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4 Spring Training predictions for Padres

@AJCassavell
February 12, 2020

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Pitchers and catchers reported to Padres camp in Peoria, Ariz., on Wednesday, and they're slated to work out for the first time on Thursday.

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Pitchers and catchers reported to Padres camp in Peoria, Ariz., on Wednesday, and they're slated to work out for the first time on Thursday.

Compared with years past, there's a bit more clarity on the San Diego roster this spring. The rotation is mostly settled, and the bullpen is almost full, too. New manager Jayce Tingler still has a few questions to answer on the fringes of his roster, but those are for another day.

"We know we can go a couple different directions, but until we watch the guys work, practice and play every day, we’re not filling our mind with any type of decisions or what way we want to go," Tingler said.

This year's camp should be less about decision-making and more about preparing for a season in which the Padres hope they can make the leap toward contention. Still, it’s fair to expect one or two surprises. With that in mind, here are a few predictions for Padres camp:

1. The rotation decisions won't be as simple as they look
Right-handers Chris Paddack and Garrett Richards are in the rotation. Righties Dinelson Lamet and Zach Davies are very strong favorites. Left-hander Joey Lucchesi has been a staple of the starting five for two seasons, and he feels like the obvious fifth starter.

Simple enough, right?

No. It's never that simple. First, let's insert the obvious caveat about injuries: They're always possible (and especially on a pitching staff where three-fifths of the group has had Tommy John surgery in recent seasons).

But the Padres also have a deep group of young starting pitchers behind those five. Before his September swoon, Cal Quantrill was arguably the second-best starter on the Padres' staff last year. Plus, prospects Michel Baez, Adrian Morejon, MacKenzie Gore and Luis Patiño will all be in the mix. If any of them break out, general manager A.J. Preller has never been shy about promoting his young players quickly.

2. Gore will give the Padres something to think about
A year ago, Paddack was the big-name pitching prospect in camp for the first time. It took him about three starts to make it clear that the Padres couldn't possibly keep him off their Opening Day roster. Paddack was simply too good.

This year, Gore has a similar opportunity. MLB Pipeline's top-ranked pitching prospect, Gore has reported to big league camp for the first time. He's coming off a season in which he posted a 1.69 ERA while striking out 135 hitters in 101 innings between Class A Advanced and Double-A. Paddack posted similarly absurd numbers before making the jump last season.

It's worth pointing out that the two situations aren't quite identical, however. Last year, the rotation race was wide open. This year, Richards and Lamet are back from Tommy John surgery, while Paddack has entrenched himself and Davies has arrived via trade.

The season-opening rotation doesn't have quite as much room for a prospect like Gore. But Gore has the kind of stuff where he might create the opportunity himself. Even if he doesn't crack the starting five, Gore should give the Padres' decision makers something to think about this spring. He could easily begin to make an impact midseason.

3. Grisham will seize the center-field job
When the Padres traded Manuel Margot to Tampa Bay on Saturday, it left them without a proven big league center fielder. In retrospect, that probably speaks volumes to how the organization feels about Trent Grisham, who arrived in the November deal that sent Luis Urías to Milwaukee.

Grisham, 23, split time among all three outfield spots for the Brewers last season, but he has played nearly 2,000 Minor League innings in center. Reports on Grisham as a center fielder are positive, and his small-sample big league numbers are impressive, too. Grisham was worth five Outs Above Average last season, according to Statcast, and his jump was among the best in baseball.

Grisham's main competition for the center-field job is Franchy Cordero, a fellow lefty hitter who has spent most of the past two seasons battling injuries. But Margot's departure might also pave the way for Grisham to play every day. All he needs to do is prove he can hit left-handers.

Margot was the presumed starter in center field against left-handers. Now, there's no obvious answer. Wil Myers is slated to start against lefties, but the Padres would prefer it to be in right field rather than center. Thus far, Grisham's big league splits are poor, but he has a track record of some success against left-handers in the Minors. If that translates to the big leagues, Grisham might turn into the Padres' everyday center fielder.

4. Paddack earns the Opening Day nod
Paddack wanted to be the Opening Day starter last season. Heck, he probably earned it with his Cactus League performance. But the Padres were always going to be wary of Paddack's workload in 2020, so they backed him into the No. 4 slot, and they set him up for extra off-days throughout the year.

This year, those restrictions are gone. Paddack is full go, and he has expressed his desire to be the staff's workhorse. He's also dead set on an Opening Day start. And if he earns it this spring, there aren't any mitigating circumstances that might prevent him from taking the ball on March 26 against the Rockies.

Paddack's biggest competition for the job is probably Richards, based on Richards' track record. If Richards proves he's the dominant pre-surgery version of himself, he could throw his name into the mix. In fact, late last season, Richards and Paddack even indicated they made a friendly wager on the Opening Day job. Count Paddack as the odds-on favorite right now.

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