Profar's role; Darvish-Nola; Alfaro's bat

March 28th, 2022

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Opening Day is approaching, so it's time to embrace this reality about the Padres' roster: Jurickson Profar, at least right now, is the starting left fielder.

It wasn't the role the Padres envisioned for Profar when they traded (with Bob Melvin's A's) to acquire him in 2019, and it wasn't the role they envisioned when they re-signed Profar last offseason.

But right now, the Padres are short of outfield options, and Profar -- within his super-utility skill set -- has left field in his bag. So that's where the Padres are planning to use him.

"I'm a player that can play wherever," Profar said. "For me, it really doesn't matter. When I get in the box, it's about hitting. When I get in the field, it's about fielding."

The Padres, sources say, are still open to adding an outfield bat at some point before the season begins. But the clock is ticking. Each day that passes makes it more and more likely that they enter the season with Wil Myers in right, Trent Grisham in center and Profar in left.

Profar is coming off a dreadful 2021 season in which he posted a slash line of .227/.329/.320 across 137 games, splitting time at first base, second base and all three outfield spots. The Padres don’t think they’ll be getting that version of Profar. In each of the three prior seasons, he was a wholly serviceable utility man, including a .278/.343/.428 line during the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign for the Padres.

"There are a lot of things to prove," Profar said. "I've still got a lot left to prove to the team, to my teammates, to the fans. To everybody. But you know what? I feel like this year is going to be the year."

As things stand, the Padres need it to be the year. After Myers and Grisham, Profar is the only outfield option on the 40-man roster.

It's possible a non-roster invitee like Nomar Mazara makes the team. But that would almost certainly be a backup role. Meanwhile, the team is choosing to view Jorge Alfaro, who has left-field experience, exclusively as a catcher. That makes one thing abundantly clear: Barring a transaction, Profar is the team's left fielder.

"That's what we're doing right now," Melvin said late last week. "We're focusing mostly on left for him right now. We're not done with spring, either. You look at the bench, we're still trying to add some pieces.

"But I think he's most comfortable in left field. I know he's looking to increase the production that we've seen in the past, offensively. He's come in in great shape. He looks stronger. He's hit some balls a long way in batting practice. He's driven to have a much better year than he did last year."

A new Padres battery
Yu Darvish
pitched 166 1/3 innings for the Padres last season. Victor Caratini caught every one of them. That will not be the case in 2022, as the Padres, in an effort to be more flexible offensively, have chosen to avoid using a personal catcher for Darvish (though it's possible Caratini still catches him somewhat regularly).

In the Padres’ 5-1 Cactus League victory over the Guardians on Sunday, Austin Nola caught Darvish over four strong innings. So efficient was Darvish that he quickly retreated to the right-field bullpen after his outing to throw another dozen pitches or so -- in addition to the 52 he threw during the game.

"I thought it went really well," Darvish said of pitching to Nola. "We worked together during the offseason, and we keep our communication going, so I think it's going very well."

Darvish struck out four and allowed a run on two hits in his four innings. He's a candidate to start Opening Day for the Padres on April 7 in Arizona. Whenever he starts, he’s going to be built up close to a regular workload.

"He was great," Melvin said. "Next time out, he'll be even more extended. If all goes well he'll be in really good shape to almost [be at full go] when the year starts."

Alfaro's hot start
Speaking of catchers, Alfaro is making a strong case for a roster spot as the Padres’ best hitter this spring. He’s batting .364 with a team-leading 1.599 OPS and three home runs.

Of course, there’s a deep group behind the plate that includes Nola, Caratini and Luis Campusano, who is ranked by MLB Pipeline as the Padres’ No. 3 prospect. Meanwhile, there’s playing time available in left field, and Alfaro has played 21 career games in the outfield. Still, the Padres are adamant that Alfaro -- acquired in a trade with Miami just before the lockout -- is a catcher. He sees it the same way.

“I’m not an outfielder,” Alfaro said. “I’m a catcher.”

Ultimately, the likeliest place for Alfaro is as a third catcher on the roster and a pinch-hit bat against left-handed pitching. Alfaro, who has always hit well against lefties, could also serve as DH against left-handed starters (with Luke Voit sliding to first base and Eric Hosmer to the bench). If the Padres need Alfaro in the outfield, he’s open to it. But right now, they haven’t asked and he hasn’t volunteered.

“To help the team, I would play another position,” Alfaro said. “I would be able to play there, if I’m going to be in the lineup. But I’m a catcher.”