Oña strikes first in SD's bench competition

4 takeaways from Padres' 2021 Cactus League opener

March 1st, 2021

PEORIA, Ariz. -- For the first time in years, the Padres arrived in Peoria this spring with legitimate plans to play games deep into October.

"It's definitely different this Spring Training," right fielder said. "It's not ‘hopeful’ this year. It's more a matter of fact that we are good."

Wherever the Padres’ 2021 season ends, it began on a chilly Sunday afternoon in Peoria with a 5-4 loss to the Mariners. Myers homered in a game that had all the trappings of a late-February affair -- early exits, Minor Leaguers galore and pitchers struggling to find a feel.

Here are four takeaways from Day 1 of Cactus League action for the Padres:

Oña's early statement
If the race for the final spot on the Padres' bench is a four-way battle among , , and , consider Oña the big winner on Day 1. The hulking right-handed slugger sent a towering two-run homer into the left-field bullpen to tie the game, 4-4, in the top of the sixth inning.

Oña doesn't bring much in the way of corner-outfield defense. But considering the Padres' versatility elsewhere, they might not be looking for much defensively out of their last bench spot. Without the presence of a designated hitter, the Padres might need a pinch-hit power threat, and Oña certainly qualifies.

“Seeing him drive the ball into the wind today – we know he’s got big-time power,” said Padres manager Jayce Tingler. “To see him continue to develop as a hitter and continue to develop defensively, be able to play both corner spots, that’s going to be big for him.”

The three other Padres bench candidates also got into Sunday's game. O'Grady and Campusano went 0-for-2, while Mateo went 1-for-2 and showed off his wheels with a bunt single. He was on first when Oña went deep.

Morejon's big-time upside
Even though he's entering his third big league season, just turned 22 on Saturday. Technically, he's no longer a prospect. But he's nowhere close to a finished product, either.

For seven hitters on Sunday afternoon, Morejon reminded the Padres of his youth. Then, he offered a reminder of his potential.

Morejon started Sunday's opener and gave up a run over two innings. He allowed no solid contact, but he did surrender three walks to the first seven hitters he faced.

“Early on, he just couldn’t get his secondary [pitches] over the plate,” Tingler said. “Then he got in trouble in the second, and then that’s when he started making pitches.”

Morejon put two hitters aboard in the second, before dialing up three consecutive strikeouts -- finishing his afternoon with a nasty backdoor slider to Mariners leadoff man J.P. Crawford.

Morejon is one of the more intriguing arms to watch in Padres camp. He's a candidate for a rotation place or a bullpen spot – depending on need. But there will be a place for him somewhere, if he looks like he did late in the second inning on Sunday.

A positive debut for Kim
Offensively, the Padres return a host of established big leaguers in 2021, so they won't concern themselves much with the spring performances of their hitters. One exception might be .

Kim raked for seven seasons in Korea, and the Padres were thrilled to land the 25-year-old infielder on a four-year contract during the offseason. But there are fair questions to be asked about how Kim might adjust to big league pitching -- particularly the uptick in fastball velocity.

Kim got his first taste in a game-setting on Sunday, and the early returns were positive. He went 0-for-2, but both outs were loud outs. He hit a liner (into the wind) to the warning track in left in the second inning. Then he made solid contact and sent a fly to deep center in the fourth.

“Two at-bats, he found two barrels and looked very comfortable at the plate,” Tingler said.

Padres officials have touted Kim's quick hands and overall athleticism as reasons to believe he'll thrive stateside. His sharp contact Sunday came against a pair of fastballs, including one from Keynan Middleton, who averaged 97 mph on his fastball a season ago.

Profar in the house
didn't take part in the opener Sunday, having just arrived from his native Curacao after dealing with a visa issue. But he got straight into action on Sunday morning, facing a host of Padres pitchers in live batting practice and simulated-game settings.

His arrival was cause for celebration in Padres camp. Profar -- whose face is rarely devoid of a smile -- is one of the team's most beloved clubhouse presences. He was a free agent during the offseason and cited his teammates as the biggest reason he re-upped with the Padres.

"You could see a smile through his mask," Tingler said. "He was in good spirits, and you could just see the joy in his teammates when they saw him."