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Kinsler fits the bill as Padres' leadoff hitter

@AJCassavell
March 7, 2019

PEORIA, Ariz. -- In all five games he has played this spring, Ian Kinsler has found his name atop the Padres' lineup card. It might stay there for a while. Though manager Andy Green has yet to commit to Kinsler as his leadoff man, Kinsler is clearly the favorite to

PEORIA, Ariz. -- In all five games he has played this spring, Ian Kinsler has found his name atop the Padres' lineup card. It might stay there for a while.

Though manager Andy Green has yet to commit to Kinsler as his leadoff man, Kinsler is clearly the favorite to fill that role. He has done it before, too, with more plate appearances in the leadoff spot than anybody on a current roster other than Ichiro Suzuki.

"It could be drawing a walk, stealing a base, taking an extra 90 feet on a ball in the dirt -- your goal is to touch home plate as many times as possible," Kinsler said of his role. "The idea is to get on base and let those guys behind me be the bus drivers."

Kinsler went 2-for-3 with a homer, a stolen base and two runs in the Padres' 11-8 victory over the Rangers on Thursday. He set the table nicely ahead of Eric Hosmer, Manny Machado, Franmil Reyes and Wil Myers. Those five could easily open the season as San Diego’s 1-5 hitters, and they combined to reach base nine times in 15 plate appearances against Texas.

For the most part, Kinsler fits the billing of a traditional leadoff man. He owns a .339 career on-base percentage and 241 steals. But his recent numbers raise plenty of cause for concern. That on-base percentage dipped to .313 two years ago and just .301 last season. Kinsler arrived in camp determined to buck that trend.

"It's been a lot of hard work," Kinsler said. "I didn't like the season I had last year, and I don't want to do that again."

To that end, Kinsler is off to a fast start. He's 6-for-14 (.429) with three extra-base hits. Fresh off a title with the Red Sox, the 36-year-old vet arrived with the Padres on a two-year deal with a team option for a third.

Kinsler is the projected starter at second base, at least until top prospect Fernando Tatis Jr. arrives to play short. That could push shortstop Luis Urias and Kinsler into a competition for playing time at second.

Urias is also a contender for a leadoff role, as is center fielder Manuel Margot. Myers and Franchy Cordero are probably better suited for the middle of the order. But they're options, too.

That said, Margot's OBP track record isn't very good, and despite his speed, he's not a stolen-base threat. Urias, on the other hand, has always reached base at a high clip, but he has yet to do so in the big leagues.

Urias could be the leadoff man of the future in San Diego, but Opening Day 2019 is another story. Right now, that spot seems like Kinsler's to lose.

Catchers with clout

The two leading hitters in Padres camp -- in terms of batting average and OPS -- are catching prospects.

Francisco Mejía and Austin Allen continued their strong showings in the Cactus League on Thursday, as both went deep -- Mejia a three-run shot in the fourth and Allen a solo shot in the sixth. For Mejia, who is now hitting .474 with a 1.471 OPS, it was his second homer in as many games. They came from different sides of the plate.

"It's a good start," Green said. "He's had some really good at-bats and some good swings."

Austin Hedges is seemingly anchoring the starting job, but Mejia and Allen could work their way onto the roster in a backup or third-catcher capacity.

Covering the bases

First: Even by his lofty standards, Reyes' fifth-inning blast was a moon shot. He turned on a hanging curveball from Rangers reliever Jordan Romano, sending it over the pavilion behind the left-field bullpen -- rarefied territory at Peoria Stadium.

Second: Speaking of moon shots, third-base prospect Hudson Potts launched one over the center-field batters' eye Thursday, his second homer of the spring. Potts has been excellent of late, even if he’s no longer viewed as the third baseman of the future. He might be forcing the Padres' hand to find space for him elsewhere.

Third: Left-hander Nick Margevicius was shaky in a three-run first inning. But he shrugged it off and completed three frames in which he allowed four hits and struck out three. In relief, hard-throwing righty Trey Wingenter continued his solid spring with a 1-2-3 fourth. Wingenter, who is competing for a bullpen job, has logged six K's and one hit in three innings.

Home: It took four games, but Machado finally got to make a play on defense Thursday. He smoothly fielded a grounder from Matt Davidson in the third inning, and he threw to first base on the run. Machado went 1-for-3 with a double.

Up next

Chris Paddack -- the Padres' fifth-ranked prospect and No. 34 overall according to MLB Pipeline -- has thrust himself squarely into the rotation competition this spring. He gets another chance to make a statement at 12:05 p.m. PT Friday, when the Padres head to Mesa to face the A's.

AJ Cassavell covers the Padres for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell.