Twitter Q&A: 2/17/15 Edition

Having run out of Padres-related writing topics but still wanting to Cal Ripken my way through another article this week, I relied on Twitter to provide me questions to answer, and again, Twitter reluctantly obliged. Here we go.

Deeply philosophical question, but I’ll cop out and say 361.9237001 cubic centimeters per day.

This does give me a chance to discuss the Padres current 25-man roster construction, which is something I’ve wanted to write about for a while (and maybe I have, I can’t remember). It’s a little rough around the edges, isn’t it? Both the lineup and the pitching staff are possibly too right-handed, the outfield has three spare parts combining to make $19-something million this season, and there’s still no legitimate shortstop or, to a slightly lesser extent, third baseman. The defense could be ugly and the pitch framing has gone from two of the league’s best (Rene Rivera and Yasmani Grandal) to the middling Derek Norris.

This isn’t really a knock on Preller, who has done an admirable job turning over the roster and putting a competitive team on the field. It does feel like there are a couple of moves to be made, though. Even a healthy Carlos Quentin seems like excess on a team filled with immobile, right-handed power options in the outfield. And one of Cameron Maybin/Will Venable would make a fine defensive replacement/fourth outfielder, but both might be overkill — at least at the price.

If the price is right, someone like Hector Olivera (even though he also swings right-handed) could go a long way toward shoring up a shaky infield, providing another high upside bat while relegating Middlebrooks and Solarte to bench/platoon duties.

Overall, the roster has plenty of talent, but it doesn’t seem to be ironed out the way you’d like from a true contending team. One offseason might not be enough time for Preller to make all the moves he wants, so I’d expect more gradual reshaping during the season and especially next offseason.

The starting rotation might be the end goal with Brandon Maurer, but the Padres have put such an emphasis on winning in 2015, I’d expect him to win a bullpen role for the short-term. As I discussed earlier this offseason, there are a number of signs that point to Maurer turning into a shutdown late-inning reliever, like his peripherals, his velocity/stuff, and his (small sample) starter/reliever splits.

I’d be surprised if the Padres tried to turn Maurer into a starter this year, unless he really blows everyone away in spring training and wins the fifth starter spot right out of the gate.

I like prospects and I follow the draft closer as it rolls around, but this one might be out of my wheelhouse (for a number of reasons). I did, however, look at Baseball America’s high school top 100 to compile a brief list for you of top rated players who might be in driving range.

High School
2 – Kolby Allard, LHP, San Clemente HS
7 – Chris Betts, C, Woodrow Wilson HS (Long Beach)
23 – Kyle Molner, RHP, Aliso Nigel HS (Aliso Viejo)
55 – Brendan Davis, 3b/SS, Lakewood HS
58 – Lucas Herbert, C, San Clemente HS
59 – Peter Lambert, RHP, San Dimas HS
82 – Michael Benson, C, Rancho Buena Vista HS (Vista)
87 – Patrick Sandoval, LHP, Mission Viejo HS
89 – Drew Finley, RHP, Rancho Bernardo HS
91 – Kyle Dean, OF, Rancho Bernardo HS

Unfortunately, I can’t find a good college list published yet, at least at the sites I subscribe to.

Keep an eye out for lefty Brady Aiken, who was taken first overall last year by the Astros out of Cathedral Catholic High School but failed to sign. To remain eligible for the 2015 draft, Aiken may attend a junior college for one year or play independent ball, but it’s unclear if he’s chosen either of those options as of this writing.

San Diego State is projected to be one of the better teams in the Mountain West Conference, and they have two of the league’s 10 best 2015 draft prospects, according to Baseball America, in third baseman Ty France (third) and right-handed pitcher Bubba Derby (fourth). San Diego is also expected to be a contender in the West Coast Conference, although their roster is more skewed toward younger talent.

I’d be surprised if the Padres didn’t blow away their international amateur budget before the current CBA expires after the 2016 season. That gives them the remaining few months of the 2014-’15 signing period, the upcoming 2015-’16 signing period, and the 2016-’17 period, which starts next July.

As I discussed last week, I think there’s a chance Preller and the Padres hold off on Moncada and stick within their spending budget in the 2015-’16 signing period, only to go all-in during the 2016-’17 signing period, which could see as many as 10 or 15 teams sidelined with severe spending restrictions. Under this scenario, the Padres would be able to gobble up top tier international amateur talent, much like the Yankees have during this signing period, without competition from most of the big market/big international spending teams.

Even if the Padres don’t follow that plan exactly, I’d expect them to be major players internationally, simply based on Preller’s track-record in both scouting and spending on young, foreign players. I know there’s still plenty of talk about the Padres signing Moncada this year, but I still think that’s probably unlikely. The price tag (and accompanying tax/penalties) is going to be really high, especially with teams like the Yankees, Dodgers, and Red Sox heavily involved. A baseball executive recently told Ken Rosenthal that Moncada likely won’t sign for more than $30 million (“$20 million-ish is more realistic”), but that seems more like an anonymous pipe dream than anything else. Most still expect Moncada’s price tag to be $40 million-plus, and that doesn’t include the $40 million-plus in taxes that’ll go to an MLB slush fund.

There might be some incentive to get Robbie Erlin into the rotation, only to mix things up from a lefty/righty perspective. But I’d make Brandon Morrow the morning line favorite to win the fifth starter job, just because there’s probably the most upside there. From 2010 through 2012, he was a league average-ish pitcher in the American League East, and he struck out nearly 10 batters per nine. He’s obviously ran into a myriad of health issues over the years, which is why the Padres were able to sign him at a discounted rate (one-year, $2.5 million) this offseason.

But let’s say Odrisamer Despaigne does win the fifth starter spot. What happens with the other two? It’s tough to narrow the pitching staff down to, say, 12 or 13 names:

Rotation — Shields, Cashner, Kennedy, Ross, Despaigne
Bullpen — Benoit, Quakenbush, Torres, Maurer, Thayer, Vincent, (Shawn) Kelley
Fringe guys — Morrow, Erlin, (Casey) Kelly, Luebke, Johnson

There’s a lot of guys and only a limited number of spots. A non-starting Morrow probably fits better as a short-stint bullpen guy, just because of his velocity and stuff — he’s averaged 94 miles-per-hour as a starter and he has a plus slider. Erlin might make more sense as a spot starter/long-man, as he doesn’t have the kind of stuff that you’d expect to translate as well in the pen, plus he’s struggled versus left handers both in the majors and minors. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Erlin get more seasoning in the minors, to be honest.

They’ll probably just go with whoever they think is the best player, which is usually the strategy most teams seem to apply in the draft. Of course, we’ll know more about Preller’s and Co. draft strategy come June. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Padres did try to add some depth at certain positions (like shortstop), though, and they might use that as a sort of tie-breaker if they are torn between a few players.

Baseball Prospectus recently rated Triple-A El Paso as the Padres must-see minor league affiliate, and with good reason. They’ll likely have Austin Hedges (eventually), Rymer Liriano, Matt Wisler, and Taylor Lindsey.

But I’d definitely catch some San Antonio games if I were you. There’s a good shot Hedges starts the season there, and Hunter Renfroe should also be patrolling San Antonio’s outfield, at least until he hits his way to Triple-A. Soon-to-be 21-year-old Jose Rondon should also be the team’s Opening Day starting shortstop. So, yeah, early in the season at least, it looks like Double-A San Antonio will host a number of the Padres most intriguing prospects.

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