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Inbox: Will top prospects be brought up early?

@AJCassavell
June 29, 2020

SAN DIEGO -- It's been a while since our last Padres Inbox. But with a 2020 season on the horizon -- a season with newly unveiled rules for rosters and game action -- now is as good a time as any to take questions. Of course, there are still plenty

SAN DIEGO -- It's been a while since our last Padres Inbox. But with a 2020 season on the horizon -- a season with newly unveiled rules for rosters and game action -- now is as good a time as any to take questions.

Of course, there are still plenty of unknowns regarding how a season might unfold with the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic. But for now, here are a few baseball-related, Padres-centric questions worth answering.

FAQ: All you need to know about 2020 season

Are the Padres bringing up Luis Patiño and MacKenzie Gore sooner than expected?
-- @jdozal24

I figured we'd be talking about callups for Gore and Patiño in June this year. I'm just not sure I could've ever envisioned this scenario.

"Sooner than expected" is in the eye of the beholder. (Heck, they might both have been promoted already, if the season had gone ahead as planned.) There's a large segment of the fanbase that would like to see the two pitching prospects in the Opening Day rotation.

That seems unlikely. The Padres have a pretty decent idea of their five-man group already. And while Gore and Patiño were solid during Spring Training, neither wowed like Chris Paddack in 2019.

Then again, both Gore and Patiño are squarely on the Padres' radar for meaningful innings in 2020. There are extra roster places available for the first four weeks. If they don't make the team in some capacity, they're both among the first fill-in options in the event a starter gets injured or struggles.

Padres FAQ: Details on the upcoming season

Will pitchers be on a shorter leash in a shorter season? Are the Padres discussing a six-man rotation? It seems crazy to put the sixth most talented pitcher out there.
-- @IrelandPadres

One of the most fascinating aspects of a 60-game season is the in-game strategy. In theory, each game is worth nearly three times as much as a regular-season game in a normal year. As such, you'd expect games to be managed with more urgency.

Throw in the fact that starting pitchers likely won't be built up to their usual workload by Opening Day, and I think it's fair to expect wildly different bullpen strategies. The Padres, with one of the deepest relief corps in the sport, might be primed to take advantage.

As for a six-man rotation, the Padres haven't ruled anything out. But that's partly contingent on their schedule. In-house, the preference is for a five-man rotation (though the calculus might change if Gore or Patiño makes a serious roster case). With no limitations on Tommy John returnees Paddack, Dinelson Lamet and Garrett Richards, the Padres hope to turn them loose and let them pitch as often as possible.

Is Tommy Pham expected to spend more time as an outfielder or designated hitter this season?
-- John O., Phoenix

The plan is for Pham to spend almost all of his time in the outfield. Sure, he’ll get an occasional start at DH to get off his feet. But Pham's lingering elbow issues have subsided over the past three months.

If the Padres wanted to play it extra safe with Pham, they could slot him into the DH role and completely forget the fact that he dealt with a UCL strain late last season. But that feels overly cautious. Even when Pham was ailing, he was fully available as a DH anyway -- both for Tampa Bay last season and for the Padres in Spring Training.

When healthy, Pham is a solid defensive left fielder. Josh Naylor, Francisco Mejía and Ty France -- given their defensive limitations and the other options at their positions -- are all considered better options at DH.

Who's on the taxi squad?
-- David R.

For clarity's sake, the taxi squad is comprised of three players who are permitted to travel with the team on a road trip without being on the active roster. The goal of bringing them on the trip is to have a ready-made replacement for an injured or COVID-19 infected player, while avoiding putting that replacement player on a commercial flight. You can find more details on that -- and all of your roster questions -- in Mark Feinsand's excellent summary.

As Feinsand notes, one of the three players must be a catcher. Luis Torrens is currently the team's third catcher, but with rosters expanding to 30 players for the first two weeks of the season, there's a decent chance Torrens makes the club for Opening Day. That could leave Luis Campusano -- MLB Pipeline's No. 50 overall prospect -- to serve as a taxi squadder.

The other two spots seem likely to be occupied by a utility player and a pitcher with some length in his arm. On the fringe of the roster right now, guys like Breyvic Valera, Jake Cronenworth, Michel Baez and Luis Perdomo fit the bill.

Do you see A.J. Preller using the 60-man satellite roster for player development? Does this mean the team prioritizes the prospects it truly believes in?
-- @Themightymont

Preller answered this question emphatically on Sunday night. The Padres announced that their top 13 prospects, per MLB Pipeline, are among the 52 players listed on the team's 60-man player pool. On top of that, first-round pick Robert Hassell III will join the group as well. Amid uncertainty in the Minor Leagues, the Padres have made it clear that they don't want to miss out on development time for some of the best players in their loaded farm system.

That said, players like Hassell, fellow outfielder Hudson Head, infielders CJ Abrams and Tucupita Marcano and pitchers Ryan Weathers and Joey Cantillo almost certainly won't see any big league action this season. They'll train at a separate site during camp at the University of San Diego. Then, during the season, they'll be separated from the big league group at an alternate training site to be determined.

Preller's first goal is to build a roster that can compete in 2020. But with so many places available in the player pool, he'd be remiss to ignore the team's future.

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