Padres roster options could lead to dark horses

February 22nd, 2018

PEORIA, Ariz. -- The Padres' Cactus League slate opens Friday against Seattle, with 67 players set to take aim at a place on the Opening Day roster.

In reality, most of that roster is probably already set. But 10 or so jobs will be up for grabs this spring, and the battles for those coveted roster spots should feature plenty of competition.

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Every year, an under-the-radar player (or two) emerges to secure one of those places. With that in mind, here's a look at a few dark-horse candidates to make the Padres' roster out of Spring Training.

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Two years ago, Ross was the Padres' Opening Day starter, coming off three consecutive excellent seasons with the team. He wouldn't make it any further than that opener against the Dodgers, however. Ross sustained a shoulder injury, and he hasn't pitched for San Diego since.

After signing with Texas last offseason -- and continuing to struggle with injuries there -- Ross is back in San Diego on a Minor League deal. It's early in camp, but the Padres have raved about the freeness in his pitching motion. Manager Andy Green said his delivery is "every bit as good" as it was during his All-Star campaign in 2014.

If Ross can regain at least some of his old form, there's opportunity available in the Padres' rotation. At least one spot is wide open, and potentially as many as three. Ross may have struggled last season, but he wasn't afforded a full offseason to recover. This year, he says he's fresh, and he's eyeing a bounce-back. The Padres will give him the chance to do so.

Villanueva finds himself in a roster crunch in a crowded Padres infield. Behind at third base, he could be the odd man out, mainly because he lacks the positional versatility that could help the Friars.

But Green left the door open for Villanueva last week, when he noted that the club might not carry a backup for at short. (Galvis played 162 games last season, and the Padres could use his durability to their advantage.)

That might just clear room for Villanueva. San Diego could use a power threat off the bench, and Villanueva is coming off a 20-homer campaign at Triple-A El Paso before hitting four more after a September callup. By now, Villanueva has proven his worth in the Minors. There would be little benefit to keeping him there. It's merely a matter of opportunity.

As much as the Padres like Cordero, it's hard to envision him making the Opening Day roster with the club as currently constructed. That said, there's a very real possibility that the Padres look to move one of their outfielders in the wake of the signing. If they do, Cordero could find himself squarely in the outfield mix.

An elite defender, Cordero can play all three outfield spots, which makes him a versatile option as a replacement. And as the outfield's only left-handed hitter, he could see some time spelling the starters against tough right-handed pitchers.

Of course, Cordero could probably benefit from a bit more Minor League seasoning, having struck out at a 44 percent clip following his callup last year. But he raked in the Dominican Winter League, batting .323 and earning MVP honors. If he continues to mash against big league pitching this spring, he might force the Padres' hand.

The Padres' bullpen is undeniably a bit right-hand heavy. Lefty Brad Hand will open the season as closer, but after him, the four most prominent setup men -- , , and Kaz Makita -- throw from the right side.

McGrath will face competition for a place as a lefty in the bullpen. Buddy Baumann is an early favorite, and if doesn't make the rotation, he'd probably fall to the bullpen as well. But McGrath was very sharp in his brief big league stint last year. He posted a 2.84 ERA and a 1.05 WHIP over 17 appearances. Left-handed hitters batted .167 without an extra-base hit against him.

As it stands, about 10 relievers are currently battling for approximately three spots. McGrath could certainly win one of those spots with an impressive spring.