O'Grady gives Padres a much-needed boost

June 8th, 2021

SAN DIEGO -- The Padres’ front office will almost certainly spend the next eight weeks scouring the trade market with an eye on finding an outfield bat to solidify a contending roster with question marks about its offensive depth.

But the best solutions to those question marks might already be in-house.

The Padres beat the Cubs, 9-4, in their series opener at Petco Park on Monday night, and they did so largely on the strength of their three outfielders. Tommy Pham and Jurickson Profar both reached base three times. swatted his first Padres homer, a two-run shot to straightaway center in the third, then doubled in the eighth.

“Obviously we have a great team here,” said O’Grady, who was recalled from Triple-A El Paso prior to the game. “There’s a lot of expectations that we have. We want to go really deep into the postseason. I want to be a part of that. I want to help win ballgames. Whatever I can do to show that I can help this team.”

On the whole, it was the type of showing from the Padres’ outfield that made you wonder just how badly they really need an outfield bat before the Trade Deadline. Or would their limited trade chips be better spent to reinforce the rotation or bullpen?

That's an impossible question to answer right now, of course, with the trade market still crystallizing. But there's a case to be made that the Padres' in-house outfield options are good enough. They just need to get healthy and get rolling.

That first part isn't too far away. Trent Grisham (left heel bruise) will likely begin a rehab stint in El Paso this week with an eye on returning to the Padres this weekend against the Mets.

With Grisham in center, the other pieces fall into place. Pham has been an on-base machine lately, reaching base at a .422 clip over the past calendar month. (In that span, he’s reached 23 times via hit and 23 times via walk.) It’s easy to envision Grisham and Pham in tandem atop the Padres' batting order, setting the table for Manny Machado and Fernando Tatis Jr.

That leaves Profar and Wil Myers to share time in right field, and sure, both have slumped lately. But they were key cogs in the team’s 2020 success, and if the Padres were to add another outfield bat before the Trade Deadline, it would almost certainly cost those two at-bats.

Then there's O'Grady, a particularly intriguing case. Upon his most recent stint at Triple-A, he adjusted his swing to cut down on his uppercut, and he has been raking ever since. O’Grady was batting .328/.371/.724 with El Paso before his callup on Monday.

“When I went back to El Paso … it just clicked for me,” O’Grady said. “I’ve been able to flatten my bat path a little bit more and put those balls in play that I would miss before.”

The Padres signed O’Grady to a Major League deal during the offseason, but he spent most of the first two months at the team’s alternate site, then with El Paso. O'Grady’s performance on Monday perhaps serves as something of a statement.

“If he can continue to have at-bats like that and play defense, I think it would be huge,” said Padres manager Jayce Tingler. “We’re obviously looking for a lot of things. We’re looking for more and more depth. We’re looking for a left-handed batter, guys that get on base, can slug and play defense.”

Indeed, the Padres could use some left-handed thump on their bench. They could use a versatile depth piece who can back up in center field and even slide to the infield in a pinch. They could use a player who’s accustomed to handling a utility role in the big leagues and all the challenges that go along with it.

“My whole career, that’s basically what I’ve been doing, moving all over,” O’Grady said. “It doesn’t matter to me where I’m playing. … I just try to stay sharp whenever and be ready whenever I can.”

A month from now, the Padres might look to the trade market to find the missing piece to their offensive puzzle. Or -- with a few more nights like this one before trade season heats up -- O’Grady and Co. might save them the trouble.