Globe iconLogin iconRecap iconSearch iconTickets icon
news

Padres Pipeline

How will SD divide catchers' playing time?

Campusano (sore left hand) scratched from debut at backstop
@AJCassavell
September 5, 2020

A week ago, the Padres were searching for a playoff-caliber starting catcher. Now, they might have three. After a Trade Deadline spree that netted Jason Castro and Austin Nola, the Padres promoted Luis Campusano -- a top catching prospect and San Diego's No. 4 prospect as ranked by MLB Pipeline

A week ago, the Padres were searching for a playoff-caliber starting catcher. Now, they might have three.

After a Trade Deadline spree that netted Jason Castro and Austin Nola, the Padres promoted Luis Campusano -- a top catching prospect and San Diego's No. 4 prospect as ranked by MLB Pipeline -- on Friday. In his big league debut, Campusano served as designated hitter and launched his first career home run. A day later, he was slated to make his catching debut, but he was a late scratch due to a sore left hand. Nola replaced Campusano and went 2-for-4 with a solo homer in the Padres' 8-4 loss to the A's.

The way their backstops struggled during the first half of the season, the Padres certainly won’t complain about an overabundance of catchers. But assuming a quick return for Campusano, they've got some playing time to divvy up.

"They're all going to catch,” Padres manager Jayce Tingler said. “They're all going to play. We're going to keep them sharp. We're going to keep them fresh. All three guys are going to catch and get at-bats."

Easier said than done. There's only one starting job, after all.

Fortunately for the Padres, all three backstops possess different skill sets. Perhaps most important: Nola is capable of playing first, second and third base on top of handling catching duties. Both Nola and Campusano are right-handed hitters, and that should free up some lineup space for both to start against lefties.

Here's a quick rundown of when all three catchers might play:

Castro: Castro's splits tell the story. He's a lefty hitter with a career OPS that's more than 200 points better against righties. This year, those numbers are even more pronounced. As he did Wedenesday, Castro will start against right-handed pitching (though Nola will get starts against righties, too). Given Castro's splits, the Padres would presumably pinch-hit for him against lefty relievers. (They've got plenty of cover at catcher, after all.)

Campusano: Ultimately, the Padres have confidence Campusano can grow into a more regular catcher. But they promoted a 21-year-old with no experience above A-ball because he torches left-handed pitching. Campusano posted a 1.072 OPS against lefties in the Minors last year, and his first big league home run came against lefty T.J. McFarland. If Campusano hits, he will continue to start against left-handers.

Nola: Unlike his two counterparts, Nola's career splits are even. He'll steal a few starts from Castro against righties, and he'll start regularly against lefties. But where will he play? If he and Campusano are both hitting, the Padres will find room. The most likely lineup casualty will be designated hitter Mitch Moreland, who has much better numbers against right-handed pitching.

Still, Tingler has been adamant that Nola will get playing time in a Padres infield which has been arguably the best in baseball this season.

"We're going to kind of stick with those guys right now," Tingler said. "But I could definitely see Nola getting some action at one of those infield spots. He's been taking ground balls at second, he's been taking them at third. He looks smooth. I've seen him play the infield and have a ton of confidence in him."

The most logical infield fit for Nola is second base, where he would spell the lefty-hitting Jake Cronenworth against lefties. But Tingler indicated that first and third base were options for Nola as well. That could allow for Manny Machado or Eric Hosmer to get a day off down the stretch. Or it could allow them to slide to DH, bumping Moreland from the lineup.

These plans are, of course, contingent upon how the three catchers play. Who’s hot and who’s cold? There's also the question of what to do with Francisco Mejía when healthy, though he would probably need to rake at the team's alternate training site to earn his way back onto the roster.

In any case, three weeks from now, the Padres are likely to begin the construction of their first postseason roster in 14 years. They'll have plenty of options at catcher -- which wasn't the case a week ago.

Worth noting
• Tingler expressed optimism that right-hander Luis Perdomo -- on the injured list with right forearm inflammation -- might return shortly after his 10-day stint is up.

"[We] think it's going to be good for him to get some treatment over the next couple days and see if we can get him back in his routine and get him back with us as soon as possible," Tingler said.

• Major League Baseball commemorated Childhood Cancer Awareness Day on Saturday, and both the Padres and A's donned gold ribbon decals and gold wristbands. In collaboration with Stand Up To Cancer, MLB and its clubs have provided support to local hospitals treating young patients.

AJ Cassavell covers the Padres for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell.