Healthy Voit excited for fresh start with Padres

March 22nd, 2022

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Luke Voit saw what was coming. The moment the Yankees inked Anthony Rizzo to a two-year contract, the slugging first baseman figured the trade rumors were about to heat up again.

Sure enough, only three days after Rizzo put pen to paper on his deal in New York, Voit was headed to San Diego, traded for pitching prospect Justin Lange on Friday.

Voit, who makes his home in Tampa, Fla., where Yankees' Spring Training takes place, did some serious packing -- “seven months' worth,” he said on Saturday. He arrived in Arizona on Sunday and reported to Padres camp on Monday, where he was in the lineup as designated hitter, batting fourth.

"It's a fresh start," Voit said. "[The Yankees] brought in Anthony, and I knew my playing time would kind of diminish over there. I just want to play. I want to go out there and help the team win, and it's hard when you're not getting consistent at-bats.

"I'm glad this opportunity came, and it's even better because it's a winning team. It's a team that's ready to win. ...Time to go to work."

Making his spring debut, Voit went 0-for-2 on Monday in the Padres' 8-4 loss to the Rockies at Peoria Stadium. But he worked an impressive seven-pitch walk in the first inning, setting the stage for a bases-loaded double from Eric Hosmer.

Voit posted a .271/.363/.520 slash line across four seasons with the Yankees, including a shortened 2020 campaign in which he led the Majors with 22 home runs. But Voit dealt with injuries to both knees last season, limiting him to 68 games.

"I'm back to normal," Voit said. "It feels good running, feels good hitting. I'm in a happy place with where I am."

Said Padres manager Bob Melvin: "When he's been healthy, his track record has been fantastic. He's hurt teams that I've been on quite a bit. So it's nice to get him on our side. It's a rejuvenation type thing. He feels he's fully healthy as far as the knee goes."

Keeping Voit in the lineup is obviously a top priority for the Padres, and they think they might be better equipped to do so than the Yankees, who primarily used Giancarlo Stanton as their designated hitter.

In San Diego, Voit is expected to fill the DH role, playing first base only on occasion, presumably against left-handers when Hosmer would slide to the bench.

"DH, play first -- I'm just excited to do whatever I can to help the team," Voit said. "I feel healthy, so I'm ready to go out there with no distractions. Just go out there and be myself."

Change at 3B coach
Padres third-base coach Matt Williams underwent hip replacement surgery on Monday and is expected to be away from the team for a week or so, Melvin said. When Williams returns, however, he is not expected to resume his duties in the third-base coach's box for an extended period of time.

In Williams' absence, Mike Shildt will take over third-base coaching duties, Melvin said. That role will likely last into the regular season. Shildt, who had spent the previous four seasons as Cardinals' manager, was hired by the Padres during the offseason as a consultant for player development.

"We are really lucky to have him in this organization, in what’s probably the only year he won't be managing," Melvin said. "So the timing was great for us."

Abrams at second
The Padres hadn't planned to give top prospect CJ Abrams many second-base reps this spring. But Abrams started Monday's game at second base, with Jake Cronenworth yet to debut. Cronenworth, the presumed starter at second, is slated to make his first Cactus League appearance on Tuesday after recovering from an adductor strain.

Right now, the Padres are doing their best to give Ha-Seong Kim reps at shortstop. Kim is the expected starter there in the absence of Fernando Tatis Jr. But Abrams has an outside shot to win that job and already has four hits, including a pair of homers, in his first eight Cactus League at-bats, even with an 0-for-2 showing on Monday.

"We need to get Kim a lot of reps, and the more we see of CJ, the more we like him," Melvin said. "So I'm just trying to get him in the lineup."

Abrams could continue to get second-base reps beyond Monday, with the Padres looking to ease Cronenworth back into action. But Melvin noted that there were no imminent plans for Abrams to see time in the outfield -- a potential long-term fit, given the presence of Tatis and Cronenworth up the middle.

“He’s very athletic,” Melvin said. “There’s probably not anything he couldn’t do. But his first full big league camp, we want to keep him in the positions that he’s comfortable in.”

Eshelman signs
The Padres signed right-hander Thomas Eshelman to a Minor League deal with an invitation to big league Spring Training. In three seasons with Baltimore, Eshelman appeared in 31 games -- 14 of them starts -- with a 5.77 ERA. He is a 2012 graduate of Carlsbad High School in the suburbs north of San Diego, where he posted a 1.75 ERA during his prep career.