The San Diego Padres officially opened minor league spring training Sunday. A group of 99 pitchers and 81 position players took the back fields in Peoria preparing for minor league opening day on April 6.
Unlike most years, the complex is otherwise empty, as Major League Baseball owners continue to lock out players amid a labor dispute. With no big league players to watch and uncertainty about a Rule 5 draft, the Padres have joined many clubs in choosing to close off minor league camp to the public.
While pitchers and catchers participating in minicamp first got on the field on February 17, the full group’s activity will finally be open to media this week, and MadFriars will have on-site coverage at the end of the week. It is not yet clear whether minor league spring training games, which run from March 18 through April 2, will be available to fans.
The empty complex isn’t the only thing different for Padres prospects this year. After a disappointing big league campaign that included little meaningful contribution from players coming up from the minors, the club made sweeping changes to the player development staff.
Ryley Wetsman, who served as Sam Geaney‘s deputy last year, is now running player development. Rob Marcello was brought in from the Mariners organization to head pitching development and three of the five domestic affiliates will play for managers new to the system. Mark Conner and Chris Kemp have swapped responsibilities, with Conner taking on the field coordinator role while Kemp adds domestic amateur scouting to his work on the international side.
For players who have entered professional baseball since 2019, this year also marks the first full spring training they will experience after COVID-19 completely erased their 2020 season and significantly shortened last year.
Camp includes Jarlin Susana, Yendry Rojas, and barely-17-year-old Rosman Verdugo, who each signed as international free agents on January 15, as well as organizational veteran reliever Carlos Belen, who first appeared in Peoria as an infielder way back in 2013. In all, 15 players new to the organization – and three others who had previous tours of duty – are among those who will spend the next month vying for a spot on one of four full-season rosters or in extended spring training awaiting the start of play in the Arizona Complex League.
Players on the 40-man roster are locked out of activities, regardless of whether they are likely to appear in the big leagues this year. That means that in addition to top prospects MacKenzie Gore and Luis Campusano, fans won’t see righty Efraín Contreras or infielder Eguy Rosario – who both figured to play key roles at affiliates – until the labor situation is resolved.
In their absence, even more attention will be on top prospect CJ Abrams, who sustained a gruesome knee injury last July, then was kept out of the Arizona Fall League by a balky shoulder. Pitchers Reggie Lawson, Jose Castillo and Jacob Nix will also be working back from injuries and 2021 draftee Justin Lange will look to show he’s ready for a full season of work.