LOS ANGELES — Two years after winning the offseason only to have nothing to show for it, the Padres are trending in the right direction for the long term. But for now, they remain a team in transition, with one of the more unique rosters in Major League Baseball.
The team the Dodgers will face for the first four games of the 2017 season enter the season with three different Rule 5 Draft picks on their roster — shortstop Allen Cordoba, pitcher Miguel Diaz, and catcher Luis Torrens. This is the first time a team has carried three Rule 5 picks to start the season in 14 years.
I think the last team to carry three Rule 5 guys was the 2003 Tigers (Rooney, Ledezma, Spurling). That ended well.— keithlaw (@keithlaw) April 1, 2017
That 2003 Detroit team lost 119 games, the most by any team in the last 54 years.
All the catchers
Torrens is one of four catchers the Padres are carrying. Yes, four. However, this isn’t entirely accurate. One of those “catchers” is Christian Bethancourt, who is attempting to become a two-way player this year, a utility man both as a position player and a pitcher.
Bethancourt in spring training posted a 2.16 ERA in eight relief appearances. He will primarily pitch, but also occasionally catch, play the outfield, and pinch hit against left-handed pitchers.
"That's the way we're looking at him primarily right now,” Padres manager Andy Green told A.J. Cassavell of MLB.com last week. “The eighth bullpen arm, which, when you look at our schedule, is incredibly necessary. He gives us a flexibility that no other bullpen arm can do, which is pinch-hit capabilities, and cover the field capability."
Second baseman Ryan Schimpf is back, after the 28-year-old rookie put together one of the most remarkable seasons in baseball history. He hit .217/.336/.533 in 89 games with the Padres last year, including 20 home runs.
Schmipf also hit 17 doubles and five triples in basically half a season. even more amazing considering he only had 60 total hits. Only 18 of those hits were singles. Among all players in baseball history with at least 200 plate appearances in a season, only two players have had at least 65% of their knocks as extra-base hits — Barry Bonds, in his record-breaking 73-homer season in 2001 (68.6%) and Schmipf in 2016 (70%).
The Padres opening day payroll is just $67 million, and roughly half of that is going to players no longer on the team — Dennis Lin at the San Diego Union-Tribune has the details — but don’t let that fool you.
The organization is still spending on infrastructure, but most of the capital is going to long-term gains. In addition to several trades in the last two years that have rebuilt their farm system, the club also spent well over $30 million in international bonuses since July, including $11 million for Cuban left-hander Adrian Morejon.
Most of these won’t pay dividends for a few year, but while the Padres wait for Morejon and others, there are still some knocking on the door now.
One is outfielder Hunter Renfroe, who during his cup of coffee last September already torched the Dodgers with three home runs and 11 RBI in a two-game span. Renfroe, the club’s first-round pick in 2013, was rated the No. 44 prospect in baseball by Baseball America entering 2017.
Manuel Margot is ranked even higher, at No. 24, and figures to man center field. The Padres got him in November 2015 from the Red Sox in the Craig Kimbrel trade.
“With plus-plus speed, Margot should provide plenty of doubles and triples, as well as stolen bases,” says MLB Pipeline’s scouting report of Margot. “Those wheels also enable him to cover a ton of ground in center field, where he's viewed by scouts as one of the top defensive players in the Minors, with a plus arm that produced a PCL-leading 18 assists in 2016.”
Luis Perdomo was a Rule 5 pick last year by the Padres, and after initial bumps and bruises he improved in the second half. He earned a spot in the rotation again to start 2017, but he won’t start until Friday, so the Dodgers will miss him.
They will face a quartet of veterans all signed to one-year contracts. Jhoulys Chacin, Clayton Richard, Trevor Cahill, and Jered Weaver will make a total of $8.25 million this season, as they terribly eat up major league innings while the Padres’ pitching prospects progress toward major league readiness.
This is the only series these two teams will play against one another this month. After these four games, the two teams don’t meet again until May 5-7 in a weekend series at Petco Park in San Diego.