PEORIA, Ariz. -- The Padres arrived in Arizona this week with a measure of rotation stability. That’s unusual around these parts at this time of year.
As recently as last season, Spring Training opened with all five slots available in the San Diego rotation. The past few years have been littered with spring question marks about the team's starting pitchers.
This year's group stands in stark contrast. Sure, there are questions about how good the Padres' starting five might be. But there really aren’t many questions about who those five pitchers will be.
Asked to size up his rotation candidates, new manager Jayce Tingler gave the usual demurral. Then he mentioned four candidates with an obvious inside track to the job.
"In general, we've got to get into games and then once we get into games, we've got to be healthy," Tingler said. "The way the year ended last year, the way [Chris] Paddack threw the ball, a healthy [Garrett] Richards and a healthy [Dinelson] Lamet -- I'd say those guys are in a very good position, the acquisition of [Zach] Davies, too. Then we've got a lot of guys who have the potential and the ability to step in, whether that's in the five or whether that's in the four or whether that's a long-relief option."
Reading between the lines: Paddack, Richards and Lamet are probably locks, and Davies has an inside track. Conspicuously absent from Tingler's list of rotation favorites was left-hander Joey Lucchesi, a staple of the staff over the past two seasons.
Lucchesi is the presumed favorite for the other spot in the rotation, and he's started the season's second game for the Padres two years in a row. In 56 big league starts, Lucchesi has shown improvement, but he's posted a middling 4.14 ERA. If Tingler's words are any indication, Lucchesi needs to earn his place this spring.
Right-hander Cal Quantrill will serve as Lucchesi's primary competition. For three months last season, Quantrill was one of the rotation's most reliable weapons before his performance dropped off a cliff in September. (Quantrill, whose ERA stood at 3.32 in late August, finished with a 5.16 mark.) Behind Quantrill is a group of very intriguing prospects, including MacKenzie Gore, Luis Patiño, Adrian Morejon and Michel Baez.
• Gore on Paddack's path, even if not same speed
Non-roster invite Jerad Eickhoff could throw his name into the mix as well.
"The one thing I know about this game is: We're going to need more than five," Tingler said. "That part I feel pretty confident in. The more quality depth that we continue to gain, the competition is a healthy thing."
Another presumed benefit for Tingler is that the Padres aren't likely to open the season with any workload limitations. They've been hindered, somewhat significantly, by those limitations in the past, particularly when Paddack and Lucchesi broke through.
As such, Tingler forecasts a traditional five-man rotation. Though he left open the possibility for that to change if a prospect were to break through.
"Right now we're thinking five,” Tingler said. “We have some built-in off-days early. But things change. We have no roadmap or clear plan to [change], but you have to have flexibility. Things come up. There may be pitchers that surprise us, that pop, that have taken significant steps forward. We just want to be open-minded to see those things."
Lagares eyes roster spot
Center fielder Juan Lagares plays a premium position with a track record of elite defense there. As a result, the 30-year-old says he had plenty of options in free agency.
Ultimately, Lagares simply went where he saw opportunity.
The Padres agreed to a one-year Minor League deal with Lagares on Monday, two days before pitchers and catchers reported to the Peoria Sports Complex. Lagares received an invite to big league camp, and he'll be given every chance to earn a spot in the outfield.
"I have a lot of goals," Lagares said. "I wanted to come to a team where I had an opportunity to play. So I signed with it in my mind to try to make the team and get some opportunity. That's what's most important. I'm working hard to show people what I can do."
Lagares' career has been littered with injuries, so he's quick to say that his primary goal is health. After that, he's eyeing a bounce-back from a down year for the Mets in 2019 in which he posted a .605 OPS.
Lagares’ opportunity emerged from the trade that sent Manuel Margot to Tampa Bay on Saturday. Margot was a glove-first center fielder with decent platoon splits against left-handed pitching. That's exactly what Lagares could be.
But the outfield mix is a tricky one, with Trent Grisham, Josh Naylor, Franchy Cordero, Taylor Trammell and Lagares fighting for either two or three spots. If Lagares doesn’t make the big league roster, he can opt out of his contract at the end of camp. On Friday, Tingler was asked what Lagares needs to do to make the team.
"He needs to play the defense we've seen over the years," Tingler said. "That part, we're very confident in. We'll see what we have with the bat. Just like with all the guys, we're going to ask him to get on base at a fairly high clip."
Tingler assesses Mejía
Since catcher Francisco Mejía arrived at the 2018 Trade Deadline, the Padres have pondered a philosophical question: Mejía’s bat-to-ball skills are elite, but he's also one of the game's freest swingers.
What's the best strategy for a hitter like that? Do they let Mejía swing freely, knowing the damage he can do on pitches out of the strike zone. Or do they overhaul his approach in hopes of getting him more pitches in the zone?
Tingler fell somewhere in the middle of the two camps, and he offered a colorful take in which he referred to his 24-year-old catcher as a "young wild stallion."
"Mejia's not a finished product," Tingler said. "His strength is going to be swinging the bat. Over time, through drills, through challenge drills, through velocity, through more at-bats, we're hoping that the strike-zone discipline tightens up and he starts to get more balls that he can drive in the zone.
"At the same time, he can be a little bit of a young wild stallion that is just free. He can hit some bad balls. We're not going to ask him to be the final version of what he is. But we are going to challenge him in some areas we think could potentially help his offensive game."
• The Padres signed right-hander Seth Frankoff to a Minor League deal with an invite to big league Spring Training, adding another depth option to their rotation. Frankoff, who arrived on Friday morning, spent the past two seasons pitching in Korea, where he posted a 3.68 ERA in the hitter-friendly KBO.
Frankoff had previously pitched in the A's, Dodgers and Cubs organizations, cracking the big leagues for a single game with Chicago in 2017. He's an extreme longshot for the rotation in San Diego, but could provide quality depth at Triple-A.
Frankoff has close ties to one Padre in particular -- lefty prospect MacKenzie Gore. The two share the same hometown in North Carolina and have grown close working out together during the offseason.
• A host of pitching prospects took the mound to face live hitters for the first time this spring. That group included Gore, the team’s top prospect, along with Ronald Bolaños, Michel Baez, Adrian Morejon and Reggie Lawson.
Veterans Drew Pomeranz, Kirby Yates, Garrett Richards and Craig Stammen all threw bullpen sessions.
AJ Cassavell covers the Padres for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell.