By Dennis Gulyas
A couple weeks into spring training and the buzz surrounding the Padres in Peoria has never been louder. From local media to national pundits, reporters are swarming the sleepy desert town in droves. Arguably the only thing louder than the clamoring questions are fireworks peppering the diamond during spring batting practice. With expectations mounting and postseason predictions running rampant, there are questions that manager Bud Black and his boys have to answer.
Can Cameron Maybin really challenge Wil Myers for the starting center fielder’s job?
In camp interviews, Maybin has constantly reiterated the rhetoric delivered from Glenn Hoffman and others on the coaching staff: open competition remains for every starting position. Whether or not Maybin takes these words to heart, remains to be seen. I applaud Black’s staff for a competitive environment in camp rather than the notion that free-agent acquisitions automatically become starters.
Questions surrounding Myers ability to stay healthy, and if he has the skills-set to roam center field, are warranted. Determining whether or not Maybin is mentally (let’s not forget his suspension for taking non-prescription Adderall) and physically (injuries also restricted him to 95 games last year) ready to contribute are also legitimate.
“If you wanna be the man, you have to beat the man.” That’s Ric Flair’s noted quote and it pertains to Maybin as he battles Myers.
Hopefully these sentiments aren’t just lip service. Destructive powers associated with complacency could lead to yet another slow start for a Padres — signalling what may be the death knell for Black’s managerial tenure.
2. Can Carlos Quentin really play first base?
Early reports from camp have shown Quentin splitting time defensively in infield and outfield drills. Quentin makes too much money ($8 million guaranteed in 2015), while being excessively injury prone for the Padres to keep him as an extra outfielder. Despite the die-hard Friar fans hoping that Quentin can be a power bat off the bench and spelling Yonder Alonso occasionally at first, the Padres hope that Quentin can increase his value by showing his versatility. That sweetens the pot as potential trade bait.
The most vital cog in this experiment is Quentin’s sore knees, as he must avoid injury during camp to display his skills.
3. Who will take the fifth spot in the rotation?
Candidates like Josh Johnson and Cory Leubke have shown immense talent but floundered when it comes to staying healthy.
The inside track has been given to Brandon Morrow (FA signed from the Blue Jays) and Odrisamer Despaigne (who showed flashes of brilliance last year, taking a no-hitter into the eighth inning) to assume the role.
Other young pitchers for consideration are Robbie Erlin and hard-throwing Matt Wisler (a top 100 prospect by mlb.com). Both lack experience but have managed to remain healthy in addition to being talented.
Getting bite on off-speed pitches in the thin desert air is a challenge for all competitors. Bottom line is having so many live arms to choose from is a welcomed problem for Black and his staff.
+Story by Dennis Gulyas, a Mighty 1090 intern, with assistance from Jay Paris.