In 2020, the Padres built a playoff-caliber roster. In ’21, they think they’ve pushed it toward championship caliber.
"We made some steps, but we didn't ultimately get to our goal," manager Jayce Tingler said of San Diego's breakthrough. "The front office addressed some needs that we think are going to help us, building depth in the bullpen and certainly with the starting rotation. Now, as excited as we are, we need to go step by step."
Spring Training is the first step, and the Padres have just over a week to pare down their revamped roster to 26 players. Here's the latest look at our Opening Day roster projection, with injury concerns lingering at catcher and in the bullpen.
Catchers (2): Victor Caratini, Luis Campusano
Tingler said that Austin Nola’s status for Opening Day was “wait-and-see” after the veteran backstop fractured his left middle finger while receiving a foul tip last weekend. It’s certainly possible that Nola returns in time for Opening Day considering that he caught a chunk of the second half last season with a broken bone in his left foot. But there’s little incentive for the Padres to rush Nola back into action ahead of a 162-game grind. Here’s to guessing that the team plays it safe, making sure that Nola’s finger heals -- and then some.
The Padres should feel comfortable doing so, too, considering the big league-caliber catching depth in camp. Caratini will slide into the starting role, and Campusano -- the team’s No. 3 overall prospect -- could be slated to make his first Opening Day roster as a backup. Campusano is only 22. As is often the case for young catchers, he’s still working to polish his game defensively. But the Padres love his bat, and for good reason.
The right side, meanwhile, features a few minor question marks. Hosmer and Cronenworth are the projected starters at first and second base, respectively. But Cronenworth struggled down the stretch last season, and Hosmer struggled against left-handed pitching prior to 2020. If either of those trends resurface, the Padres have a pair of utility pieces in Ha-Seong Kim and Jurickson Profar who could garner starts on the right side against left-handed pitching.
Outfield (3): Tommy Pham, Trent Grisham, Wil Myers
Earlier this spring, Pham dealt with an issue pertaining to his contact lenses, and Myers missed three games because of right knee soreness. But those issues have been resolved, and the only lingering question mark in the Padres' outfield is the status of center fielder Grisham.
Grisham strained his hamstring 10 days ago and is slowly building up toward a full workout soon. Thus far, Grisham has passed every test, and if that trend continues, he could return to game action before the Cactus League season comes to an end. That would line him up to be a full-go by Opening Day.
Still, the March setbacks offer a reminder: It was wise of the Padres to bring back Profar. Don't be surprised if Profar works his way into that mix regularly. He’ll receive starts in the corner-outfield spots against tough right-handers and starts in center against tough lefties.
Utility (3): Ha-Seong Kim, Jurickson Profar, Jorge Mateo
For years, the Dodgers' relentless depth and versatility set them apart. The Padres feel like they've drawn level in that department. Profar and Kim -- potential starters for many other clubs -- bring an absurd amount of positional versatility. (Nola does, too, as a catcher who can bounce around the infield.)
That leaves one more utility place available on the Padres bench. Brian O’Grady and Mateo are vying for that spot. Thus far, Mateo has performed better than O’Grady in Cactus League play, and his elite wheels might give him the edge as a pinch-running option. Plus, Mateo is out of options, while O’Grady can be freely sent to the Minor Leagues.
Rotation (5): Yu Darvish, Blake Snell, Joe Musgrove, Chris Paddack, Adrian Morejon
Considering that Dinelson Lamet has yet to pitch in a Cactus League game, there’s almost no path that would have him ready to join the team’s Opening Day rotation. Instead, the Padres will continue to slow-play Lamet, perhaps with the goal of a mid-to-late April debut.
That leaves a rotation place up for grabs (and perhaps two if San Diego opts for a six-man staff). The Padres’ three young left-handers -- Morejon, MacKenzie Gore and Ryan Weathers -- are all competing for that spot. After consecutive strong outings, Morejon is the clear favorite, as neither Gore nor Weathers have seized their opportunity yet this spring.
Bullpen (9): Drew Pomeranz, Emilio Pagán, Mark Melancon, Keone Kela, Pierce Johnson, Dan Altavilla, Craig Stammen, Tim Hill, Ryan Weathers
Injuries have taken their toll on what was once a supremely deep group of relief arms. José Castillo will miss the season due to Tommy John surgery, and both Javy Guerra (right UCL sprain) and Matt Strahm (right patellar tendon surgery) have been ruled out for Opening Day. Pomeranz (forearm tightness), Johnson (groin strain) and Austin Adams (elbow) are suddenly question marks as well.
“I don’t think that anything changes,” Tingler said.
That attrition seems to have cleared a place for Weathers in the bullpen. With Morejon likely bound for the rotation and Strahm ruled out, the Padres need multi-inning options, and they need left-handers. Weathers is both. Although he allowed three runs over three innings on Saturday against the Dodgers, he punched out six and walked just one, flashing legitimate big league stuff.