In the first inning of Saturday night’s game, Madison Bumgarner started Manuel Margot with two inside fastballs, both of them good pitcher’s pitches, just off the plate. In a perfect world, for Bumgarner, they either clip the inside corner or induce weak contact. Margot, like a sage veteran, held off on both of them. Here’s their location, via Brooks Baseball:
That’s a Joey Votto-like eye. Okay, we won’t get carried away. But there wasn’t a whole lot Margot could have done with either pitch, so it was smart to lay off, to at least wait for something more juicy. Now, up 2-0, he gets his pitch. It’s another four-seam fastball—the third straight one he’d encountered—out over the plate and about belt high. It’s not the meatiest 2-0 meatball, but given the situation, ahead in the count and expecting more heat, it’s a good pitch for Margot to jump on. He makes solid contact and sends a hard ground ball past Brandon Crawford at short.
What turns a relatively harmless single into a more damaging lead-off double is Margot’s hustle. Sure, he’s got speed to spare, but this is the very definition of a hustle double. Check out how far center fielder Denard Span is from the ball when we first get eyes on him:
Seven or eight years ago, in what would be the final game of my not-so-illustrious junior college baseball career, I faced a very sloooow pitcher. Even by the standards of the small town community college circuit, this dude, a big left hander, was abnormally slow.
I’d never hit an outside-the-park home run, believe it or not, although I’d come close two times that year, both against soft-tossing lefties. Watching his 70-something mile an hour heaters from the on-deck circle, I was salivating. With a short porch in left field, I’d made up my mind: I was going to try to hit a home run, and I was just about sure I was going to do it.
In three at-bats against the guy, I barely hit the ball out of the infield, grounding out twice to the left side and flying weakly into right field. He was, somehow, too slow, his otherwise juicy pitches turned effective because they traveled so far below the speed of the ones I’d grown familiar with. (Also, I wasn’t a very good hitter.)
Lesson No. 1: Never try to hit a home run. Lesson No. 2: Never underestimate the challenge of a slow fastball.
The Hangover is a place to discuss a storyline or two from the previous day’s game.
Somewhere in the middle of another Opening Day mess, a hero emerged:
It took Miguel Diaz four years to get out of the rookie ball levels of the Milwaukee Brewers farm system, not necessarily a rarity for a young, international arm. Diaz finally reached the lower rung of Single-A ball last season, putting together an all-around fine season for a 21-year-old: 94 2/3 innings, 91 strikeouts, 29 walks, 7 home runs, a 3.71 ERA.
The likely plan, before the Padres got involved, probably involved Diaz reporting back to Low-A Wisconsin or High-A Carolina this spring and then, someday, Double-A Biloxi. If everything went smoothly at each stop—injuries were dodged, performance improved—Diaz would have had a shot at Triple-A, and maybe the majors, at some point in 2018. But everyone would be taking it one day at a time—er, one pitch at a time—in the relative anonymity of the minor leagues, dreams of The Show just ever-present background noise on long bus rides.
The Padres released their Opening Day roster today, and there were some things that we speculated on (four catchers!) and other things we didn’t necessarily expect (Margot in the majors, Spangenberg in the minors). Let’s attempt to sort it out.
Four catchers! Four catchers?
When the Padres initially announced that Christian Bethancourt would be making a go at turning into a two-way player, I thought there was a chance they’d only carry two catchers. Austin Hedges would be the go-to guy, and Bethancourt would serve as the backup while sometimes pitching and filling in the outfield. That strategy would have been bold and possibly too demanding. Could Bethancourt handle catching duties a night after pitching an inning (or vice versa), for instance?
Instead, the Padres have opted to go in the complete opposite direction. To start the season, they’re going to carry three true catchers (Hedges, Rule 5-er Luis Torrens, and veteran Hector Sanchez) plus Bethancourt. Frankly, it’s unclear why. It does seem like Bethancourt is being converted more into a reliever than any type of legit two-way player (boo), but that still doesn’t answer the question of why the Padres need an additional three backstops.
Over at Gaslamp Ball, Roy Thomasson recently wrote about how the Padres might get weird this season, which has been an offseason theme in the Padres corner of the internet.
But are the weird ideas any good? Let’s discuss some of them.
Weird idea No. 1: Using Christian Bethancourt as a two-way player.
Weirdness scale rating: 8.
Does it make sense? Yes, mostly.
Bethancourt has a good shot to become the second-best two-way player in the world this season (Shohei Otani has a hammerlock on the No. 1 slot), if only because the species is mostly extinct.
A strong-armed catcher with a suspect bat and a middling defensive rep, Bethancourt makes as much sense as a pitcher/position player convert as anyone. In theory, he’d be able to provide the Padres with an adequate backup option at catcher (and occasionally in the outfield) and eat up some relief innings—maybe even some high-leverage ones, depending on how things go.
Over at FanGraphs last week, Craig Edwards wrote about teams with the most “dead money”—that is, money paid to players who aren’t playing for the team that’s paying them. The Padres, somewhat surprisingly, are second on the list, with $35 million—over half their entire 2017 payroll—in contracts being paid out to old friends playing elsewhere, in 2017 alone.
It’s surprising because the dead money leaderboards are usually populated by large market clubs, almost exclusively. In fact, all of the teams surrounding the Padres—the Dodgers, Yankees, Angels, and Red Sox—qualify as such. Those teams are able to pay players to go away, in a sense, whereas small market clubs are less likely to part with millions of dollars without the chance of a tangible, on-the-field return. In other words, small market teams are, in general, less likely to get too cozy with the concept of sunk costs.
On the surface, it looks bad. It’s another area where the baseball commentariat can point out lowly San Diego and get a chuckle or two. In an ideal situation, you don’t want to be on this list, and a number of the players the Padres are still paying—Matt Kemp and James Shields to name two—conger up bad memories of bad decisions.
Think of it another way, though: the Padres are actually paying money, lots of money, to make their future outlook brighter. Let’s go through some of the players individually.
Faster than a roadrunner? (yes)
Faster than a coyote? (no)
Faster than a Billy Hamilton? (not yet)
Manuel Margot hit a triple in a spring training game last week, an event that was digitally recorded, uploaded onto the internet, and then embedded here:
The triple was encouraging because it came off big-league pitcher Tyler Chatwood, and also because it showed off some of Margot’s occasionally absent power. It also displayed his speed. By my hand-timed estimate*, Margot got from home to third in about 10.90 seconds, which is . . . fast. How fast, though?
Farm systems are big.
Sometimes we—for good reason—get caught up with established prospects like Manuel Margot and Anderson Espinoza; or intriguing ones like Fernando Tatis Jr.; or enigmatic ones likes Javier Guerra. A good system goes far beyond the headliners, however. There are under-the-radar players all over professional baseball who are going to earn scant notoriety as prospects but turn into productive big-league players (most of them are Cardinals and Giants, probably). The hope is that the Padres will find a few of them.
Under A.J. Preller, the Padres have made great strides in looking everywhere for talented baseball players. They’ve signed gobs of young players from Latin America; they’ve made noise in Asia; they’ve kicked the tires on the shires of Europe; they’ve signed a number of players from indy ball. They’ve also started to corner the market on Division III college players. Last year the Padres signed a league-leading three D-III players, and each of them got off to solid pro debuts in 2016.
People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare at my computer and watch my prospect status rise. —Fernando Tatis Jr. (probably)
Fernando Tatis Jr. entered the Padres organization mostly as an unknown. Acquired with Erik Johnson from the White Sox for James Shields, Tatis hadn’t played a single professional game when the Padres got him last June. Despite the household name, Tatis was mostly viewed as a wild card—an international amateur who hadn’t done enough to earn a huge bonus or lots of prospect cred.
In fact, the last time I wrote about him—in August in a WBOTF post—I noted the lack of coverage:
Tatis Jr. is so young and so inexperienced that you have to dig to find anything written about him on the internet . . . I mean, dig, dark web and all.
Fast-forward eight months and the internet is overflowing with words on Tatis, most of them glowing. For one, Tatis played, and played well. Split between rookie ball and low-A Tri City, the 17-year-old right-handed hitting shortstop posted a .273/.311/.432 line with 15 stolen bases and 24 extra-base hits in 55 games. Beyond the numbers, people really liked what they saw.
Through a winter of despair comes a beacon of hope . . . it’s prospect week here at Padres Public!
Today we’ll have a cumulative top 10 list and some Big Picture discussion. Throughout the rest of the week, we’ll discuss specific players more in-depth, re-heating the cooling winter hot stove with some overdue prospect fodder.
First, the prospect list. As most all reputable prospect outlets have released top prospects lists (we’re still waiting for Keith Law and a few others), we decided to combine them together with a top-secret algorithm and spit out an overall top 10. Without further ado, using the lists from Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, Chris Crawford, FanGraphs, Mad Friars, and—yes—Padres Public, voila:
1. Anderson Espinoza, RHP
2. Manuel Margot, OF
3. Hunter Renfroe, OF
4. Cal Quantrill, RHP
5. Adrian Morejon, LHP
6. Luis Urias, 2B
7. Jacob Nix, RHP
8. Chris Paddack, RHP
9. Fernando Tatis Jr., SS
10. Michael Gettys, OF