The 2017 Padres are your middle school biology teacher, suspiciously overeager to dissect a frog. Everything about this is going to be awful and scarring, but you might learn something. There is neither pretense nor hope for a pleasant ending. At least one person near you will vomit. No matter; the experiment MUST continue in the name of scientific discovery! “Let’s try carrying four catchers!” (removes spleen, lightning cracks) “What about three Rule V picks?” (discards liver, thunder rumbles) “200 innings for Clayton Richard!! MUHAHAHAHA!!!” (peels apart grey matter, eerie calliope music blares).

The Newest Subjects

Just as in 2017, this year’s Padres have no intention of winning baseball games. Their competitive window has yet to open (though they are getting a little closer, more on that later), so they might as well conduct bizarre roster experiments. There’s no way to be certain which 25 men will break camp, but if 2017 was any indication, there will be some curious surprises. Here are some of the new subjects, headed to San Diego like lambs to the slaughter:

  • SS Freddy Galvis, an experiment in durability: Acquired via trade from the Phillies, Galvis was one of five players to participate in all 162 games last season. He was a Gold Glove finalist despite mixed reviews from defensive metrics (-5 DRS, 3.6 UZR). He features some pop (32 HR over the last two seasons) despite a woeful 80 wRC+. While not being a great baseball player, there is much to learn from this specimen. What is it about his internal machinery that allows him to play a demanding position without missing a game? Perhaps they can extract his endurance humors and use them to enhance their more talented stock.
  • 3B Chase Headley, an experiment in investment: Headley, the once and future Padre, is actually a pretty solid ballplayer. The switch hitting third baseman posted a 104 wRC+ with acceptable defense. Altogether, he’s worth about 2 WAR per season. However, he turns 34 in May and will be a free agent next year. He has little present value for a team coming off a 71-91 season. If he performs well in the first half, he’ll be the subject of trade rumors at the approach of the deadline.
  • RHP Bryan Mitchell, an experiment in fringy, oft-injured pitching: Mitchell was acquired from the Yankees along with Headley. The stuff isn’t bad: mid 90s fastball, low 90s cutter, and a slow curve. But he’s nearly 27 and has never thrown more than 32.2 IP in any major league season. His DRA last year was 6.99. Basically, he’s an ideal candidate to get 30 starts for the Padres.
  • RHP Kazuhisha Makita, an experiment in weirdo soft-throwing submariners: The 33-year-old Makita was an excellent reliever for the Seibu Lions, who signed a 2 year, $3.8 million contract to join the Padres. He throws in the low 80s with his knuckles nearly scraping the mound. Sometimes guys like this turn out to be Chad Bradford. Other times, they play beer league softball.
  • R&D Dave Cameron, an experiment in poaching great writers: Ughh, this just sucks. Cameron has been one of the best baseball analytics writers for about a decade at FanGraphs. We certainly can’t fault the Padres for wanting him.

Let’s Just Not Do the On Base Thing

There’s an old baseball adage that goes, “If you fail 7 out of 10 times you go to the Hall of Fame.” That’s not strictly true. A .300 batting average is great, but a .300 OBP is terrible. By this definition, terrible would be an improvement for the Padres. In 2017, their team OBP was .299. For reference, 134 of the 145 qualified hitters in MLB had at least a .300 OBP last year. League average was .324 and the second worst team, the San Francisco Giants, were ten points better. The world champion Houston Astros reached base at a .346 clip.

The 2018 Padres will feature only two projected starters with a better 2017 OBP than the Astros: Headley and LF Jose Pirela. The bench was an even bigger problem. The thirteen hitters San Diego used with fewer than 300 PA combined for a sickly .285 OBP. Here is the projected lineup with their 2017 OBP:

OBP doesn’t tell the full story of a ballplayer. Some of these guys hit for power, such as Myers and Renfroe. Others possess great defensive prowess, like Hedges and Margot. Nevertheless, it’s hard to score runs without reaching base, and the Padres won’t do a lot of either in 2018.

At Least the Pitching Sta- Never Mind

Despite playing in an extreme pitcher’s park, the 2017 Padres yielded 816 runs, 63 more than league average. In spite of this, the team returns nearly the same exact staff for the coming season. Clayton Richard, Luis Perdomo, and Dinelson Lamet should each return to the rotation, despite mediocre results. Each featured an ERA between 4.50 and 5.00 as well as a FIP between 4.00 and 4.50. The aforementioned Bryan Mitchell will get every opportunity to earn a rotation spot vacated by Jhoulys Chacin, the one pleasant surprise of 2017 who has since signed with Milwaukee. Others in the mix for starting jobs are Robbie Erlin and Colin Rea (both of whom missed the entire 2017 season following Tommy John surgery), Jordan Lyles, and Matt Strahm. These four hurlers combined for only 57.2 IP in the majors in 2017.

The bullpen does have some bright spots, led by Brad Hand. After struggling as a starter with the Marlins, the Padres acquired Hand in 2016 and made him a full time reliever. Since then, he’s been the second best multi-inning lefty reliever in baseball behind Andrew Miller. Kirby Yates was a pleasant surprise, striking out 38.1 percent of opponents. The addition of Makita to the mix from Japan is intriguing as well. Beyond that, there’s not much, but relievers can sometimes appear out of nowhere. The losing contestants from the starting rotation sweepstakes will all get opportunities to prove their worth in the bullpen.

The One MASSIVE Bright Spot

The Padres won only 71 games in 2017. They won’t do much better in 2018. But they are a big winner of farm system rankings. Baseball America put them at #3 in their organizational talent rankings, and Bleacher Report listed them #4.

19-year-old SS Fernando Tatis Jr. is the prize of the system. MLB.com ranks him the 8th best prospect in baseball, with above average hit, power, defense, and arm tools. Even if he has to move off shortstop as his frame fills out, he should be an offensive threat, but the Padres will give him every opportunity to take over for Galvis as soon as possible.

Luis Urias is another middle infielder with a bright future. His compact size and advanced hit tool will draw Jose Altuve and Dustin Pedroia comparisons. Like Altuve, he could have batting titles in his future.

The system also features some of the best pitching talent in the game. MacKenzie Gore, Cal Quantrill, Michael Baez, and Adrian Morejon are each top 50 prospects in their own right. Gore and Quantrill were both top 10 draft picks, while Baez and Morejon were multi-million dollar investments from Cuba. All are examples of a top-notch scouting department functioning at its best.

But there’s more to the story. Their best prospects are all expected to arrive at the same time. Baseball Prospectus gives a “Major League ETA” for every prospect on their top 10 lists. 6 of the Padres’ top 10 are projected to debut in 2019. Two more should show up in 2020, with another pair in 2021. This is no accident. All the strange roster experimentation has an endgame. If things go right with their prospects, the competitive window should open in San Diego in just a few more seasons. When that day comes, they’ll be well positioned to tear apart the NL West instead of dead amphibians.

Win Projection: 71

The Padres will finish 71-90, almost the same as last year but with a rainout no one cares enough about to reschedule.

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