'I have a lot to prove': Pham brings edge to SD

February 13th, 2020

PEORIA, Ariz. -- distinctly remembers his trip to San Diego last summer. The Rays were fighting for a Wild Card berth, and they won two of three games at Petco Park, pushing the fading Padres further from contention.

Evidently, three months before he was dealt to San Diego, Pham was already taking notes. The Padres, Pham recalled, struck out way too much. (Thirty-nine times, to be exact). That isn't going to fly.

"We're going to have to do a better job of controlling the strike zone," Pham said. "From when I played against San Diego last year, what I saw outside looking in, we didn't do a good job of controlling the strike zone. There were a lot of punchouts.

"I know Tampa's one of the best pitching staffs in baseball, and they strike out a lot of guys. But you have to give yourself a chance. Strikeouts are part of the game. Don't get me wrong, I strike out a lot, too. But make the pitcher work for it. Go down with a fight."

And that, in short, is why Tommy Pham is a Padre.

First and foremost, that mindset is precisely what the Padres have been asking of their hitters for the better part of the past decade. San Diego led the National League with 1,581 strikeouts last season, while finishing 26th in on-base percentage. (That 26th place finish was a marked upgrade after five straight seasons finishing last in the Majors.)

But Pham's remarks were also an encapsulation of his personality – fiery and intense with a tinge of brutal honesty. The Padres had been searching for a presence like Pham to help ignite a young clubhouse.

Already, it's clear that Pham isn't one to sugarcoat things. He believes strongly in the Padres’ potential – like so many others both inside and outside the organization. But he also scoffs at that very word.

"Potential?" Pham said. "That just means there's a high ceiling, but you haven't done it yet."

And he's right. The Padres have not done it yet. They think this might be the year things turn around after nine consecutive losing seasons, and they expect Pham to be a major part of that turnaround.

Pham's .373 career on-base percentage is better than any single-season Padres qualifier since Chase Headley in 2012. He is coming off a season in which he batted .273/.369/.450 and was worth 3.7 wins above replacement. By any measure, those are strong numbers, and he'd have easily been one of the Padres' best players.

But Pham considers last season a disappointment. That's at least partly due to the injuries he played through in the second half, including a broken bone in his hand and a UCL sprain. Pham spent most of the offseason receiving platelet-rich plasma injections for the latter, and he will be limited in his throwing program during the early stages of camp.

The Padres don't seem too concerned. New manager Jayce Tingler indicated that, barring any setbacks, Pham should be up to speed well before Opening Day. As you'd expect, Tingler was among the most thrilled to be bringing Pham on board.

"He's one of the best hitters in the league and constantly, each and every year improving," Tingler said. "Whether you speak to 10 people about him or you speak to 50 people about him, [it's about] his drive to win and his ability to compete."

The Padres landed Pham in December in the deal that sent Hunter Renfroe and infield prospect Xavier Edwards to Tampa Bay. Their interest in him was two-fold. San Diego needed an everyday outfielder, and Pham will slot into a fearsome top of the order that also features Manny Machado and Fernando Tatis Jr.

The Padres were also clearly intent on adding a presence like his -- a veteran entering his seventh season with playoff appearances and MVP votes, who clearly isn’t satisfied.

“I'm just a hard worker,” Pham said. “I show up, and I work. … I have a lot to prove."

And so do the Padres. That's why Pham is here in the first place.