PEORIA, Ariz. — While the Padres’ 26-man roster is closer to set than it has been at this stage of Spring Training any time in the last five years, there are still 72 players in big league camp. Some, like newly-signed Brian Dozier and Gordon Beckham, have extensive service time. Others, ranging from top prospect MacKenzie Gore to almost 27-year-old Travis Radke, are in their first camp. All are trying to chase down a big league roster spot.
Only three players on the 40-man roster have yet to log a day of big league service time. Infielder Jake Cronenworth has a better chance of making the opening day roster than outfielders Jorge Oña and Edward Olivares, though his chances took a hit with the signing of Brian Dozier.
Cronenworth, acquired with Tommy Pham in the offseason, would seem a natural option to take the 26th spot on the roster because he can also pitch. However, MLB has created a Catch-22 in implementing new roster rules. A player must have thrown 20 innings and played 20 games in the field in the current or previous season to get the two-way player designation.
Without the designation, a position player can only pitch in a blowout or in extra innings. So the Padres would somehow have to find Cronenworth 20 appearances in mop-up or extremely late situations to then be able to use him in other situations. While there’s obviously still some value in being able to use Cronenworth as an arm-saver, it’s much more limited than if he could be deployed at any time.
Barring major surprises, neither Oña nor Olivares will make the big league club out of camp, but it’s an important year for both. Olivares, who turns 24 next week, is entering his second season on the 40-man roster and should anchor the El Paso lineup to open the season. Because he offers defensive versatility with a right-handed bat that’s become more potent with increased muscle over the last 16 months, he could be in line should the Padres’ uncertainty in the outfield continue.
After two underwhelming stateside seasons, Oña gave a tantalizing taste of his power bat over the season’s first month last year. He then blew out his shoulder and missed the rest of the campaign. Likely ticketed to go back to Amarillo, he’ll be asked to translate his improved conditioning into more athleticism in the field and on the bases, and to show he can sustain last April’s production.
While Hudson Potts is also listed as an outfielder on the club’s early camp roster, he’s not been asked to work in the grass so far this spring. The 21-year-old, who had a rough campaign as one of the youngest players in the Texas League in 2019, will look to bounce back in a repeat year with Amarillo.
Seth Mejias-Brean, Owen Miller, and Jason Vosler have logged nearly 1,800 professional games between them and totaled zero innings in the outfield. Yet the trio joins Ivan Castillo – a relative veteran on the grass with 28 games under his belt – listed as “INF/OF” on the club’s spring roster. It’s unlikely that any will see much action off the infield, but an indication of the club’s efforts to explore options.
Shortstop Gabriel Arias was the last minor leaguer added to big league camp this spring following a stellar second-half at Lake Elsinore and a heavy offseason workload in Peoria. While it would seem the position is locked up in San Diego for a long time at this point, there are reasons to think Arias might eventually force the issue at shortstop for the Padres.
While Gore and Luis Patiño understandably get the lion’s share of attention among the pitchers still awaiting their debuts, they are joined in the clubhouse by two other starters yet to make the 40-man roster who also logged time in Amarillo last year. Reggie Lawson missed much of the season with an elbow strain that was treated with PRP and stem cells, but finished strong in instructs and a brief Arizona Fall League stint. While he’s still not throwing his slider, the big righty is working in live BP and sim game situations with the rest of his repertoire. Like Gore and Patiño, he’ll be slow-played early in camp as he builds up stamina for a full year of pitching.
Lake Bachar, a former collegiate football player who was the Sod Poodles’ top pitching performer last year, doesn’t get the same attention as many of the higher-octane arms in camp, but he continues to ride his high-spin fastball in his first big-league camp. Bachar, who was left exposed to the Rule 5 draft during the offseason, will be a key cog in the El Paso rotation to open the year.
Lefty Radke, who ended last season closing out the Sod Poodles’ Texas League championship, got into the Cactus League opener on Sunday. He allowed a homer on the first pitch he threw before settling in and getting a pair of strikeouts. A late round draft pick way back in 2014, he missed all of 2016 following Tommy John surgery, but endeared himself to many on-field player development staff with his rehab work. While he’s never sat much above 90 with his fastball, he gives a tough look from the left side and has posted a sub-3.00 ERA in the upper minors.
Perhaps the toughest roster omission in advance of the Rule 5 draft was massive reliever Dauris Valdez. Ultimately, the organization gambled that his one-pitch repertoire would keep other clubs from taking a chance on him, even if that one pitch often tops 100 mph. Now 24, the 6-foot-8 righty, has begun to find feel on a slider in his bullpen work, but is still early in the process of adding it to his game-ready arsenal. If he can add an even moderately-viable breaking ball to the mix, he could be another high-impact relief option for the organization.
A year ago, Anderson Espinoza was generating buzz in his first work back from Tommy John surgery, but the talented righty left the mound on March 27 after re-injuring the elbow. He briefly considered walking away from the game, but instead underwent a second elbow surgery weeks later. Espinoza told us that the rehab experience this time around has been completely different and he’s now feeling great both mentally and physically.
While he hasn’t thrown a pitch in an official game since the end of the 2016 season, Espinoza – who is still just 21 years old for another week – the Venezuelan righty was optimistic as he began a throwing program on Monday. He’s still several months away from getting on a mound, but has hopes of joining an affiliate before the end of the year.
After eschewing surgery and rehabbing his elbow for three months last season, Pedro Avila made it back to Amarillo for just 1.1 innings before his arm blew out. He had Tommy John surgery in early September. Despite going unclaimed through waivers in October, the Padres invited the burly righty to big league camp to continue his rehab program. He has not yet begun throwing, but he’s not far off as he moves through his recovery on the faster range of the normal schedule.