Padres 2015 Season Preview, Part Two

Last time, we looked at the reason for optimism for the 2015 Padres: the offensive is much better, the starting pitching is better (if that were possible, and with the signing of James Shields, it is), the bullpen is still strong, and second baseman Jedd Gyorko figures to have a good rebound season after a disastrous 2014 campaign.

But if the above points were the only things I wrote about the 2015 Padres, that would be misleading on my part. For that reason, let us come now to part two of my Padres 2015 preview.

This time, we will consider the reasons for potential pessimism.

1. The Outfield defense is much worse. For the 2015 Padres, the good news is that fans will see much less of Cameron Maybin and Will Venable.

But that brings us to the potential bad news: fans will see much less of Maybin and Venable.

Here’s what I mean: while Maybin and Venable have disappointed fans (and put them to sleep) over their dreadful offense, they could always be counted upon to cover lots of ground defensively.

In their place (and Seth Smith’s, who was the primary starting left fielder last year), the Padres will start Justin Upton in left, Wil Myers in center, and Matt Kemp in right. Upton is considered average (i.e, not spectacular) in left. He won’t make too many flashy plays, but he won’t bring back memories of Dave Kingman, either.

Asking Myers to play center field every day could prove risky. While he is only 24, he is better suited for a corner outfield position, given his skill-set. As of right now, his total Major League experience in center includes eight games (six starts) in 2013, and two innings in 2014.

So then, why not just move him to right field? Because that’s where newcomer Matt Kemp will be playing. While he can still swing a hefty bat at age 30, there are health concerns. Prior to 2014, he missed significant playing time due to injuries (over 50 games in 2012, and more than half the season in ’13). And prior to being traded to the Padres, a physical revealed that Kemp has arthritic hips, which is going to slow him down considerably in the field. All of which is going to make for a very porous outfield defense.

So then, the proper question might not be, “Will this outfield of Upton-Myers-Kemp work,” but, “What’s Plan B?” Plan B may consist of waiting to see whether Yonder Alonso is truly recovered from his injuries (see below); if he’s not, manager Bud Black might switch either Myers or Kemp to first, and platoon Venable and Maybin in centerfield, which would go a long way toward solving the defense problem.

Should Alonso work out, Maybin and Venable will serve as late inning defensive replacements, and spot starters to give Kemp a rest. But if that’s the case, then Padre fans should expect a lot of high-scoring games.

2. No Legitimate Leadoff Hitter. For all of the great offseason acquisitions, who is going to bat first?

Alexi Amarista? He’s fast, but in three years, he has never had an OBP above .290.

Derek Norris? He gets on base, but as a catcher, he’s really slow.

Wil Myers? Perhaps, but since he is also coping with being a full-time center fielder, asking him to be the leadoff hitter as well might be too much pressure on him.

Yongervis Solarte? He is probably the best bet, as he is willing to take a walk. But his starting position is third base, and it seems the Padres really want Will Middlebrooks to win the everyday job.

Another trade? That is certainly possible. It appears on this one that we will have to stay tuned, because none of the current options really inspires much in the way of confidence when it comes to thinking of traditional leadoff hitters.

3. Shortstop Offers Little in Offense. To his credit, Amarista did well in filling in for extended periods for the since-departed Everth Cabrera. For that reason, Black and Preller felt comfortable going with “Little Ninja” and free agent signee Clint Barmes.

But here’s the problem: neither one of them hits. On the other hand, they have a far better offense than they did last year. So if they’re weak offensively at just this position, they should be okay.

4. Who’s On First? Alonso is the incumbent, but not by much. Which is tragic.

The Padres acquired him in the Mat Latos deal prior to the 2012 season. He was billed as the ideal hitter for Petco Park: a high average with extra-base power. In his rookie season, he slapped 39 doubles and had an acceptable .273/.348/.393 slash.

His 2013 season began well, with a .284 average, six home runs and 29 RBI in 54 games. But then, Alonso broke a bone in his hand, and he hasn’t been the same since. Although, he showed some glimpses of his former self late last season, batting .421 (in 38 at-bats) after the All-Star break, until he re-fractured his hand.

So given his recent injury history, why are the Padres hoping to keep him around? Probably this…

5. The Offense is Right-Handed Top-Heavy. For all of the good news about acquiring Kemp, Myers, Upton, Middlebrooks, and Norris, there is just one problem: they all bat right-handed.

Statistically, that’s going to make it harder to win against right-handed pitchers, and that’s what the majority of starting pitchers are.

So then, who are the potential left-handed batters?

The most obvious is Amarista, who will be the primary starting shortstop. But he hardly instills fear in opposing pitchers.

Another option is Solarte, should he win the third base job. Venable will likely get some spot starts in the outfield.

If Corey Spangenburg makes the team, he will likely be a super-utility player, who can alternately spell the regulars at second, third, and all three outfield positions. Presumably, we would get about 250 at-bats or so in this role, mostly as a leadoff hitter against right-handed pitchers. Even still, the Padres do not at this point consider him viable as an everyday ballplayer.

Which brings us back to…

Yonder Alonso.

He is potentially the best left-handed hitter they have, which could be why they did not give up on him after 2014. The Padres know that the potential is still there, if he can get past his nagging wrist injuries. But given his recent history, that’s a big if.

Bottom line: With all of the offseason improvements, the Padres still have reason for concern. But next time, we will look at the remaining intangibles, and I will make my prediction for how they will do.

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