Light Years

Photo Credit: Jake Roth | USA Today

By Rich Daniels

The National League West Division promises to be one of the most exciting races in Major League Baseball this season. Unless, of course, you're in San Diego. 

The Dodgers, Giants, Diamondbacks, and Rockies are close enough in the standings that you could throw a hand towel over them all, but the Padres are on the outside looking in almost twenty games back. In the midst of yet another rebuilding movement, San Diego looks to the years to come rather than the weeks to come.

The Padres are still at the point in the rebuilding process where they need to rely on veteran players to fill innings on the mound and at-bats in the lineup. Two veterans that aren't just holding places on the roster are Eric Hosmer and Wil Myers

Hosmer was basically the only good news planned for Padres fans in 2018 after signing an eight-year, $144 million free agent contract in February. The 2015 World Series hero waited about as long as he could before signing in an effort to coax every offer he could get, but the Padres were the natural fit for him all along. So far, however, Hosmer's productivity has been limited to 10 HR, 46 RBI's and a .711 OPS. To his credit, the four-time Gold Glover has been victimized by a lack of effective hitting in front of him to set the table and behind him to entice pitchers to take their chances throwing the ball over the plate in front of him too often. 

Myers is the lone significant holdover from the past few years who is still young enough to be a building block for the Padres' future. The 2013 American League Rookie of the Year (for the Rays) had been bitten by the injury bug in years past prompting the Padres to move him to first base upon acquiring him. Myers responded with 58 HR over the past two seasons which cemented him into the team's future plans. The slugger signed a six-year, $83 million contract which has him in San Diego through 2023 and moved back to the outfield when Hosmer signed. Multiple injuries have again found Myers as he's been sidelined by nerve irritation in his throwing arm, an oblique strain, and a bruised left foot. But his 9 HR and 30 RBI's are less worrisome when it becomes obvious that contention is seen as arriving in San Diego in two or three years.

Some of the youth movement has already arrived at Petco Park. 

Outfielder Manuel Margot and starting pitcher Joey Lucchesi are important pieces for the future. Margot is a speedy outfielder the Padres received as part of the package Boston sent in exchange for closer Craig Kimbrel. Margot got out of the gate slowly this year, but after a short stint back in AAA, he has raised his on-base percentage more than 60 points since May. Playing every day in center field and batting at or near the top of the order is the plan for the 23-year-old.

Lucchesi performed so well in spring training that the Pads decided to have him skip AAA altogether and start the season in the bigs. In just his third professional season, the left-hander is 5-6 with a 3.70 ERA on the big league level. Catcher Austin Hedges, third baseman Christian Villanueva and power hitting outfielders Hunter Renfroe and Franmil Reyes have produced enough to have themselves in the mix for the rebuild.

The best news, however, comes from the Padres' farm system. 

Twelve young players are on the way and all should be in Petco by the end of the 2019 season. Triple-A El Paso now has strong prospects in middle infielder Luis Urias, catcher Francisco Mejia (acquired from Cleveland in the Brad Hand trade) and starting pitcher Cal Quantrill. Urias could see the majors later this season and so could Mejia if the Pads can decide where he will play in the field (C/OF/3B). Quantrill just made his AAA debut and could get the call as early as mid-season next year. Starting pitchers Jacob Nix and Jerry Keel along with reliever Emmanuel Ramirez are also just a little seasoning away from getting their shots at the National League.

As good as it looks at the AAA level for the Padres, the double-A level is downright scary. Prize prospect Fernando Tatis Jr. is healthy again and producing. Starter Chris Paddack has destroyed two minor league levels so far this year and there's no telling how soon he'll be called up. Buddy Reed is an outfielder with 45 stolen bases so far this year. First baseman Josh Naylor is hitting over .300 with power. And starter Logan Allen and reliever Andres Munoz are both running out of things to prove at AA.

Final Thoughts

Contention for the Padres seems light years away, once again. Their fans have been asked to be patient as the team re-tools with the promise of building from within. Often times "youth movements" come as a result of trading away high priced major leaguers for two or three prospects at a time. The difference for the Padres is that most of the young players they're counting on to deliver them from years of light performance were drafted and developed in their own farm system making their planned resurgence predominantly their own doing.

So Padres faithful, don't just lament the light years you're experiencing. The next 30 months will tell the tale of becoming a competitive team again. Remember the good players you have and the promise of the talented young guys that are getting closer to relieving your pain every day. Mark down their names and follow their progress with the knowledge that the success they bring with them is not far away.

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