3 weeks to decide 3 Padres roster battles

March 12th, 2021

With three weeks remaining until Opening Day, the Padres, it seems, have fewer decisions to make than usual.

That's the benefit of a roster full of established big league regulars, impressive continuity on offense and a five-deep rotation built through trades during the offseason.

Still, the Padres have a few roster questions to sort out before they face the D-backs on April 1. With that in mind, here's a look at the three roster battles shaping up in Padres camp:

1. Last spot on the bench
The candidates: C , OF , OF , IF/OF

The job: Positionally speaking, this job could be anywhere. The Padres built themselves enough versatility that they don't have any glaring needs on defense. Whoever wins this job almost certainly won't start much and will serve mostly as a pinch-hitter and potentially a late-game replacement. There's room for another useful skill set. O'Grady and Mateo could both back up in center field, and Campusano would be useful as a third catcher, perhaps allowing the Padres to play elsewhere on occasion or pinch-hit freely with .

The situation: None of these four have impressed much this spring, with Mateo as the slight standout from that group. He's hitting the ball hard, and he's reaching base -- a positive sign, considering how well Mateo's elite speed plays on the basepaths. But he also has eight punchouts in 18 Cactus League plate appearances. The overall lack of production from the team's bench candidates makes you wonder whether someone from outside the 40-man roster might have a chance for that last spot. But these four are still the favorites -- with Mateo and O'Grady perhaps slightly ahead. Don’t discount the value Mateo might bring as a pinch-runner, with the automatic runner rule in place for extra innings.

2. The last spot in the bullpen
The candidates: , , ,

The job: This presumes a bullpen that already features and , which seems like a safe bet. It also presumes no further injuries, which is certainly no safe bet, considering the way things have gone. will miss the year because of Tommy John surgery, while (UCL sprain) and (right knee surgery) are slated to miss the start of the season. In any case, while this job is the last place in the Padres' bullpen, don't expect it to be a mop-up role. There should be plenty of innings to go around. The Padres will slow-play their starters by limiting their innings early, and they'll look to give their relievers extra rest, too. All of that comes amid a schedule that sees the Padres open with 24 games in 25 days.

The situation: There's a clear hierarchy here. Altavilla is the likeliest candidate to win that job. He pitched meaningful innings for the Padres down the stretch last season, and was solid. He's also out of Minor League options, and the team doesn't want to lose him for nothing. Hill, meanwhile, still has options. But if there's a nagging injury or ailment, it almost certainly will be Hill who steps in. The Padres could use another lefty, anyway, given the injuries to Castillo and Strahm.

3. Swingman/potential fifth starter
The candidates: , ,

The job: By far the most glamorous race on this list, the specifics of this job will come down to the health status of . There's still a chance Lamet cracks the Opening Day roster, but he has yet to get into game action. Even if everything goes according to plan, a mid-April start to Lamet's season seems likeliest. That could open a spot for a fifth starter, making this race a three-man battle for two spots. Regardless of whether Lamet is ready, the Padres also need a long reliever. Their current mix is composed almost entirely of one-inning relievers.

The situation: Morejon has walked far too many hitters this spring. But he's the easy favorite. He's already proven that his electric stuff plays at the big league level. Plus, he has demonstrated a capacity for sliding back and forth between the bullpen and rotation (even if his starts have typically lasted no more than three innings). Gore and Weathers -- the Padres' top two pitching prospects -- have made two starts apiece with dazzling stuff but unimpressive results. They will get a few more chances this spring to prove their mettle. If neither earns a roster spot -- and if Lamet isn't ready -- that might leave one last roster spot up for grabs among the rest of the pitchers in camp.