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Padres' youth movement just around corner

Several top prospects likely to debut for San Diego in 2019
MLB.com @AJCassavell

SAN DIEGO -- The Padres will throw some young players into the fire this season. It's the nature of their roster construction.

The San Diego rotation might feature five starters who weren't big leaguers on Opening Day 2018. By the end of the year, their regular infield might feature 21-year-old prospect Luis Urias at second and 20-year-old prospect Fernando Tatis Jr. at short. On top of that, there's no obvious Opening Day third baseman.

SAN DIEGO -- The Padres will throw some young players into the fire this season. It's the nature of their roster construction.

The San Diego rotation might feature five starters who weren't big leaguers on Opening Day 2018. By the end of the year, their regular infield might feature 21-year-old prospect Luis Urias at second and 20-year-old prospect Fernando Tatis Jr. at short. On top of that, there's no obvious Opening Day third baseman.

Even if the Padres make a major splash by landing Manny Machado or Bryce Harper in the next few weeks, their roster is still extremely short on experience. But they are quick to dispel the notion that 2019 might be another "development year."

"Let's get away from the development mindset at the big league level," said Padres manager Andy Green. "Let's focus on winning baseball games, whatever that takes. It doesn't mean development's not going to occur. But development best occurs when it's not the focal point, but winning's the focal point."

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The idea of developing young talent while aiming for a turnaround at the Major League level isn't so far-fetched. There are quite a few recent success stories.

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Remember the 2013 Royals? You probably don't. They were a mostly forgettable 86-win bunch that missed the playoffs. But as players from the sport's top farm system began to make an impact, they turned the trajectory of the franchise with those 86 wins. In each of the next two seasons, Kansas City won an American League pennant and in 2015, the World Series championship.

Over the past decade, there have been similar examples in Milwaukee, Houston and Atlanta. The Padres are looking for the same type of progress -- one in which the rebuilding process of the past few years begins to bear tangible results.

Gone are the days when general manager A.J. Preller stocked three Rule 5 players on the big league roster with the sole purpose of stashing them for the future. In fact, as things stand, it seems very possible that a starting-caliber outfielder could open the season in the Minor Leagues. The Padres currently have six outfielders on their roster who have spent time as starters over the past two seasons.

"You're creating competition, which is something we've pushed here in general the last few years," Preller said last month. "In that scenario, most likely, a really good Major League caliber player is not going to break with our club. Hopefully that brings out the best in all of those guys."

The competition will be fiercer at some positions than others. In the outfield, in the bullpen and at catcher, the Padres are deep. In the infield and in the rotation, they're thin.

But it's easy to envision those rotation and infield pieces falling into place as the year progresses. Urias and Tatis will probably anchor the middle of the diamond by June. Pitching prospects Logan Allen, Cal Quantrill and Chris Paddack are all expected to debut this summer.

Video: Allen, Paddack, Quantrill among key Padres prospects

The Padres insist they won't be asking that group of youngsters to develop. They'll be asking them to win.

"That vision has been there from the level above me, where we've always been looking at putting that team together to run from 2020 onward," Green said. "But we're going to try to make it happen this year, and we'll do everything we can to make that possible."

It might not result in a trip to the playoffs. But help from the sport's top farm system is on the way. If the 2019 Padres are remembered like the 2013 Royals one day, their season will have been a massive success.

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

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