SAN DIEGO -- In some ways, the first half of the Padres' 2017 season hasn't veered too far from preseason expectations.The youngest team in baseball has seen its share of growing pains, but not without giving fans reason to be optimistic for a bright future. In a season of development,
SAN DIEGO -- In some ways, the first half of the Padres' 2017 season hasn't veered too far from preseason expectations.
The youngest team in baseball has seen its share of growing pains, but not without giving fans reason to be optimistic for a bright future. In a season of development, the Padres have done plenty of that. And it appears to be paying dividends. After a 15-30 start, the Friars finished the first half with a 23-20 spurt.
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"We still have a long way to go to be the type of team that we want to be," Padres manager Andy Green said. "There's been a lot of positives from our young kids. But there's a need to continue to improve."
That's not to say the first half hasn't seen its share of surprises -- some pleasant, some less so. With time to reflect during the All-Star break, here's a look at the Padres' first half:
WHAT WENT RIGHT
A handful of Padres youngsters shined. Perhaps more importantly, they're learning and developing on the fly. Hunter Renfroe has increased his walk rate. Austin Hedges is adding some power to his big league skill set. Dinelson Lamet has incorporated a changeup as a much-needed third pitch. Jose Pirela appears to have finally found a big league foothold, as he's hitting .286/.325/.496 since his early-June callup.
WHAT WENT WRONG
The preseason signing of Jered Weaver didn't work out, and the Padres rotation notched a 4.75 ERA. The starters struggled to provide length, with 470 1/3 innings, ranked 26th in the Majors. Offensively, the on-base woes have persisted. The Friars have slugged just fine, but they are the only team in baseball with a sub-.300 OBP. They've also dealt with long-term injuries to two projected starters in their outfield in Travis Jankowski and Alex Dickerson.
WHAT WE LEARNED
Hedges, Renfroe and Manuel Margot are all capable Major Leaguers. Now, it's a matter of producing more consistently. In the rotation, Lamet has showed off big league-caliber stuff, though he'll have to hone his command a bit. If he can do that, he could be a front-of-the-rotation arm in the future. And speaking of youngsters, we've also learned that the Padres are very intent on keeping all three of their Rule 5 selections -- Allen Cordoba, Luis Torrens and Miguel Diaz.
FIRST HALF TOP PLAYER (NON-PITCHER)
Hedges' value to the Padres can't be quantified by his offensive numbers. Sure, he's threatening the Padres' record for home runs by a catcher. But his performance at the plate has been otherwise mediocre. His defense has been anything but. Hedges is already one of the game's top framing and blocking backstops, and opposing baserunners are beginning to take note of his cannon. Perhaps more importantly, he's excelled at bringing along some of the club's young pitchers. To a man, the entire Padres staff raves about working with Hedges.
FIRST HALF TOP PITCHER
For the second year running, Brad Hand has been the Padres' most effective pitcher. He's honed his immaculate slider to become one of the game's best put-away pitches. And he complements that with a looping curveball and a sneaky fastball. Hand's versatility makes him one of the most coveted trade chips ahead of the non-waiver Trade Deadline. He's excelled against hitters from both sides of the plate and has proven himself capable of pitching multiple innings in different roles.
FIRST HALF TOP ROOKIE
Margot endeared himself to Padres fans instantly, homering twice in the Petco Park opener this April. A May calf strain temporarily slowed him, but he's back and serving as a spark plug toward the top of the lineup again. In 59 games, Margot is hitting .263/.311/.392, while showcasing some impressive range in center field.
AJ Cassavell covers the Padres for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell.