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5 questions for Padres before Opening Day

@AJCassavell
March 21, 2019

PEORIA, Ariz. -- There's only a week remaining before the Padres host the Giants on Opening Day to open the Manny Machado era at Petco Park. That means, for all the remaining roster decisions, the Padres have only seven days to make them. With that in mind, here's a breakdown

PEORIA, Ariz. -- There's only a week remaining before the Padres host the Giants on Opening Day to open the Manny Machado era at Petco Park. That means, for all the remaining roster decisions, the Padres have only seven days to make them.

With that in mind, here's a breakdown of five pressing Padres questions that need to be answered before Opening Day.

What we know: Eric Lauer and Joey Lucchesi are in the rotation.

What we don't know: Who’s going to join them -- particularly, which prospects?

That the Padres haven't made a meaningful addition to their 2019 rotation speaks volumes to how the club feels about its prospects, who haven't disappointed this spring.

Chris Paddack, MLB Pipeline's No. 34 overall prospect, has a 2.13 Cactus League ERA with a 37 percent strikeout rate. He's moved from the bubble to a heavy favorite for the starting five. Logan Allen, ranked No. 74, might also have the inside track for the final rotation spot. He's only 21, but he's proven himself at every level, and he bounced back nicely from a blow-up outing in his most recent start.

The fifth place probably belongs to Matt Strahm, whose transition to a starting role has gone surprisingly smoothly this spring. Strahm was used cautiously as a reliever last season, coming back from knee surgery. But he's built up to a starter's workload, and his dominant stuff has seen very little drop off.

What we know: Austin Hedges is the Padres' starting catcher.

What we don't know: Will Francisco Mejía make the club, and if so, how much playing time does he take from Hedges?

The Padres were never going to promote Mejia if he were merely going to serve as a traditional backup. They want him playing regularly, given his raw skill set. Defensive wiz Chris Stewart was expected to win the job unless Mejia could prove himself worthy of something like 40 percent of the Padres' reps behind the plate.

Mejia, the Padres' No. 4 prospect and the No. 2 catcher prospect in baseball, might have hit his way onto the roster over the past month. Even with his recent dry spell, he's hitting .368/.400/.711 with seven extra-base hits. By all accounts, he's made serious strides defensively, too.

The Padres insist that ultimately, there’s enough playing time to go around for both Mejia and Hedges. Last year, only the Cubs' Willson Contreras caught three-quarters of his team's regular-season innings. It’s a taxing position, and the Padres think they'll be better off if their backstops are fresh.

What we know: The Padres' outfield group of Wil Myers, Hunter Renfroe, Franmil Reyes, Manuel Margot and Franchy Cordero is probably set.

What we don't know: Who starts and how often?

"The safest way to look at our outfield mix is that very few guys, if any guys, are going to be out there for 155 games," Padres manager Andy Green said. "They're going to be rested and ready to go based on how they're performing."

In Myers, Renfroe and Reyes, San Diego has three slugging right-handed-hitting corner outfielders. Myers has gotten reps in center this spring, but his defense has been shoddy at best, well below Margot's. It's unclear how often Myers might see time in center during the season, but if he's able to handle the position occasionally, the Padres can stack their three best hitters from last season into the lineup against lefties.

Meanwhile, Cordero is the only left-handed hitter of the bunch, and he figures to play somewhat regularly against righties. But there's still little indication as to how often he'll be used. The same holds true for the rest of the outfielders, with Reyes and Myers favorites for the most playing time.

What we know: Eight pitchers remain in the mix for the Padres' rotation.

What we don't know: Who's starting Opening Day?

Lucchesi is the odds-on favorite, but the Padres have been cryptic all spring regarding the order of their starting pitchers. Lauer remains an option. So does Robbie Erlin.

Paddack was once a choice, though that seems very unlikely now. For the first four weeks of camp, Paddack's turn was lined up so he'd pitch March 28. But the Padres recently moved his start day back. Paddack would've been the first pitcher to make his debut as Opening Day starter since 1943.

In any case, we're likely to learn the answer very soon. Lauer starts Friday and Lucchesi on Saturday.

What we know: Fernando Tatis Jr. is the Padres' shortstop of the future.

What we don't know: When does that future become the present?

All things considered, it's been a solid spring for the Padres' top prospect. Tatis is hitting .262 with an .850 OPS, and he's played a solid shortstop.

That won't be enough. The Padres are expected to open the season with Ian Kinsler and Luis Urias in the middle of their infield. Tatis has yet to play a full season at Double-A, and the Padres will almost certainly take service time into consideration. By keeping Tatis in the Minors until April 12, they'd gain an extra year of team control on Tatis when he's 26 and presumably in his prime.

So if not now ... when? Has Tatis shown enough this spring to factor into the Padres' April plans? Or might they stash him in the Minors a little longer for more development? Technically, that question doesn't need to be settled by Opening Day. But the organization will begin to chart Tatis’ path to the Majors soon enough.

AJ Cassavell covers the Padres for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell.