league level. It’s very strange, I know, but it could be a way of preparing for the duration of the season while avoiding any pitcher go too long too soon.
That doesn't even take into account having Jake Cronenworth on the roster, a Swiss Army Knife who can hit, play multiple infield positions, and come out of the bullpen throwing in the mid-90's.
When it comes to position flexibility the Padres have it in spades. Whether or not that helps in a 60-game season sprint remains to be seen.