Padres spring storylines: Tatis, OF battle, World Baseball Classic

February 8th, 2023

This story was excerpted from AJ Cassavell’s Padres Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

Padres pitchers and catchers begin reporting to Spring Training on Monday, the unofficial start of the most anticipated season in the team’s 54-year history.

Superstars Fernando Tatis Jr. and Xander Bogaerts join a group coming off a trip to the NLCS -- so it’s only natural the Padres would be thinking big.

“The expectation is trying to get back there -- or make it further,” said Manny Machado. “But as a team, we’ve got to go out there and just play baseball, take care of what we can control, which is the day to day.”

That day-to-day grind begins next week in Peoria, Ariz. Here are three major storylines to watch this spring: 

1. He’s back

Tatis has 20 games left to serve on his suspension after he tested positive for a performance-enhancing substance last summer. But he can still be a full participant in camp, and he said on Saturday that he expects to be.

Tatis has undergone three surgeries (two on his left wrist and one on his left shoulder) since he last played. Speaking at FanFest, he divulged that he has returned to full baseball activity, and that he expects to be full-go for Spring Training.

“I’m as close to 100% as I’ve been in the last two years,” Tatis said.

The Padres will almost certainly ease Tatis back into action this spring. But his return will still be the dominant storyline in camp. Of particular note: Where, exactly, will Tatis play, with Bogaerts now slotted in at shortstop?

2. Positional puzzle

Make no mistake, the Padres are a much better team with Bogaerts than without. But his arrival creates quite the domino effect.

It seems likely that Tatis would now slot into the outfield. With his cannon arm and excellent speed, he seems well-suited for Petco Park’s spacious right field. But that would mean a move back to left for Juan Soto, who noted on Saturday that he’d be open to a switch (though his preference is to have a set position and not move back and forth).

In the infield, the Padres might do quite a bit of moving back and forth. After an outstanding season at shortstop, Ha-Seong Kim will make the move to second, while presumably backing up at short and third. Jake Cronenworth was similarly brilliant at second last year, but the Padres haven’t yet established a role for him.

It seems likeliest that Cronenworth would primarily play first base, perhaps sliding to second when Kim sits against an occasional righty.

“Xander’s an incredible player, an incredible bat,” Cronenworth said. “Everybody, I think, has the same goal: Wanting to win, wherever that means you’re playing every day.”

3. Camp amid the Classic

The Padres are a team full of global superstars. So, naturally, they’ll have quite a few players participating in next month’s World Baseball Classic, slated to begin March 8. If some view the Classic as an interruption to a normal spring, the Padres certainly don’t see it that way.

“We’re all going to be competing, playing high-level baseball, which is only going to help us ultimately,” said Machado, one of four players slated to play for the Dominican Republic, alongside Soto, Nelson Cruz and Luis García.

In addition to those four, Bogaerts will play for the Netherlands, Yu Darvish for Japan, Kim for Korea and Nabil Crismatt for Colombia.