Padres start season with 16 pitchers

July 23rd, 2020

SAN DIEGO -- The Padres went heavy on pitching with their Opening Day roster, but they still managed to find room for an intriguing outfield prospect and a pair of high-upside bats who could potentially serve as a designated hitter.

San Diego unveiled its 30-man squad on Thursday, one day before the Padres open their 2020 season against the D-backs at Petco Park. Rosters will remain expanded to 30 players for the first two weeks of the season, then 28 for two more, before reverting back to the new standard of 26.

Here’s a position-by-position breakdown of those Padres decisions:

Hedges and Mejía are expected to share time evenly behind the dish to start the season. But with a 60-game slate, the wear and tear on catchers should be significantly lower than usual. With that in mind, the Padres wouldn't mind seeing one of their two catchers seize the starting job and run with it.

"They're both going to play," manager Jayce Tingler said. "We're going to start playing matchups and the hot hand as we get going."

Ultimately, the Padres opted for two catchers, leaving Luis Torrens off the roster. On road trips, Torrens will join the team as a member of its taxi squad. But San Diego saw more value keeping an extra pitcher in its bullpen.

Much like last season, Hosmer, Tatis and Machado are everyday starters for the Padres, leaving only one starting spot available in the infield. But the presence of a designated hitter changes things quite a bit. San Diego plays 30 games in the first 31 days of the season, and it seems likely that all three of those regulars will see time in the DH role to stay fresh.

At second base, expect a split between Profar and Garcia -- likely skewed more toward Profar. Cronenworth, meanwhile, is expected to serve as utility option and the primary backup for Tatis at shortstop. (When Jorge Mateo returns, he will likely slide into that role.)

As for France, he'll fill in at first and third base when Hosmer and Machado are at DH. (If Hosmer struggles against lefties, it's also possible France could steal a few starts from him at first.) Otherwise, France is the likeliest candidate for DH duties.

The Padres had settled on Pham, Grisham and Myers as their starting outfield back in March. So Summer Camp served mostly as a competition for bench places.

Olivares won that competition in a big way. In fact, he impressed team decision-makers so much, they felt comfortable trading Franchy Cordero to Kansas City for bullpen help. The righty-hitting Olivares can play all three outfield spots, and he's expected to see a few starts early, possibly with Myers or Pham sliding to DH.

“He obviously played his way onto the roster,” said Padres general manager A.J. Preller. “But it was a continuation of what we saw in Spring Training as well. He did the same thing in March, and honestly it’s a continuation of what he did last year in Double-A. He’s a guy that keeps getting better.”

Naylor, meanwhile, won one of the final spots on the roster. The Padres spent the past week mulling the benefits of a fifth outfielder versus a third catcher or a 12th reliever. Given his struggles defensively, Naylor won't see many starts in the field. But his lefty bat should prove useful in the DH spot or as a pinch-hitter.

Paddack, Lamet and Richards will open the season -- in that order -- against the D-backs this weekend. Even with plenty of relief arms available, that trio is expected to serve in a more traditional starting role.

Indeed, the Padres might get creative at the back end of their rotation. With an expanded bullpen, Tingler has offered openers, tandem starters and bullpen days as possibilities.

It’s likely Davies will get the ball as a starter, though his outings might be shorter than usual. Lucchesi's role, meanwhile, is unclear. He's never pitched out of the bullpen, making Cal Quantrill seem like a better fit there. But the Padres have yet to announce their plans for the final rotation spot.

Regardless of who gets the ball, prospects MacKenzie Gore, Luis Patiño and Adrian Morejon will be knocking on the door.

“The message to those guys is: When you come back here, hopefully you’re coming back to stay,” Preller said.

The Padres have endured three significant losses to their relief corps since Spring Training was shut down. Andres Muñoz and Trey Wingenter underwent Tommy John surgery, and José Castillo will be out for at least a month with a left lat strain.

Yet San Diego's 'pen still projects as one of the best in baseball, with Yates at the back end and Pagán, Pomeranz, Strahm and Stammen available to set him up.

At the fringes of the 'pen, Perdomo and Bednar impressed during Summer Camp, earning the last two places on the staff. Given the circumstances, it's easily the largest Opening Day pitching staff in franchise history.

"If they can [get outs], that's going to bring value to this team," Tingler said earlier this week when asked about the value of keeping extra pitching. "Maybe that person's pitching if we're down four or five runs. The importance of not having to use the guys that you're really reliant on -- that adds up over time.

"On paper, some days it doesn't look like a meaningful or impactful inning. But when you're avoiding using guys for the third, fourth day in a row -- guys you're really reliant on -- that could be critical."