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How might Padres' OF look Opening Day?

@AJCassavell
July 11, 2020

SAN DIEGO -- Even before the Padres received word that outfielder Tommy Pham had been cleared to join Summer Camp, Jayce Tingler already loved his outfield options. Now, the Padres' manager can add an elite on-base threat to the mix. • Notes: Camp adds likely; Pham, Tatis updates Pham is

SAN DIEGO -- Even before the Padres received word that outfielder Tommy Pham had been cleared to join Summer Camp, Jayce Tingler already loved his outfield options. Now, the Padres' manager can add an elite on-base threat to the mix.

Notes: Camp adds likely; Pham, Tatis updates

Pham is returning to an outfield group that was already performing extremely well this month while he was sidelined. Trent Grisham, Wil Myers and even prospect Edward Olivares have been among the standouts from the team's intrasquad games, according to those in attendance.

"We've got some healthy competition out there, and that's been a good thing," Tingler said.

That competition is mostly for bench spots now that Pham has returned after testing positive for the coronavirus and says he'll be full-go by Opening Day. Pham is the team's expected starter in left field, and he has fully recovered from last season's UCL strain, the after-effects of which lingered into Spring Training.

Center and right field aren't quite so solidified, but Grisham and Myers have established themselves at the forefront of those races. That leaves one, maybe two places available. Even with expanded rosters, it seems unlikely the Padres will carry more than five outfielders -- especially given that they consider second baseman Jurickson Profar an option there.

Josh Naylor, Franchy Cordero, Taylor Trammell and Olivares are the obvious contenders for the last spot or two in the outfield. And -- perhaps shockingly -- it’s Olivares who has emerged as the clear favorite.

Team decision-makers have gushed about Olivares' performance dating back to Spring Training, when he batted .389/.421/.722 in 11 games as a relatively unheralded prospect at big league camp. But he has stepped it up a notch since his return to Petco Park. One person in attendance at the team's nightly intrasquad games said Olivares is "playing like our best outfielder right now."

Said another: "He's one of our best 30 players, for sure."

Said a third: "He is quickly becoming a favorite."

It's impossible to overstate the praise Olivares has received from teammates and staff alike. But as always, it's worth tempering excitement from a player’s performance in exhibition games. Then again, the team’s No. 20 prospect has performed in the Minors, too. He batted .283/.349/.453 with 18 homers and 35 steals last year for Double-A Amarillo.

Tingler joined the chorus of those heaping praise on Olivares earlier this week, but he wouldn't get into the specifics of the outfield race, saying:

"We're just really starting to get into the roster discussions. We really just started having those conversations a day or two ago. It's the beginning part of that. We've still got 10-11 intrasquad games to go, want to get through healthy, then make our decisions. It'll probably be a pretty late call. We've got some competition in those spots."

Rosters expand to 30 players for the first two weeks of the season, then 28 for the next two, before they revert to the standard 26. The Padres, sources said, would prefer to use most of those extra spots on pitching.

It's possible they'll carry only four outfielders at the start of the season -- especially with the presence of a designated hitter diminishing the importance of pinch-hitters. Pham-Myers-Grisham figures to be the standard look, with Olivares available off the bench and capable of starting in center field against tough lefties. Olivares could also start in one of the corners, pushing Myers or Pham into a DH spot.

That might leave Naylor and Cordero -- once thought to be roster favorites -- squarely on the bubble. If Naylor makes the club, his likeliest position is as a designated hitter/pinch-hit threat, given his struggles defensively.

Nothing is set in stone, of course. When the season starts, the Padres will continue to tinker with their outfield mix. It's entirely possible one of those outfielders ends up on the three-man taxi squad that the club can take on road trips.

Said Tingler: "We're going to be playing the hot hands, we're going to be playing the better defenders, and we're going to be playing the guys that get on base."

Now that he’s healthy, Pham checks those boxes. A surprise candidate does, too.

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