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Padres should be golden with infield trio

Hosmer, Machado, Kinsler look to be among baseball's finest groups
@AJCassavell
February 26, 2019

PEORIA, Ariz. -- On a back field at the Peoria Sports Complex on Saturday, Manny Machado, Ian Kinsler and Eric Hosmer had just finished turning their first around-the-horn double play together. As third-base coach Glenn Hoffman reached into his bag of baseballs, he made an astute observation. "That's gold!" he

PEORIA, Ariz. -- On a back field at the Peoria Sports Complex on Saturday, Manny Machado, Ian Kinsler and Eric Hosmer had just finished turning their first around-the-horn double play together. As third-base coach Glenn Hoffman reached into his bag of baseballs, he made an astute observation.

"That's gold!" he shouted, hitting another fungo, this time toward shortstop. "We've got some gold in this infield!"

A lot of gold, in fact. Scattered among the trio are eight Gold Glove Awards -- four for Hosmer and two apiece for Machado and Kinsler.

"It's a really good infield, man," Hosmer said. "The guys have the credentials to back it up."

Defense might be the calling card. But the offense isn't far behind either. Hosmer and Kinsler are coming off down years, by their lofty standards. But Hosmer could be in line for a bounce-back season after some swing changes. Kinsler, meanwhile, will end up fighting for middle-infield playing time with top prospects Luis Urias and Fernando Tatis Jr.

Add Machado to the mix, and the Padres feel as though they suddenly boast one of the best infields. The entirety of that group is under control for a long time.

This season, the infield projects for 12.7 WAR, according to Dan Szymborski's ZiPS projections. One Padres official mused that number seems low, in that it doesn't account for a potential breakout season from Tatis.

No group of Padres infielders has combined for a WAR that high since 2004. When Tatis hits his stride -- whether this season or in the future -- it's not difficult to envision the current group blowing well past that 12.7 mark.

It's also worth pointing out the nature of the infield makeup. Hosmer, Machado and Kinsler have 28 years' worth of big league experience among them. They've each played in a World Series and have combined for 10 playoff appearances.

"All that experience is wonderful to draw on," manager Andy Green said. "You've got people who can walk guys through what would be a unique chapter for us. We haven't been there."

In particular: that trio will help nurture the 21-year-old Urias and 20-year-old Tatis. Machado has spoken extensively about the way former Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy helped him become the player he is. Now, Machado says, he wants to do the same for Tatis.

“He has all the tools,” Machado said. “He can run, he can field, he's got power. He can do it all. Coming here, playing third base, I'm going to try to help him the way J.J. Hardy helped me when I got called up. ... Hopefully, I can do the same for him and teach him everything I know.”

Tatis is a willing listener.

"It's been a blessing to play with those guys," Tatis said. "You're playing next to guys who you can learn a lot from."

There's also the fact that an infield full of Gold Glovers accentuates itself. During the same fungo drill, Machado ranged to his left and threw off-balance to Hosmer at first. The throw was low. Hosmer deftly picked it.

"I got you, dawg," Hosmer yelled. "I got you every time."

Thus far, the trio has yet to take the field this spring. Kinsler and Hosmer are on track to do so on Wednesday against the D-backs in Peoria. Machado, whose signing wasn't final until three days after report day, probably won't play until the weekend (potentially March 2 against the Giants).

There have been suggestions that when Machado, Hosmer, Tatis and either Kinsler or Urias are on the field together, it'll stack up as one of the best infields in baseball. Based on FanGraphs current Steamer WAR projections for 2019, that distinction belongs to the Indians right now, with the Astros, Dodgers and Cubs close behind.

"I like our infield a lot," Green said. "It's up to them to go show that. You can say whatever you want [about predictions] in front of a camera, and it doesn't mean anything.

"But we believe in that collective group. We believe that group can do something very, very special. ... I like that group as much as any we've ever had."

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