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In '18, SD will rely on youth to take next step

Padres need Myers to rebound, young hurlers to emerge
MLB.com @AJCassavell

SAN DIEGO -- With the youngest roster in the Majors, the Padres made plenty of progress in 2017. Still, coming off a 91-loss season, they're nowhere near where they want to be.

The majority of that roster will be back in 2018, and it's critical to the trajectory of the franchise that those young players continue to develop. With that in mind, here are the five most important questions facing the Padres in the new year:

SAN DIEGO -- With the youngest roster in the Majors, the Padres made plenty of progress in 2017. Still, coming off a 91-loss season, they're nowhere near where they want to be.

The majority of that roster will be back in 2018, and it's critical to the trajectory of the franchise that those young players continue to develop. With that in mind, here are the five most important questions facing the Padres in the new year:

Can Wil Myers bounce back?

Last offseason, the Padres committed six years and $83 million to Myers as their franchise first baseman. In his first season on that deal, Myers struggled. He mashed 30 homers, but saw his batting average dip to .243, while taking a step back on defense.

Video: SD@SF: Myers mashes a solo homer to left field

It's a crucial year for Myers, who is looking to regain his All-Star-caliber form from the first half of the 2016 season. He's the anchor of the Padres' offense, but during his slumps in '17, he seemed unable to regroup.

This offseason, Myers is seeing a sports psychologist to hone his mental approach. He's also working to better understand his swing, so that he spends less time making in-season alterations.

Which young pitchers emerge?

This particular question is two-tiered. First, at the Major League level, Luis Perdomo and Dinelson Lamet have shown serious promise in their brief Major League tenures. Neither has backed up that promise with much consistency, however. They'll be asked to do so in 2018.

Video: Must C Combo: Perdomo recovers, Myers stretches

Meanwhile, in the Minors, the Padres boasted an elite Double-A rotation. Cal Quantrill (ranked as the organization's No. 2 prospect by MLBPipeline.com), Eric Lauer (No. 8), Joey Lucchesi (No. 9) and Jacob Nix (No. 14) could all receive invites to Spring Training. It will be their first chance to make an impression against big league hitters. And while none of the four will make the Opening Day roster, they could push for a callup later in the season.

If all goes according to plan, the Padres' rotation of the future could become their rotation of the present this year.

Can Matt Stairs help fix the Padres' on-base woes?

There was no shortage of power in San Diego this season, as the Padres set a club record with 189 dingers. For the second straight year, however, they finished last in the Major Leagues in on-base percentage, and they did so by a whopping 10 percentage points.

In September, San Diego parted ways with hitting coach Alan Zinter and hired Matt Stairs the following month. From his playing days, Stairs comes with a reputation as a masher. And it's well-earned. But he played 19 big league seasons and posted a .356 on-base percentage, too.

Video: Stairs discusses joining Padres as hitting coach

Perhaps more importantly, he helped the young-and-free-swinging Phillies improve their on-base percentage by 10 points last year. His philosophy revolves around the ways patience can create opportunities to do damage. If he imparts that wisdom to Padres hitters, they'll be better for it.

Which hitters make a jump in Year 2?

Manuel Margot, Austin Hedges, Carlos Asuaje and Hunter Renfroe all saw regular playing time for the first time in 2017. Perhaps predictably, it was an up-and-down experience.

Renfroe set a club rookie record with 25 homers, but he spent a month at Triple-A trying to work out OBP and defensive issues. Hedges was brilliant defensively and showcased better-than-expected power, but his offensive game left much to be desired. Margot was the most consistent of the bunch, but he missed a month with a calf injury. Asuaje didn't begin to play regularly until the second half, exceeding most expectations when he did.

Video: Cassavell emphasizes Renfroe's impact on Padres

It's safe to say we'll learn more about the quartet in 2018. The future of the club's offense hinges, in large part, on whether those four can take steps forward. The Padres believe they will.

What happens to Brad Hand?

The trade chatter surrounding Hand has quieted. He has two years of team control remaining and owns a 2.56 ERA and 11.5 Ks/9 in two seasons with the Padres. Their asking price for Hand -- who they view as one of the sport's best relievers -- is understandably high. And, as of yet, nobody has met it.

Video: COL@SD: Hand K's side to complete shutout, earn save

General manager A.J. Preller has already proven he's content to keep Hand at the back end of his bullpen. Hand, too, has said he'd be happy to remain in San Diego. Of course, that won't stop the rumors from circulating. And if the prospect haul is large enough, Preller just might be willing to part with his top trade chip.

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

 

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