San Diego Padres 5 Spring Position Battles Heating Up As We Approach Opening Day!

Midway through spring camp, the Padres’ five primary position battles have given us as many questions as they have answers. While the Friars enjoyed their second and final Cactus League off-day on Tuesday let’s break down each of those five races, answering three questions: What did we know at the start of camp? What have we learned since? And what’s left to be decided before the club heads to Los Angeles for Opening Day on April 3?

Second base

What we knew: We knew that Ryan Schimpf and Cory Spangenberg would be locked into a battle that will likely spill over into the regular season. Both presumably will have spots on the Opening Day roster, and they’ll keep fighting for playing time once the season begins.

What we’ve learned: The Padres are serious about experimenting with Yangervis Solarte at second base. When he returns from the World Baseball Classic, they’ll get him some reps there. If Solarte proves capable of handling the position, the Spangenberg/Schimpf race will shift to third base.

What’s left? First, Schimpf needs to get healthy. The lefty slugger has battled left oblique tightness for the better part of the past week. If and when he returns to action, both he and Spangenberg need to prove their mettle at third. Thus far, Spangenberg has done a nice job in limited time there.

Shortstop
What we knew: As the incumbent — and as the lone big league-ready option on the 40-man roster — Luis Sardinas held the upper hand. But the Padres were never going to hand the job to Sardinas without his earning it. And 11-year veteran Erick Aybar would surely provide some competition.

What we’ve learned: Over the past week or two, Sardinas has been a stronger defensive presence. San Diego has long wanted him to fully embrace his role as a leader in the infield. Sardinas has shown signs of doing so. However, Aybar has been much better at the plate in Cactus League play.

What’s left?: There’s not much separating Aybar and Sardinas in the shortstop race — aside from maybe Sardinas’ youth and his status on the 40-man roster. There may be room for both, but the Padres still need to get Rule 5 Draft pick Allen Cordoba some reps at short. There probably isn’t space for all three. And if the Friars like Cordoba’s upside enough, they’ll have a choice to make between Sardinas and Aybar.

Outfield
What we knew: Travis Jankowski, Alex Dickerson, Hunter Renfroe and Manuel Margot were strong favorites to win jobs in a very young outfield. That left non-roster outfielders like Jabari Blash and Collin Cowgill in need of injuries or big-time performances to throw themselves in the mix.

What we’ve learned: As it would happen, Blash has done nothing but rake this spring. He’s tied for the Spring Training lead with five dingers — all coming after a minor mechanical tweak to his swing. Dickerson and Margot are sidelined with injuries, leaving a vacancy in the outfield that Blash could potentially fill.

What’s left?: Jankowski, who is 11-for-30 with four extra-base hits, has already secured a roster spot with his impressive spring. Renfroe probably isn’t far behind. But there are still question marks about Dickerson’s back and Margot’s knee. San Diego needs those answers before the club sets its Opening Day roster.

Rotation
What we knew: At least nine pitchers were in the mix for five places in the Padres’ starting rotation. Given the contracts they signed during the offseason, Clayton Richard and Jhoulys Chacin seemed like favorites. But nothing was set in stone.

What we’ve learned: San Diego signed Jered Weaver during the first weekend of camp. He’s wrapped up his rotation spot, as have Richard and Chacin. Cesar Vargas, meanwhile, was sent to Minor League camp last week. With the statuses of those four pitchers seemingly resolved, that leaves about six arms vying for two spots. Thus far, Luis Perdomo and Trevor Cahill have separated themselves a bit with their solid performances.

What’s left?: Perdomo and Cahill need to prove their early-spring success is sustainable. Plus, Jarred Cosart has yet to truly throw his name in the ring. Coming off offseason elbow surgery, the Padres have taken things slowly with Cosart. He’s pitched only 2 2/3 innings, but he figures to be squarely in the mix for the No. 5 starter role.

Bullpen
What we knew: Ryan Buchter, Brad Hand and Brandon Maurer were all certainties entering camp. If Carter Capps — coming off Tommy John surgery — proved he was healthy, he would be a lock as well. After that, the final three or four spots were up in the air.

What we’ve learned: So far, so good with the Christian Bethancourt experiment. The catcher/pitcher hybrid has thus far proven himself capable on the mound. If that continues, San Diego would probably carry seven other relievers, leaving three bullpen places available. Manager Andy Green indicated he might be willing to fill one or two of those spots with starting pitchers who are also capable of coming out of the ‘pen. (Think Christian Friedrich or Paul Clemens.)

What’s left?: Capps still needs to work his way into game action. He will likely face hitters in back-field games shortly. Say Capps is healthy. And say the Friars opt to place one starting pitcher in their ‘pen. That leaves Miguel Diaz, Kevin Quackenbush, Jose Torres, Craig Stammen and Buddy Baumann fighting for two jobs. Expect that race to come down to the wire.

By AJ Cassavell