On the doorstep of Opening Day from Petco Park, as the San Diego Padres host the Milwaukee Brewers, the expectations of Padres’ fans have been conservatively tempered. Seven weeks of Spring Training baseball produced eye popping spectacles of position playing talent and lively pitching arms, seldom seen in recent memory, within the organization. As hopes continue to grow for a team that wishes to consistently compete for a National League West title, the stark reality is that the Padres are still a year or two away from making that an actuality.
Nearly six weeks ago, mega-agent Scott Boras emphatically decreed that San Diego’s franchise was filled with “hot-talent lava” – describing the copious amount of young players within the organization’s pipeline. Coincidentally, Boras represents the biggest free agent signing of the Padres this year, 1B Eric Hosmer, as well as many other up and coming San Diego players (Austin Hedges, Jorge Oña, Adrian Morejon, Mackenzie Gore). Boras’s lava hyperbole was fantastic media fodder in addition to being remarkably prescient.
The analogy Boras used was intended to give a nod of approval towards San Diego’s front office for stockpiling young players with tremendous upside, both domestic and abroad. Simultaneously, the analogy was also an admission that for all of the “hot-talent lava” bubbling within, that lava was also not “Major League rock” – unseasoned and unready to compete at the Big League level consistently.
Middle infielders Fernando Tatís Jr. and Luis Urías shone brightly early and often. Despite their jaw dropping plays and loud tools (both offensively and defensively), both were sent down to Minor League camp much sooner than some fans had hoped.
Southpaw Joey Lucchesi, a fourth round draft pick in 2016, impressed fantastically. Lucchesi hurled 11.2 Cactus League Innings, posting a 1.54 ERA and sub 1 WHIP (0.857). His departure to the minors, considering how late it was in camp, has more to do with the front office not wanting to start the clock on his Major League service rather than questioning their belief in his abilities; the subtle reminder that baseball is still a business and that paying players prematurely is bad business for owners.
And then there were injuries.
Franchy Cordero, who was named the 2018 Peoria Sports Complex Rookie of the Year, touted a .343 BA/.465 OBP/.714 SLG before being hobbled by a groin injury. What seemed as a sure lock to break camp with the Big League club, Cordero is now expected to join the club in mid April to compete in a reserve role for a corner outfield position.
Dinelson Lamet, a 25 year-old Dominican phenom who signed with the Padres as an amateur free agent in June 2014, experienced elbow tightness in his final start of the Spring. In Sunday’s start, the last Cactus League game for San Diego, Lamet lasted two innings before removing himself. Initial diagnosis via MRI shows no structural damage to the ligaments, and the injury is being described as muscle soreness. The blow to the Padres’ rotation was palpable as Skipper Andy Green has yet to officially announce who will be taking Lamet’s #2 spot in the rotation, pitching against the Brewers on Friday.
Alex Dickerson, local Poway High School alum, never got on track due to an elbow injury of his own. The hard swinging outfielder opted for Tommy John’s surgery. His season is over and his future with the Padres is in doubt.
Also departed is veteran pitcher Chris Young. The 38-year-old righty was informed that he would not make the Opening Day roster for the Friars and was released so that he could attempt to find another MLB club to sign with.
A bright future lies on the horizon for the ballclub and its fans. But until we reach that pyroclastic volcanic eruption of talent, the club seems to be content in treading water for yet another season. Illustrating the complacency for mediocrity is the Opening Day pitching matchup.
Toeing the rubber for the Padres will be 34-year old and ten-year veteran Clayton Richard. Richard went (8-15) in 32 starts, posting a 4.79 ERA in 2017 with San Diego. Richard brings leadership and stability to the rotation, albeit with lackluster results.
Opposing Richard will be the Brewers’ 30-year-old and four-year veteran Chase Anderson. Anderson went (12-4) in 25 starts, posting a 2.74 ERA in 2017 with Milwaukee.
One righty. One lefty. One pitcher on the downward trend of his career. The other on the incline.
No one can dispute the amount of charity work and involvement in the community that Richard and his wife, Ashley Richard, have accomplished. The impact of those donations of time, resources, and money, and how those contributions permeate the boundaries of what many consider the sports world, are often without proper recognition and appreciation. Not to forget the unity that Richard brings to the clubhouse in ordering the onesies for everyone on a road trip to travel in solidarity, bringing levity to a late red-eye charter on the road.
I simply ask that of all the other clubs in the NL West, would Clayton Richard break camp having earned a spot in their starting rotation? Let alone pitch on Opening Day as their starter/ace?
The Padres seem to have all the pieces in place to grow into a perennial contender in the National League. What remains to be seen is the ability for those pieces to come to fruition.
Until that “hot- talent lava” is ready, the Friars will continue to see how much tread is left on the tires of stop-gap rentals (the likes of Richard, SS Freddy Galvis, SP Tyson Ross, 3B Chase Headley, and backup catchers A.J. Ellis and Raffy Lopez) as they lean on veteran experience to improve on a 71 win season a year ago.
In the meantime, fans can take solace in enjoying the best ballpark experience in the nation as Petco Park improved on what it already offers to its visitors. From upgrading the right field video board, adding more artisan food, a craft beer selection that rivals any part of the globe, to sightlines that are enjoyable from any seat in the house, Owners Ron Fowler and Peter Seidler don’t have much work to do to convince fans that Petco Park is the place to be.
Now we just wait for the on-field product to catch up to the amenities. A journey that may take just a few more years, with some fans more patient than others.
Dennis Gulyas – Part-Time Producer with The Mighty 1090 Radio Network
Follow Dennis on Twitter @DennisGulyas