Three hundred-plus days of bright sunshine, cool sea breezes, delicious fish tacos and powerless offense on the diamond … these are givens in San Diego.
In order to combat the latter and invigorate a team that’s ranked in the bottom third of the league in runs scored over five straight seasons, the Padres brass, similar to its West Coast counterpart in Seattle, believes it has found the cure for its offensive ills, an alteration that could resurrect a franchise that’s made just two playoff appearances this century – bring in the fences.
Petco’s makeover this off-season was rather dramatic. Dimensions covering approximately 30-percent of the outfield were reduced by 10-12 feet. Additionally, the wall was lowered from 10-to-eight feet. Many within the organization steadfastly believe the changes will prove to be more beneficial than hindering. They could be right. Heavy hitters Carlos Quentin and Chase Headley, whose slugging percentages waned at home last year, could see an uptick in production. Many would suggest their improvement will come at a pitching cost, but the cool Pacific air, particularly during night games, should continue to favor hurlers. Team President and CEO, Tom Garfinkel, is banking on it:
"Petco Park will still be a pitcher's ballpark," Padres CEO Tom Garfinkel said, "but the changes in the outfield dimensions will eliminate some of the extreme bias. When a ball is crushed, it should be a home run. That didn't happen at Petco Park, particularly on balls hit toward right-center and left-center.”
Time will tell if the improvements will inject new life in the Padres. Outside Huston Street, Headley and shortstop Everth Cabrera, who is a strong candidate for another 40-plus steals, this is a club that offers little excitement from a fantasy perspective.
To help decipher the meaningful from the meaningless, here are a few Pressing Questions about the yawn-worthy Padres entering spring training:
Q: Headley experienced a quantum leap in HR/FB percentage a season ago. Is he more believe or make believe material in 2013?
After four seasons of marginality, the former top prospect finally tapped into his once hyped potential, becoming one of the biggest surprise sensations of the 2012 season. Discovering his inner Phil Nevin, Headley's buffet of fantasy goodness (.286-31-115-95-17) ranked him No. 8 in overall value among hitters, one spot ahead of endless money tree Robinson Cano. Despite the breakout effort, early drafters remain skeptical (51.2 ADP, 3B6) about the followup.
Their doubts are completely warranted.
Under the hood, Headley underwent incredible growth even the greenest of saber-heads would consider abnormal. His HR/FB rate (21.4) and isolated power (.212) were nearly double previous career highs. Strangely, though, his contact percentage fell dramatically from 2011 (80.0 to 74.8) and he established a new career benchmark in groundball percentage (48.5), tell tale signs his breakthrough was a bit fluky. His 125-point difference in OPS at Petco is also discomforting, even with the fences moving in.
Unless lightning strikes twice, a rare occurrence in Southern California, expect Headley's numbers to normalize. That doesn't mean he'll suddenly revert to his Kevin Kouzmanoff-like days, but it's sage not to overpay for the career year. He'll be a very good, but not great, hot corner option this season. Anticipate final totals in range of .275-20-90-85-14.
Q: Yonder Alonso, once a top-shelf prospect in the Cincinnati farm system, enters into his second full season (Age 26). Can he deliver a starter-worthy line in 12-team and deeper mixed leagues?
Two years ago Baseball America projected Alonso would eventually rake .300-25-100 annually. However, that was with the Great American Bandbox in mind. Now entering his second year with the Friars and with 746 plate appearances under his belt, the 26-year-old is at a point on the career-arc many ballyhooed prospects transform from middling Major Leaguers into viable run-producing machines. Slated to bat fifth behind Carlos Quentin, he should make significant improvement on his uneventful .273-9-62-47 output from a season ago.
However, fantasy forces are working against Alonso. He qualifies at an extremely deep position and will play half his games in a venue, though smaller, that could stymie his power. Still, his notable cut-back in strikeouts last year and strong baseline skills arrow to a .285-17-85-85 campaign. If he achieves that, the one-bagger would graduate from waivers to corner infield in most mixed leagues. When mining for gold in the late rounds (Alonso ADP: 239.4, 1B26), keep his name etched on your brain.
Q: At first glance, no amount of deer-antler/shark-tooth/buffalo-testicle spray could enhance the projected performance of a Padres rotation comprised mostly of reclamation projects (Volquez, Jason Marquis, Eric Stults, Freddy Garcia). Is there any San Diego SP worth drafting even in moderately deep mixers?
Outside closer Huston Street, most, if not all, throwing Padres will be generally useless to the common mixed leaguer. But a couple possess the potential to be occasionally useful, particularly for the streaming crowd.
When pitching in the spacious comforts of home, Edinson Volquez was practically untouchable. In 100.2 innings at Petco, he punched out 99 and notched a 2.95 ERA and 1.28 WHIP. However, away, he was a complete nightmare, evident in his vomit-inducing 5.60 ERA and 1.65 WHIP. The definition of effectively wild – he's tallied a BB/9 of 5+ in four straight seasons – the righty is a matchup-only play who should only contribute consistently in one category, strikeouts.
Andrew Cashner is a definite player of interest. Lacerating his thumb in a December hunting accident, he isn't expected to return until May, but he could reenter the rotation once activated. Yes, the sample size was small, but in 19.1 innings as a starter last year he totaled a 7.67 K/BB and 1.93 GB/FB. His 2.40 xFIP, not his 5.12 ERA, was more indicative of how well he pitched as a starter. If his recovery comes along smoothly, he's a viable breakout candidate. Target him in the eleventh hour.
Casey Kelly is another SP worth monitoring. His 6.21 ERA and 1.55 HR/9 over six starts were eyesores, but his strong underlying profile (8.07 K/9, 3.10 BB/9 and 55.8 GB%) lends promise. Track his progress closely this spring ... Everth Cabrera, expected to bat leadoff, is a near lock for another 40-plus steals. Outside runs he'll offer little additional value, but cheap speed is always coveted particularly at middle infield ... Speaking of low-priced wheels, Will Venable, who was quite possibly the most added/dropped player in the Y! Friends and Family league last year, is another burner of interest. His BA should hover in the .250s but roughly 12 homers and 20-25 stolen bases are in the fearless forecast. For deep leaguers, he's an excellent utility/bench player to stash ... Top farmhand, outfielder Rymer Liriano, is a youngster to keep tabs on. His terrific raw tools were on display in Arizona Fall League action where he hit .353 and set the pace with 20 runs scored. Scouts believe he will develop into a 15-45 threat in short order. He'll likely make his debut sometime after the break ... Finally, don't for a minute buy into Cameron Maybin suddenly morphing into a 20-20 player. The streaky outfielder should record his third-straight season with 25-plus steals, but his sky-high groundball and weak ISO trends say he'll be lucky to reach the bleachers 10 times. Batting near the bottom of the order, he'll also offer only marginal production in other 5x5 areas (e.g. runs/RBI). Snore.
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