Pirela poised to maintain dominance in left
Dickerson, Szczur, Jankowski, Cordero, Spangenberg could also see time in OF corner
With Spring Training on the horizon, MLB.com is taking an in-depth look at the 2018 Padres, breaking the team down position by position. Today, we preview San Diego's left fielders.
• Around the Horn series:Catcher | 1B | 2B | SS | 3B
SAN DIEGO -- Last spring, a breakout offensive performer entered Padres camp looking to solidify his place in left field. Alex Dickerson had been promoted in the middle of the previous season, and he quickly established himself as one of the club's best all-around hitters, while proving serviceable in left field.
All of those same qualifiers hold true again this spring -- only now it's Jose Pirela entering camp, looking to re-establish his place as the club's premier left fielder.
Dickerson's injury nightmare in 2017 cleared the way for Pirela's emergence. When Dickerson went down in Spring Training with a bulging disk in his lower back, the Padres spent the season's first two months looking for an answer in left field.
On June 6, that answer arrived in the form of Pirela. The 28-year-old entered the season with 137 career at-bats split over three years, mostly as a utility man. The Padres liked the potential in his bat, so they brought him back to the club on a Minor League deal.
Everything came together for Pirela when manager Andy Green handed him the keys to the job in left field. He had an everyday position for this first time in his career, and his defensive improvement was palpable.
Far more noteworthy, however, was Pirela's bat. He started hot upon his early-June callup and never cooled off. Pirela finished the year with a .288/.347/.490 slash line. From the time he joined the club to the end of the season, he was unquestionably the Padres' best offensive performer.
That performance has given Pirela the first shot at the left-field job in 2018.
"Based on what he did last year, I'm a fool if I don't find a way to get him opportunity," Green said. "He was our most consistent offensive performer. He plays with passion and energy. He's a hard guy not to love when you watch him play. I love cheering for the guys that didn't get the opportunity and weren't the marquee prospects, then you look up, and this guy's turned himself into a real big leaguer."
Meanwhile, Dickerson is a clear favorite for a roster spot, if healthy. Green often labeled him the club's "most professional" hitter in 2016, when he batted .257/.333/.455 in 84 games. But "if healthy" is a tricky proposition with the oft-injured lefty slugger.
Dickerson was in and out of the lineup during the final two months of 2016 after a hard collision with center fielder Travis Jankowski. Then, on the first day of full-squad workouts in '17, his back began to bark. He was diagnosed with a bulging disk, and after multiple setbacks, Dickerson opted for season-ending surgery in June.
Let's say Dickerson is healthy in 2018. It's easy to envision a five-man outfield with him, Pirela and Hunter Renfroe splitting at-bats at the corner spots.
If he's not healthy? Then a four-man outfield group is probably likelier (with infielder Cory Spangenberg able to provide help in left field, too). That list includes Renfroe, Pirela, center fielder Manuel Margot and a backup center fielder from among Jankowski, Matthew Szczur and No. 12 prospect Franchy Cordero. All three would also be expected to be able to slot into right and left field when needed.
"You've got Jose Pirela, who was great in the outfield last year," said Green, "You've got Alex Dickerson, who was our most professional at-bat two years ago, missed all of last year, coming back. Cordero [dominated] in the Dominican Winter League. There's going to be real competition out there."
Projected starter: Pirela
Potential backups: Dickerson, Szczur, Jankowski, Cordero, Spangenberg
Top 30 prospects: No. 11 Jorge Ona, No. 12 Cordero, No. 17 Jeisson Rosario, No. 21 Michael Gettys, No. 22 Mason House, No. 24 Edward Olivares