Here’s how Padres could fill out their roster

February 1st, 2023

This story was excerpted from AJ Cassavell's Padres Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

It's February, which means: The Padres play a baseball game this month

An exhibition baseball game, but a baseball game nonetheless. In fact, the Padres' busy month gets underway Wednesday, when the team's trucks depart for Spring Training, hauling loads of equipment and gear to Peoria, Ariz., where pitchers and catchers will begin reporting for camp on Feb. 13. The first full-squad workout is slated for Feb. 21, and the first Cactus League game is slated for Feb. 24.

Folks, it's almost baseball season.

Of course, there's a long way to go until the season opener against the Rockies on March 30. And in the interim, there's quite a bit for the team to settle roster-wise.

With camp set to begin later this month, here's a look at the Padres’ roster battles this spring:


40-man roster candidates: José Azocar, Matthew Batten, Brandon Dixon, Brett Sullivan, Eguy Rosario

And that's just the players on the 40-man roster. A handful of others will compete for an Opening Day spot as non-roster invitees -- a list which is expected to be announced over the next week or so.

This race is wide open, largely because there's an extra place available on the Opening Day roster. With Fernando Tatis Jr.'s suspension continuing through April 19, the Padres' bench seemingly has two spots available.

That is, of course, assuming that both Nelson Cruz and Matt Carpenter will be in the starting lineup together while Tatis is sidelined. It's also assuming that Luis Campusano backs up Austin Nola behind the plate and Adam Engel, who signed a big league deal, serves as the No. 4 outfielder.

So who's joining Campusano and Engel on the Padres' Opening Day bench? An early favorite is Azocar, considering how well he played the role of fourth outfielder last year. His speed and defense make him a prime candidate to back up all three outfield spots -- especially with Tatis unavailable.

But if Cruz and Carpenter are in the starting lineup, that means the Padres could use a bat-first option off their bench as well. Once Tatis returns, those two would presumably platoon, with one starting at DH and the other serving as the primary bench bat. In the meantime, Dixon is an option. So is non-roster invitee David Dahl, a left-handed hitter on what would otherwise be a very righty-heavy bench.


40-man roster candidates: Pedro Avila, Jay Groome, Brent Honeywell Jr., Reiss Knehr, Adrian Morejon, Ryan Weathers

This isn't necessarily a race for one spot. Think of it more as an audition for a role that the Padres might not end up using. San Diego could easily open the year with a five-man rotation. It could just as easily swing back and forth between five and six starters, perhaps using bullpen days and piggybacks in that sixth spot.

The Padres, however, would prefer to open the season with six bona fide starters, considering the success they found with that setup last season. For that to be the case, one of two things needs to happen: They need one of their middling depth options to step up. (That includes the half dozen listed above and a handful of others who signed as NRIs.) Or they'll need to swing a trade, similar to the deal they made for Sean Manaea on the eve of the season last year.

Barring injury, the front three of the Padres' rotation is etched in stone -- Yu Darvish, Joe Musgrove and Blake Snell. But beyond that trio there are question marks. This pitching staff isn't nearly as deep on the starting end as it was a year ago.

Which should make for a fascinating camp. Nick Martinez and Seth Lugo will be building toward a starter's workload. (Martinez did so last year before transitioning to the 'pen midseason. Lugo hasn't started with any regularity since the end of the 2020 season.) Both are expected to open the year in the rotation.

But who else might make a case to join them? It's worth watching Morejon, whose role is a somewhat polarizing question organizationally. His stuff might play well as a starter, but he's never thrown more than 66 innings professionally and might be best suited as a bullpen/swing-man type. Among the team's non-roster options are veteran righties Julio Teheran and Wilmer Font.


40-man roster candidates: Michel Baez, José Castillo, Tom Cosgrove, Nabil Crismatt, Angel Felipe, Ray Kerr, Jose Lopez, Steven Wilson

Let's assume these six pitchers, if healthy, are locks for the San Diego bullpen: Josh Hader, Robert Suarez, Luis García, Tim Hill, Pomeranz (yes, "if healthy" is a fairly major caveat with Pomeranz) and Morejon (if he's not in the starting rotation).

That could leave two spots available with two fairly clear frontrunners in Wilson and Crismatt. But there's a much deeper group of options than just those two. And bullpen competitions almost never go as planned.

And that's why the Padres have built themselves such an intriguing group of depth pieces. At age 38, Craig Stammen is returning to camp on a Minor League deal. Castillo is coming off his first healthy season since 2018. Lopez is a Rule 5 Draft selection with big velocity and upside, and the Padres would prefer to avoid offering him back to Tampa Bay (which they would be forced to do if he were to miss out on the roster).