The Padres' Plan
by Josh Golden
Josh Golden sits down with pitching coach Darren Balsley to discuss the future of the organization and why a potentially rough 2018 season shouldn’t make fans lose hope
112. That’s the number of seasons played by a professional sports team that has called San Diego home since the Chargers won the AFL Championship in 1963, the longest current championship drought in sports. With a new season underway, will the Padres finally be the team to bring a championship to San Diego? It’s unlikely, but they’re getting closer, according to pitching coach Darren Balsley. Balsley stated that the organization is “aiming towards 2019 or 2020” to truly emerge as one of the best teams in baseball. This ambitious aim is made possible due to the organization’s continued emphasis on their minor league system and trading for prospects in the past few seasons. Balsley’s “goal for the Padres is to win a World Series” and he intends to stay “until we win a world championship. That’s always been my goal and I think that’ll eventually happen.” However, there are still plenty of important factors to look for in this year’s installment of Padres baseball.
The Padres made a huge move late in the offseason by signing four-time Gold Glove Award winner and 2017 Silver Slugger winning first baseman Eric Hosmer. The Padres signed Hosmer to an eight-year deal worth $144 million, which is the largest contract in Padres history. With Hosmer’s World Series win in 2015 with the Kansas City Royals, he gained a lot of playoff experience that will be beneficial as the organization shifts to a “win now” mode. The signing provides a veteran presence in the locker room that younger players will be able to look up to. Along with Hosmer, the Padres received third baseman and former Padre Chase Headley and starting pitcher Bryan Mitchell in a deal with the Yankees that sent outfielder Jabari Blash to the Bronx. In yet another trade, the Padres acquired Freddy Galvis, a defensive standout at shortstop from Philadelphia in exchange for a mid-level prospect. They also signed Japanese relief pitcher Kazuhisa Makita and sent Yangervis Solarte to the Blue Jays for outfield prospect Edward Olivares. Although San Diego only made a few notable acquisitions this offseason, these moves will help the organization win now and in the future.
Although these changes are impactful, the current roster isn’t necessarily as important as you would think. The organization has one of the best minor league systems in baseball. When asked about whom to watch out for of the prospects, Balsley said if he “were to name ten guys I’d be missing the 11th” to watch out for in the farm system, or group of prospects, and he’s “seen a lot of All Stars and Cy Young winners.” He believes that the current state of the minor league system should give Padres fans an incredible amount of hope for the future. With seven prospects in this year’s MLB top 100 list and being ranked the best farm system of 2018, the future is bright.
According to MLB Pipeline, a group who ranks each team’s prospects from MLB.com, the Padres have the top farm system in baseball. This group is lead by Fernando Tatis, a shortstop who joined the organization via the James Shields deal back in 2016. Tatis was recently ranked the seventh best prospect by Pipeline and is expected to make his way to San Diego next season. Another player receiving a lot of hype is the third overall pick in the 2017 draft, Mackenzie Gore. Described as “special” by Balsley, Gore is the 19th ranked prospect in the league and second in the Padres organization. Currently only nineteen years old, Gore is expected to break into the Padres starting rotation in 2020. This year, the Padres are hoping to see their third ranked prospect, middle infielder Luis Urias, make his way into the major leagues, along with starting pitcher Eric Lauer, allowing fans to take a look at a few of the top prospects. The organization’s farm system is so talented that Eric Hosmer’s agent, Scott Boras, referred to the organization as a “hot talent lava,” an expression now being embraced by the organization and its fans. Along with star prospects, the Padres also have some under the radar players. According to Balsley, “we have minor league guys who aren’t top prospects who could break their way through the cracks and become major league players, giving the organization even more hope to find new role players to help make a run.”
Although the Padres are more focused on the future, this year doesn’t look like it will be too rough of a ride. Expected to return to the lineup is Austin Hedges at catcher, Manuel Margot at center field, Hunter Renfroe at right field, and Carlos Asuaje at second base, along with Wil Myers, who will be moving from first base to left field after the addition of Hosmer. Joining Hosmer as new additions to the lineup are Galvis at shortstop and Headley at third base. After the Padres belted a franchise record 189 home runs last year, adding Galvis, Headley, and especially Hosmer as power hitters could lead to the Padres breaking the record again.
Although the Padres lineup has improved, the rotation and bullpen aren’t quite as enticing, despite the presence of legendary pitching coach Darren Balsley. Once again, the starting rotation will consist of Clayton Richard, Joey Lucchesi, Luis Perdomo, and Tyson Ross, along with the addition of Bryan Mitchell. Dinelson Lamet, who emerged last year as a starter and was expected to improve this year, will miss the entire season due to Tommy John surgery. The team has many young pitchers who have shown signs of potential, yet have struggled with consistency. However, with the threat Eric Lauer entering the rotation and possibly the early arrival of star prospect Cal Quantrill at some point in the 2018 campaign, the pitchers will be motivated to be at the top of their game in order to avoid losing a spot in the rotation. Coming out of the bullpen, All-Star closer Brad Hand will likely be the best pitcher in the clubhouse once again. As Balsley put it, Hand has had “two really good years in a row with us,” and there’s no reason to expect his standout overall performance to change this year. Hopefully, newly signed Japanese pitcher Makita will not be too far behind Hand, along with Carter Capps, the 27-year-old who had a 1.16 ERA with the Marlins in 2015 prior to Tommy John Surgery. If the bullpen reaches its full potential and the starters develop some consistency, the Padres pitching staff could become dangerous.
If the 2018 pitching staff is successful, it would likely be due to Balsley, who has been with the organization since 2003. Although the Padres as a whole haven’t had much success during Balsley’s tenure, the strength of the team has nearly always been the pitching staff. The coach himself believes his success stems from his availability to his pitchers and that he has “never gone to work unprepared.” As someone who will always consider San Diego his hometown, Balsley has a special love for the city and its baseball team, making him believe he has “more motivation [given] that I grew up here,” forcing him to work even harder on his craft to bring his city a championship.
In Balsley’s long career with the Padres, he had the opportunity to coach the greatest pitcher in the organization’s history: Trevor Hoffman. This summer, the legendary pitcher will finally be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. When asked about Hoffman, Balsley said he’s the “hardest worker I’ve ever seen and best teammate I’ve ever been around” and that Balsley has “introduced him as a future Hall of Famer for the past ten years.” Hoffman will join fellow Padres Tony Gwynn and Dave Winfield in the Hall.
Although the Padres made a few signings to improve the team’s 2018 campaign, the organization and its fans should be more focused on the near future of the ballclub. However, this season will be an important building block for the franchise. Hosmer will have time to adjust to San Diego before the World Series push begins, along with giving him the opportunity to prepare the young players for the big stage. Perhaps, with many home runs and some great starts from unpredictable pitchers, the Padres can become a contender this year. Even without a great team, the Padres are “on the cusp of something special” according to Balsley; perhaps they will soon give the city the championship it deserves.