3 major storylines to watch at Padres camp

February 11th, 2024

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.

This collection of Padres -- the group slated to officially report to Spring Training over the next eight days -- will assuredly not be the same collection of Padres that breaks camp next month.

That's the reality of a roster with playoff aspirations but major question marks.

Nonetheless, the Padres are set to report to Peoria, Ariz., in earnest, beginning Sunday when pitchers and catchers hold their first formal workout, followed by the full squad on Feb. 16.

The current roster vacancies should make for an intriguing camp. Some holes will be filled internally via prospects and non-roster invitees. Others will be filled externally via free agency and/or trades. With that in mind, here are three major storylines worth watching from Padres Spring Training:

1. Reinforcements on the way... but when?

The regular season is six weeks away. The Padres still need at least one starter, probably two. They still need at least one outfielder -- almost certainly two. Their bench is remarkably thin.

In other words, general manager A.J. Preller has work to do.

As things stand, Fernando Tatis Jr. and José Azocar are the only outfielders on the 40-man roster. Joe Musgrove, Yu Darvish and Michael King are the only starters locked into the Opening Day rotation.

Preller has room to maneuver, following an offseason's worth of deals designed to free up payroll flexibility -- most notably, the Juan Soto trade. As such, it's fair to wonder whether the Peoria Sports Complex might soon become something of a revolving door.

2. Shildt at the helm

Mike Shildt's first Spring Training as manager comes with a slew of major questions. The Padres have positional concerns in their infield. They have a mish-mash of relief arms without any defined roles. They have a rotation race full of newcomers (with, most likely, more on the way).

On top of that, Shildt must navigate a shorter-than-usual spring, with the Padres and Dodgers slated for their Seoul Series in Korea on March 20-21 -- meaning their season will begin eight days earlier than the rest of the league.

So that's the backdrop -- a heightened sense of urgency, despite an incomplete roster.

Already, Shildt has embraced those challenges. He's set lofty goals, speaking of contending in a daunting National League West, while improving drastically on last season's disappointment.

The Padres, of course, have lost quite a few contributors from last season. Namely, their best hitter (Soto), their best starter (Blake Snell) and their best reliever (Josh Hader). On paper, this roster is worse than the one that won 82 games and missed the playoffs last season.

But the games aren't played on paper. The Padres insist they're much better than their 2023 record would indicate. It's up to Shildt and Co. to prove it.

3. Health, health, health

In spite of everything the Padres lost this offseason, their roster remains star-studded. There's plenty of high-end talent in San Diego, but the depth is undeniably thin -- and a number of those stars are coming off injury-riddled seasons.

Most notably, Joe Musgrove (shoulder) and Yu Darvish (elbow) had their 2023 seasons come to an early end. Both are preparing for the season with their usual throwing progressions. If all goes well, they could start the two games in Seoul. But first, the true test of their health will come when they ramp up during Spring Training.

On a less urgent note, Manny Machado is coming off surgery to address the tennis elbow that plagued him over the past two seasons. Machado has begun his hitting and throwing progressions and appears on track to be ready for the season. But there's still a chance he opens the year as a strict DH. If so, that could force the Padres to shuffle their infield a bit.

Meanwhile, Xander Bogaerts' wrist is worth watching. It's probably no coincidence that he batted .321/.364/.493 after receiving a cortisone injection during the All-Star break -- and could San Diego ever use that version of Bogaerts in 2024.

The Padres still have the foundational pieces to view themselves as playoff contenders. But when your depth is lacking, and your foundational pieces consist largely of players older than 30 with injury concerns, the margin for error is thin.