One week done: Assessing the Padres
A week into Cactus League play, here are four early takeaways from Padres camp:
Deepest rotation in baseball?
When the Padres acquired Blake Snell and Yu Darvish in late December, there was plenty of talk about the three-headed monster atop their rotation. Including Dinelson Lamet, San Diego has three certifiable aces at its disposal.
Still, the strength of this rotation might be its depth. Joe Musgrove and Chris Paddack were both Opening Day starters last season for their respective clubs. They've reached heights in the past where they've been called aces and have looked every bit the part.
This spring, Paddack and Musgrove have combined for six scoreless innings and just two hits. It's early, but both have managed to harness the things that have made them successful in the past. Musgrove's breaking pitches look like sorcery again. Paddack's fastball looks more like the 2019 version of itself.
If, indeed, the Padres can get these versions of Musgrove and Paddack throughout the year, they've got a better 4-5 tandem than any team in baseball -- and it’s probably better than a few 1-2s.
Let the kids play
The Padres are giving a world of opportunity to their top prospects this spring. Robert Hassell, CJ Abrams and Tucupita Marcano have all played at least six games. (Hassell has played all seven.) Meanwhile, lefties Ryan Weathers and MacKenzie Gore were given two innings apiece in their first starts.
That group has held its own. Abrams in particular has been an early standout -- with his glove, his bat and his 80-grade speed. He's made some dazzling plays at both spots in the middle infield. And though he's just 3-for-13 at the plate, his hits have made noise -- a stand-up triple against Arizona and a single off reigning National League Cy Young Award winner Trevor Bauer. Marcano's early success is also worth noting. He's 4-for-9 with a homer.
But none of those three hitters has a serious chance of cracking the roster. Gore and Weathers on the other hand? Well, the Padres are already five-deep in starting pitchers. But manager Jayce Tingler has indicated he's open to a six-man rotation to start the year. There are also questions about the health of Lamet, and it's not yet clear whether he'll be ready for the start of the season.
"We're open to all ideas," Tingler said. "We're looking for quality arms, guys that can fill up the zone and help us out. We really don't care about how old you are. There's open competition."
Agony -- and maybe clarity? -- in the 'pen
Tingler called José Castillo's UCL tear earlier this week “just crushing,” and from a human perspective it can’t be viewed any other way. Castillo has pitched in just one game over the past two seasons because of various ailments. Now he’s out for at least another year, following Tommy John surgery.
But this much is also true: The Padres were prepared for this. They entered the season fully aware that a handful of their relievers had injury concerns -- Castillo included. So they loaded up on bullpen depth.
Javy Guerra is also slated to miss the start of the season because of a UCL sprain. Left-hander Matt Strahm is slowly progressing back from offseason surgery on his right knee. Yet, the Padres still feel very comfortable with the options they have.
If anything, the injuries have probably cleared up a crowded bullpen picture. With lefties Castillo and Strahm on the shelf, it feels like there's an obvious place for Adrian Morejon as a swing-man. Perhaps Weathers could win that job, too. It also clears a path for Craig Stammen and Dan Altavilla -- pitchers who can't be optioned but were on the fringe of the bullpen picture -- to earn roster spots.
The Padres seem well-equipped to handle these early injuries to their 'pen. They just can't afford any more.
Fernando Tatis Jr.: Still good
No, this isn't exactly news. I knew Tatis was good. You knew Tatis was good. The Padres knew Tatis was good -- it's why they gave him a record 14-year contract extension last month.
Still, after a long winter, Tatis has wasted no time offering a reminder.
In his first week of Cactus League action, Tatis has reached base five times in 10 plate appearances and showcased some excellent defense at short. His loudest swing came on Tuesday afternoon at Salt River Fields.
Tatis turned around a Caleb Smith fastball and sent it a projected 441 feet onto the left-field berm for a grand slam. He accentuated his first homer of the spring with a simple-yet-assertive flip of his bat.
It marked the first pitch the Padres had seen in 2021 with the bases loaded, too. Evidently Slam Diego is back for a sequel, and Tatis is at the center of it once again.