Outfield, closer spots up for grabs in spring

Competition should be stiff for left- and center-field positions

February 15th, 2016

SAN DIEGO -- There will be no shortage of questions facing the Padres at the start of Spring Training next week as pitchers and catchers arrive in Arizona on Thursday.
Who will win jobs in the bullpen, and namely, how do you replace Joaquin Benoit and closer Craig Kimbrel?
With a bevy of candidates, how does the back end of the rotation sort itself out?
• Padres Spring Training: Tickets | Schedule
There's also a pressing question on the position-player side, as the Padres might actually need all six weeks of Spring Training to figure out this conundrum: Who starts in left field and center field on Opening Day?
The Padres, looking to add a left-handed bat to their righty-heavy lineup, traded for Jon Jay, sending Jedd Gyorko to the Cardinals in return. The thought was Jay could play left or center field -- he profiles well defensively, is a left-handed hitter and will be a free agent after the season, so the team hasn't sunk a lot of money into him.
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When healthy in 2014 -- Jay had wrist issues last season -- he was plus-five in DRS (defensive runs saved) in center field. That will work in the big outfields of the NL West.

Melvin Upton Jr. actually played well in center field after making his season debut in June (plus-two in DRS). Offensively, Upton posted the highest line-drive rate (24.3 percent) of his career and had his lowest ground-ball rate (41.1 percent) since 2012 (40.3 percent with the Rays). His strikeout rate (27.2) was his lowest since 2012 (26.7 percent).
The Padres also have rookie Travis Jankowski, who showed promise during a late-season stint. Jankowski offers plus-defense in center field, though he will have to show he can hit at this level. He'll need a big spring to make the team.
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The real player of intrigue in the left-field picture is Jabari Blash, who comes to the Padres as part of a Rule 5 Draft deal, meaning he has to stick with the team the entire season. Blash has big-time power, but a history of big-time strikeouts, too.
Alex Dickerson, a lefty, could also figure in the team's left-field plans as well. He had a .307/.374/.503 line at Triple-A El Paso and figures to see a lot of time in Cactus League games in Arizona.
So how will it all shake out?
If Jay wins the job in center field, does Upton move to left field? Could Jankowski show enough in Spring Training to win a spot on the roster? Could Dickerson or Blash make a push for the starting job in left field?
Stay tuned.
Pitchers and catchers report
First pitchers and catchers workout
Full squad reports
Feb. 23
First full-squad workout
Feb. 24
First Spring Training game
At Mariners, Peoria Sports Complex, March 2, 12:10 p.m. PT
Opening Day
Home vs. Dodgers, April 4, 4:05 p.m.