PEORIA, Ariz. -- The star power was on display Sunday morning at Padres camp.
On one side of the clubhouse, Manny Machado, Eric Hosmer and Wil Myers laughed with Ian Kinsler. In the middle, Fernando Tatis Jr. scrolled through his phone and bobbed his head to the thumping beats while he finished breakfast. Luis Urias was at his locker getting ready.
Kinsler nodded at every player who walked by him. It was a subtle but important sign that he’s easily accessible.
“It’s part of my job to be a leader, but at the same time, when you have young players with the talent these guys have, you can’t ‘hawk’ them, and you have to let them be free and play the way they know how to play,” said Kinsler, who will be 37 in June. “You can’t try to change them. You can try to help or be there if they need it, or maybe help refine some things, but you don’t want to pull on the reins too hard.”
Part of the reason, the Padres signed Kinsler to a two-year contract with a club option for 2021 in December is the club wanted a veteran with big-game experience to help guide their young infield. Kinsler, a four-time All-Star and reigning American League Gold Glove Award winner at second base, can also still play. He is on track to start at second base on Opening Day.
“So far, so good, and I think we’ve had a really good camp,” Kinsler said. “We’ve had really good focus and energy. Obviously, the young players and the talent we have here provides that energy and excitement. It’s a good time to be a Padre.”
It’s also a good time to be a Padres fan, especially when you consider Urias, the presumed second baseman of the future, is now the favorite to open the season at shortstop. When Tatis Jr., the club’s No. 1 prospect arrives in the big leagues at shortstop, Urias will slide to second base. Kinsler would then serve as a utility option who could also play third.
“I want [Kinsler] to be [Kinsler] and by his very nature, he leads,” Padres manager Andy Green said. “He does it his own way. I haven’t asked for anything specific from him and I want him to be himself on the baseball field. He’s smart enough to know that some guys need space and some guys need to be kicked and some guys need to be encouraged. I trust his feel and we do as an organization. That’s why we went out and got him.”
Drafted by the Rangers in the 17th round in 2003, Kinsler played eight seasons in the big leagues with the Texas before he was traded to Detroit for Prince Fielder in 2013. It was with the Rangers that he learned the finer points of clubhouse leadership
“Michael Young was kind of the guy that said something when it needed to be said, but outside of that, his advice was: ‘Do what got you here. You are here for a reason,’” Kinsler said. “There was a learning curve and little bumps on the road here and there for me, but he was there to help. That’s how I learned that freedom to play is important to baseball.”
Last season, Kinsler batted .240/.301/.380 with 14 homers. He was traded from the Angels to the Red Sox midseason and played a role in their run to a World Series title. He helped the Rangers get to two consecutive World Series, and he’s hoping for the same kind of success in San Diego.
“In Texas, back at that time, there was a culture that needed to be changed and to be part of that change and how the city viewed the team was special,” Kinsler said. “To have an opportunity to do that again in San Diego is a lot of fun.”